On This Shining Night
Barber: Dover Beach; Songs (arr. R Williams) Sally Beamish: Tree Carols; plus songs by Delius and Warlock
Sophie Bevan (soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone); Coull Quartet
SOMM SOMMCD 0654 65:57 mins
By far the most interesting interplay between voice and string quartet in this new recital is in Sally Beamish’s five Tree Carols, of which this is the first recording. In the opening ‘The Miracle Tree’, string tremolandos pitched at varying dynamics provide a shuddering counterpoint to Roderick Williams’s incantatory vocal line, probing Fiona Sampson’s poem on nature’s spiritual secrets.
The Coull Quartet’s slicing chords in ‘Vigil’ punctuate Williams’s quasi-operatic soul-searching, while his soft high notes in ‘The tree is a changing sky’ are exquisitely floated, evoking the apple-picker’s aerial ascent on a ladder. In the closing ‘Bushes and Briars’, quartet and singer are as one, birdsong chirruping in the strings while Williams intones a harsher human story unravelling in the undergrowth.
Peter Warlock’s 11 settings for quartet and voice are less intense, if more melodically approachable. The combination of Williams and soprano Sophie Bevan in ‘Corpus Christi’ is especially affecting, and Bevan also duets with tenor James Gilchrist in the bitter-sweet ‘Sorrow’s Lullaby’.
In Barber’s well-known Dover Beach, Roderick Williams and the Coull Quartet again form a virtually perfect partnership, achieving a confiding intimacy in music which is often over-interpreted. A clutch of arrangements by Williams fill out the programme, including three of songs by Delius. Of these, the playful ‘Young Venevil’ is particularly endearing. The balance between voice and instruments is astutely judged by engineer Oscar Torres, and Robert Matthew-Walker’s booklet notes are helpful. All told, a cleverly programmed and edifying recital.