Song offerings by Val Gavin

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LABELS: Tall Poppies
WORKS: Song Offerings; A Shropshire Lad
PERFORMER: Julian Gavin (tenor), May Gavin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Tall Poppies TP 235


Circumstances may well inspire the listener to respond instantly to the heartfelt emotion in these songs. Val Gavin, a remarkable human being according to her daughter May’s booklet biography, only had a brief flourishing as a composer. After moving from her native London to New South Wales, she used the resources of a late Romantic style unfashionable in the 1960s to personal ends. She died in 2003, in the same month as her husband; their son Julian Gavin, with May as well-established pianist, made this recording nearly seven years later. Shortly afterwards, this truly world-class tenor – I’ll never forget his Verdi Don Carlos at Covent Garden – was diagnosed with a rare form of encephalitis. The hope is for eventual recovery, but clearly it’s a long haul.

There is no need to make allowances here. The rich tenor voice, lyric verging on helden, is used with superlative breath control and great power at climaxes which match the often refulgent nature of Val’s piano writing, effortlessly negotiated by May. These settings of Housman’s A Shropshire Lad compare well with Butterworth’s; they’re often more robust and more agile in natural text-setting. Bredon Hill, with wistful piano bell-ringing between verses, is a good sampler of the feeling maintained throughout the disc, and Julian is searing in the darker, war-torn numbers.

The musical response to sometimes hazy Rabindranath Tagore is even richer in the piano writing, more varied still in mood-shifts and subtly inflected with oriental overtones. Miraculously, the long sequence never palls, constantly surprising in its sudden raptures.


David Nice