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James Gilchrist - My Beloved Is Mine - American Record Guide


01 January 2013
American Record Guide
Ralph Moore

Britten wrote songs from his school days until near the end of his life. This program presents three of his song cycles and one extended song. His first published song cycle, On This Island, settings of five of Auden's more accessible poems, was composed in 1937 for soprano Sophie Wyss. Everything else here was written for and first performed by Britten's life partner, Peter Pears. After he returned to England in 1945 from his self-imposed exile in the US, a tour of a recently liberated concentration camp impressed on him the appalling reality of human cruelty and led him to compose The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, which move into deep and intense dimensions of sin, guilt, loss, and redemption. The Michelangelo sonnets, written in 1940 as a gift from one lover to another, express the exuberant joy of love. Francis Quarles's psalm-like poem based on Song of Songs is the text for the four-movement Canticle I, My beloved is Mine (1947), the first of five very different works that Britten called canticles. It concludes with a transcendent setting of the words 'an everlasting sign, that I my best-beloved's am; that he is mine'.

Gilchrist and Tilbrook recorded Britten's Winter Words in 2010 to great acclaim, and their partnership again produces excellent results. Their reading of On This Island is highly engaging-sprightly in ‘Now the Leaves are Falling Fast' and reflective in the lovely ‘Nocturne'.

The artists are at their best in The Holy Sonnets of John Donne that explore the inner struggles of the soul. 'And death shall be no more; death thou shalt die', the concluding line of the final song, ‘Death, Be Not Proud', discloses a sense of supreme confidence that life is ever the victor over death. Gilchrist radiates sheer joy in the Michelangelo songs. Tilbrook is consistently an engaging accompanist whose playing seems to relish what Richard Stokes in his notes for Matthew Polenzani's fine recording of the Michelangelo songs with Julius Drake (M/A 2012) aptly calls the 'muscular lyricism' of these songs.

The album's title work, ‘My Beloved is Mine', with its beautiful arcing lines is sung gloriously, and the final ineffable words fade into sheer bliss.

Gilchrist's voice is exquisitely lovely in the style of the English choir tenor, and his singing is supremely evocative. He displays great agility in often demanding lines and deep tenderness when reducing dynamics to a serene head voice. He is able to preserve a consistent quality of tone across his full vocal range with a voice that has just the right lightness. With his perfectly clear verbal articulation, texts are hardly necessary, though they are supplied. 

For an anthology of Britten songs, this is a terrific release. Succinct and illuminating notes by Gilchrist add to an appreciation of this music. The glorious SACD sound puts you in the front row. 
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