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James Gilchrist - My Beloved is Mine - Fanfare


01 December 2012
Fanfare
Alan Swanson

It seems not all that long ago that I was remarking on the dearth of recordings of Britten's many songs and then along came a small rush of them. Here is another, in good time for the Britten centenary in 2013.

On This Island (1937) is not much recorded, so it is welcome here. The texts by Auden were new when Britten set them. These came at a time when Britten and Auden were working for the GPO film unit, and demonstrate an uncomplicated love of the English countryside and of ways that would soon disappear forever.

While the Donne songs (1945), from shortly after Britten's and Pears's return to England, offer an altogether darker vision of the world, Michelangelo's sonnets (1940), by contrast, celebrate love, not a common theme in Britten's songs, and their occasionally quirky accompaniments make a fine counterpoint to the words, even if Gilchrist's Italian is more in the manner of Reading, say, than of Rome.

The first of Britten's five canticles (1947) is to a text by Francis Quarles, and its title must have struck its first audience as something quite different from the composer. They would have had the harsh realities of Peter Grimes (1945) and The Rape of Lucretia (1946) in their ears, yet its intimate, and secular, love song came in the immediate wake of Albert Herring, probably the finest comic opera of the last century.

He [Gilchrist] has a real sense of what the songs are about and, when we come to the Donne songs, that edge to his voice adds an extra urgency. In the Donne songs, too, Anna Tilbrook's accompaniment matches Gilchrist's reading. In Britten's coruscating view of Donne's "Thou hast made me," Gilchrist and Tilbrook bring it all together. In the whole cycle, however, they are up against the recent fine recording by Mark Padmore and Roger Vignoles (Harmonia Mundi). Gilchrist's and Tilbrook's reading of the first canticle, however, an imaginative programming idea, is judicious and generous, underlining its essentially pastoral nature.


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