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James Gilchrist - Leighton & Britten - MusicWeb International


11 January 2013
MusicWeb International
Em Marshall-Luck

All the super audio CD releases I've come across from Linn have been of the very highest quality in terms of performances, presentation and sound quality. This disc is no exception. Featuring three Britten song-cycles and one canticle, everything about it emanates thoughtfulness, intelligence and good design.

On This Island commences the recital; a song-cycle written shortly after the important initial meeting between the precocious young composer and the poet W.H. Auden. It sets five of Auden's poems. There is an exhilarating sense of joy in Gilchrist's rendition of the opening Let this florid music praise,and wonderful lyricism in the second stanza. This sets a high standard for the rest of the disc. We hear really beautiful singing, a charged and intense atmosphere, and sensitive accompaniment from Tilbrook. Gilchrist's vibrato is quite pronounced, yet I don't feel that this detracts at all - slightly on the wide side it may be, yet it is nevertheless perfectly controlled and never excessive. His enunciation is superb throughout. The ensuing Now the Leaves are falling fastis an excellent showpiece for Gilchrist's impressive technical ability - as is Oh, to vex mein the following song-cycle, the Holy Sonnets of John Donne. Ambience is most perfectly conveyed - for example by slightly growling lower notes which reflect the chilling and sinister atmosphere in Nocturne. At times I wondered whether the balance was spot-on: in Seascape the voice rather battles to be heard over the piano - perhaps this is intentional. In As it is, plenty, I find the piano a little heavy-handed; the jazzy inflections in the voice are good here, though.

The Holy Sonnets of John Donne- dating from 1945 and setting nine rather dark poems by John Donne - are given robust performances. These are full of passion and commitment, and are superbly communicated.Since she whom I loved in particular is exceptionally beautiful.

The Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo of five years earlier - setting words by the Italian artist, sculptor and poet Michelangelo - are absolutely radiant - especially Si come nella penna e nell'inchiostro and Veggio co' bei vostri occhi un dolce lume.

Gilchrist's Italian pronunciation certainly sounds absolutely convincing to my ear: sometimes a difficulty for English tenors. I find myself here transported at once to Renaissance Italy. The disc concludes with the first of Britten's five canticles, the eponymous My beloved Is Mine, in a performance that I cannot fault. It provides an excellent conclusion to the sequence.

Full texts and translations are provided alongside Gilchrist's own, excellent and insightful notes. A highly desirable disc.


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