Head

COMPOSERS: Head
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Head
WORKS: The Estuary; The Gondolier; Oh, for a March wind; Love’s Lament etc
PERFORMER: Ailish Tynan (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone), Christopher Glynn (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67899

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He studied the piano with a pupil of Clara Schumann; was the brother-in-law of Alan Bush; was championed by the likes of Kathleen Ferrier and Janet Baker; and wrote more than 100 songs. Michael Head (1900-1976) was far more than a mere Edwardian parlour composer.

As a professional singer and pianist, Head created the most inventive and sympathetic writing for voice and piano, in asymmetrical, free-flowing, artful settings of poets such as Walter de la Mare, John Masefield and Christina Rossetti. His music heightens their acute observations of the natural world, expressing their appetite for the present, fleeting moment.

And all of this rings out of a generous 76 minutes’ worth of 27 songs. Their expressive power is enhanced by the presence of the pianist Christopher Glynn and three particularly word-sensitive singers. There’s Ailish Tynan with a seasonal blustery barcarolle, Oh for a March Wind; there’s Roderick Williams with the folksy Limehouse Reach and the graphic, sparsely accompanied The Viper. And there’s the mezzo, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, with a Thomas Hardy setting (The Garden Seat) worthy of Gerald Finzi. She also sings the pungently oblique settings of Head’s sister, Nancy Bush, in the Three Songs of Venice, written for Janet Baker. A revelation.

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Hilary Finch