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TELL ME THE TRUTH ABOUT LOVE
Amanda Roocroft & Joseph Middleton

 

 

 
1. Britten, Benjamin [05:25]
Tell me the truth about love

2. Schumann, Robert [02:37]
Seit ich ihn gesehen

3. Boulanger, Lili [01:42]
Vous m'avez regarde avec toute votre ame

4. Wolf, Hugo [01:39]
O war dein Haus

5. Chausson, Ernst [01:36]
La charme

6. Quilter, Roger [01:27]
Love's Philosophy

7. Loewe, Carl [01:11]
Ich Kann's nicht fassen nicht glauben

8. Brahms, Johannes [03:07]
Wir wandelten

9. Ireland, John [03:18]
The trellis

10. Poldowski, Irene [02:41]
En sourdine

11. Strauss, Richard [02:51]
Nachtgang

12. Dunhill, Thomas [02:19]
The cloths of heaven

13. Mompou, Federico [04:10]
Damunt de tu nomes les flors

14. Rachmaninov, Sergei [01:53]
Midsummer nights

15. Bridge, Frank [02:54]
Adoration

16. Grieg, Edvard [01:38]
Jeg elsker Dig

17. Wolf, Hugo [03:52]
Geh' Geliebter geh' jetzt

18. Marx, Joseph [01:53]
Und gestern hat er mir Rosen gebracht

19. Brahms, Johannes [01:11]
Am Sonntag Morgen

20. Brahms, Johannes [02:55]
Du sprichst daß ich mich täuschte

21. Schubert, Franz [03:35]
Du liebst mich nicht

22. Debussy, Claude [03:27]
La chevelure

23. Faure, Gabriel [01:31]
Fleur jetee

24. Schoenberg, Arnold [02:04]
Warnung

25. Barber, Samuel [02:23]
Rain has fallen

26. Copland, Aaron [02:04]
Heart we will forget him

27. Weill, Kurt [04:33]
Je ne t'aime pas

28. Hahn, Reynaldo [02:44]
Infidelite

29. Anon. [03:11]
Early one morning

Artist(s):
Amanda Roocroft, Soprano
Joseph Middleton, pianist


Some say love's a little boy,

And some say it's a bird,

Some say it makes the world go around,

Some say that's absurd...

W.H. Auden

Charting the course of a love affair – in song – through the eyes of a young woman who begins by asking the universal question, Tell me the truth about love presents a programme of 19th and 20th century song.

The album takes its title from Benjamin Britten’s 1938 seductive setting of W.H. Auden’s amusing poem and tries to pin down and define the most elusive of human emotions.

The story takes us from love at first sight with Schumann’s Seit ich ihn gesehen, breathless with wonder and fervent reverance and Chausson’s Le charme which describes the quiver of excitement and the tender veneration the girl feels when the boy’s smile catches her unawares to Loewe’s Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht gluben to describe the lovers first encounter.

As the love story unfolds and the couple become closer, it is illustrated with music such as Strauss’s Nachtgang, Rachmaninov’s Midsummer nights and Bridge’s Adoration. However the magic is soon broken and Sunday brings deception and betrayal. The girl finds out that the young man does not love her and she bitterly awakes from her dream. The feeling of love lost is brought to life through Brahm’s Am Sonntag Morgen, Schubert’s Du liebst mich nicht and Kurt Weill’s Je ne t’aime pas.

As a postlude, Britten’s arrangement of Early one morning perfectly sums up the story of the young girl and the final message of ‘how could you use a poor maiden so?’ lingers in the ear.

Amanda Roocroft has secured an international reputation as one of Britain’s most exciting singers, in opera, concert and recital and Joseph Middleton enjoys a busy and varied career as a chamber musician and song accompanist.


 

 


Overture: the eternal question

Most recitals for voice and piano follow a traditional pattern of programming – they comprise a few song cycles or groups of songs per concert, exploring the musical world of no more than four or five composers. Anyone who has had the good fortune to see Amanda Roocroft perform in opera will know that, in addition to her obvious gifts as a singer, she is an extraordinary actress. When we began working together in 2009 it occurred to us that we could tell a story through songs, similar to the way in which a story is told through opera. Taking my cue from cycles such as Frauenliebe und -leben by Loewe and Schumann, and inspired by more modern ways of programming (an obvious influence is Graham Johnson’s Songmaker’s Almanac), I thought we could explore one protagonist’s emotional journey by juxtaposing thirty or so songs. I was careful not to pick songs in which our two central characters moved from or into different social classes: we never learn his name, and her name is mentioned for the first time in the last song. Everything is kept in the first person so that the words sung are always from the point of view of the girl (subtleties in the music comment on his mental state, but he never speaks directly – only in reported speech through her). It is a story which communicates themes of love and loss, the joys and pains of a relationship. One of the delights of such programming is that a song, when placed in a new and challenging context, is often further illuminated, its power to communicate made new. Juxtaposing songs from different epochs, composed with different musical languages and often in contrasting tongues, shines intriguing lights upon repertoire both well-known and less so.

We hope you enjoy the journey we have created.

Act 1: Saturday morning – love at first sight

During an early morning walk the girl catches first sight of the man who is to be this story’s central character. Schumann’s Seit ich ihn gesehen, the opening song of his Frauenliebe und -leben, is breathless with wonder and fervent reverence. Schumann uses a sarabande rhythm in the piano, together with specific articulation markings of staccato chords in a slur, to give the impression of the character’s humble and shy nature. Accents lend the third bar character, while a rest in the vocal line gives the impressionable young girl time to catch her breath. The second verse of Chamisso’s poem is darker as she realises she is outgrowing the games she used to play with her sisters. She would rather sit on her own and dream of the man she has seen. His passionate gaze has left her transfixed. Lili Boulanger’s Vous m’avez regardé avec toute votre âme is one of the highlights of her 1914 cycle Clairières dans le ciel and, at forty minutes, it stands as her most ambitious extant work. Boulanger set thirteen poems from a book of twenty-four written by the Symbolist poet Francis Jammes, later orchestrating six of them. The gentle counterpoint and translucent textures Boulanger employs place her firmly in the early twentieth-century mainstream.

Another exquisite miniature describes the young girl’s feelings as she leaves the scene of their first encounter. Having set eyes on this boy, she wishes that she could stand outside his house (in her imagination the house is made of glass) and stare at him all day. Wolf’s O wär’ dein Haus paints in sound the image of drops of rain falling on glass. The piano part’s right hand, all transparent fragility, showers crystalline water-droplets on the windowpane while the left hand sighs its way through a poem filled with conditionals. The end of the song, number forty in the published order of Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch, evaporates in a postlude which is both rueful and wistful. Chausson’s Le charme describes the quiver of excitement and the tender veneration the girl feels when the boy’s smile catches her unawares. While managing to encompass exoticism and radiant wistfulness, there is also a quasi-religious air (the girl here seems struck by the vision of this boy and recounts her feelings with a tone which is serious as well as shy). She can’t believe her luck when he returns her glances and shortly after this encounter she sings in Quilter’s Love’s philosophy of how joyous a world is, in which everything exists in pairs. This justly famous setting of Shelley’s text displays Quilter as a first-rate craftsman, weaving a vocal line in and out of the rippling piano texture.

Act 2: Saturday afternoon – an encounter

Conversational in nature, Loewe’s Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben is taken from his 1836 setting of Chamisso’s Frauenliebe und -leben. Beginning without piano introduction, the singer is immediately caught mid-thought, once again breathless and enraptured with the reality of having met this man. Speech marks are used half way through the poem when she recounts his words, ‘I am yours forever’, and with references to ‘sterben’ (dying) and ‘lust’ (joy and desire), she is subliminally thinking of what her wedding night might be like. Carl Loewe (1796-1869) composed a huge output of some four hundred songs and could boast Wagner as one of his greatest admirers. (Wagner preferred Loewe’s ‘Erlkönig’ to Schubert’s setting and also considered the leitmotif in Loewe’s ballad ‘Herr Oluf’ to be ‘one of the most important works of musical literature’.)

In our story it is now Saturday afternoon and the couple take an impromptu walk. Brahms’s Wir wandelten sets a text by Daumer and the musical response to these words is quite remarkable. A piano introduction, totally content in mood, begins the walk, two twinned souls echoing one another and weaving in and out of a D-flat major tonality, a captured moment of adoration and platonic unity. The heartfelt sincerity of this statement ushers in the vocal line, rapt with intensity as the girl wishes to know what her partner is thinking, but all the time she is glad that he cannot hear her thoughts.

The lovers settle under The trellis. John Ireland’s song, which dates from 1918, describes their first ‘silent kisses’, here only seen by the flowers and bright-eyed birds. The rich harmonic palette and the exotic sound world evoked in the piano part create the hot, hazy, sensuous atmosphere with colours that would not seem out of place in French piano music of the time.

They settle under a tree and succumb to the gentle lulling breeze, to the calm in the twilight (which is cast by the boughs of the trees), to the sound of the nightingale and to each other, their limbs gradually becoming intertwined. This reverie, created with great economy by Poldowski in her setting of Verlaine’s famous En sourdine, is broken with passionate rapture during the second section of the song when for four bars the mood is heightened. The dreamy haze of the beginning returns for the tender middle section before the gentle breeze transforms into a pedal ‘A’ in the piano part, the tension of which implies ‘if we don’t let go of one another, it will all be fine’. The song ends with evening falling. Poldowski (1880-1932) was the daughter of the virtuoso violinist Wieniawski and her professional name was a pseudonym for Irena Regina Wieniawska. She wrote over thirty songs, including sixteen settings of Verlaine (composed between 1915 and 1920) which were much performed during the 1920s.

Act 2: Saturday evening – Liebestod

Nachtgang by Otto Julius Bierbaum, and here set by Strauss in 1895 as the third song in his opus 29, is a harmonically inventive song. By moonlight the lovers walk arm in arm for the first fifteen bars of the song. Quaver movement in the piano part stops at this point and with a C-flat major chord the two lovers stop walking and look at one another. Quavers return nine bars later but here as triplets in the right hand depicting the onset of involuntary tears. At the line ‘küsste dich ganz leise’ (kissed you so gently) the piano slips into the remote key of E minor before melting into A-flat minor with the marking ‘ppp’ in the accompaniment and finally in the postlude back with poignancy to the home key of A-flat major.

During Strauss’s song the two lovers have walked back to her home, and it is here that she asks him to ‘tread softly on my dreams’. Dunhill’s song The cloths of heaven sets Yeats’s poem to a simple chorale-like accompaniment allowing the natural prosody of the poem to speak. Thomas Dunhill (1877-1946) was one of a handful of British composers to study at the RCM with Stanford at the end of the nineteenth century and his contemporaries included Vaughan Williams, Holst and Ireland, who remained a lifelong friend.

We turn to the Catalan composer Frederic Mompou (1893-1987) to describe the most intimate and sensual moments just before the girl offers her body to the young man. Damunt de tu només les flors is taken from his best-known set of songs, his Combat del somni. They use texts by his countryman, the publisher and poet Josep Janés, and the improvisatory style of this song is typical of Mompou: a heady mixture of understatement borrowed from his youthful obsession with Fauré, the minimalism he learnt from Satie and something of the popular touch he had in common with Poulenc. Lionel Salter wrote that Mompou seems to approach the ideal of silence in the ‘static, incantatory quality [of] his poetic evocations’. In parts of this song, time does seem to stand still.

A soft murmuring accompaniment begins what turns out to be something of a virtuosic piano étude in Rachmaninov’s ecstatic and erotic Midsummer nights. Saturated in moonlight, the couple experience waves of love and lust under a spacious sky. The poet of this song is Daniil Rathaus, a popular Russian poet of the nineteenth century, now almost forgotten but for a few poems set to music by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky (op. 73). The languor of the summer night is captured by the onomatopoeic quality of the open ya sound, which is repeated throughout the poem both in internal and end rhymes.

Act 3: Sunday morning – the morning after the night before

The second half of our recital begins with the man still asleep. The girl turns and looks at him; she realises that he has taken her heart as well as her body and sings this vow to him in her head. Frank Bridge’s remarkable song Adoration begins by setting Keats’s poem (from Extracts from an Opera) as quasi-recitative, the voice singing the first word unaccompanied and in hushed tones, before gradually blossoming into an operatic-scale climax, the piano part richly scored and the voice soaring to a long held ‘G’.

As the man stirs, the girl confesses her love for him in the most tender and innocent of poems. Taken from Grieg’s Hjertets melodier (Melodies of the heart), Jeg elsker Dig (I love you) sets a four-line poem by Hans Christian Andersen with chromatic yearning. At just a minute and a half long, the song expresses her feelings sincerely, with a freshness, artlessness and in the most uncomplicated way. Grieg presented the opus from which this song comes to his cousin Nina Hagerup as a secret engagement gift.

With the dawn of a new day, the girl realises that her neighbours are stirring and, anxious to bustle her lover out of her apartment lest the gossipmongers catch sight of him, she asks him to leave. Of our next song, Geh’, Geliebter, geh’ jetzt! (the last of the secular songs in Wolf’s Spanisches Liederbuch), the great Wolf scholar Eric Sams writes that ‘the operatic breadth and sweep of this marvellous song make a fitting conclusion to Wolf’s most highly wrought songbook’. The constantly shifting tempo brilliantly describes the young girl’s mixed emotions: her head commanding him to leave but her heart asking him to stay in bed and caress her a little longer. The essence of the song is distilled within the fluctuating introduction, at one point lively and cajoling and the next second tender and imploring, the third piano bar composed in the most inspired way with one hand representing one feeling and the other hand something quite different. As the song progresses, we see our girl express urgency, grief, vulnerability, sorrow, and an ecstatic, passionate outpouring of love. As the song dissolves and the man leaves the apartment the piano postlude neatly portrays her swoons and sighs in the right hand and her heartbeat, always audible until the end of the song, in the left hand.

Alone in her apartment, the girl looks with some nostalgia at the flowers described in the Mompou song of the night before and how their scent lasted the whole night long. Marx’s Und gestern hat er mir Rosen gebracht (And he brought me roses yesterday) is full of longing and typical of the lieder of Joseph Marx. It is firmly rooted in tonality with, like Wolf to whom he is often compared, fastidious attention to the rhythm of the poetry. Marx died in 1964, highly esteemed as a doyen of the Old Guard (his output is easy to survey as he concentrated on relatively few genres – mainly lieder but with a slender legacy of piano and organ pieces and six choral works with orchestra, he ignored both the theatre and liturgical sacred music). Marx is a composer who has been unjustly forgotten as musical tastes have tended to overlook new lieder composed in a conservative idiom.

Act 4: Sunday afternoon – deception and betrayal

Once the man has left her apartment, the young girl gets herself ready and takes herself off to church. From the first two accusatory piano notes of Brahms’s Am Sonntag Morgen we are aware that all is not well. The girl is immediately approached by friends warning her of the man’s infidelities. With the sweep of an animato written into the score she feigns defiance and laughs at the thought of such a thing. Once back in her apartment though we see her break down as she wrings her hands sore, the song ending in deflated isolation. Brahms here sets a poem from Heyse’s Italienisches Liederbuch, which he discovered twenty years before Wolf used them.

The girl decides to confront the man, distraught and emotionally drained at the thought of giving her heart and body away the previous night in what now seems to be a one-night stand. She asks in Brahms’s Du sprichst, daß ich mich täuschte for him to admit that even though he says now she was mistaken, that last night, just for a short time, he did love her. The piano introduction is made up of a falling theme in the right hand, the tread of a pedal note in the left hand obsessively repeating and stuck on the same thought, and an inner tune which meanders wistfully. The voice enters, already resigned in tone and with no down-beat for security in the piano part. In her heart she knows what the answer is, but she must ask the question nonetheless. Brahms places the words ‘brannte’ and ‘brannten’ high in the voice as she remembers his kisses and how they burned. The major-key end for the song, loud and in mock confidence, portrays a feeling of emptiness, full of self-loathing and denial.

On her own once again, reality has begun to sink in. The bitter and obsessive setting of Platen by Schubert in his Du liebst mich nicht speaks in the most basic and human of ways of the suffering and torture of her heart. The rhythmic pattern in the piano is unbendingly uncomfortable and numbly neurotic. With the repetition of the same idea of ‘you do not love me’ (we hear these words ten times in the course of the song), the girl works herself into a frenzy of loathing, self-hatred and violent anger, rare in Schubert’s songs. The shifting harmonic palette employed by Schubert leaves the girl disorientated but at the same time always coming back to the same hopeless conclusion. She makes reference to the sun and moon they enjoyed together the previous day and is repelled by the thought of flowers in bloom.

In a moment of nostalgia the girl tries to remember exactly what the man said to her the previous night through Debussy’s La chevelure. The middle song of Debussy’s Chanson de Bilitis uses two tempos and two feelings: one for her, and one for his speech as told through her. Even at the beginning, the song is steeped in sensuality, but there is something sinister underlying this nocturnal setting. In the third bar when the boy recounts his dream, Debussy’s marking is très expressif et passionnément concentré (very expressive and passionately concentrated). His masculinity is pointed in the left hand of the piano, deep and sonorous, and in bar ten the piano begins a duet with itself, the right hand breathless in anticipation of their intercourse and the left hand drawn in longer sustained phrases. In a setting which must surely count as the most sexually explicit song in the repertoire, their lovemaking is recounted in language, both poetic and musical which pulsates and climaxes with animalistic rapture. The end of the song returns to the first tempo and to her voice. When he has finished, she lies exhausted and the postlude offers a frisson of post-coital reality.

A glance at the flowers he brought her snaps her out of her reverie, and her state as something used and discarded is aptly described in Fauré’s Fleur jetée. Written on 25 May 1884, with poetry by Armand Silvestre, this Erlkönig-like, whirlwind, turbulent and passionate song is unique amongst Fauré’s songwriting. The impetuous octave repetitions in the piano part begin piano and crescendo within the fluctuating introduction, at one point lively and cajoling and the next second tender and imploring, the third piano bar composed in the most inspired way with one hand representing one feeling and the other hand something quite different. As the song progresses, we see our girl express urgency, grief, vulnerability, sorrow, and an ecstatic, passionate outpouring of love. As the song dissolves and the man leaves the apartment the piano postlude neatly portrays her swoons and sighs in the right hand and her heartbeat, always audible until the end of the song, in the left hand.

Alone in her apartment, the girl looks with some nostalgia at the flowers described in the Mompou song of the night before and how their scent lasted the whole night long. Marx’s Und gestern hat er mir Rosen gebracht (And he brought me roses yesterday) is full of longing and typical of the lieder of Joseph Marx. It is firmly rooted in tonality with, like Wolf to whom he is often compared, fastidious attention to the rhythm of the poetry. Marx died in 1964, highly esteemed as a doyen of the Old Guard (his output is easy to survey as he concentrated on relatively few genres – mainly lieder but with a slender legacy of piano and organ pieces and six choral works with orchestra, he ignored both the theatre and liturgical sacred music). Marx is a composer who has been unjustly forgotten as musical tastes have tended to overlook new lieder composed in a conservative idiom.

Act 4: Sunday afternoon – deception and betrayal

Once the man has left her apartment, the young girl gets herself ready and takes herself off to church. From the first two accusatory piano notes of Brahms’s Am Sonntag Morgen we are aware that all is not well. The girl is immediately approached by friends warning her of the man’s infidelities. With the sweep of an animato written into the score she feigns defiance and laughs at the thought of such a thing. Once back in her apartment though we see her break down as she wrings her hands sore, the song ending in deflated isolation. Brahms here sets a poem from Heyse’s Italienisches Liederbuch, which he discovered twenty years before Wolf used them.

The girl decides to confront the man, distraught and emotionally drained at the thought of giving her heart and body away the previous night in what now seems to be a one-night stand. She asks in Brahms’s Du sprichst, daß ich mich täuschte for him to admit that even though he says now she was mistaken, that last night, just for a short time, he did love her. The piano introduction is made up of a falling theme in the right hand, the tread of a pedal note in the left hand obsessively repeating and stuck on the same thought, and an inner tune which meanders wistfully. The voice enters, already resigned in tone and with no down-beat for security in the piano part. In her heart she knows what the answer is, but she must ask the question nonetheless. Brahms places the words ‘brannte’ and ‘brannten’ high in the voice as she remembers his kisses and how they burned. The major-key end for the song, loud and in mock confidence, portrays a feeling of emptiness, full of self-loathing and denial.

On her own once again, reality has begun to sink in. The bitter and obsessive setting of Platen by Schubert in his Du liebst mich nicht speaks in the most basic and human of ways of the suffering and torture of her heart. The rhythmic pattern in the piano is unbendingly uncomfortable and numbly neurotic. With the repetition of the same idea of ‘you do not love me’ (we hear these words ten times in the course of the song), the girl works herself into a frenzy of loathing, self-hatred and violent anger, rare in Schubert’s songs. The shifting harmonic palette employed by Schubert leaves the girl disorientated but at the same time always coming back to the same hopeless conclusion. She makes reference to the sun and moon they enjoyed together the previous day and is repelled by the thought of flowers in bloom.

In a moment of nostalgia the girl tries to remember exactly what the man said to her the previous night through Debussy’s La chevelure. The middle song of Debussy’s Chanson de Bilitis uses two tempos and two feelings: one for her, and one for his speech as told through her. Even at the beginning, the song is steeped in sensuality, but there is something sinister underlying this nocturnal setting. In the third bar when the boy recounts his dream, Debussy’s marking is très expressif et passionnément concentré (very expressive and passionately concentrated). His masculinity is pointed in the left hand of the piano, deep and sonorous, and in bar ten the piano begins a duet with itself, the right hand breathless in anticipation of their intercourse and the left hand drawn in longer sustained phrases. In a setting which must surely count as the most sexually explicit song in the repertoire, their lovemaking is recounted in language, both poetic and musical which pulsates and climaxes with animalistic rapture. The end of the song returns to the first tempo and to her voice. When he has finished, she lies exhausted and the postlude offers a frisson of post-coital reality.

A glance at the flowers he brought her snaps her out of her reverie, and her state as something used and discarded is aptly described in Fauré’s Fleur jetée. Written on 25 May 1884, with poetry by Armand Silvestre, this Erlkönig-like, whirlwind, turbulent and passionate song is unique amongst Fauré’s songwriting. The impetuous octave repetitions in the piano part begin piano and crescendo

Joseph Middleton – 2012.


"A great recital from one of the warmest, vibrant and most human of sopranos."

Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill

“There is much to enjoy… well worth hearing”

*****

Alexander Bryce, The Scotsman

“It would be nice to think that every weekend fling might be as rewarding as this one”

Richard Fairman, Gramophone

"...a lot of thought and care have clearly gone into this production."

"Roocroft immediately impresses with her rich and vibrant voice..."

"The performances are very strong indeed, in deeply sensitive and idiomatic renditions of these gorgeous works."

Albion Magazine Online


"Amanda Roocroft finds charm and flashes of humour in four sets of German, French and Brittenish songs"

Norman Lebrecht,  La Scena Musciale

   
   

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