Nocturnal Variations: Songs by Schubert, Britten, Mahler & Berg

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Britten,Mahler & Berg,Schubert
LABELS: Champs Hill
ALBUM TITLE: Nocturnal Variations
WORKS: Songs by Schubert, Britten, Mahler & Berg
PERFORMER: Ruby Hughes (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Champs Hill CHRCD 098

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Drawing on the works of four favourite composers, soprano Ruby Hughes’s recital brings together 16 songs about night, ‘a time for contemplation, meditation, sleep and dreams’, as she describes it in her introductory note.

Her singing is exceptional for its consistency. Though her tone is light and delicate, it’s invariably true in pitch and capable of a surprising range of dynamic variety – a perfect instrument of its kind. Every word she sings comes through clearly.

Joseph Middleton’s neat and purposeful accompaniments are major assets, and just as Hughes’s singing offers an object lesson in how to bring words and notes together, she and her pianist collaborate as a duo of equals. Made in Champs Hill, the recording is close but also sensitive and revealing.

The repertoire forms a progression: Schubert was a beloved composer for Britten, and both Mahler and Berg influential predecessors. Each of the performers observes the details of Schubert’s writing. In Mahler’s ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen’, ‘Um Mitternacht’ and ‘Urlicht’ Hughes combines a sense of intimacy with a grandeur of conception, while Middleton makes a good deal of accompaniments that feel orchestrally rather than pianistically conceived.

The evocative ambiguities of Berg’s infrequently heard Four Songs Op. 2 are imaginatively explored, while the four unusual items by Britten, including the Goethe setting ‘Um Mitternacht’, prove
well worth encountering.

George Hall

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