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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CKD329
Recording details: September 2008
Big School, Christ's Hospital, Horsham, West Sussex, United Kingdom
Produced by Philip Hobbs
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: October 2010
Total duration: 23 minutes 6 seconds

'James Gilchrist is an impressively rounded advocate. His enunciation is superb, his melodic phrasing is always wonderfully musical; he can be seductive, but at times there's an eloquent astringency not unlike the late Philip Langridge' (BBC Music Magazine) » More

'The first time you hear Earth, Sweet Earth (Laudes Terrae) by Kenneth Leighton (1929-88), the piano introduction is so elaborate, pensive and self-sufficient you forget the voice will enter at all. James Gilchrist makes the same observation in his programme note for these settings of Gerard Manley Hopkins, given vividly nuanced performances by the British tenor and his regular duo partner Anna Tilbrook. Each word is clear, each pianistic colour brought out. Paired, fittingly, with Winter Words by Leighton's contemporary Benjamin Britten, this haunting disc provides a fierce elegy to our lost Eden' (The Observer)

'Eine überaus interessante SACD ist nun mit zwei kontrastierenden Kompositionen bei Linn erschienen: einerseits dem bekannten, für Peter Pears komponierten Zyklus Winter Words von Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), andrerseits Earth, Sweet Earth…'Laudes terrae' von Kenneth Leighton (1969-1988), für den plötzlich mehr und mehr Interesse erkennbar wird. Und in der Tat: Dieses 'Lied der Erde', die ihre Schönheiten vorstellt und im ihre Zerstörung bangt, ist ein tief berührender Zyklus, zumal er, wie Winter Words imponierend und überzeugend von James Gilchrist gedeutet wird. Die Intensität, mit der dieser von Anna Tilbrook, seiner wunderbaren Partnerin, begleitet wird, ist beeindruckend' (Pizzicato, Luxembourg)

Winter Words, Op 52
composer
author of text

Other recordings available for download
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)
Introduction
Thomas Hardy’s many collections of poems date from the later years of his life and perhaps for this reason many of the poems convey a note of regretful stoicism. Britten completed his settings of a selection of Hardy’s lyrics and ballads in September 1953, and the title of the work, Winter Words, is also Hardy’s. Though not strictly speaking a cycle, Winter Words is more than merely a collection of songs. Britten has paid very careful attention to the tonal structure of the sequence and the dramatic rhythm of temporal and textural contrast. The work begins and ends in D, and even within the context of the minor mode of the first song, the major mode of ‘Before Life and After’ is anticipated at the words ‘when no trees, no tall trees grew here’ – presumably ‘before the birth of consciousness’.

Unlike the rich Italianate palette of the Michelangelo Sonnets, the textures of the Hardy songs are spare and economical. They date from a turning-point in Britten’s music which was finally reached in the chamber opera, The Turn of the Screw (1954). The very opening of At day-close in November illustrates this point. Within the eight-bar piano introduction Britten employs all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. In The Turn of the Screw such textures of total chromaticism were further articulated by twelve-note ordering. But this ‘continental’ element is merely a sign of things to come. Most of the songs are strikingly English in tone.

The sequence begins with a nostalgic reflection of the passing of time. The trees Hardy himself planted in his ‘June time’ now ‘obscure the sky’. Midnight on the Great Western is distinguished by the onomatopoeic evocation of the train’s whistle and the constant motion of the carriage. It also reflects the deeply compassionate side of Britten’s nature in its touching picture of the lonely child travelling towards an unknown destination, perhaps even to death? Wagtail and Baby and The Little Old Table are two miniatures of rare perfection. The Choirmaster’s Burial, by contrast, is an extended narrative ballad in which the choirmaster’s favourite hymn-tune, ‘Mount Ephraim’ is twice evoked by Britten. It also includes some of the freest, most melismatic vocal writing in the cycle. Proud Songsters, another miniature, is the most brilliant of the settings. It is followed by another narrative ballad, At the Railway Station, Upway, in which the voice is confined to recitative while the piano reproduces the dry, brittle tones of the violin.

With the final song the sequence comes full circle. Before Life and After is a bitter song of longing for the state of the world before consciousness dawned, when ‘none suffered sickness, love or loss’. Its relentless repeated triads are like the march of Time, the vocal line constantly trying to free itself. The song, indeed the work, ends with the question, ‘How long before nescience is reaffirmed. How long?’. It was a question that troubled Britten till the very end of his life and it was responsible for the musical question-marks we hear at the end of Death in Venice and the Third String Quartet.

from notes by John Evans 1986


Other albums featuring this work
'Britten: Michelangelo Sonnets & Winter Words' (CDH55067)
Britten: Michelangelo Sonnets & Winter Words
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55067  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'A Treasury of English Song' (HYP30)
A Treasury of English Song
This album is not yet available for download HYP30  Super-budget price sampler — Deleted  

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