Down By the Salley Gardens

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Finzi,Gurney,Hely-Hutchinson,Howells,L Berkley,Purcell/Britten,Purcell/Tippett,Stanford,Warlock & Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Songs by L Berkley, Finzi, Gurney, Hely-Hutchinson, Howells, Purcell/Britten, Purcell/Tippett, Stanford, Warlock & Vaughan Williams
PERFORMER: Bejun Mehta (countertenor), Julius Drake (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Harmonia Mundi HMC 902093

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Bejun Mehta is fairly unusual among countertenors in ranging beyond traditional castrato and Baroque repertoires, into much wider musical territory – here, the golden age of English song, the early 20th century. At first sight, this might not sound too countertenor-friendly, and indeed heartier songs, Jillian of Berry and It was a Lover and his Lass (all those hey-nonny-noes) find him least convincing.

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Others, though, are more persuasive. Mehta is a technically excellent singer; with a firm, well-supported line; an unusually resonant lower range; and fine expressive diction, well equal to Julius Drake’s sturdy accompaniment. And he’s hardly more bloodless than genteel English tenors of the era – Harry Plunket Greene, say, or Webster Booth. If he’s less effective than Janet Baker or Felicity Lott in capturing Silent Noon’s shimmering stillness, he exploits his thinner tone deftly for unusual, even eerie effects, especially in Stanford’s chilling La belle dame sans merci. He also makes much of the Vaughan Williams, and Britten’s Purcell settings, while venturing into even more familiar territory with gusto in Hely-Hutchinson’s coloratura-ridden Set in the Manner of Handel. Michael Scott Rohan