I Wonder As I Wander
Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte; plus songs by Britten, Mahler and Schubert
James Newby (baritone), Joseph Middleton (piano)
BIS BIS-2475 (CD/SACD) 75:26 mins
It would be fair to say that things are not looking up for the fictional protagonists of baritone James Newby’s debut recording. From the restless, bleak voice of Schubert’s Wanderer (D489) to Mahler’s doomed soldier (‘Zu Strassburg auf der Schanz’), wonderfully evoked here, deserting to answer the longed-for call of his homeland’s Alpine horn, redemption seems beyond reach. These are songs for the still grey skies of winter, filled with yearning for the other – whether a love unrequited or lost, a life that falls bitterly short, a homeland viewed from exile – coloured with Newby’s elastic vocal tone, sense of drama and attentive articulation.
This is a fine debut disc, its repertoire giving Newby ample chance to demonstrate his expressive and dramatic range, whether in the cold of the Britten song which gives the album its name – superbly accompanied throughout by Joseph Middleton, who brings understated life to Britten’s still, pinched piano fragments – or the half-deranged Mahler ‘Reveille’, in which singer and piano drum relentlessly over the bloodied battlefield towards death.
If this series of brooding, bitter and desperate voices is ever in danger of evoking a sense of melancholic navel-gazing – although largely beautifully done, not least Schubert’s ‘Abendsterm’ – there are moments that bring a lighter cast to the theme, such as an exquisitely sung ‘Im Freien’ (Schubert), or Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte. But it’s short-lived, as Mahler’s ‘Urlicht’ aches emotively from singer and pianist, delivering Newby to the quiet ecstasy of Britten’s ‘At the mid hour of night’.
Sarah Urwin Jones