Norman Stinchcombe reviews new SOMM-Recordings


'On This Shining Night': Bevan, Gilchrist, Williams, Coull Quartet (Somm Recordings) ★★★★

A rare collection of 'Music for Voice and String Quartet'. So rare in fact that only two of the four composers' works here were originally in that form; a collection of Peter Warlock's songs and Sally Beamish's 'Tree Carols'. The three songs by Delius and two of the three Samuel Barber's songs were arranged by the multi-talented baritone Roderick Williams. The eleven Warlock songs are gorgeous, with Williams' baritone, soprano Sophie Bevan and tenor James Gilchrist all fitting hand-in-glove in their particular songs. Try to resist smiling at the zestful Gilchrist in the opening 'Chopcherry'. Barber's dark and pensive 'Dover Beach' is here but Williams' arrangement of 'Sure on this Shining Night', and of course his expressive singing, make this is the stand-out track. Beamish's contemporary cycle, sung by Williams, is not as immediately attractive and tuneful but makes for variety. The Coull Quartet's playing, sensitive and ardent, is exemplary.

Norman Stinchcombe

STRAUSS: 'Enoch Arden' & 'Castle By The Sea', Kent & Kharmis (Somm Recordings) ★★★

Two oddities from the composer of massive romantic tone poems. These melodramas – spoken word accompanied by piano – were composed by Strauss as a favour for an actor friend. Tennyson's 'Enoch Arden' was set in a German translation but here retains the original sentimentally bathetic English verse. Enoch goes off to sea telling his wife, "Keep a clean hearth and a clear fire for me, For I'll be back, my girl, before you know it". Except he's shipwrecked, declared dead, and returns years later to discover his wife married to his best friend. Christopher Kent differentiates the characters well and is never over-indulgent and Khamis makes the most of Strauss's piano accompaniment, as in the lively shipwreck. It's best heard in full-blooded declamatory mode – as Claude Rains and Glenn Gould did in their vintage recording. Kent's own English translation of Uhland's enigmatic poetic dialogue is the first recording of the work.

Norman Stinchcombe

ECLOGUE: Chamber Ensemble of London / Peter Fisher (Somm Recordings) ★★★

This bran tub of English chamber music features twelve works, nine of which are premiere recordings. The only well-know one is the title piece, Gerald Finzi's 'Eclogue' for piano and orchestra. There are several fine recordings of this work which all use a large orchestra. Margaret Fingerhut is supported by a chamber group and the subtler, airier textures emphasize the piece's lyrical element in a charming way. Fingerhut is also the soloist in Clive Jenkins' robust and enjoyable twelve-minute Piano Concerto. It would probably be classed as light music, as would most of the other pieces here. Don Shearman gives the game away with the title of his suite 'Eine Kleine Leichtmusik' of which 'Venice in the Rain', with a romantic violin solo from Peter Fisher, is featured here. Also included are pieces by Ronald Binge, Alan Ridout, William Lloyd-Webber, Robin Milford, Joseph Horowitz, Cecilia MacDowall and Elias Parish Alvars.

Norman Stinchcombe

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