Vaughan Williams - James Gilchrist - Gramophone
02 August 2007Gramophone
Two tenors in the British tradition, although Gilchrist's disc has the edge.
Ainsley, Gilchrist, Bostridge, Padmore and (a little earlier) Tear, Partridge, Langridge, Hill, Rolfe Johnson back to Lewis and Pears: to a foreigner (an Italian, let's say) they must seem very alike and our liking for them not very readily fathomable. We can reply that they're all intelligent, reliable musicians, and that anyway, if it's the present song repertoire we're thinking of theirs was the kind of voice and musical style such songs were written for. Only I daresay we would have to admit that this shared reliability and aptness does not make life easier when it comes to the matter of choice.
John Mark Ainsley certainly has more "ring" than most. There is a considerable sense of power in reserve, which makes his judicious use of it particularly effective. He uses less of that "white" non-vibrating, "spiritual" tone which is thought as typically English. His production is firm but not rigid, and he is not addicted to the pernicious habit of making a little crescendo on individual notes. His virtues are regularly evident in these songs of Finzi, together with good clear diction and a thoughtful expressiveness. And if there is something missing it is a quality not easily identifiable. But try Martyn Hill with Clifford Banson in A Young Man's Exhortation and Till Earth Outwears (Hyperion, 3/90). With him I have a livelier conviction that each song is a distinct, personal utterance, the tone usually a little lighter, the style a shade closer to the presently unfolding communicativeness of speech. I also find in the new recording that the contribution made by the piano part as an independent voice is weakened (contrary no doubt to the intention) by its being balanced so closely with the singer. It presses in too insistently, and forfeits something of its power of subtle commentary.
James Gilchrist has also recorded these songs in an identical programme on the Linn label (8/05), and these too I slightly prefer for their more personal touch and a freer, less congested balancing of voice and piano. His pianist Anna Tilbrook who with the Fitzwilliam Quartet and the additional players works with the singer to give a wonderfully imaginative account of On Wenlock Edge and The Curlew. The developing tale of Bredon Hill has never been more vividly told on records, and the desolation of Warlock's masterpiece becomes more poignant still because of the beauty evoked. Bliss's Elegiac Sonnet, written by himself and Cecil Day-Lewis in memory of the pianist Noel Mewton-Wood, warms where Warlock has chilled, and Gurney's Housman cycle has also its finest performance on record. Strongly recommended.
Related LinksJames GilchristVaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge