Michael Chance, Tim Mead, Lawrence Zazzo counter-tenors
Ruairi Bowen, James Gilchrist, Andrew Staples tenors
Mark Stone baritone
Gerald Finley, Ashley Riches bass-baritones
Simon Lepper piano
This recital has been devised to showcase 10 alumni (nine vocalists and a pianist) of King’s College Cambridge. Many of the names and much of the repertoire will be familiar, although even a few years ago it would have been unusual to feature one – let alone three – counter-tenors, while the staples of Finzi, Quilter and Britten etc have been leavened by new songs from Ian Bell, Celia Harper and Jonathan Dove.
Since the list of tracks can easily be checked online it seems simpler to state that the whole forms a highly agreeable exploration of English song. I especially enjoyed Ashley Riches whole-hearted I will go with my Father A-Ploughing (reeking of freshly-tilled earth and scudding clouds) while Howells’ King David takes on an almost spectral air sung by a countertenor. Recently I remarked on the sudden popularity of Rebecca Clarke’s mini-scena The Seal Man – and here it is again, in perhaps the best performance yet.
However, while the range of voices certainly brings a change of colour, there is a certain sameness about the actual repertoire which can get a little monotonous (the chief exception being Dove’s biting setting of Vikram Seth) so perhaps it is not a recital to play straight through.
And this brings me to another concern, which is that often purity of line and beauty of tone seem to take precedence over meaning and expression – surprising, given the operatic experience of so many of the performers.
One small example: in Finzi’s The Sigh the line ‘And she loved me staunchly, truly till she died’ can be a sudden swell of gratitude, surprise and pride; there are four separate thoughts in that line, all hinged on that little comma.
Here, Andrew Staples simply records it smoothly as a matter of record, and this is rather typical; I repeatedly found myself yearning for greater dramatic expression, or more searching line-readings.
However, if you do not have my pernickety fussiness this can be enthusiastically recommended as sonorous example of both the best of English art song and the impeccable musical traditions of Kings College (including a bonus track appearance by another Kings ‘old boy’ Christopher Keyte). Excellent sleeve-notes by Stephen Banfield, too.
Review by Kevin Mandry