Purcell: O! Solitude, my sweetest choice, Z 406; Schubert: Einsamkeit, D620; Jonathan Dove: Under Alter’d Skies; Barber: Hermit Songs, Op. 29
James Gilchrist (tenor), Anna Tilbrook (piano)
Chandos CHAN 20145 66:19 mins
There’s much food for thought in this collation of songs on the theme of solitude. Purcell starts us off, with his much-loved, hypnotic ‘O! Solitude, my sweetest choice’, a perfect start in Gilchrist’s sweet-toned, heartfelt performance.
They then tackle Schubert’s formidable Einsamkeit, a six-part, expansive series of declarations by the composer’s mentally unstable friend Johann Mayrhofer, in which a young man pleads for various things: solitude, certainly, but also crowds, friends, love, history and – finally – solitude again. The huge, fragmented structure poses a challenge which perhaps needs a more dramatic approach, and more characterful, crunchier German, than this.
But reservations fall away from the opening notes of Dove’s cycle, Under Alter’d Skies. Sure, Tennyson’s verses are a touch old-fashioned, but the seven songs evoke myriad colours and moods. The swirling texture of ‘Fair Ship’ suits Gilchrist’s silky legato perfectly. Tilbrook’s handling of the range of pianistic textures is magnificent, from virtuosic turbulence to dignified stillness.
It gets still better with ‘Calm is the morn’, Gilchrist’s tone acquiring both warmth and transparency in response to Tennyson’s moving words, with Tilbrook’s pulsing accompaniment beautifully weighted to match. Dove has a sure, almost Schubertian gift of conveying natural phenomena in keyboard textures. The poems are well chosen in this fine cycle.
Barber’s set of ten Hermit Songs are an appealing stylistic continuation of the Dove, although this hermit is quite unconcerned with meditating on solitude! Tilbrook shines even more, bringing an exciting vividness to the accompaniments to match Gilchrist’s spirited performance.