Shakespeare Songs

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Britten,Byrd,Finzi,Gurney,Haydn,Johnson,Korngold,Morley,Poulenc,Quilter,Schubert,Stravinsky,Tippett,Warlock
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Shakespeare Songs
WORKS: Finzi: Let us Garlands Bring; Stravinsky: Three Songs from William Shakespeare; Tippett: Songs for Ariel; plus songs by Byrd, Morley, Johnson, Schubert, Haydn, Quilter, Gurney, Warlock, Korngold, Poulenc & Britten
PERFORMER: Ian Bostridge (tenor), Adam Walker (flute), Michael Collins (clarinet), Lawrence Power (viola), Elizabeth Kenny (lute), Antonio Pappano (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 0190295944735  

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A late bloom for Shakespeare’s anniversary year, this generous recital features 29 settings of the bard by from contemporary composers, such as Morley and Johnson, through the golden-age English lyricists, Finzi and Quilter, and on to 20th-century Europeans, Korngold and Stravinsky.

Ian Bostridge’s distinctive artistry, plangent of tone and supremely verbal, suits some of the settings better than others. Five songs from Finzi’s incomparable Let us Garlands Bring see the tenor’s head voice floating sympathetically through the melismatic vowels and ever-shifting metres of Finzi’s most sensitive inflection of Shakespeare’s verse. There’s some fulsome Quilter (his ‘Come away, sweet death’ a telling contrast to Finzi’s setting), and some robust Warlock in ‘Pretty Ring Time’, Antonio Pappano’s accompanying as vigorous as Bostridge’s rhythmic definition.

I particularly enjoyed their partnership and Bostridge’s nicely understated ‘Desdemona’s Song’ from Korngold’s still undersung settings. And Poulenc’s ‘Fancie’ is another revelatory example of a non-native composer’s insight into Shakespeare’s prosody, here nicely paired with Britten’s setting of the same song.

Pappano is not Bostridge’s only colleague here. Elizabeth Kenny’s lute accompanies the tenor in his somewhat breathless, over-articulated performances of Morley’s, Wilson’s and Johnson’s exquisite early 17th-century settings. And Michael Collins, Lawrence Power and Adam Walker make engaging chamber music with him in Stravinsky’s Three Songs from William Shakespeare. The anonymous and unaccompanied ‘When that I was and a little tiny boy’ is offered by way of a felicitous encore.

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Hilary Finch