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The Prince Consort - Other Love Songs - International Record Review


02 September 2011
International Record Review
Piers Burton-Page

The present recording from Linn, though, is one of surprisingly few in the current catalogue to opt for the prescribed solo voices.  The Prince Consort, named after Prince Consort Road in London, which houses the Royal College of Music and where they all met, consists of five singers and a pianist (the countertenor among them is distinctly underemployed on this release).  They are throughout crisp, fresh, speedy, intelligent, well recorded, with good German, and I like the way in particular they create the occasional mini-drama, either by performing pairs of pieces seamlessly, or even by pitting male and female solos against each other, such as Op. 65 Nos. 10 and 11

...The Prince Consort separates the two Brahms compilations with an imaginative commission of its own, for roughly similar forces.  (Roughly, because there are only three hands at the piano, this time, with the composer providing the third hand.)  Other Love Songs is the work of Stephen Hough, better known as a pianist, of course, but clearly possessed of both technique and vision as a composer.  Here he sets eight texts from a great variety of sources, from the Bible to A. E. Housman to Claude Mackay (a Harlem Renaissance poet), in a variety of styles ranging from solemnly lyrical (the final song) to grittily bitonal (Juliana of Norwich's ‘All Shall Be Well'), to sardonic cabaret (Housman's bitter ‘The Colour of His Hair').  There is a hint of sexual ambiguity about all of them - hence the ‘other' of the title - but the gay agenda is lightly worn, and the cycle (really a sequence for alternating voices rather than a vocal quartet such as Brahms writes) is never less than intriguing, and often a lot more than that.

So: the filling in the sandwich (lasting 21-and-a-half minutes) is where the meat is - which is surely as it should be - and makes this disc the more recommendable.


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