"Every night and every morn"
A recital of contemporary song
The main title of Thursday night’s delicious recital in St. Machar’s Cathedral derives from the final song in Benjamin Britten’s cycle, Songs and Proverbs of William Blake. It was the most substantial work in an inspiring programme of contemporary vocal music. Although the overall mood of Britten’s music is sombre, any sense of gloom was totally dispelled by the compelling drama of both words and music. There is no question that drama is written into every note of the music as well as into much of the poetry, but it was also something that came bursting through in a marvellous performance by Paul Tierney and Roger Williams. The first thing that impressed me was Paul’s superb delivery of the words, absolutely essential in a recital where understanding of the texts is so crucial to the full appreciation of the music. Secondly, Paul has that rare ability, possessed by only a few singers, of being able to cast a narrative spell on the audience. Many of the songs in his recital told a story or painted a word picture and Paul always kept us on the edge of our seats, eager to know what was coming next. There was his vivid depiction of London in Blake’s time or his portrayal of The Chimney-Sweeper with the animated telling of his life-story. The step by step unwinding of the plot in A Poison Tree was as gripping and dramatic as any thriller while the vocal underscoring of the word paintings in The Tyger, The Fly and Ah, Sun-Flower had all the unforgettable qualities of those dark remembered pictures in the childhood illustrations of long ago. Then there was the way in which Britten links the piano textures of The Fly to those of ProverbVI and Ah, Sun-Flower. The figurations are similar but suddenly the harmonies cause the music to flare up in glorious light and warmth. Roger Williams handled all those passages brilliantly.
The recital opened with three songs by Elliott Carter on poems of Robert Frost. Dust of Snow painted such a vivid picture while The Rose Family was a nicely developed conceit and in The Line-Gang Paul made us feel the strenuous efforts of the workers.
A Thrilling Tale by Phillip A. Cooke a composer friend with whom Paul shared a house when they attended the St. Magnus Festival Composer’s Course last June was a splendidly dramatic sortie for unaccompanied baritone. We never really did get the point of the story, it was just a catalogue of exciting sounding things, but the rising intensity of Paul’s positive delivery pulled the wool over our eyes and we were convinced we had grasped the story in full.
There was a short break before the Britten song cycle, but before that, three splendid songs about pet animals (cats mostly) from Mark-Anthony Turnage on texts by Stevie Smith, Thomas Hardy and Walt Whitman. These were delightful pieces, as seductively enticing as the animals they described. I particularly liked The Singing Cat. I’m already starting to believe I’ve seen and heard it myself!
Copyright Alan Cooper
Thanks to University Music