The Divine Muse
Arias and songs by Haydn, Schubert and Wolf
Mary Bevan (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano)
Signum Classics SIGCD606 64.35 mins
Muses are often just a pretext for objectifying women, but The Divine Muse offers a much more thoughtful take. In this recital, the muse can be a predictable figure like Dido, Venus, Ganymede or Ariadne – but perhaps also the imagined goddess Weyla, real women the poets loved, God, Jesus and nature, so there’s plenty of variety.
Schubert and Wolf songs sandwich Haydn’s dramatic cantata Arianna a Naxos, and Geistliches Lied. Schubert, pleasingly, is represented by both Italian (elegant or energetic) and German (impassioned or introspective). Some of the Wolf songs are searingly beautiful, such as his rarely-heard ‘Ganymed’ and ‘Gebet’. The Haydn makes a substantial filling.
And yet, overall, it doesn’t quite work because both the German and Italian words are sung with the same limpid evenness. German poetry needs more bite and clarity, the lines jump-starting off the consonants, even tipping into ugliness or despair. Wolf’s magnificently twisted soundworld, especially, needs more grit. That said, the Italian-language settings respond excellently to Mary Bevan’s silken, untroubled sound. This makes it a recital of two halves. Despite her beautiful voice – and it is truly beautiful: resonant, creamy and warm, refined and elegant – Bevan seems to float above the raw, heart-wrenching emotion in the German verses. Joseph Middleton’s assured, sensitive and technicolour playing tells a more insightful story. This imbalance slightly prevents this recording from being the glorious feast this fine pair of musicians could offer. Nevertheless, the selected songs make a thought-provoking and rewarding combination. Natasha Loges