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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67459
Recording details: February 2004
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: February 2005
Total duration: 12 minutes 42 seconds

'This is still a voice of youthful freshness, commanded with skill and assurance. The programme tests his musicianship very thoroughly, and it reveals also considerable powers of expressiveness, both forthright and subtle … Vignoles is marvellously clear in notes (often fiendishly difficult) and rhythm, and he contributes an excellent essay' (Gramophone)

'Sung by Mark Padmore who, on this form and in this repertory, seems to me to be unrivalled among younger English tenors … With Roger Vignoles as the Britten-like pianist, this ranks as one of the finest discs of English songs to have been issued for some years' (The Sunday Telegraph)

'Mark Padmore and Roger Vignoles perform all these songs with great understanding and sensitivity; in fact I was surprised at how much intensity of feeling they found in the stark Hölderlein songs. Padmore is equally at ease with the minutely expressive wordsetting of the Britten songs and the long, soaring lines of the Tippett' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This is a remarkable debut recital by one of the most intelligent, musical and thoughtful British singers before the public today. It's not easy listening, but Padmore and Vignoles demonstrate song's unique power to shake, stir and move. The recorded balance is ideal, but no company is more experienced in the art-song repertoire than Hyperion. Another jewel in an already superlative crown' (International Record Review)

'Boyhood's End is more of a continuous cantata than a song cycle, and Padmore's concentration on the beauty of the continuous, excitable melisma is surely the right way to go, when Tippett's vocal writing is at it's early, florid best. Padmore's accurate tenor is really used as another, powerful instrument. The voice seems more played than sung' (Fanfare, USA)

Boyhood's End
First line:
What, then, did I want?
author of text

Other recordings available for download
Martyn Hill (tenor), Andrew Ball (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
It was typical of Tippett that, commissioned to write a piece for Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten on their return from the USA in 1943 (it was premiered by the dedicatees in 1945), he should have chosen to set not verse, but a prose text, and moreover to cast the work in the form of a Purcellian cantata, with four consecutive sections of strongly contrasted tempo and mood.

The influence of Purcell was critical for Tippett who, like Britten himself, felt strongly the need to get away from the Romantic–pastoral vein of previous generations of English composers, and sought a new approach through a harking back to the music of the pre-Romantic past. In the case of Boyhood’s End the Purcellian influence is largely structural, in the suggestion of recitative, arioso and aria, the melismatic vocal-writing and sometimes quasi-modal harmony, while the lean, energetic cross-rhythms owe as much to Tippett’s interest in jazz as to those in Elizabethan and Jacobean dance music. In this of course he had much in common with American contemporaries like Aaron Copland and Elliott Carter, who were tuned in to a similar Zeitgeist. (As an aside, I remember Tippett in a lecture once recalling a would-be composer who had asked him for comments on his compositions. Evidently these exhibited the worst tendencies of English Romanticism, for the young man went away greatly offended when Tippett told him that what he needed was a course in hot jazz.)

The opening of Boyhood’s End is strikingly dramatic. Vigorous piano octaves announce the simple question: ‘What, then, did I want?’ The answer – ‘I want only to keep what I have’ – is an astonishing outburst, extending those eight short words through fifteen bars of virtuoso vocal-writing, from the fortissimo top A flat of ‘want’, itself lasting two and a half bars, to the pianissimo E natural an octave and a half lower of ‘have’. From here, Tippett builds the rest of the first section in a series of waves, the first two culminating in fanfare-like cadenzas in the piano, the third in the ecstatic exclamation ‘Oh, those wild beautiful cries of the golden plover!’. This in turn launches an even more energetic outburst, in which two words – ‘uprising’ and ‘dance’ – are again stretched to inordinate length in the kind of hocketing, syncopated melismas that would only resurface in Tippett’s music fifteen years later, when he came to compose Achilles’ war cry in King Priam.

The Andante section that follows is a complete contrast. The slow, almost motionless octaves of the piano part, imperceptibly expanding and contracting, seem satiated with heat, while the voice swoons in falling intervals, heavy with the sensual overload of Hudson’s recollections. In the Allegro molto the notion of riding evokes predictably dotted rhythms, and the multitude of flora and fauna – storks, ibises, grey herons, flamingos – invites cascades of piano semiquavers. Finally calming down, the closing Allegro piacevole completes the idyll, the long lines in both voice and piano spanning the octaves from lowest bass to highest treble, as the youth lies gazing at the ‘white-hot whitey-blue sky’ and the myriads of balls of thistledown, the final line, with its long-held top A, being a metaphor for his emotional transportation.

Boyhood’s End must have presented a formidable challenge to its dedicatees. Two years later Britten was to return the compliment. His first Canticle, My Beloved is Mine, is also cast in four contrasting sections, and in its opening pages comes as close as Britten ever did to imitating Tippett’s ecstatic, syncopated vocal melismas.

from notes by Roger Vignoles © 2005

Other albums featuring this work
'Tippett: Songs' (CDA66749)
Tippett: Songs

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