Berkeley, Dowland, Britten

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Berkeley,Britten,Dowland
LABELS: Carpe Diem
WORKS: Songs of the Half-Light
PERFORMER: Cornelia Hellwig (soprano); Kathrin Görne (guitar)
CATALOGUE NO: 16252 (distr. +49 30 396 89 23; www.carpediem-records.de)
This imaginative, introspective recital is programmed around the themes of night, sleep and fleeting mortality and includes some of Dowland’s best-known lute songs, here heard in transcriptions for voice and guitar. Britten took Dowland’s ‘Come Heavy Sleep’ as the starting point for his Nocturnal for solo guitar, a set of theme and variations in reverse order. Berkeley’s song cycle, written for Peter Pears and Julian Bream, continues the tradition of the lute song into the 20th century with evocative settings of Walter de la Mare’s poems.

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The recording fails to come to life, however. Although Cornelia Hellwig can sometimes float a surprisingly beautiful phrase, there is a strange, hollow quality to her soprano and her diction is appalling. There seems to be a problem with her voice production which results in an inability to colour her tone in response to either Dowland’s or Berkeley’s word-painting.

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Guitarist Kathrin Görne is a different matter. In her one solo item she comes into her own, playing Britten’s haunting, substantial Nocturnal with thoughtful, spacious phrasing, effortlessly surmounting the many technical difficulties of the piece. The way that she handles the relentless final passacaglia which fragments and dissolves into the lute song theme is very moving. She stoically accompanies the rest of the programme. Emma Baker