***** 5 stars
When thinking of classical crossover, one tends to think of popular songs that have been given a classical twist or vice versa. In the case of Poetry Serenade however, the crossover is more than just the music. Composer Brian Knowles has taken some of the nation’s most well known and loved poems and set them to music that has both a traditional and popular style. He is joined in this venture by four of Britain’s top singers; Elin Manahan Thomas, Juliette Pochin, Jon Christos and Nick Garrett as well as supporting musicians from RSVP Voices , Brighton Festival Youth Choir and The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.
The result is an album that is light and airy, rousing and patriotic and in some cases, quite magical. The variety in both the music and poetry make it an appealing album on many levels. ??Listening to the album, it is easy to see why the four soloists were chosen as they each bring a distinct and unique quality to the music and each voice is well suited to their individual poem’s subject matter. The musical arrangements also play an integral part in reflecting the poem’s tone and really help to bring the poem to life enabling the listener to create a mental picture in their minds. The poems will be familiar to many having been part of their upbringing but, hearing them set to music provides a completely new listening experience and challenges the ways you have come to think of them. That’s not to say that the music changes the tone or theme of the poem, but rather that it enhances it and gives you a deeper appreciation of the text. For example, in the poem Night Mail, the orchestral arrangements are done in such a way that you can hear the noise of the train and feel its rhythmic movement throughout the piece as the train journeys across the country. Other songs are given quite a Celtic feel to them with the use of drums and pipes and add quite a mystical, magical quality to the poem.
Nick Garrett sings in four of the tracks of the album, one of which is sung as a quartet with the other 3 soloists. Nick’s unmistakeable bass-baritone voice brings a great richness to the pieces he performs. There seems to be a prevalent theme in Nick’s poems too – that of going to meet your maker. In Lord of the Winds, by Mary Coleridge, the musical style is that of Lord of the Rings meets Riverdance and one is able to feel the force and energy of the winds and waters in the music with Nick’s powerful voice reflecting the fear and despair of the narrator. In The Solider by Rupert Brooke, the tone starts more gentle and sentimental gradually building with a rousing sense of patriotism which is echoed in the supporting choir before reverting to the gentle tones at the beginning. Nick’s voice adapts well to each of the themes in this song and in parts, totally blows you away with its strength and wonderfully rich tones. In Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the gentleness of the piece is totally reflected in his voice and its warm mellow tones. It has a very relaxing feel to it and ‘the crossing’ is made to feel quite dreamy and magical. The final track of the album Love Came down at Christmas by Christina Georgina Rossetti brings all four soloists together and has quite an angelic feel to it. The pure clear tones of Elin and Juliette combined with Jon’s strong tenor and Nick’s deep rich bass-baritone creates the truly magical feel that you associate with Christmas.
This album really takes the listener on both a musical and poetic journey and has great appeal to a wide audience.