The Power of Love

COMPOSERS: Elgar/Gibbs/Grainger/Holst
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: The Power of Love
WORKS: Songs by Elgar, Gibbs, Grainger, Holst, Peel, Quilter, Warlock
PERFORMER: Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)


Alice Coote, for those who haven’t discovered her yet, is one of the finest British mezzo-sopranos since Janet Baker, an intellectual artist with an international career in recital, concert and opera. Here she selects classic English songs, but also, less expectedly, what’s still thought of as Victorian parlour repertoire. Since her accompanist is the immensely knowledgeable and perceptive Graham Johnson, though, this proves both admirably suited to her distinctively creamy yet expressive voice, and occasionally revelatory.

One or two songs are undoubtedly naïve – Maude Valérie White, a fine melodist, gives no sign of understanding Byron’s sexual imagery in So we’ll go no more a-roving. But equally Liza Lehmann’s ballads are sophisticated and atmospheric enough for anyone – perhaps more so than Elgar’s rather conventional lyrics. Some songs are familiar, the eponymous Percy Grainger, Roger Quilter’s three and Vaughan Williams’s Silent Noon, but they’re all beautifully sung. Less expected material, such as Cecil Armstrong Gibbs’s paranoid Hypochondriacus, Coote delivers with vivid empathy, just as she captures the dislocated passion and pathos of Ivor Gurney’s Lights Out. The well-structured programme concludes with Holst’s late Humbert Wolfe settings, in which Coote finds surprising power. Journey’s End  is tragically bleak, Betelgeuse reduces human concerns to motes in the vast universe – a devastating pendant, as Johnson points out in his excellent booklet notes, to The Planets.


Michael Scott Rohan