Leighton: Earth, sweet Earth… (laudes terrae)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Britten,Leighton
LABELS: Linn
WORKS: Leighton: Earth, sweet Earth… (laudes terrae); Britten: Winter Words
PERFORMER: James Gilchrist (tenor), Anna Tilbrook (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Linn CKD 329

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Too often with modern vocal works, the singer’s line turns out to be the least memorable feature of the work. At worst the music can leave you wondering why these particular words are being sung at all.

This is emphatically not the case with Kenneth Leighton’s Earth, Sweet Earth…, even though in choosing Gerard Manley Hopkins, Leighton dares to set some of the most densely musical poetry in the English language. No matter how interesting the piano writing, the voice inevitably leads, dramatically or through mellifluous lyricism. 

James Gilchrist is an impressively rounded advocate. His enunciation is superb, his melodic phrasing is always wonderfully musical; he can be seductive, but at times there’s an eloquent astringency not unlike the late Philip Langridge. The final song, ‘Ribblesdale’, is the culmination in more senses than one.

Pianist Anna Tilbrook is a strong accompanist, though the very immediate recording does harden her tone in places. It doesn’t prevent her train whistle impersonations in Britten’s Winter Words from being very telling, but it does add edge to the solo prelude to Earth, Sweet Earth…

Gilchrist’s Winter Words is more expressively forthright than the Britten-Pears mono recording, which in some places is very welcome, yet there’s also a quality of inward concentration composer and partner bring to this music that Gilchrist doesn’t quite match – especially not in the desolate final song, ‘Before life and after’.

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So all said it’s a good, if not a great Winter Words, though the disc is well worth having for the Leighton alone. Stephen Johnson