The Prince Consort - Other Love Songs - The Observer (Live Review)

A health warning should be slapped on the vocal group the Prince Consort. Anyone feeling even vaguely troubled by matters of the heart should avoid their programme of fervent love songs or the vapours will surely ensue. They invest Brahms's Liebeslieder Op 52 and Neue Liebeslieder Op 65 with such febrile passion you fear for their equilibrium - until, that is, they launch into Schumann's Spanische Liebeslieder, when you realise that all hope of decorum is lost.

Thank goodness they included Stephen Hough's Other Love Songs (2009) in their Cheltenham festival programme. No less affecting, these settings acknowledge that devotion isn't always accompanied by constant appeals to moonlight, nightingales, beating hearts and trembling lips. Drawing on many different sources, they remind us in calm and direct fashion that man can also love man and woman woman, and that mankind can love a saviour.

Hough's essentially tonal writing is warm and generous, full of wit and vigour, but angry too, as in The Colour of His Hair, AE Housman's biting satire on the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde, with a tune banal and raucous and a piano accompaniment (for three hands) despairingly violent. Jacques Imbrailo's creamy baritone seized Hough's innate gift for a sinuous vocal line in both Claude McKay's When I Have Passed Away, and most poignantly in Housman's Because I Liked You, after soprano Katherine Broderick and mezzo Jennifer Johnston had dashed breathlessly through Julian of Norwich's ecstatic All Shall Be Well.

Throughout, they had superb support at the piano from Alasdair Hogarth and Philip Fowke, the whole coming to a glorious conclusion in the final Neue Liebeslieder quartet, as fragrant and luxuriant as a rose in full bloom. See, this moon and June stuff is catching.

01 July 2012