WORKS: Dover Beach; Songs, Opp. 2, 10, 13/ 3-4 & 45; Solitary Hotel; Serenade, Op. 1; String Quartet, Op. 11
PERFORMER: Thomas Allen (baritone)Roger Vignoles (piano) Endellion String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45033 2 DDD
This wonderful introduction to the lyricism and poignancy of Barber’s songs, and to the rich sound-world and engrossing harmonic textures of his string writing, is unfortunate only in its timing, appearing within six months of the outstanding DG two-disc set of Barber’s complete songs. The brooding intensity of Barber’s setting of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach – in which Allen occasionally sounds slightly strained towards the end of some lower-lying phrases – leads into a delightful performance of the Serenade for string quartet, and thence propels us into 12 of Barber’s best-known songs, sung chronologically. The Endellion closes the programme with a searing account of the String Quartet, original home of his famous Adagio.
Thomas Allen’s expressively warm baritone reveals an engaging sense of candour in the early songs, a sweet, fresh quality in ‘The Daisies’, melancholia in ‘Sleep Now’ and heartfelt drama in ‘I Hear an Army’. His delivery of two Barber fantasy settings, especially ‘A Green Lowland of Pianos’, shows Allen’s innate flair for textual nuance and vocal line which he uses with compelling results in all the songs. Roger Vignoles ranges effortlessly across Barber’s keyboard canvas, from effective basic rhythmic accompaniment, as in the slow tango of ‘Solitary Hotel’, to the more intense contrapuntal intricacies of ‘O Boundless, Boundless Evening’. Elise McDougall