ALBUM TITLE: Hurd
WORKS: The Aspern Papers; The Night of the Wedding
PERFORMER: Owen Gilhooly, Pippa Goss, Clare McCaldin, Louise Winter; Ulster Orchestra/George Vass; Matthew Buswell*, Rhian Lois*, Nicholas Morton*; Simon Lepper* (piano)/Ronald Corp*
CATALOGUE NO: SRCD.2350
In his lifetime, record companies took scant interest in the tuneful output of Michael Hurd. But his death brought one substantial reward: the establishment in 2007, through the terms of his will, of the British Music Society Charitable Trust, mostly devoted to promoting his music. I wish I could be more enthusiastic about this latest offering, the biggest to date. But for all Hurd’s experience in setting words, his prose libretto for the three-act opera The Aspern Papers (1994), derived from Henry James’s novella, too often generates vocal lines heavily corseted and coloured grey. The juicy stuff actually lies in the orchestral writing (beautifully played), often suffused with a wistful melancholy distantly suggesting the moodier film scores of Bernard Herrmann.
The opera as a whole adopts a reflective stance. There’s little outward drama even when Louise Winter’s Juliana, keeper of the poet Jeffrey Aspern’s secrets, calls his biographer a ‘publishing scoundrel’ and collapses onto the floor. A leaner voice than Owen Gilhooly’s baritone might have given us pleasanter listening as Jordan, the biographer, presses his case; but George Vass’s team all do their best for this modest and thoughtful opera. It’s worth hearing once.
At least there’s a loud pistol shot in The Night of the Wedding, a slightly risqué 16-minute opera adapted from a theatrical trinket by Frederick Witney. Hurd’s manner is light and slightly Frenchified. Simon Lepper’s piano accompaniment prances nicely, and there’s a kick to Rhian Lois’s soprano. But it’s not enough; the piece is a damp squib. Geoff Brown