ENGLISH LOVE • Mark Stone (bar); Stephen Barlow (pn) • STONE RECORDS 5060192780000 (73: 47 Text and Translation)
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Silent noon. Love bade me welcome. DOWLAND Awake, sweet love. Come again! Sweet Love doth now invite. QUILTER Go, lovely rose. Love’s philosophy. PURCELL/BRITTENRead moreI attempt from Love’s sickness to fly. If music be the food of love. BRIDGE Come to me in my dreams. Love went a-riding. HANDEL/SOMERVEIL Silent worship. IRELAND If we must part. Love is a sickness full of woes. HAYDN Piercing eyes. Pleasing pain. BUTTERWORTH With rue my heart is laden. When I was one-and-twenty. WARLOCK Take, o take thine lips away. Thou gav’st me leave to kiss. HANDEL/PROUT Where’er you walk. FINZI To Lizbie Browne. I said to Love. BRITTEN The salley gardens. Wild with passion. BARLOW If thou would’st ease thine heart
This is another lovely recording in the series of English song discs by Mark Stone on his own artist-led label. There are two duplications with the Butterworth disc he has also released, but the disc is generous enough even if you subtract the three-and-a-half minute duration of the pair.
Stone’s light, lyric baritone is perfectly suited for this mostly gentle material, and he sings with great sensitivity to text and to dynamic shading. The voice can lose body when he pushes it too hard, and he does have occasional problems with intonation (for example, the end of the verse “For Love has more pow’r and less mercy than fate/to make us seek ruin and love those that hate” from Purcell’s I attempt from Love’s sickness to fly). But those moments are fleeting, and the overriding impression of the disc is one of some beautiful, tender, and warm songs delivered with sincerity, musicality, and an attractive natural baritone voice.
Many of these songs have received fine individual recordings, but as a collection the disc is sui generis. With its range from Dowland (born in 1563) to Barlow (born in 1954) it covers a lot of ground. Some of the material that is rarely encountered is some of the best. Gerald Finzi’s two songs, for example, offer particularly fine examples of setting words to music with total integration and a natural flow. I said to Love is the most starkly dramatic of the songs on this disc, and receives a powerful performance. The two songs of Peter Warlock underline the tragedy of his suicide at age 36. He had a strong, lyrical gift, and these songs stay in the memory long after hearing them. The final song on the disc is by Stone’s pianist, Stephen Barlow, and is excellent.
Perhaps the best collection of various English songs on one disc is “Silent Noon,” the DG recording by Bryn Terfel and Malcolm Martineau (477 5336). If you love this repertoire, that is essential. Stone doesn’t have the overwhelming vocal and dramatic presence of Terfel, but there is very little duplication between the two recordings. Terfel’s has a wider range of subject matter, and therefore of mood. But Stone’s should not be thought of as entirely intimate and gentle. He aptly subtitles the disc “Songs of Passion, Pain & Pleasure,” and the high drama of songs like Britten’s Wild with passion offer contrast to the more lyrical ones that otherwise dominate. Barlow is a fine pianist who sounds at home in all of the styles represented here. Excellent notes accompany the disc.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
I first encountered the voice of the English baritone, Mark Stone, when I reviewed the first volume of his edition of the complete songs of Roger Quilter - when will Volume Two appear, I wonder? I commented then that he “possesses a good, pleasing voice, which he uses with intelligence and good taste.” And I think that verdict holds good in terms of this new release. As was the case on that Quilter release, he receives excellent support from Stephen Barlow.
And that Quilter project has had a surprising outcome. In his booklet note Mark Stone relates that when he and Stephen Barlow were researching Quilter’s songs they came across references to four songs which are now lost. Stone had the happy idea of suggesting to Barlow that he should compose his own versions of the songs in question “in the style of, and as a homage to, Quilter.” At the very end of this disc we hear the second of that quartet, presumably receiving its first recording. It’s an engaging setting of words by Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849), who, by chance or design, also furnished the text for Britten’s Wild withpassion. Barlow’s song is a gently melancholic piece. It sounds completely convincing and it’s also rather lovely in its own right. I’d like very much to hear the complete set.
All the other composers on the programme are represented by two songs and the recital has been thoughtfully designed. For the most part, each pair of songs by the more recent English composers contrast nicely with each other. In between each pairing is placed a single example of a song from an earlier age, an arrangement that works well.
The Vaughan Williams pair begins with an account of Silent Noon that’s a touch too slow for my taste. Stone sings expressively, though he displays an occasional tendency to over-emphasise individual words - in this case the word “rosy”, which occurs as early as the second line. This habit crops up on a few other occasions in the recital. It’s not a major flaw but the effect is a little jarring when it happens, not least because it means the line is broken. Happily, an eloquent account of Love bade mewelcome is much more successful.
I enjoyed the Quilter group. Love’s philosophy features on the aforementioned Quilter recital and once again it’s done well, with both performers conveying the eagerness of the setting. They’re equally adept at catching the mood of Go, lovely rose. In the Ireland coupling I much prefer, as a song, Love is a sickness full of woes to its more lachrymose companion. Bridge is represented by two very fine songs. Love went a-riding is probably the better known. This histrionic offering is given a proud, dramatic performance and Stephen Barlow seems to make light of the fiendish piano part. Somewhat less familiar, perhaps, is Come to me in my dreams. This is a wonderful song and Stone puts it across very well, especially the gentle longing of the first and last stanzas.
Bridge’s most famous pupil, Britten, is represented both as composer and arranger. His arrangement of The salley gardens is very well known. However, I can’t recall hearing his Beddoes setting, Wild with passion, before. This short song was, like A Ceremony of Carols, a product of Britten’s voyage back across the Atlantic when he and Peter Pears returned from the USA during the Second World War. It’s appropriately tempestuous. Britten is also credited with the Purcell arrangements. His realisation of If music be the food of love is a bit florid for my taste but Stone copes well with the ornate line. I like the way that he fines down his voice for I attemptfrom Love’s sickness to fly. Stephen Barlow’s accompaniments to both of these songs are tasteful.
In fact all the early songs are well done. Both performers display a light touch for the Dowland pieces and the same is true for the Handel offerings. In these Stone adds just the right amount of decoration to the vocal line in the da capo sections and I particularly warmed to his account of Silent worship. The two Haydn pieces are fairly slight but they are nonetheless delightful and good-humoured.
This is an intelligently planned and well-executed recital. We are certainly not short of discs of English song these days – hurrah!. This one is well worth hearing and I appreciate the thought that has gone into the choice of the items included in the programme and the positioning of them within it. The sessions took place in the pleasing acoustics of Potton Hall, Suffolk, which is seemingly becoming a venue of choice for recordings of song recitals. The documentation is good and is clearly laid out.