In a co-production between Champs Hill Records and the BBC, Kitty Whately returns to the Music Room at Champs Hill to record her second disc with the label, accompanied by distinguished pianist Simon Lepper.
"Nights Not Spent Alone" presents the complete works for mezzo-soprano by Jonathan Dove. It includes a song cycle of the same name dedicated to Whately, of which she performed the world premiere at the Cheltenham Music Festival in 2015, where Dove sets the poetry of the provocative and unconventional figure of Edna St Vincent Millay. The disc also includes other song cycles and the un-accompanied 'My Love is Mine'. Kitty was also in the very well received revival of Dove's opera 'Flight' at Holland Park in June 2015.
"A lot of these songs have never been recorded before, and aren't performed nearly as much as they should be. They are so full of charm, with and very immediate poignancy. I really hope that this album will introduce these songs to many who don't already know them, and encourage more singer to perform them." (Kitty Whately)
Kitty Whately trained at Chetham's School of Music, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the Royal College of Music International Opera School. She won both the Kathleen Ferrier Award and the 59th Royal Overseas League Award in 2011, and was a BBC New Generation Artist from 2013-15, during which time she recorded her debut solo album 'This Other Eden' for Champs Hill Records.
Simon Lepper read music at King's College, Cambridge. He is a professor of piano accompaniment and a vocal repertoire coach at the Royal College of Music, London, where he also coordinates the piano accompaniment course. He is an official accompanist for BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition.
While Jonathan Dove is best known for his 25 operas and his commitment to community and children’s music, including some very large scale statements, his considerable output of songs show a very different side to his musical persona. Most of these songs were written to commemorate events, friends or people, and several had private first performances with the composer at the piano. Dove’s experience as a dramatic composer is shown by his masterful shaping of sequences of poems. Each of the song-cycles recorded here is a well-balanced organism, and there is only one stand-alone song on this CD. It goes without saying that his setting of and response to the poems set is nonpareil.
All the Future Days was commissioned as a birthday present, and premiered at a private concert by Anne Mason (a singer who created roles in Dove’s operas Flight and When She Died) and the composer at Hoxton Hall, London in June 2004. The poems, selected by the commissioner Gerard Hastings, are by Ursula Vaughan-Williams, who was a prolific published poet before her liaison with the famous composer. She provided libretti and texts for choral pieces for numerous composers, and Dove joins a long list of composers who have set her poems, among them Gerald Finzi, Alun Hoddinott, Herbert Howells, Elisabeth Lutyens, Elizabeth Maconchy, Anthony Milner, Alan Ridout, Phyllis Tate and Malcolm Williamson.
Dove’s settings of these dense conceptual poems, a twentieth century descendant of the Metaphysical poets, is commendably economic and transparent, so that the poems communicate with clarity. The composer writes:
‘In a sense, they are all portraits and self-portraits of women: women waiting, women remembering. Time Being is a prelude, its “short lifetime” leading to a lifetime recollected in Autobiography. Penelope describes the origin of painting: before he leaves, Penelope draws the outline of her husband on the wall, anticipating a long wait for his return. Spider is an admiring and intimate portrait of the female of the species. Martha is the longest song in the cycle: she is only briefly mentioned in the gospels, but the poem lovingly fleshes out her strong character. Finally, The Siren is prefaced by a quotation from the Book of Enoch: “And Uriel said to me: ‘Here shall stand the angels that have lain with women…and the women they seduced shall become Sirens’.” The siren remembers the fallen angel whose love made her what she is, and whose death she will sing and mourn forever.’
Thus we hear, in Time Being, a soulful chiming figure in the piano contrasted with something more urgent, which sounds a piano alarm at the conclusion. In Penelope, a striking piano figure portrays the outline of her husband, rising to a heartfelt climax, and the Spider, despite the gruesome details of her victims, is presented as a scherzando song of great delicacy. Martha, mentioned in the Gospel of St John for witnessing the raising of her brother, Lazarus, is depicted in an austere figure in octaves in the piano, with a simple, almost folk-like vocal line, an earthy portrayal of one lauded for her maturity, strength and common sense. The Siren is a virtuoso tour-de-force both performers, with the final perpetual mourning inspiring a defiant vocalise at the conclusion.
A more urbane sensibility is on show in Five Am’rous Sighs (1997), commissioned by John Valdimir Price in memory of his mother, the singer Asalie Key Price. These 18th century poems, by Mary Wortley Montague and Matthew Prior are satirical and witty, and they are couched in music of pith and simplicity. The whole cycle is bound together by a rising scalic idea, first apparent in the opening of the first song, and by a corresponding descending idea somewhat later in the same song, and this simple device provides most of the musical material, and reaches a calm apotheosis in the final song. Lady Montague (?1689-1762) was famed for her embassy letters from Ottoman Turkey (she was the wife of the British Ambassador there) and for introducing smallpox inoculation to Britain, though she was a prolific essayist and poet as well. Her contemporary, Matthew Prior (1664-1721) sat in parliament as a commissioner of trade, and was a noted diplomat, though later impeached by Robert Walpole and imprisoned.
All You Who Sleep Tonight (1996) selects poems from the eponymous collection by the Indian poet Vikram Seth, who has collaborated with Dove on several other works. Dove has selected eight quatrains that range in subject matter from insomnia to table manners, and five longer poems. The cycle was written for Nuala Willis, who was for a time somewhat of a muse for Dove, creating at least seven of his operatic roles. They met when he accompanied her at the London Palladium for a charity gala, performing Naughty Songs from the Twenties, and he would later accompany her in cabaret at London’s ‘Pizza on the Park’. As Dove put it:
‘I wanted to write some songs that would hint at that side of this unique performer – songs she might sing somewhere between a night-club and the Wigmore Hall.’
They premiered the work together at the Almeida Theatre, where Dove was at that time Music Advisor, and the cycle is dedicated to director Jonathan Kent. Though the songs have a quicksilver response to the various poems, the mood towards the end tends to the more profound and introspective, with number 12 – Soon, a weighty song of premature death - providing the emotional climax. The final song sets the signature poem from the collection as a rapt gesture of conciliation.
It was Kitty Whately, the singer on this album, who suggested the American poet Edna St Vincent Millay (1892-1950) for a new song cycle commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Young Artist’s Scheme in 2015 and premiered by Kitty Whately and Simon Lepper at the Cheltenham Festival. As the composer says:
‘I had considered setting What lips my lips have kissed… some years ago, but the other two poems in Nights Not Spent Alone were new to me. Together they paint a vivid portrait of this popular poet, who inspired a generation with her frankness about her unconventional life, and the skill and power of her writing. I particularly enjoy the tension between the formal control of the verse and the anarchic passions to which it testifies.’
The first song, Recuerdo (‘to remember’ in Spanish) one of St Vincent Millay’s most famous poems, charting a couple travelling back and forth on a ferry, sleepless night at large, maybe conveying the first breathless excitement of a new love affair, with imagery that ranges from the everyday to the exalted. Dove’s setting has a darker edge than one might expect from the poem, with a tense regular pulse mixed with a looser-limbed thematic idea, possibly giving a slight hungover feel to the words ‘We were very tired/We were very merry’. What lips my lips have kissed couches a lament of amorous regret in the form of a sonnet, looking back on an active love life, from the vantage point of age and solitude. Dove’s very simple and eloquent setting, in a regular quintuple metre, captures all the powerlessness and regret of the poem. I too beneath your moon, another sonnet, is an overtly liberated paean to sexual liberation, couched in shadowy imagery, and Dove mirrors this with sultry, uneasy harmonies and an urgent thrusting rhythm, leading to an unapologetic climax.
The unaccompanied My Love is Mine (1997) was written as a wedding present for a ceremony in a Quaker meeting-house, where of course, no instruments were to hand. It is a setting from The Song of Songs, which is a rare celebration of sexual love in the scriptures, a joyous and touching monody with an occasional melisma. It was premiered by Nuala Willis.
Dove’s ability to tailor his work to the predilections of individual singers is showcased in Cut My Shadow (2011), three settings of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poems, translated into English by Gwynn Edwards, written for Buddug Verona James, a notably intense and charismatic performer. Surprise, a lament for an assassinated man, starts with violent disjunct gestures and proceeds with a sense of accruing tension. The Guitar evokes that instrument with an obsessive one bar riff that is harmonized very cunningly. Though the song is predominately sad and withdrawn, it too ends in violence. It is interesting to compare the setting The Song of the Dry Orange Tree to that of one of the 20th century’s most prominent song composers, Francis Poulenc. Whereas the French composer's is a resigned tragic lament, cushioned with nostalgic harmonies, Dove’s setting is acerbic, with fractured dance rhythms, anger and dissonance.
"As well a being eminently singable, Dove's songs have a quick-witted, modern style, with echoes of Britten, Bernstein and Sondheim, that can turn on a sixpence and catch the emotions unawares. Kitty Whately and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, catch their elation, their humour, their heartache." - Richard Fairman, Financial Times
"In an age of glossily interchangeable international artists [Kitty Whately] isn't afraid to tell us her story." - Gramophone
"Whately's voice seems to match beautifully the personal touches found all over Dove's music ... Without those bits of Dove-trivia, it would be hard to pinpoint precisely which set was written with Whately's voice in mind - she seems to suit them all."
"[Whately] sings with a beautiful balance of care and abandon; the songs of 'All the Future Days' and 'Nights Not Spent Alone' demand big, operatic moments, yet she can come right down to the conversational, almost Sondheim-like moments in 'Cut My Shadow'."
"Whately is polished and real." - Jenna Douglas, Schmopera
"This is a very fine release."
"I have been very taken with the singing of the British mezzo, Kitty Whately, and all the more so since hearing her outstanding debut CD, 'This Other Eden' ... the combination of an admired composer and an admired singer on the same CD was irresistible."
"[My Love Is Mine] is wonderfully expressive and I can only describe Kitty Whately's singing of it as sensuous."
"This programme contains many very fine songs. Dove's music has great appeal ... the vocal lines consistently compel attention and the piano parts expertly complement the melodic line."
"Kitty Whately sings this varied programme with consummate skill. Her diction is extremely clear and the tone is simply gorgeous ... she grabbed my attention from start to finish ... Simon Lepper's pianism is no less admirable."
"Nigel Short (producer) and Dave Rowell (engineer) ... have done a fine job in the pleasing acoustic of the Music Room at Champs Hill ... balancing the singer and piano expertly." - John Quinn, MusicWeb International