Fine Music Magazine

November 2012 

Christopher Saunders (tenor), Stefan Cassomenos (piano): Dark Wind Blowing:

Songs of Love and Loss

The commercial success of ‘recital’ discs depends on a number of factors, including the popularity of at least one element, and it is possible that the sales of a recital consisting of songs by Ivor Gurney and Elena Kats-Chernin might be slender without the addition of settings by Roger Quilter and George Butterworth. Happily, however, the record producers cannot be accused of merely sweetening the mixture, for each group of songs informs and comments on the others.

Butterworth is of course by far the most popular and accessible of art song composers, and the group of numbers from his settings of poems by Housman is in a popular sense the centrepiece of Christopher Saunders’s recital – but the least exciting to anyone interested in the genre: they are prefaced by the iridescent and melancholy music of Roger Quilter (illustrated here by seven of his settings of Elizabethan poems from 1908). Quilter was driven mad by war; so was Ivor Gurney, eight of whose three hundred song settings open the recital. Gurney also set poems from A. Shropshire Lad, and it would have been interesting to have juxtaposed some of them with Butterworth’s infinitely better-known ones. But his quirkier settings (of, among others, Yeats, de la Mare and Belloc) are more melodically inventive than that of the other two composers – though indeed even after eighty years one can still question whether the word ‘melody’ applies. The disc ends with settings by Elena Kats-Chernin of five nostalgic poems by Val Vallis, which fascinatingly have a melodic line as appealing as Quilter’s with an accompaniment as original and idiosyncratic as Gurney’s.

The steady, beautifully articulated singing, secure diction and intonation of Saunders reminds one of the voices of the British singers of the 1930s – voices like that of Gervase Elwes, the most distinguished singer of English art-songs; but with the addition of passionate conviction. Cassomenos accompanies him perfectly. This may be ‘caviar to the general’ but it is the very best caviar.

 

Derek Parker

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