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Briefly Noted: Jonathan Dove Song Cycles

available at Amazon
J. Dove, Song Cycles, C. Booth, P. Bardon, N. Spence, A. Matthews-Owen

(released on August 12, 2014)
Naxos 8.573080 | 70'40"
Jonathan Dove is an English composer, specializing in music for voices, with a side career making slimmed-down versions of large operas, most famously, Wagner's Ring Cycle. His music is not performed around here all that often, but we have admired his operas Flight and Tobias and the Angel. This new release brings together four of his song cycles, all previously unknown to me and all worth getting to know. Out of Winter (2003) sets poetry by the late tenor (and accomplished writer) Robert Tear, with themes of late-life regret and the insignificance of human life in the grand sweep of time. Britten-style tenor Nicky Spence, a young singer from Scotland, sings it with bittersweet sincerity. In Cut My Shadow (2011), to brutal poetry of Federico García Lorca translated into English by Gwynne Edwards, Dove uses an accompaniment that mimics the sound of strummed guitar and the rhythms of castanets. Mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon gives the cutting melodic line a bristling energy, sometimes a little too much, and Andrew Matthews-Owen provides sensitive support at the piano.

Ariel (1998) is the only one of these four cycles that is not receiving its first recording, with texts by Shakespeare drawn from The Tempest, both song texts and spoken lines. Soprano Claire Booth acquits herself well, with just a few signs of scratchy weakness along the way, with no piano to help cover, for the songs have no accompaniment. Dove includes some interesting effects, like the sound of whistling wind or the crash of waves on the shore (a "Shhhhh" noise made by the singer), which appears throughout the cycle, and a big, gulping breath before the line "I drink the air before me" in the last song. The voice bubbles along on its own, seeming to flit mindlessly from thought to unrelated thought, most mesmerizing in the third song, a vocalise on the vowel 'O', which casts a spell. All You Who Sleep Tonight (1996), also sung by Bardon, uses poetry by Vikram Seth, much of it witty epigrams in sing-songy quatrain form. Dove makes them into pleasing miniatures, with a substantial but not overpowering whiff of Broadway and a conclusion that is both tragic and reaffirming.


Unknown said...

I can wholly recommend this disc also. I was drawn to the cover, shamefully, having not heard of the composer who, on further investigation, is a major British composer of today. I can hear why. His music is accessible and yet demanding, with immediate appeal.
The performances are as one would expect from artists of this calibre.
You will forgive my disagreement re Ms Bardon. The nature of her text in 'Cut my Shadow' (He lay dead in the street with a knife in his heart, and no-one knew him) requires an energy that bristles, to the point of hysteria. I think her singing, and characterisation, are spot on.
Great CD

Charles T. Downey said...

Nothing to forgive. Contrasting opinions always welcome!

Unknown said...

Thank you. It is a very good CD, and I am glad to know others are enjoying it as much as we. I love it when a disc of new music is introduced to us with such energy and passion; the performers really seem to believe in this music.