Review: Variable Vaughan Williams – super Schumann!

James Gilchrist’s recital of song cycles by Schumann and Vaughan Williams with pianist Anna Tilbrook as part of the Buxton Festival was generally well received by a near capacity audience in the Pavilion Arts Centre.

In truth, Schumann, especially the Heine Liederkreis, Op 24, came off better than Vaughan Williams – his nine settings from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Songs of Travel.

More often than not, a baritone sings them and it wasn’t difficult to hear why on occasion, not least in the most famous one, The Vagabond, which needs more robust delivery than Gilchrist’s essentially lyric tenor voice could muster.

Likewise, the second verse of Youth and Love; while preceding it, The Roadside Fire was a touch on the fragile side. The more reflective In Dreams and contrasting The Infinite Shining Heavens fared much better, and Whither Must I Wander had a nice sense of vulnerable forlornness.

World-weariness surfaced, a trifle understated perhaps, and vocal nuance was there a-plenty but the voice sounded more comfortable by and large singing Schumann, with considerable physical animation!

Heine’s ‘traveller’ in Dichterliebe is a much more intense individual and Gilchrist gave full rein to the fact, although he did rather overdo the 10th and 13th songs in the name of subtlety.

The earlier Heine cycle, the Liederkries, with less-opportunity for ‘Sturm und Drang’ utterance, was beautifully done. Often deeply felt, the unfailing musicianship of both performers could only be admired, Tilbrook’s pianism throughout being as flawless as it was mellifluous.

 

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