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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 29 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)

Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Although now regarded as one of the greatest lyric poets in the German language, Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843) died insane and in obscurity. It was only in the twentieth century that his genius was recognized, above all in naturalizing the forms and spirit of Greek poetry into the German language. As already observed, Britten chose his texts with care. First comes Menschenbeifall (‘Applause of men’), an appropriate choice for a work dedicated to the composer’s friend and patron. As in the first of the Britten’s Michelangelo Sonnets, the piano strides proudly across the keyboard, before parodying the empty chatter of the crowd in bright staccato chords that seem to embody the sound of the German word ‘Quatsch’ (meaning both ‘chatter’ and ‘rubbish’). Only at the end does a gradual diminuendo suggest Britten’s scepticism about his own nearness to the gods. The second song, Die Heimat, is the most overtly Romantic and lyrical of the six. Falling sixths in the voice part evoke the singer’s happiness at returning home, carried on a stream of smoothly flowing triplets and supported by an echoing voice in the piano part. The warm sunset glow of this song perhaps reflects the peaceful home to which Pears and Britten were often welcomed by their German friends.

By contrast, Sokrates und Alcibiades is illumined by the bright, clear sunlight of Classical Greece. In a deftly simple gesture, Britten accompanies Alcibiades’ question with a single line of melody, as if played on an antique flute, which then reveals itself as the vocal melody to which Socrates frames his reply. (Those familiar with Death in Venice will recognize a similar lucidity in the passage where Aschenbach, in love with the boy Tadzio, questions an imaginary Socrates on the subject of passion and beauty.) In composing the fourth song, Britten must have been aware of parallels with Goethe’s poem Ganymed, of which he and Pears were sublime interpreters in Schubert’s version. But instead of the languorous ecstasy and heavenly apotheosis of Ganymede, Die Jugend is all childish play, with its tapping drum and wildly careering quavers, until the last page when Nature’s burgeoning trills finally bring the singer to manhood, with a ringing top G.

In contrast to such youthful exuberance, Hälfte des Lebens addresses the melancholy of middle life, with its sense that what has ripened is already overblown and can only now look forward to a cold and wintry old age. Here again Britten seems to echo Schumann, in both the weighty triplets of the piano part and the droopingly chromatic vocal line, while in the final song, Die Linien des Lebens, he returns to the more intellectual mode of Hugo Wolf. In music that is almost better appreciated by the eye than by the ear, traces of a kind of scala enigmatica creep insect-like across the page, only gradually coalescing into the harmony suggested by Hölderlin’s peroration. Despite its triumphant ending, it must be admitted that Britten’s setting brings the cycle to a rather austere conclusion. Musically satisfying perhaps, but with just a hint of more head than heart involved in its composition, and it may be this apparent austerity that lies behind the cycle’s relative neglect by performers.

from notes by Roger Vignoles © 2005

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