Uniquely fascinating programme compares and contrasts great songwriters from both sides of the Atlantic during the early-mid 20th century, mixing the well-known with the extremely unusual, like the individual and impressionistic world of Charles Griffes’ songs after the poems of Fiona Macleod.
It’s a concept ideally suited to Bonney who, while American, has lived in London for many years and has recorded outstandingly successful English (Fairest Isle) and American (Songs with Andre Previn) discs for Decca.
"Gleaming soprano gets eponymous in a lovely Anglo-American recital
The title-song, and obviously no one could resist the idea, comes from Leonard Bernstein’s I Hate Music. This quirky song-cycle, with words by the composer, was first sung by Jennie Tourel, who gave it as an encore at the end of a recital with Bernstein accompanying. Tourel’s voice, a plush mezzo, was far away from Barbara Bonney’s gleaming soprano. Wisely, Bonney and Malcolm Martineau keep this jokey little sequence for late in their recital.
This is an eclectic, thoughtful collection. The most substantial item is Britten’s On This Island. Through several recordings by tenors (Pears, of course, Langridge, Tear) it may be forgotten that it was composed for a soprano and was first sung by Sophie Wyss in 1937.
The poems by WH Auden are heavy with symbolism and mystery, from the urgent, opening ‘Let the florid music praise’ through the swirling ‘Seascape’ and then the longest song, ‘Nocturne’, which is almost like a trial run for Britten’s later night-time evocations. The jazzy ‘As it is, plenty’ wraps up the cycle. This is a lovely performance, with Martineau bringing out all the little details in the accompaniment.
The three Griffes songs and the early Copland group are in similar mood: slow with images of restrained passion. In these, as well as the Quilter group with which she opens, Bonney relishes the high-lying phrases but at the same time is too often challenged by the difficulty of getting many words across. The four early Barber songs include his settings of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘A nun takes the veil’ and Yeats’s ‘The secrets of the old’.
The recording inevitably favours the voice; the sequence ends up seeming like a soliloquy on life and love."