PERFORMER: Sarah Leonard (soprano), Paul Leonard (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 214
With the demise of Collins, Somm’s new series ‘A Century of English Song’ is doubly welcome. Sarah Leonard is an artist who has given audiences ample pleasure over the years, and Malcolm Martineau brings just the right kind of drive and aplomb to the piano accompaniments. That said, the vocal quality of neither singer here feels remotely top rank: there is a shrill edge and strain in upper registers which, though not wholly inappropriate to the genre, or without its element of poignancy, sometimes grates.
What makes amends is the clear commitment and lucid enunciation both bring to the programme. Not all the songs are polished gems: a few verge on Edwardian music hall, rather than drawing-room fare. Somervell’s A Shropshire Lad settings are of uneven inspiration, but Paul Leonard, albeit fractionally raucous elsewhere, catches notably the simple expressive pathos of Housman’s ‘Into my heart’. Stanford emerges particularly well, especially the cycle An Irish Idyll, to divertingly catchy texts by Moira O’Neill, which Sarah Leonard brings deliciously alive. Two Somervell lullabies, Parry’s ‘Armida’s Garden’ and Stanford’s evocative Whitman setting ‘To the Soul’ are among the disc’s clutch of valuable discoveries. Roderic Dunnett