James Gilchrist - My Beloved is Mine - International Records Review
01 November 2012International Records Review
The poems Britten chose for his early set of songs entitled On This Island may well be, as James Gilchrist writes in the beautifully laid-out booklet, ‘amongst Auden's less opaque', but the meaning is hardly clear-cut all the same, especially when sung. The young Britten's sensitivity to poetry is shown even as he seizes on the possibility of contrasting musical images for the two verses of the opening poem. This is underlined in this performance, where Gilchrist is particularly forceful in the first stanza, then employs a beautiful, silky legato for the second.
Evident, too, from the outset, is the extreme virtuosity and musical sensitivity of Anna Tilbrook's piano playing. Listen how beautifully she voices the chords at the beginning of ‘Now the leaves are falling fast', and how uncannily alike they are when they return later.
Next in order of composition, though placed third on the disc, are the Michelangelo songs. Tillbrook prefers only very sparing use of the pedal in the first one; it is surprising but effective. The performance as a whole is intense.
Gilchrist's vibrato is so marked in the opening bars of The Holy Sonnets of John Donne that the notes themselves are ill-defined. His muscular, declamatory style suits the Donne set better than it does the Michelangelo, but even so the most satisfying singing, for this listener, is to be found in the intimate, more withdrawn passages. The change of focus in the last six lines of the first song is superbly expressed by Gilchrist, with subtle changes of tone colour, expertly communicating the sickness that lingers still in the idea of redemption through repentance of sin.
The whole of the gentle third song, too, is very fine indeed, as is the lyrical song of love and mourning ‘Since she whom I loved'. Otherwise, Gilchrist takes no prisoners, pushing the music to the limit, and making it sound very modern indeed in the process.
This is a searing performance of a searing masterpiece, and a demonstration of remarkable virtuosity on the part of both performers.
The ghost of Purcell stalks across many a page of the Donne sonnets, as it also haunts the first of the five Britten ‘canticles', My beloved is mine. Gilchrist is beautifully alive to the extended, flowing lines of the opening passage of the work, and brilliantly virtuosic in the rapid section. He sings the final passage to perfection, admirably responding to Francis Quarles's (and Britten's) vision of serene and unquestioning faith, the long, legato vocal line beautifully floated over the gently hocketing piano accompaniment.
I know of no more satisfying performance of the canticle than this one, but there is a certain hectoring quality in parts of the rest of the programme that I have not encountered from this singer before. It is appropriate to the Donne settings, and does not disturb unduly in the Auden. The singing is, however, highly intelligent and thoughtful throughout, as are the singer's own booklet notes, where a short essay on each work precedes the printed words, a most practical arrangement.
Apart from On This Island, all the music was conceived for the voice of Peter Pears. His performances, especially the earlier ones, demonstrate his ability to spin out a long, legato line, as well as his remarkable rhythmic acuity and precision. Tiresome though it may be to insist, they are mandatory listening for anybody preparing or studying Britten's vocal music.
Related LinksJames GilchristMy Beloved is Mine