Michelangelo in Song

Album title:
Michelangelo in Song
Britten; Shostakovich; Wolf
Britten: Seven sonnets of Michelangelo; Shostakovich: Suite, Op. 145; Wolf: Three Songs
Sir John Tomlinson (bass), David Owen Norris (piano)
Catalogue Number:
BBC Music Magazine
Michelangelo in Song


How I wish this Michelangelo recital programme had been filmed for DVD. Over 40 years’ singing, ten as Bayreuth’s Wotan, have taken their toll on Sir JohnTomlinson’s huge basso profundo voice. Being there for the Proms Wagner Parsifal back in August was different to merely listening on the radio without benefit of an unquestionable stage charisma. I tried hard to visualise that in this disc’s first two song-sets, but the wobble that bedevils the voice defeated me in Wolf’s Three Michelangelo Poems, however right the sentiment. And a tenor should have been summoned for Britten’s radiant Peter Pears-oriented Seven Sonnets. Britten would allow song reallocation to treasured singers, but begged them to choose alternative keys carefully – mostly a fourth below. So C major rather than G major for Sonnet 30 seems to sound wrong; and pianist David Owen Norris’s arpeggiation of the accompanying triads, presumably to avoid the murkiness of straight chords at the lower pitch, doesn’t quite convince me.

Shostakovich’s great late meditations make amends. Few basses have the right inky-black colour the composer imagined – and got, in Yevgeny Nesterenko above all others. Tomlinson does, and he chills the soul. He feels the pain of the Dante-dedicated settings and the death-watches. Owen Norris, sometimes overpedalling in the earlier songs, brings a special focus to extraordinary accompaniments. I’d have liked more release in the final ‘Immortality’, and a few more correct vowels, but otherwise, this is the real thing. The sound captures the velvet that still sometimes envelops the wear and tear of his voice.

David Nice

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