The Prince Consort - Other Love Songs -

Brahms at his most genial is paired with a new song cycle written by polymath British pianist Stephen Hough. He's a treasure - one of the best virtuoso pianists around, as anyone who's heard his Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov recordings will attest. And placing his songs in between the two sets of Brahms Liebeslieder makes much sense, as there's only so much uninterrupted triple-time jollity you can take, even if the later Neue Liebeslieder sometimes venture into darker territory. Hough even manages to link his Other Love Songs to Brahms, with the opening When I Have Passed starting with a hummed recollection of Brahms's Es bebet das Gesträuche, the song that precedes it on this disc. But he "decided, for the sake of contrast, to avoid waltzes, and to avoid setting poems about romantic love between a man and a woman" and to have them accompanied by three-handed piano.

These songs celebrate gay, fraternal and religious love and they're angry, consoling and witty by turns; Jennifer Johnston's Scouse accent is appropriately funny in Langston Hughes's Madam and her Madam and the hothouse eroticism of the Kashmiri Song is supported by Hough's Indian-inspired piano writing. Listen to how the melodic line soars during Housman's The Colour of His Hair, and experience goosebumps of delight as soprano and alto sing the Agnus Dei at the close of the final song, taking its text from the Gospel of St John. After which, returning to the frothiness of the first Brahms set of Liebeslieder can come as a bit of a shock. This is a marvellous recital, held together by Alisdair Hogarth's piano-playing, aided by Philip Fowke and Hough. The singing is faultless, especially Jacques Imbrailo's velvety baritone. It's on Linn too, so the sound quality and production are impeccable.

13 August 2011