Wigmore Mondays: Lucy Crowe & Joseph Middleton – English song

Lucy Crowe (soprano, above), Joseph Middleton (piano, below)

Purcell, realised Britten Lord, what is man? (A Divine Hymn) (1693) (1:17-6:36 on the broadcast link below); O solitude, my sweetest choice (1684-5) (6:40-12:00)
Weldon, realised Britten Alleluia (before 1702) (12:04-14:00)
Michael Head Over the rim of the moon (1918) (The ships of Arcady 15:20-18:15, Beloved 18:25, A blackbird singing 19:48-22:08, Nocturne 22:12-25:21)
Ireland The trellis (1920) (26:37-29:25); My true love hath my heart (1920) (29:33-31:10); When I am dead, my dearest (1924) (31:14-33:00); If there were dreams to sell (1918) (33:02-34:46); Earth’s call (34:54-39:38) (1918)
Walton 3 Façade Settings (1931-2) (Daphne (40:47-43:30; Through gilded trellises (43:36-47:16); Old Sir Faulk (47:17-49:08)

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 24 September 2018

You can listen to the BBC Radio 3 broadcast by clicking here

Written by Ben Hogwood

On this evidence Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton are two of the finest exponents of English song around. This finely planned recital showed off the versatility in Crowe’s voice, as well as its clarity and pure emotion. Middleton also distinguished himself with some exceptional scene-setting and characterisation of his descriptive piano parts.

The solemn glory of Britten’s Purcell realisations provided an imposing start, although Crowe allowed the expansive setting of A Divine Hymn (from 1:17 on the broadcast) plenty of room to express its excitable joy, with a sparkling finish to boot. O solitude (6:40) was a more thoughtful interpretation and beautifully sung, while the twists and turns of John Weldon’s Alleluia (12:04) were skillfully negotiated. Britten’s expanded piano parts, his own informed response to Purcell’s melodies, were in safe hands thanks to Middleton.
There followed a rarity in the form of Michael Head’s short cycle Over the rim of the moon, from his late teenage years. The ships of Arcady (15:20) featured tolling bells in Middleton’s right hand, while a rapturous Beloved (18:25) gave up its soul. A blackbird singing (19:48) embraced the open air, with a sparkling first note from Crowe, while the cool Nocturne (22:12) sent a light shiver down the spine.

Crowe really came into her own in a sequence of five John Ireland songs. Ireland can be elusive in some interpretations, but not here. As soon as Middleton’s descriptive piano set the scene for The trellis (26:37) Crowe was in her element, using a poignant pause to illustrate ‘the whisper’d words between and silent kisses’. The breathless adoration of My true love hath my heart (29:33) was countered by the finality of When I am dead, my dearest (31:14), which brought a tear to the eye. If there were dreams to sell (33:02) offered a more upbeat outlook, before Earth’s call (34:54) took us right to the water, depicting the plover, cuckoo and stormy ploughland with exquisite detail, all blown by Middleton’s blustery breeze.

After these heights, the Walton Façade settings worked well, Crowe handling the tricky wordplay of Edith Sitwell impressively. Her sideways looks during Daphne (40:47) were brilliantly done, as were Middleton’s persuasive piano rhythms underpinning Through gilded trellises (43:36), where Crowe hit her top B flat with ease. Old Sir Faulk (47:17), with its bizarre lyrics, gave a nonsensical end.

The two encores were unforgettable. Crowe began with an unaccompanied version of She moved through the fair (50:23-53:18), which tugged urgently at the heartstrings, and ultimately brought a tear to the eye. So too did one of Britten’s finest folksong settings, The Salley Gardens (54:20-56:47), a pure and beautiful note on which to end.

Further listening

Lucy Crowe has not recorded any of the repertoire in this concert, but the playlist below gives leading interpretations of the songs she sang.

For further exploration of the songs of John Ireland, this album gives his complete output:

Wigmore Mondays – Clara Mouriz & Joseph Middleton: Songs of the Antique

Clara Mouriz (mezzo-soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano)

Purcell/Britten Alleluia (pre-1702, realised by Britten 1960)

Alessandro Scarlatti Son tutta duolo (c1699)

Anchieta arr. Dorumsgaard Con amores, la mia madre (unknown)

Liszt 3 Petrarch Sonnets (1842-6)

Duparc La vie antérieure (1884)

Hahn Tyndaris (1900)

Ravel Kaddisch (1914)

Falla 7 Spanish Popular Songs (1914)

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 26 June, 2017

Listen to the BBC broadcast here

Written by Ben Hogwood

A fascinating concert that confirmed the versatility of Clara Mouriz and Joseph Middleton. Their performance, titled ‘Songs of the Antique’, concentrated on songs whose music or text looks a long way to the past for inspiration.

The mezzo-soprano has a rich and powerful voice in the middle register especially, which came to the fore in passionate accounts of the Liszt 3 Petrarch Sonnets, but also in the solo writing of Ravel and the quasi-orchestral scope of Duparc.

First we went right back to the Eighteenth century for an Alleluia – a song originally attributed to Purcell but found to be by John Weldon. Britten, as part of his Purcell revival, provided a complementary piano part, one that shadows the spun out vocal. This vocal won’t be to everyone’s taste, but Mouriz mastered it brilliantly here (from 1:49 on the broadcast link provided).

The Scarlatti, an excerpt from the opera La donna ancora è fedele, made a nice contrast (3:52). Unlike his brother, who wrote copious amounts of keyboard music, Alessandro wrote many operas – and the excerpt here shows how fluid his vocal writing could be. Meanwhile the arrangement of Anchieta’s folksong, thought to be from the fifteenth century, had a primal quality in this interpretation – with elegantly shaped piano from Middleton (7:01).

The Liszt was a highpoint of the recital, not just for Mouriz’s fire and passion but for Middleton’s word painting with the piano part. Liszt was borderline-obsessed with the sonnets, complementing his two vocal settings of the trio with powerfully descriptive pieces for the piano. The vocal line is highly charged in all three songs, and strongly Italian in musical flavour as well as language. Sonetto 104, Pace non trovo (I find no peace) surged forward turbulently in the piano part, a restlessness matched by Mouriz’s outpouring (from 10:31).

The Sonetto 47, Benedetto sia ‘I giorno (Blessed be the day) was notable for ‘the sighs and tears, the longing’ found by Mouriz at 20:07, while the final Sonetto 123 I’ vidi in terra angelici costumi (I beheld on earth angelic grace) was beautifully sung (from 23:10), Mouriz mastering the wide ranges and dynamics Liszt asks for. Middleton’s decorative piano part was brilliantly done too.

After this we had the relatively rare chance to appreciate the songwriting guile of Henri Duparc, a French composer whose life was tragically cut short due to neurasthenia. He left just thirteen published songs, of which La vie antérieure is an expansive example. It began optimistically (30:13) but turned rather sour towards the end, this performance carefully paced and given impressive detail by Middleton.

Hahn’s Tyndaris offered more optimism after the Duparc (from 34:35) while Ravel’s Kaddisch, from his Deux melodies hebraïques, had a powerful declamation that Mouriz used to take over the hall (36:15).

Finally the Spanish mezzo-soprano was completely on home turf for Falla’s brilliantly written songs, a whole wealth of different characters and emotions coming out in this performance (from 42:22).

We had the famous Seguidilla murciana (43:00) where ‘people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’, the mournful Asturiana (45:10), a brisk Jota (47:58), a soft Nana (Lullaby) (51:03), a brighter Cancion (52:48) with darker lining and finally the dramatic Polo (53:42), where the piano’s repeated notes appear to describe the stabbing pain in the singer’s heart.

As a richly deserved encore the pair gave a soulful performance of a Spanish funeral song, Let my soul mourn (57:08).

Further listening

The works in today’s concert are on Spotify and can be heard below:

As a contrast, why not try an album of orchestral music by the Spanish composer Turina, featuring at its centre the collection of Poema en forma de canciones:

Meanwhile, you can watch Clara and guitarist Sean Shibe perform Asturiana, from the Falla songs, below:

Wigmore Mondays – Richard Egarr: Keyboard music of the Tudors and Stuarts

Richard Egarr

Richard Egarr (photo Marco Borggreve)

Byrd Fantasia in A minor; Pavan and Galliard; The Bells

Purcell Suite in G major; Ground in C minor

Blow Chaconne in FaUt

Purcell Suite in G minor; Suite in D major; Ground in D minor

L-R William Byrd (c.1540-1623);   Henry Purcell (c.1659-1695); John Blow (1648-1708)

Listen to the BBC broadcast here

Written by Ben Hogwood

The harpsichord enjoys a rather chequered reputation in concert, and from personal experience at least among friends I can say it is one of those ‘marmite’ instruments.

Certainly it is unusual for it to have a place alone in a BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert, yet here it was, with Richard Egarr beginning the 2017 part of the Wigmore Hall Monday lunchtime concert season.

In the event the BBC had chosen well, Egarr compiling a fascinating program of keyboard music from the Tudors (Byrd) and Stuarts (Purcell and Blow).

The music of Byrd, a composer for Queen Elizabeth, flows with obvious inspiration. Egarr’s selection here began with the free and at times elaborate Prelude and Fantasia (from 1:43 in the broadcast), moved on to a more stately Pavan and Galliard (from 10:54 and 14:39) from the impressive collection My Lady Neville’s Book and concluded with the descriptive The Bells (16:19), a remarkable piece of writing beginning with a single toll and working its way intricately through thrilling peals of bells.

Purcell, even now one of the greatest composers England has ever produced, appears to have written his harpsichord suites as a tuition aid, yet they are all characterised with dances fast and slow. Egarr played three suites here, the G major work (from 23:55 on the broadcast) the simplest and the G minor (from 37:07), with its brisk Corant dance, seemingly the most challenging. Most engaging, however, was the three-part D major suite (from 45:45), with its thoughtful Prelude and brief but vigorous Hornpipe.

Egarr also included two brief Grounds (pieces with a short, recurring bass line) by Purcell (27:24 and 49:31), with a third, A New Ground, as an encore (52:50). We also heard a Chaconne by Purcell’s teacher John Blow (30:18), a chirpy piece that became increasingly busy and eventful, leading to a series of grand, block chords near the end.

Egarr’s performance manner was conversational. He turned his own pages, and even gave the harpsichord itself a clap at the end, as though thanking it for staying well-tuned! His demeanour encouraged the audience to feel part of an intimate concert, and lightened some of the heavy cloud around London for the first Monday proper of 2017.

Further listening

You can listen to the music in this concert on Spotify below, with recordings from Egarr himself:

On record: Purcell – Twelve Sonatas of Three Parts (Vivat)

purcell

The King’s Consort play Purcell’s collection of twelve sonatas published in 1683. In the words of the Vivat label website, they ‘combine French elegance, Italian vigour and delicious English melancholy with harmonic daring, extraordinary contrapuntal technique, ravishing dissonances and unique melodic ingenuity’. Clearly Purcell was anticipating a united Europe!

What’s the music like?

Purcell is one of the most obviously expressive composers of the Baroque period, and even his instrumental music has strong vocal qualities. His music here also experiences relatively rapid mood swings, the individual movements of the sonatas capable of switching quickly from grave, browbeaten music to melodies that are full of the joys of spring.

There are dances too, such as the one a minute or so into Sonata no.8, or the enjoyable repeated-note motif that closes out the first movement of Sonata no.2.

When the English melancholy does make itself known the results are rather special, such as the sumptuous beginning to Sonata no.6, where the strings make a sweet sound. By complete contrast the start of Sonata no.4 is relatively stark, bringing Purcell’s daring discords to the surface – before moving into a resolute faster section.

Does it all work?

Yes. There is some beautifully poised playing on this collection, as the staged entries in Sonata no.8 confirm. Violinists Cecilia Bernardini and Huw Daniel are blessed with beautiful, penetrating tones, and the continuo section – bass viol, theorbo and organ or harpsichord – alternates its colours sensitively and effectively, a prime example being the wonderful organ sound half way through the first movement of Sonata no.3. The fugue halfway the first movement of Sonata no.12 sums things up very nicely.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Purcell’s vocal music tends to get the headlines but this disc shows just how imaginative and effective his writing for instruments could be.

Listen

You can get a preview of each track from this disc on the Vivat website