H Ferguson: Discovery, Op. 13; Finzi: Till Earth Outwears; Maconchy: Shakespeare Songs, etc.; plus songs by R Clarke and P Tate
James Geer (tenor), Ronald Woodley (piano)
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0630 67:59 mins
This fascinating collection of British songs is quite an ear-opener. None of them are well known; one of the Maconchy group (‘A Hymn to God the Father’) and two of the Tate (‘The Falcon’ and ‘Cradle Song’) are premiere recordings. In all, the recital tells us much about a tranche of new music in Britain in the early 20th century, as far away as you like from the Second Viennese School. This is a world of intuitive, subtle and flexible responses to text; each composer creates a world of his or her own and finds a unique way to lead us through it. Indeed, the title Dreams Melting (taken from one poem in Ferguson’s Denton Welch cycle, Discovery) seems more than appropriate.
Ferguson’s Discovery forms a strong start, the ideal bridge from Romanticism to modernism; the other substantial cycle is Finzi’s melancholy yet charmful Till Earth Outwears, fitting the poems by Thomas Hardy like a glove. Maconchy’s songs prove dark and probing, and Tate’s are almost startlingly imaginative. The Rebecca Clarke ones, though, are outstanding, overflowing with character. ‘The Seal Man’ in particular is a powerful fantasy, part horror, part tragic love story, and Ronald Woodley creates terrific atmosphere in the sea-swept piano part. This one, above all, stays with you.
James Geer’s voice is distinctive, with a cut-through brightness of sound and superb intonation; add to this his intelligent phrasing and sensitivity to nuance and, in the Clarke songs, you can almost imagine you are listening to a top-notch violist, as the composer was herself.