Gurney: Five Elizabethan Songs

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COMPOSERS: Gurney
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Five Elizabethan Songs; All night under the moon; By a bierside; On the downs; Lights out etc
PERFORMER: Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano), Iain Burnside (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572151

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This generous recital of 30 Gurney songs includes two premiere recordings: his setting of a folksong, ‘The bonnie Earl of Murray’, and ‘The cherry trees’, a response to Edward Thomas, the poet to whom Gurney was probably closest of all. Gurney’s Earl of Murray has less smouldering menace than Britten’s ‘Earl of Moray’: this is a direct, defiant and heroic ballad setting.

Thomas’s cherry blossom falls in Gurney’s descending triplets, and the melancholy of its evocation of confetti for a wedding ‘when there is none to wed’ is discovered again in ‘Snow’, with its long, blanched vowels, and in the final ‘Lights out’.

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This recording is also invaluable because Susan Bickley shares with Gurney a direct and instinctive response to the inflections, metres and emotional colours of the English language. Perceptively partnered by Iain Burnside, she uncovers the inner music within the poetry of ‘Sleep’, Gurney’s most renowned Elizabethan song, and has a keen ear for the sultry, laid-back New World syncopations of ‘The Apple Orchard’, Gurney’s setting of the Canadian poet Edward Bliss Carman. Many favourites, and many discoveries here: none of them to be missed. Hilary Finch