Where Corals Lie: Sea Pictures, Op. 37; The Shepherd’s Song; A Song of Autumn etc
Julia Sitkovetsky (soprano), Christopher Glynn (piano)
Chandos CHAN 20236 63:38 mins
This is my first encounter with Julia Sitkovetsky’s singing, so I take on trust her admired stage presence and ability to nail stratospheric coloratura, though neither quality is much called for in this recital of Elgar songs. What counts in this repertoire is not only character, but also an engagement with text combined with an ability to communicate. It was perhaps not wise to begin with the well-loved Sea Pictures, already embedded in people’s minds through such recordings as Janet Baker’s plangently expressive account with superbly atmospheric orchestral playing under Barbirolli’s baton. Furthermore, the cycle was originally intended for a contralto or mezzo voice, and therefore set in more brooding keys than those the songs have been transposed to fit the soprano range here. Sitkovetsky sings them decently but not outstandingly, and even in the opening song there is a disturbing beat to her vibrato when she plunges to the low notes of ‘On the shadowy sand’.
The risk of comparison is reduced in the rest of the disc. One of the most beautiful items, ‘Queen Mary’s Song’, comes across attractively with a fine lilt in Christopher Glynn’s accompaniment. But it really needs a pianist of greater calibre to raise the rather clumping piano writing for the Two Songs, Op. 60 to something arresting. Furthermore, a quick comparison with such a pianist, Malcolm Martineau, on SOMM’s album of Elgar songs finds singers Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Neil Mackie and Christopher Maltman, even if less fresh-voiced, much more engaged with the song texts and their expression.