Anxieties and Desires

Bradfield Festival of Music gets underway on the 23rd of June and once again celebrated names will be appearing at the historic church of St Nicholas.

Particularly attractive is the concert on the 29th of June when one of the country’s foremost piano accompanists Audrey Hyland is in residence with Songsmiths, an itinerant group, or pool of well thought of singers she formed in 2012.

With her at Bradfield will be Elizabeth Watts, a soprano who needs no introduction to Sheffield audiences; Nicky Spence, one of the country’s brightest young tenor talents; and Christopher Ainslie, a South African-born countertenor rapidly making a name for himself.

Songsmiths is not dissimilar to Graham Johnson’s highly successful Songmakers’ Almanac, created some 35 years earlier to explore neglected piano-accompanied song repertoire, often with themed programmes and also featured the spoken word.

The aim of the newer group is, to quote: “to connect songs in varied languages and styles to unite the world of song through a common theme, story and emotional journey.”

In the process, neglected parts of the song repertoire are also tapped, as happens at the Bradfield concert. On the other hand, a number of items are familiar among the 23 scheduled for an exploration of Secrets and Obsessions.

Although there is no mention of the spoken word, it should perhaps not be ruled out. It was fairly prominent in the group’s excellent White Camelia – The Story of a Courtesan at last year’s Buxton Festival, but with fewer songs.

Widely eclectic and stylistically diverse, a detailed description of each song being performed in Secrets and Obsessions would border on tedium so here they are with minimal comment.

Trust Her Not, a jolly duet by Michael Balfe to a Longfellow text; Purcell/ Tippett: Sweeter than Roses; Schubert: Gretchen am Spinnrade (Goethe’s ‘Faust’); Carl Loewe: his setting of Ach neige, du Schmerzenreiche, another ‘Gretchen’ text from Faust; Frank Bridge: Come to me in my dreams, a setting of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Longing’; Britten: Midnight on the Great Western (from Winter Words); Die Nacht, a Richard Strauss gem! Brahms: Da Unten im Tale, a German folk song duet; Schumann: Zweilicht (from Liederkreis Op 39); Hugo Wolf: Du denkst mit einem Fädchen (from the Italian Songbook); Britten: As it is, plenty (from On this Island).

At which point there is an interval, before carrying on with:

Heimliche Aufforderung, one of the four well-known songs, Op 27, Richard Strauss wrote as a wedding present to his wife; Mendelssohn: Hüt du dich, a popular text from ‘Des Knaben Wunderhorn’; Britten: Lost is my quiet, a duet after Purcell; Japanese – anyone’s guess what this is! not so, Heiss mich nicht redden, also known as Mignon 1 and one of Hugo Wolf’s ‘Mignon’ settings from Goethe’s ‘Wilhelm Meister’; Kennst du das Land? the best known Mignon ‘song’ heard in Wolf’s setting of it; Reynaldo Hahn: Néère (from Études Latines); Granados: El majo discreto (from Tonadillas in an Old Style); Schubert: Der Doppelgänger (from Schwanengesang); Rodrigo: Adela (from Twelve Spanish Songs); Butterworth’s Is my team ploughing? (from A Shropshire Lad); and some Tom Lehrer: the anarchic Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.

 

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