WORKS: Songs by Quilter, Griffes, Copland, Britten, Bernstein, Barber
PERFORMER: Barbara Bonney (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 4003
Don’t let the cleavage, the calligraphy or even the title put you off too much: this latest recital disc from Barbara Bonney is not the ego-trip it seems from its packaging. Its thoughtful weaving of the strands of English and American song uncovers the rich interfertilisation of styles in the early 20th century, revealing it to be a real Golden Age of English-language song.
The word-brightness of Quilter’s Seven Elizabethan Lyrics is sometimes compromised by Bonney’s tendency to smooth out and homogenise her vowels, sacrificing everything to a legato which borders on vocalise. Try listening to a track or two without following the text, and you’ll see what I mean. Malcolm Martineau’s keen-eared accompanying provides a kaleidoscope of Impressionistic colour for Charles Griffes’s Celtic twilight; and Bonney enjoys the dusky sensuality of songs such as ‘They dark eyes to mine’.
The languor of Copland’s Four Early Songs draws out the beauty of Bonney’s lower register. But the top of the voice can sound under-nourished, and her over-syllabic articulation in Britten’s On this Island is no substitute for real vocal energy. Bonney is more focused, both vocally and verbally, for the childlike drollery of Bernstein’s I hate music, and for Barber’s truly great settings of Hopkins and Agee in the Four Songs, Op. 13. Hilary Finch