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The Prince Consort - Other Love Songs - Gramophone


01 October 2011
Gramophone
Richard Wigmore

A Liebeslieder sandwich, with Stephen Hough's witty songs the delicious filling

For all the Brahms's melodic and rhythmic inventiveness in his Liebeslieder waltzes, anyone who listens to the two sets straight through risks overdosing on triple-tie Viennese Gemütlichkeit.  Stephen Hough's cycle Other Love Songs, commissioned by The Prince Consort as a companion to the Liebeslieder, makes an ideal contrasting centrepiece.

Hough avowedly avoided poems about romantic heterosexual love to explore other kinds of love: filial love, gay love, divine love, love in defiance of racial prejudice.  Drawing on poetic sources from St. John's Gospel to AE Housman and Langston Hughes, the songs range eclectically from cabaret-style numbers to the Indian exoticism of "Kashmiri Song".  The performers, including Hough himself as one of the pianists, do them proud.  Soprano Anna Leese, bright and vibrant of tone, rises poignantly to the impassioned climax of "Kashmiri Song", while mezzo Jennifer Johnston, singing in broad Scouse, offers a delightful comic cameo as the feisty maid in "Madam and her Madam".

The Liebeslieder are enjoyable, too, with a splendid bite in the more vigorous numbers, although in their determiniation to avoid any thing of sentimentality the performers can be a touch prosaic, as in the serene hymn to the muses that closes the Neue Liebeslieder.  The forward recording of the voices means that true soft singing, here and elsewhere, is at a premium.  Still, if the rival versions are rather more beguilingly sung and shaped, with a subtler use of rubato, these fresh and direct performances have much to commend them.  A clinching factor may well be the Hough songs, acerbically witty and deeply touching by turns, and culminating in the ethereal lullaby of "Simon, Son of John".


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Other Love SongsOther Love Songs