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Songs of Vain Glory

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Songs of Vain Glory
Works by Ayer, Finzi, Bridge, Britten, Elgar, Gurney, Haydn, Holst, Ireland, Lehmann, Novello, Somervell, Stanford, Warlock, Weston, Wood & Yves
Sophie Bevan (soprano); Sebastian Wybrew (piano)
Wigmore Hall Live WHLive 0090

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This beautifully programmed recital will make you want to rush out and buy as many volumes of British songs as you can. It collects – imaginatively, coherently, and to deeply moving effect – 23 songs on the theme of war. (That said, the adherence to Britain is not slavish, since Haydn and Ives make cameo appearances.) The overall sequence evokes the emotional turmoil of war, ranging through jingoistic triumphalism, numb grief, escapist pleasure, sheer terror and the ultimate relief of peace.

The opening song, Finzi’s atmospheric 1929 setting of Hardy’s At a Lunar Eclipse, is followed by groups of songs on the themes ‘A Call to Arms’, ‘A Popular Medley’, ‘At Sea’, ‘Bereavement’ and ‘After the Armistice’. Britten’s song arrangements are a punchy seasoning, spiking through all the early-20th century sweetness.

The stalwarts of English song, Finzi, Bridge, Gurney, Warlock and others, are honourably represented. But the real showstoppers are the lovingly rendered wartime lollipops, steeped in nostalgia, underlaid with sorrow and loss, including Wood’s 1916 Roses of Picardy and Novello’s 1945 We’ll gather lilacs.

Sophie Bevan has established herself as one of the most accomplished singers of the younger generation. But on this recording, the text often suffers from a lack of clarity which forced me to rely reluctantly on the liner notes. Still, her sound is glorius, perfectly matched by Sebastian Wybrew’s tremendous versatility and sense of colour.

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Natasha Loges