Songs Of Home
South African baritone and 2010 Kathleen Ferrier Award-winner Njabulo Madlala makes his debut on Champs Hill Records
Songs of Home is a reflection of a journey from the townships of South Africa to the world of classical music and song. It is inspired by the South African songbook and songs his Grandmother used to sing.
Njabulo describes it as "life's journey without boundaries; drawing on songs I heard and took to bed with me every night, songs I heard from Miriam Makeba, Sibongile Khumalo and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau."
This CD showcases the intense beauty of music. The unique harmonies and rhythms of Africa meeting those of Schubert, Schumann and Strauss. The click sounds spoken by the Zulu and Xhosa people of South Africa meeting English composers Vaughan Williams, Howells and Quilter.
"That moment of rapt silence and attention, when an audience is entirely transfixed by a musician's artistry, is rare at the best of times - let alone in the middle of a competition. But it happened in the finals of this year's Kathleen Ferrier Awards, when the South African baritone, Njabulo Madlala, riveted every listener in the hall with his musical storytelling in Schumann's dramatic ballad, Belsazar." [The Times]
"an amazingly resonant and vibrant voice with lovely dark undertones" [Planet Hugill]
- Sleeve Notes
This recital by the young South African baritone Njabulo Madlala demonstrates his artistry in some jewels of the European Lieder and song repertoire and also his deep commitment to traditional African songs. Du bist wie eine Blume (You are like a flower) comes from Robert Schumann's song- cycle Myrthen, composed between January and April 1840 to the poetry of Heinrich Heine and several other leading German (and English) poets. Schumann presented the cycle to his wife Clara as a gift on their wedding day in September of that year. Traditionally, German brides wore wreaths of orange blossoms on their heads, but Schumann felt Clara deserved a more symbolic wreath of myrtle (evergreen) leaves and white flowers, which together were traditionally associated with Venus. Schumann said Myrthen was not so much a cycle as a 'diary' of the love between a man and a woman and their struggles with the trials of life. In this context, Heine's Du bist wie eine Blume receives Schumann's most rapt and stately treatment. The repeated chords of the accompaniment provide a grave, majestic background to the singer's declamation of the text in a free kind of recitative. The song's key is A flat major, often associated with wedding ceremonies, and perhaps to be regarded as the 'tonic' of Myrthen, whose first and last songs are also in that key. A very different and much larger Heine setting from 1840 is Belsazar, an extended narrative ' composed on a single day, 7 February ' of which Schumann was so proud that he published it as a separate opus all on its own. This is not so much, as in so many of his Heine settings, an exploration of the poet's irony as a re-enactment of a dramatic Biblical story, achieving a colour and dramatic pacing that are almost operatic. Heine's account of Belshazzar's feast finds Schumann responsive to every nuance and musical opportunity in the text. It begins near midnight in the quiet streets of Babylon, then moves to the riotous depiction of the feasting and dancing in the king's palace. At the climax of the revelry Belshazzar's hubris leads him to utter blasphemies against Jehovah, and a sudden shocked hush falls on the court: here Schumann's music becomes frighteningly sparse. As the divine hand appears and writes God's judgement against Belshazzar in letters of fire, the piano's bass line makes a sinister chromatic descent. The song ends with the chilling narration of Belshazzar's death, the piano confined to staccato chords separated by silences, and the voice ending the song unaccompanied. Franz Schubert composed two songs entitled Wandrers Nachtlied (Wanderer's Night Song), both of them to poems of Goethe. The later and by far the better-known of these settings, to the poem ''ber allen Gipfeln, bist Ruh', describing the beauty and serenity of a sunset, dates from 1824, and Schubert requires only 14 very slow bars to set the poem's eight lines. The piano part hints at an opening hymn, at the peaceful motion of the woodland in beguiling figurations, and at a distant horn-call echoing among the silent mountains. Liebesbotschaft (Love's Greeting) is from the last group of songs that Schubert composed, to texts by Heine, Rellstab and Seidl. They were published some months after his early death by Tobias Haslinger, who gave the collection the title Schwanengesang (Swan Song) though it is not a song-cycle as such and Schubert probably intended the songs to be sung separately. Liebesbotschaft is one of seven settings of Rellstab in the collection. According to Beethoven's friend and amanuensis Anton Schindler, Rellstab had hoped that Beethoven would set his poems, and after Beethoven's death Schindler passed them on to Schubert, who decided to set them in Beethoven's memory. In Liebesbotschaft the water imagery of Rellstab's opening lines prompts Schubert to allude to the music of his 1823 song-cycle Die sch'ne M'llerin in the purling demisemiquaver right-hand figure that clearly depicts the rushing brook. The voice part is a characteristically wonderful Schubertian melody, which, together with a subtle yet profoundly poetic harmonic scheme, reflects every nuance of the poem yet seems as natural as a folk song. The ideal of the folk song also inspired Vaughan Williams's most popular song, Linden Lea, which was actually his first work to be printed. It appeared in the first number of a new magazine devoted to the art of singing, The Vocalist, in April 1902, as by 'E. Vaughan Williams', with a note by the editor that it 'came to our notice on the strong recommendation of Professor Stanford, whose pupil the composer was at the Royal College of Music'. According to Vaughan Williams himself the song came to him and was written down in a single afternoon. Vaughan Williams takes a poem by the Dorset poet William Barnes (originally in Dorset dialect) and turns it into a song of such directness and simplicity it feels as if it had always existed, as a folk song: though the subtitle he gave it ('a Dorset Folk Song') is positively misleading as well as typically self-effacing. Another early song, Let Beauty Awake forms part of Vaughan Williams's song-cycle Songs of Travel, composed in 1902-4 to poems of Robert Louis Stevenson. As a 'journeying' cycle, Songs of Travel has obvious affinities with the song-cycles of Schubert, especially Winterreise. Essentially this is a set of love-songs in which the wanderer-narrator accepts philosophically the mixture of joys and sorrows that lie in wait for him along the road. It is also a cycle for domestic performance, in the home, that is all about breaking out of the humdrum, cloistered life. Stevenson had written some of his poems with existing tunes in mind ('The Vagabond' is actually said to be 'to an air of Schubert'), but Vaughan Williams fashioned new melodies for them all. The highly effective word-setting, respecting and embellishing Stevenson's prosody, shows how much he had learned from his teacher Hubert Parry, whose many English Lyrics had set new standards in the setting of English poetry. Let Beauty Awake, essentially a hymn to beauty, is the second song in the cycle and unfolds a long, raptly lyrical line over rippling piano arpeggios. Charles Villiers Stanford once spoke of another of his students, Herbert Howells, as 'my son in music', though his music displays stronger affinities with that of Vaughan Williams. King David, one of his most famous songs, was completed on 7 August 1919 and dedicated to the tenor John Coates. This is one of many settings Howells made of poetry by his friend Walter de la Mare, but Howells considered this one extended song, which is more like a scena, with its subtle and emotionally effective harmonic progression from E flat minor to E major, to be one of his finest works. Every stage of the narrative is depicted with a flair equal to Schumann's in Belsazar. The nightingale's song, heard only in the upper register of the piano, is a haunting inspiration, while the singer needs to project a great range of vocal colour. The composer, pianist and poet Roger Quilter was one of the supreme artists among English song-composers in the early years of the 20th century, partly due to his intense study of German Lieder while still a student (he was one of the 'Frankfurt Gang' along with Percy Grainger and Cyril Scott) and also his study of contemporary French song- writers, especially Gabriel Faur'. Though he cultivated song as a kind of sublimated light music, he did so with elegance and fine technique and his songs are in danger these days of being underrated. O Mistress Mine, from Quilter's first set of Three Shakespeare Songs, Op.6, was published in 1905 and has always been admired as one of his finest songs for perfection of word- setting and the interdependence of voice and accompaniment. Go, Lovely Rose, from a set of Five English Love Lyrics published separately between 1922 and 1928, sets a poem by the 17th-century Royalist poet and political trimmer Edmund Waller. Quilter's setting is sometimes criticized for its sentimentality, and sometimes hailed as Quilter's masterpiece, perhaps because sentimentality was an innate quality of his art. In any event, the open, heartfelt quality of the main melody should subdue criticism by its patent sincerity. In song-writing, as in orchestral music, Richard Strauss hit his stride early. He wrote some superb examples in his teens, and by his mid-twenties was already an assured master of the Lied. (Success in opera would take rather longer.) The set of Eight Songs to poems by the Tyrolese poet Hermann von Gilm, which Richard Strauss issued in his late teens as his opus 10, is generally held to be his first truly representative achievement in the field of Lieder-writing. Certainly it contains several songs that soon established themselves in the repertoire and that remain popular even today. Allerseelen, the last and best-loved of the set, is a radiant love song whose memories of May-time love are set in the context of the graveside flowers of the celebration of All Souls' Day (which falls on 2 November). Heimliche Aufforderung, one of a set of four songs written in May 1894, sets a poem by the Greenock-born poet John Henry Mackay, who spent most of his life in Germany. He enjoyed quite a vogue at this period and one could never guess from this poem, about a pair of lovers meeting among a group of merry-makers, that Mackay was more famous for publishing wild anarchist tracts than for his verse. Strauss's setting, with its bravura piano part, has a fine swinging impetus. From the same group of Mackay settings comes the ever-popular Morgen! Even though the voice never has the magnificent main tune ' announced at the outset by the piano alone ' but counterpoints it in a mood of profound rapture, the song contains such a wealth of melodic invention and warmth of harmony that it is a classic of the late-Romantic Lied. Against this selection of songs from the European art-song tradition, Njabulo Madlala has counterpointed a range of traditional and popular African songs. He has said that the strongest force in his family while he was growing up was his grandmother, a domestic worker and intense lover of music. 'She was the singer in our family. She was the one always to be found singing and humming Zulu folk songs and lullabies in the house, while doing just about anything. She was a very quiet woman, who spoke very little, but found peace and solace in her music. Her prayer was also in song. I went to bed listening to her singing. There was something so special in her voice; I used to get goose bumps each time I thought about it. She could easily have been a professional singer, her voice was really that good.' The songs on this CD were all sung by Njabulo's grandmother and mother. Thula Sizwe (Be still my country) is an Apartheid-era Zulu lullaby, as is Thula s'thandwa sami (Sleep, my love). The more complex Thula baba... Thula sana (Hush, sleep little baby) is also a lullaby, in which a mother sings to her child as they await the return from work of the baby's father. Malaika (Angel, I love you) is one of the most widely known of all Swahili songs. Since the Swahili words for an angel, malaika, can also mean a baby or small child, so part of this song also is used as a lullaby throughout East Africa. Shosholoza (Go forward) is a Ndebele folk song that was popularized in South Africa (in fact, it is sometimes referred to as South Africa's second national anthem) though it is believed to have originated in Zimbabwe. It was originally sung by Ndebele-speaking migrant workers who travelled by train to labour in South Africa's diamond and gold mines, and was taken up by Zulu workers as well. The song was sung by working miners in time with the beat as they were swinging their axes to dig. It was also taken up in South Africa's prisons. Nelson Mandela sang Shosholoza during his imprisonment on Robben Island, to make the work feel lighter, and described it as 'a song that compares the apartheid struggle to the motion of an oncoming train'. Baxabene oxamu and Qongqothwane are traditional Xhosa songs and also examples of 'Click Songs' that allowed children to practice the various clicking sounds of the Xhosa language (represented in transcription by the letters q and x). While Baxabene oxamu is a nonsense rhyme of made-up words, Qongqothwane ('Knock-knock' beetle) is usually sung at weddings to bring good fortune. The particular type of beetle makes a knocking sound by tapping the ground with its abdomen, and the Xhosa believe it brings good luck and the end of the dry season. Deep River is a well-known spiritual of African-American origin, and was one of the spirituals used by Michael Tippett in his modern oratorio A Child of Our Time because he felt that spirituals had an equal force to the church chorales used in Bach's oratorios. The idea of crossing over the river Jordan symbolizes the release of the Israelites from captivity, and thus also the freeing of African-Americans from slavery. Lakutshon' ilanga (When the sun goes down) is one of the best-known songs by Makwenkwe 'Mackay' Davashe, who died in Soweto in 1972. As a saxophonist, bandleader and songwriter he was for over 30 years one of South Africa's most prominent jazz musicians and an inspiration to many singers. This is a love song in which the singer searches for his love in houses, hospitals and prisons. Finally Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika ('God Bless Africa' in Xhosa) was a symbol of the anti- apartheid movement and the official anthem for the African National Congress in the apartheid era. It became a pan-African liberation anthem and was later adopted as the national anthem of Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe after independence, as well as becoming a portion of the multilingual national anthem of South Africa after the fall of the apartheid regime. It was originally composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a teacher at a Methodist mission school in Johannesburg, as a hymn to the tune 'Aberystwyth' by the Welsh composer Joseph Parry.
- Press Reviews
"It's all gorgeous."
- Richard Morrison, The Times
"[Njabulo Madlala's] singing is engaging and infectious - so music so that I could hardly stop listening..."
"...his hushed singing is especially mesmerising. Even at his softest he maintains a richness of tone..."
- American Record Guide
"[Madlala] produces sweet, dry tone with a plaintive edge, wide compass and suggestion constantly of latest power."
"[Madlala] sings Richard Strauss' Allerseelen (all souls) with a yearning voice, a lovely floated falsetto on suessen (sweet) and an impressive fortissimo for the last climactic lines."
- Rick Jones, Words and Music
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