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Michael Head: Songs
Who is Michael Head? His name may be largely forgotten but the music here forms part of the rich seam of English song in the manner of Quilter, Gurney and Warlock. Born in 1900, he worked modestly as a singer, pianist, teacher, broadcaster and adjudicator, writing his first song (The ships of Arcady) aged 19, studying at the Royal Academy of Music, where he became a professor of piano aged 27, remaining there for the rest of his career.
At the centre of his composing life were songs, which he used to perform as a kind of one-man band, accompanying himself at the piano. Out of more than 100, here’s a choice selection: setting poets such as Walter de la Mare, John Masefield and Christina Rossetti, many of them focus on the pleasures of England—its flora and fauna, its changing seasons and lyrical landscapes.
They’re sung by three of the brightest stars in today’s vocal firmament, Ailish Tynan (making her Hyperion debut), Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Roderick Williams, accompanied by Christopher Glynn, who adds Head to his previous recordings of Reger and Brahms.
“[Wyn-Rogers] is laudable in the very sad, well-named Love's Lament...The two lustiest songs, 'Money, O!' and 'My sword for the King' are allotted to Roderick Williams, who brings bold vocalism to both...Christopher Glynn brings out the different colours in accordance with each song, from crashing chords to gurgling gruppetti, sparking little scales to vigorous outpourings or soft sweetness.” International Record Review, January 2012
“Head makes sure England’s fields are forever green, even when the mood is tinged with sadness: not for him the slightest inelegance. The apportioning of songs to soprano, mezzo and baritone gives the recital an easy pace. Williams’ flawless diction makes his the pick of the bunch.” Financial Times, 14th January 2012 ****
“as the meticulous performances by these singers...demonstrate, Head was acutely sensitive to words. There are settings of Masefield and Yeats, Hardy, Joyce and Christina Rossetti here, and in every song each phrase is perfectly balanced, its meaning directly communicated, its accompaniment supremely tactful.” The Guardian, 12th January 2012 ***
“the enterprise of Hyperion knows no bounds. Here is a disc devoted to songs by Michael Head, who is not likely to be known to many...Singers and pianists perform with conviction and style. If you can, start with 'Limehouse Reach', which has the charm and simplicity of Vaughan Williams's 'Linden Lea', and take it from there.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2012
“Head created the most inventive and sympathetic writing for voice and piano, in asymmetrical, free-flowing, artful settings of poets such as Walter de la Mare, John Masefield and Christina Rossetti. His music heightens their acute observations of the natural world, expressing their appetite for the present, fleeting moment...A revelation.” BBC Music Magazine, March 2012 ****
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My True Love Hath My Heart: English Songs
Sarah Connolly received excellent reviews for her recital performance of ‘English Songs’ on 11 April 2011 at the Alice Tully Hall in New York. The New York Times wrote: ‘Ms Connolly’s voice was strong and steady through its range, velvety, but with a soft, subtle graininess that gave weight and presence to even her most ethereal floated notes.’
Here the mezzo-soprano, accompanied by Malcolm Martineau on piano, performs four arrangements by Benjamin Britten: three folk songs and one song from an early choral work. These complement the recent Britten CD on Chandos, on which Connolly performs the cantata Phaedra as well as A Charm of Lullabies (CHAN 10671).
Next come eleven songs from the 1920s, which is considered the golden decade for English art songs. Among the highlights are By a Bierside, Ivor Gurney’s stark reflection on death, written in the World War I trenches, and Herbert Howells’s King David which has long been considered a masterpiece. Howells himself said: ‘I am prouder to have written King David than almost anything else of mine.’
The most recent contribution to this disc of English Songs is the surreally retro A History of the Thé Dansant by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, which was published in 1995.
“Her singing is consistently beautiful in this programme of English songs” Sunday Times, 16th October 2011
“They create a sense of isolation within the sadness of King David; they capture Ireland's responses to the poetry of Hardy, Sidney and Symons with total commitment; and they respond with sentience to Gurney's uniquely eloquent feeling for the inflections of the English language in two of his classic songs” BBC Music Magazine, December 2011 ****
“One of today’s most intelligent musical mezzo-sopranos, Sarah Connolly is in gloriously fluent and expressive voice for an imaginatively programmed selection of mid 20th-century English song...Malcolm Martineau’s accompaniment is exemplary in its sensitivity.” The Telegraph, 27th October 2011 *****
“It is good to find an English singer in her prime championing the lesser-known art songs of her native tradition, and making them sound not so much twee as magical: listen to Connolly’s artless handling of Britten’s “Corpus Christi Carol”, the quiet rapture she finds in Howells’s “Kind David”, the fun she has with the Foxtrot from Richard Rodney Bennett’s “History of Thé Dansant”.” Financial Times, 30th October 2011 ****
“her sense of drama is never overstated. She excels, therefore, in capturing the masculine melancholy of Britten's lullabies and Bennett's brittle, unpredictable scenes from a long marriage. Martineau responds throughout with characteristically flawless, subtle and intuitive accompaniment.” Classic FM Magazine, December 2011 ****
“Connolly sings immaculately, with impeccably sensitive accompaniment from Malcolm Martineau, in sound both clear and perfectly balanced.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2012
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Songs by Michael Head and Friends
Richard Rowntree (tenor), David Bednall (piano)
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