Notes and Editorial Reviews
Hyperion has chosen a cover painting of scantily clad young boys by a stream: a Henry Scott Tuke canvas. It matches the atmosphere of the text Tippett sets in Boyhood’s End, which opens a recital already acclaimed as a classic by the British media. Pears recorded the Tippett way back when, but Padmore has the edge. Pears enunciates Henry Hudson’s words with matchless clarity, but at times the verbal evocation of boyhood pleasures, outdoors in the sun, is as embarrassing as some of Tippett’s own librettos. The work is more a continuous cantata than a song cycle, and Padmore’s concentration on the beauty of the continuous, excitable melisma is surely the right way to go, when Tippett’s vocal writing is at its early, florid best. The whole era
of Romantic song is skipped, and Padmore’s accurate tenor is really used as another, powerful instrument. The voice seems more played than sung.
Tippett had written the piece for Pears and Britten on their return to the UK during World War II, but 10 years earlier Gerard Finzi had engaged once more with Thomas Hardy’s verse in this vein. Lyrita did Finzi proud in the vinyl days, recording most of the songs in near-ideal acoustics, but Padmore and Vignoles are preferable. Songs like “Shortening Days” anticipate the movement towards a new simplicity by 60 years. Hand on heart, Finzi isn’t for me. I find him plodding and predictable, outside of the marvelous setting of Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality. These songs, though, suggest he could be heard by a sympathetic ear as the English Poulenc.
Britten would show all his new scores to Poulenc, right up to the Frenchman’s death. I don’t know what he made of the Englishman’s settings of German poetry, made in the late 1950s. Um Mitternacht sets the Goethe verse, not the Rückert words set by Mahler. Padmore’s diction is clear as ever but he sounds nothing like a German speaker. A minute or so into the song, Britten settles on an accompaniment of repeated chords, as French as Debussy or Messaien. The depth of feeling in the music surpasses the rest of this program’s content, but Padmore misses the chance, and the delivery is bland. Who Are These Children? sets a Scot, William Soutar, though the expression is again French (“The Children”) or international. The Hölderlin Fragments are sung with accuracy, but the last song is profound. It’s Britten’s major engagement with the whole German song tradition, and Padmore doesn’t reach the summit, though his accompanist certainly does.
Roger Vignoles plays magnificently for the umpteenth time, especially in the very demanding Tippett partnership. He has written an intelligent, informative booklet essay. The CD is a mixed bag, but I doubt Hyperion could make a really bad record, right now, if they tried.
Paul Ingram, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Um Mitternacht by Benjamin Britten
Roger Vignoles (Piano),
Mark Padmore (Tenor)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1959-1960; England
Boyhood's end by Michael Tippett
Mark Padmore (Tenor),
Roger Vignoles (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1943; England
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