A beautiful collection of English Poetry and Song performed by mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately and her family and friends.
The pain of longing for home, of true not sentimental nostalgia, deep seated in the art of the British Isles, permeates this album's exquisite programme of poetry and song, from Shakespeare's Scepter'd Isle, the 'blue remembered hills' of Housman's Shropshire or Hardy's Wessex, to the idyllic Ireland of Joseph Campbell's 'I wish and I wish'.
Features beautiful texts by poets including Dante Gabriel Rosetti, his sister Christina Rosetti, AE Housman and John Masefield
The stoicism the British are known for flickers in so many of the songs on this album, hope for peace and hope for eternal values of beauty and truth. It stands proud in 'The fields are full', one of many fine songs written by Ivor Gurney in the fruitful post-war years following his initial recovery from shellshock, and there too in John Ireland's 'Earth's Call',
Kitty Whately, a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist for the 2013'15 seasons, was the winner of both the Kathleen Ferrier Award, and the 59th Royal Over-Seas League Award for Singers in 2011
Pianist Joseph Middleton was described in the BBC Music Magazine as 'one of the brightest stars in the world of song and Lieder', he has also be labelled as 'the cream of the new generation' by The Times.
Featuring Kitty's actor parents, Kevin Whately (Lead roles in Auf Wiedersehen Pet, Inspector Morse, and title role in Lewis) and Madelaine Newton (Theatre and TV actress including leading roles in the hugely successful series When The Boat Comes In, The Spoils of War and Auf Weidersehen Pet)
Award winning Navarra Quartet feature both individually and as a quartet in Samuel Barber's beautiful Dover Beach
Edward Thomas died on the first day of the Battle of Arras in April 1917, his life ended by the shockwaves of an exploding shell. Almost three years earlier the Anglo-Welsh poet expressed the precious essence of peace within the sublime tranquillity of an English country scene. Adelstrop, just sixteen lines long, evokes for many a timeless world, a Cotswold Eden barely touched, like Thoreau's Walden, by modernity beyond its railway line. Adelstrop for one moment appears as the centre of the universe. And perhaps it is, a mythical place like Shakespeare's Scepter'd Isle, the 'blue remembered hills' of Housman's Shropshire or Hardy's Wessex, the idyllic Ireland of Joseph Campbell's I wish and I wish or the seashore at Dover long ago.
The pain of longing for home, of true not sentimental nostalgia, deep seated in the art of the British Isles, permeates this album's exquisite programme of poetry and song. So too do consoling thoughts of nature and the lived experience of being in nature, resting in 'the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief'. Both strands interweave in Walter de la Mare's England and Hilaire Belloc's My own country, the latter's emotional nuances and thoughts of home richly illuminated by the harmonies of Peter Warlock's setting.
Material possessions and personal status are not honoured here; rather it is the transcendent beauty of a bird's song, the gift of springtime renewal, the shared stuff of common humanity ' of life, love and death ' that imprint their mark on the listener's soul. These say the poets are what give life its meaning, intangible yet precious reminders of the individual's connection to something bigger than self. The matter's heart rests in the still silence of John Clare's In Hilly-Wood, where the only sounds 'that on peace intrude/ Come from the chittering cricket, bird, and bee'. Its pulse beats, too, in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's sonnet Silent Noon, where the poet seeks to protect the perfect moment from passing time. Vaughan Williams's setting, the second of six songs published in 1903 in his The House of Life, enfolds the 'wing'd hour ... dropt ... from above' in music that itself sounds destined to last forever, 'still as the hourglass'.
Vaughan Williams adopts a different stance to time in We'll to the woods no more, from his Housman cycle, Along the Field, bidding a sad farewell to a moment that can never be repeated. The song's folk-like idiom and rhapsodic violin descant cast their haunting spell over Housman's hymn to a vanished world. The idyll of rural life also surfaces in Roger Quilter's settings of Joseph Campbell's I wish and I wish and I will go with my father a-ploughing, originally scored for voice and piano trio and first published in Three Pastoral Songs in 1921, and in the folksong style of Ivor Gurney's The Salley Gardens. William Butler Yeats's fluent verse, based on what the poet described as 'an old song resung', is harnessed by Gurney to the most gentle of melodies.
John Ruskin's call for artists 'to go to nature' was heeded by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his fellow Pre-Raphaelites. Rossetti's sister Christina, while not formally a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, influenced its work as artist's model and poet. A Green Cornfield, so tenderly set to music by Michael Head, celebrates the power of the present moment and the value of attending to the transient sights and sounds of an ordinary country scene. The same may be said for The Lambs of Grasmere, its shepherds and meek flocks 'worthy of recording words', there to be remembered with reverence for a lifetime. Memory is likewise never far from mind in the verse of A. E. Housman. John Ireland's settings of the poet's work include Hawthorn Time, completed in 1919. Eight years later he took one of its lines, Spring will not wait the loiterer's time, as the title and epigraph for the long piano postlude to his last collection of Housman songs, We'll to the woods no more.
Beyond nostalgia born of impermanence, there are other strong themes at work in The Other Eden. The Darkling Thrush, written just before the last century's dawn, suggests that the inevitability of change and decay may contain the seeds of hope, planted there to revive 'the ancient pulse of germ and birth'. Hardy's guarded optimism would soon be tested to destruction, mired in Flanders mud and later hijacked to serve the cause of brutal dictators and anti-human ideologies. And yet hope flickers in so many of the songs on this album, hope for peace and hope for eternal values of beauty and truth. It stands proud in The fields are full, one of many fine songs written by Ivor Gurney in the fruitful post-war years following his initial recovery from shellshock, and there too in John Ireland's Earth's Call, crafted in 1918, a year of battles fought with malevolent intensity over the Western Front's wilderness. Both works dwell far from life's harsh realities. The fields are full contemplates the profound beauty of 'some old couple', ripe like summer fields; Earth's Call, meanwhile, evokes an atmosphere rich in spiritual mysticism and charged with sexual passion. Ireland projects the pastoral imagery of Harold Monro's sonnet and its ecstatic response to nature into what the composer called A Sylvan Rhapsody, sensuous and expansive in mood.
Monro's Poetry Bookshop promoted the interests and influence of the so-called 'Georgian' poets, Walter de la Mare prominent among them. Herbert Howells, from a humble family raised on the edge of the Forest of Dean, and de la Mare, son of a high-ranking Bank of England official, became close friends. The poet considered King David of 1919, one of the composer's finest songs, to be the perfect setting. Howells connects with the spirit of English folksong to tell the story of the biblical king's unbidden melancholy. The little scene, intense and unwavering in its concentration, moves from lament, through reflection on heartfelt sorrow to the transcendence of suffering.
John Keats's ballad La belle dame sans merci, written under the shadow of the illness that would soon bring his life to an early close, appears to contain little hope. But even here, 'on the cold hillside', the poet offers the prospect of peace from earthly suffering. Stanford's setting echoes the style of Schubert's Erlk'nig, strikingly so in its description of the knight's horrific dream of death-pale warriors. Horrors of the mind's making course through Joseph Horovitz's Lady Macbeth: A Scena. The composer, who arrived in England with his family in 1938 as a refugee from Nazi Vienna, assembled its libretto from the speeches of Lady Macbeth. The work, commissioned for the Bergen Festival in 1970, as Horovitz explains, 'is intended to portray the development of [Lady Macbeth], from early aspirations to grandeur, to later power and finally to guilt and madness. The implication is that the Scena begins after Lady Macbeth has read the report of Macbeth's victory at the start of the play.' The peace of William Soutar's mind was disturbed by reports from another conflict, the Spanish Civil War. The Children, already set by Benjamin Britten to music of searing intensity, attracted James MacMillan in the mid-1990s. The Scottish composer notes that his setting, in the simplicity of its vocal line, 'is reminiscent of a child's song. As it progresses repetitively, the sparse piano accompaniment provides a more threatening contrast to the song's basic innocence and tranquillity.'
The silver sea surrounding Shakespeare's sceptre'd isle, volatile and not to be trusted yet often generously giving in nature, has proved an infinite source of poetic inspiration. Its shoreline can stand as metaphor for the world between life and death; in Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach, it was once girdled by the Sea of Faith and is now left exposed by the ebbing tide of religious certainty. Samuel Barber's setting for voice and string quartet, written in the spring of 1931, heightens the melancholy of Arnold's verse and reinforces the Victorian poet's 'high serious tone', notably so in the work's heart-breaking central section, Sophocles long ago / Heard it on the Aegean'. Ruth Pitter's The Estuary finds joy in the safe return of a big ship to the harbour's fold, 'Rolling along the fair deep channel she knows'. Michael Head's setting complements Pitter's exquisite imagery, opening and closing in tranquil calm and coursing with energy in its contrasting central section.
Louis Untermeyer's The Swimmers, first published in the July 1915 of the Yale Review, explores the conceit of one man's momentary sense of mastery over nature, an arrogance dispelled in the complete poem when a drowned man's body is pulled from the water. Ma bonny lad, the Northumbrian folksong's subject, has also been lost to the sea, 'his grave ... green, but not wi grass'. The tide's power is present again in Sea Fever, where its 'wild call' proves irresistible to the sailor personified in John Masefield's poem, and is implicit in Housman's O stay at home my lad and plough, where the sea flows as the highway that leads soldiers to their graves in distant lands. Young Ben Britten's earliest memories were shaped by the sea at Lowestoft, its constantly changing nature framed by the seafront windows of his childhood home. Early morning bathe, part of the Holiday Diary of 1934, reflects the young composer's passion for swimming, from the first shivers of entering the water to the delight of full immersion and self-propelled progress through the waves, perhaps a metaphor for life itself?