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Proud Songsters – English Solo Song

Michael Chance, Lawrence Zazzo, Tim Mead (countertenor), et al, Simon Lepper (piano) (King's College)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Proud Songsters – English Solo Song
Songs by Bell, Bridge, Britten, Browne, Rebecca Clarke, Dove, Finzi, Celia Harper, Quilter, Thiman and Vaughan Williams
Michael Chance, Lawrence Zazzo, Tim Mead (countertenor), Ruairi Bowen, James Gilchrist, Andrew Staples (tenor), Ashley Riches, Mark Stone (bass), Simon Lepper (piano)
King’s College KGS0052   65:59 mins

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This is an unusual album from King’s, Cambridge. Clearly conceived during the present COVID pandemic, it showcases several, often highly distinguished former choral scholars singing English solo songs, all with excellent piano accompaniment by Simon Lepper – apart from Celia Harper’s unaccompanied folksong-style ‘My love gave me an apple’ (sung by countertenor Michael Chance).

Presumably the singers chose the songs themselves from their own repertoire. The resulting programme is perhaps not ideally varied: richly harmonised Edwardian salon settings of distinguished poetry mingle with mildly poignant, almost Ravelian (though avoiding that French master’s occasional acerbic tartness) post-World War I songs.

There are exceptions. Rebecca Clarke’s ‘The Seal Man’ invigorates the post-Ravel style into something distinctive and truly atmospheric, well matched here by James Gilchrist’s engaged and dramatically expressive account (excelling his already fine performance on the first volume of Somm’s 100 Years of British Song). Gilchrist brings the same welcome qualities to his performance of Roger Quilter’s ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’.

Countertenor Lawrence Zazzo alone offers songs outside that cosy English style: he well conveys the irony of ‘God’s Love’ in Jonathan Dove’s setting of Vikram Seth; and the tart and expressive angularity of Iain Bell’s ‘Come away, Death’ is a relief after so much salted caramel sweetness. Of the other singers, Gerald Finley (singing Finzi and Vaughan Williams) and Mark Stone (singing Bridge, Warlock and Quilter) also stand out for their engagement with text.

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Daniel Jaffé