Earth, thy cold is keen
Lotte Betts-Dean (mezzo-soprano); Sequoia
Delphian DCD34297 77:02 mins
What’s in a voice? In the case of mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean, qualities that prompted a rich compositional seam from Stuart MacRae upon hearing a 2008 recording of her singing his setting of the Middle English verse ‘The Lif of this World’. While a haunting new version appositely concludes this new album, the other ten pieces are the fruits of the past two years.
Betts-Dean’s voice is the focus, at times ethereal, others bracingly earthy, and often featuring agile, decorative curlicues. There is great intimacy, with generally light accompaniment from violin-and-cello duo Sequoia or the composer on harmonium, alongisde extended solo passages, notably the hypnotic central unfolding of The Captive. This music is clearly modern, yet permeated by a folk sensibility and medievalism that imbue it with a timeless quality.
Sequoia’s grounded playing comes judiciously to the fore for two short pieces, the ebb and Haroldswick. ‘Stond wel, Moder, under rode’ is a remarkable alternate Stabat Mater, the medieval text being a dialogue between the dying Jesus on the cross and his mother, Mary, MacRae’s setting being all the more powerful for its intense restraint. The remarkable ‘wodwo’ is at the album’s heart. Recorded birdsong seemingly elicits Betts-Dean’s gentle ululations in a piece of stunning, melancholic beauty.