Musical Pointers, April 2011
An auspicious beginning to a series which bodes well to join on collectors’ shelves the wonderful Hyperion intégrales of German lieder completed by Graham Johnson.
No longer is it appropriate to put the accompanist’s name at the bottom of the listing; Martineau is one of our finest "song pianists", as regular visitors to Wigmore Hall know well. He supports each singer and was doubtless closely involved in developing their interpretations of this oeuvre.
Our guide is the doyen of French music specialists Roger Nichols, whose essay is as illuminating as are Johnson’s for the Germans, and I thought to put his name alongside Martineau’s at the top…
Perhaps they collaborated in an ongoing way on the project? Whatever, the disc assembles a fine team of specialist singers for this repertoire. There are marvellous moments to be savoured from each of them and no significant weak links.
As with Britten, Poulenc’s composer colleague and friend, we have here another connoisseur of his native literature. Poulenc revels in setting to music his choice of fine poets, mostly those of his own time.
No one can be wittier in irony at breakneck speed, or able to surpass Poulenc’s knack to convey true emotion with economical simplicity; he never forgot Cocteau’s adage that "a composer always has too many notes on his keyboard". Recorded balance is exemplary. Excellent presentation with clear texts & parallel English translations, of course.
Recommended without reservation and, as they say, the further volumes are eagerly awaited.
Musicweb International, April 2011
Although they’re available singly, the slipcase edition contains all three CDs. None is new, and the most recent, which is the Tallis disc, dates from 2004. The Grier was recorded in 1994 and the Arrangement album at various times over half a decade.
It’s that one with which we’ll begin as it serves up variety and unexpected things in good measure. You’ll find choral arrangements of such as Chopin Etudes, Peer Gynt, the Nutcracker Suite, and the Toccata finale from Widor’s Symphony No.5 for organ, rendered as ‘Sing!’ by David Willcocks. The arrangers are a wide-ranging group – Ralph Allwood, one of The Rodolfus Choir’s directors is prominent. Inevitably perhaps there is one of Clytus Gottwald’s Mahler refashionings, but we also find the (authentic) Barber in one of its composer- sanctioned guises. I took to the Grieg, which works nicely, whilst the Ave verum corpus is, in a sense, half way there. The Schubert has piano accompaniment, but inflating An die Musik in this way is not especially worthwhile, I have to say. The dance from the Nutcracker is arranged by Leo Hussain and is good fun, though Robert Quinney turns the same composer’s Quartet movement into an Ave Maria. That said Jonathan Rathbone turns the ‘Air on a G string’ into a Requiem aeternam. I suppose that’s the problem with this sort of thing in the end; an excess of piety.
The Tallis disc is reflective and intimately shaped. Suscipe quaeso Domine is a very beautiful piece of music and I happen to prefer this interpretation to that of the Tallis Scholars on Gimell [GIM006], by virtue of its greater sense of reflective intimacy. Another difference between them is tonal. The Tallis group prefers a more ringing top line, less blended, and in this sense more angular in phrasing, with voices occasionally emerging piping out of the texture. They generally too prefer faster tempi, and more abrupt accenting, as can be heard in their respective performances; Loquebantur variis linguis is a case in point. The Rodolphus is a touch more measured, more obviously blended. The English motet If ye love me, though very brief, generates great tonal warmth and is an example of this group at its very best.
The disc devoted to Francis Grier is an exceptionally fine one. It helps that the writing is so clever and sympathetic; also that Grier has a nice line in declamation. The passionate co-exists with introspective reflection – a real mulling over of the material in single or mass lines – in Let us invoke Christ. The Three Short Anthems might suggest the influence of Rachmaninoff, with the last one almost exultant in its affirmation. Day after Day was written for the soloist, here, James Bowman and The Rodolfus Choir. It’s a setting of Tagore and is a haunting piece, maybe influenced by Vaughan Williams. What is so impressive about Grier’s settings is the sense of devotional athleticism; there’s nothing slumbering here. The pirouetting element throughout Thou, O God, art praised in Sion attests to the vitality of the writing, and to the surety of the design.
The performances are generally excellent, so too the recordings. I suggest picking and choosing rather than going for the box, unless you’re a real fan of the choir, since the repertoire is so divergent.