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Songs for New Life and Love (Ruby Hughes)

Ruby Hughes (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano) (BIS)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
BIS-2468_Mahler

Songs for New Life and Love
Helen Grime: Bright Travellers; Ives: Songs; Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; Kindertotenlieder
Ruby Hughes (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano)
BIS BIS-2468 (CD/SACD)   74:12 mins

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Composer Helen Grime had recently become a mother when she wrote Bright Travellers; so too had soprano Ruby Hughes when she premiered the cycle in 2018. Together they bring a special degree of empathy to songs (setting poems by Fiona Benson) which explore the intimate, often startling emotions of new motherhood.

In ‘Soundings’, which opens the cycle, Grime raptly catches the sense of apprehension and mystery as a midwife ‘lies an ear down flat’ on the mother, Hughes’s vocals arching widely like the graph line on a digital scanner. The marvel of ‘multiplying cells like pearls’ is reflected in the busily proliferating piano part of ‘Brew’, and both Middleton and Hughes catch dramatically the raw, vulnerable diminuendo which concludes ‘Visitations’.

The spectre of stillbirth hangs grimly over ‘Council Offices’, where Hughes powerfully distils the sense of emotional numbness in Grime’s music, abetted by Middleton’s eerily plinking accompaniment. Bright Travellers is unquestionably a piece of real substance, and this recording should help solidify a place for it in the soprano concert repertoire.

Sharply communicative accounts of the Mahler mini-cycles Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Kindertotenlieder add to the recording’s attraction, with a clutch of songs by Ives as a considerable bonus. Ruby Hughes commands attention throughout – there’s no ‘clever’ underlining, no irrelevant tonal refulgences or prima donna posturings. Intense concentration on text and emotional nuance replace them, and dovetail seamlessly with Joseph Middleton’s similarly insightful piano playing.

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Terry Blain