Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Sargasso
WORKS: Turquoise Swans: Three Songs for Sylvia Plath; Some Dirty Tricks; The Thief of Songs III
PERFORMER: Sarah Leonard (soprano), Paul Barker (piano)
Sarah Leonard’s superb renderings of Paul Barker’s Three Songs for Sylvia Plath comprehensively vindicate the inspiring effect her remarkable voice had on the composer during their early days at the Guildhall School of Music. Sensitively supported by Barker’s subtle harmonic effects at the piano, Leonard caresses the lyrical phrases and transcends the grand melodic leaps with astonishing flexibility. There can hardly be a more potent musical interpretation of Plath’s wondrous delineation of childbirth.


Leonard premiered Barker’s opera Some Dirty Tricks (concerning the intrigues between BA and Virgin Atlantic) in 1997 and she makes a seductive hostess here, escorting the listener with vocal aerobatics and imposing theatrical presence. Barker’s dynamic energy in the work’s piano sonnets (interludes) and Leonard’s seductive allure – showing breathtaking virtuosity at the extremes of her vocal range – are irresistible.

Although the music for The Thief of Songs III was originally scored for voice and singing bowls, the version with piano is no less atmospheric. This duo’s evocative illustration of ‘The Dream’, mellifluous unaccompanied singing in the title song’s Aztec folk lines, and beautiful poise in the ‘Song to Ease Birth’ leave a lasting impression.


This is concentrated and elaborate music, but 30 minutes’ playing time is surely not enough. Nicholas Rast