Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Songs
PERFORMER: Paul Agnew (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
This year’s Finzi anniversary is, by association, redirecting our attention to his contemporary, the English songwriter and poet Ivor Gurney, whose own centenary passed 11 years ago. The Severn and the Somme were the marker-points in Gurney’s life: poison gas and shell-shock contributed to a total breakdown which led to his premature death in 1937. Dulce et decorum est, indeed…


This recital spans Gurney’s short creative life, from the early Five Elizabethan Songs, most word-lively and imaginatively inventive of them all, to the late settings of Georgian poets. The melancholy archaisms which so often express those poets’ acute ache at the passing of the pre-war world find a close companion in the leisured, long-limbed lines of melody and the delicately nostalgic piano-writing of Gurney’s settings.


Paul Agnew is an archetypal British tenor: close-focused, intimately communicative, slightly enclosed and a little pushed when pressed too far. With Julius Drake’s ever-perceptive accompanying, he catches the whimsical hedonism of de la Mare’s ‘Bread and Cherries’, the languor of the melody which takes life deceptively easy in ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’, and the calm ardour of the justly renowned ‘Sleep’. And, from the trenches, the simple, strong inflections of ‘By a Bierside’, and Gurney’s setting of his own ‘Severn Meadows’. Hilary Finch