Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.

Hyperion offers both CDs, and downloads in a number of formats. The site is also available in several languages.

Please use the dropdown buttons to set your preferred options, or use the checkbox to accept the defaults.

Divine Music

An English Songbook
Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Joseph Middleton (piano)
Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Studio Master:
Studio Master:
Studio Master:
Studio Master:
Download only
Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: August 2020
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Mellor
Engineered by Andrew Mellor
Release date: April 2023
Total duration: 82 minutes 6 seconds

Cover artwork: Photograph by Gerard Collett

Iestyn Davies' latest recital album includes first recordings of interesting new works by Thomas Adès and Nico Muhly alongside some established favourites.

Other recommended albums

Waiting for content to load...
“Beauty need never perish in the mind” (Walter de la Mare)

Inspirations and imaginings, evolving, changing English usage, landscapes, friendships and passings lie behind this album.

What art thou? From what causes dost thou spring?
Oh! Musick thou Divine Misterious thing?
Let me, let me but know, and knowing give me Voice to sing?
Art thou the warmth in Spring, that Zephire breathes?
Painting the Meads, and whistling through the leaves.
The happy, happy Season that all grief exiles,
When God is Pleas’d and the Creation Smiles?
Or art thou Love, that mind to mind imparts,
the endless concord of agreeing hearts?
Or art thou Friendship, yet a nobler Flame,
that can a dearer way make Souls the same?
Or art thou rather which do all transcend,
the Centre which at last the Blest ascend,
the seat where Hallelujahs never end;
Corporeal Eyes won’t let us clearly see,
but either thou art Heav’n, or Heav’n is thee.

The anonymous words of A Hymn on Divine Musick by William Croft—organist of Westminster Abbey, John Hawkins’s ‘grave and decent man’—printed in 1714, the year of George I’s Hanoverian accession, in Book II of Playford’s expanded Harmonia Sacra. Arranged by Britten in 1975 or early 1976 for Peter Pears and the harpist Osian Ellis.

“Croft’s title,” Iestyn Davies muses, “leads me to thinking how the word ‘divine’, as we tend to use it, has changed its meaning to indicate nowadays beauty as well as Divinity”—put another way, notions of physical pleasantry and delight contrasting former attributions of deity or god-like status. “People’s (including critics’) reactions to the voice and sound of a countertenor often leap to adjectives in the world of ‘The Divine’ whether it be ‘otherworldly’, ‘spiritual’, ‘sacred’ or whatever. Loosely, the songs we’ve selected embrace multiple interpretations and nuances of ‘divine’. As well as, I could argue, that sentiment of English song and English speaking composers embodying the [Blake/Parry] ‘Jerusalem-Builded-Here’ trope. The world I came from (singing in choir stalls), along with how countertenors are perceived generally, has been hard to escape. So here perhaps I’m taking on the challenge. As well as an opportunity to include songs written for me that for some while I’ve been needing to put down on disc.”

In the footsteps of Britten’s realisations—and as personally ideated—Thomas Adès’s Four Songs after Purcell for countertenor and piano were published in 2020. The second and third—“Come unto these yellow sands” (John Dryden and William d’Avenaut after Shakespeare) and “Full fathom five” (Shakespeare), both from Act III of The Tempest (c1695)—were premiered in Le Poisson Rouge, New York City 26 October 2012 (Davies/Adès). The first and last—“By beauteous softness” (Thomas Shadwell, adapted Purcell) from the Ode Now does the glorious day appear (1689) and “An Evening Hymn” on a five-bar E flat ground (William Fuller, printed 1688)—were co-commissioned by Simon Yates and Kevin Roon, and Carnegie Hall, premiered in Zankel Hall, New York City 15 October 2017 (Davies/Adès). Lauding Purcell’s setting of English texts, “the way that emotion, the rhythm of the words, is rendered into music,” Adès maintains, “is incomparably natural and powerful.” [1st recording.]

Contemporary with Tippett’s advocacy, Britten’s discovery of Purcell—who in the 1940s still took a back seat to Handel, Holst’s efforts a generation earlier notwithstanding—was a significant personal landmark that was to have enduring ramifications. “It is most wonderful music and gets extraordinary receptions everywhere” (December 1947). That twenty years on the 1680 string Fantasies were to confidently acquire their place among, for one, the set works of the Durham degree syllabus, along with Peter Grimes, was no flight of whimsy. “Lord, what is man?” (William Fuller, Divine Hymn opening Harmonia Sacra, Book II, 1st ed 1693). “I’ll sail upon the dog-star” (incidental music to Thomas D’Urfey’s farcical comedy A Fool’s Preferment or The Three Dukes of Dunstable, 1688, the “dog-star” of the title referencing Sirius of Greek and Egyptian antiquity, brightest visible star of the heavens). Two years after The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, on the Rondeau from Purcell’s Abdelzer or The Moor’s Revenge (1695), Britten’s transcription of these numbers appeared in 1947, with the vocal parts edited by Peter Pears. Prefacing them, “it is clear,” he wrote, “that the figured basses in Purcell’s day were realized in a manner personal to the player. In this edition the basses have also, inevitably, been realized in a personal way. But it has been the constant endeavour of the arranger to apply to these realizations something of that mixture of clarity, brilliance, tenderness and strangeness which shines out in all Purcell’s music”.

“I’m a pack rat; I make these little piles of documents, a lot of documents—very little music paper involved, it’s all much later. It’s images, it’s drawings, it’s numbers, it’s schemes, it’s food, it’s almost never music” (Advocate, 12 August 2008). The American composer, arranger, pianist, curator, collaborator, writer and blogger Nico Muhly took a degree in English from Columbia University (Arabic on the side), completing his postgraduate studies at the Juilliard under Christopher Rouse and John Corigliano. From “notated [concert] music” (his phrase) to English choral to folk to indie rock to experimental to opera, film and television, he’s a practitioner who crosses all frontiers with impunity, all sounds and techniques in the mix, no vision or chemistry impossible. From the Met to the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic and Britten Sinfonia, John Adams and Philip Glass to Paul Simon, Björk and Teitur, Esa-Pekka Salonen to Pekka Kuusisto to the Icelandic Bedroom Community collective (which he co-founded in 2006), his solar winds free-wheel between spheres and worlds, each current birthing clouds of unpredictable shades, riches and allusions, here one moment, gone the next.

'New-made Tongue' (2020) is the second of Eight Songs from Isolation—“the first [iPhone-shot] opera written for a socially distanced world”, commissioned from eight composers (Thomas Adès, Nico Muhly, Helen Grime, Huw Watkins, Du Yun, Freya Waley-Cohen. Ilya Demutsky, Julian Anderson) by the conductor Oliver Zeffman for a forty-minute ‘opera-film’ directed by Billy Boyd Cape (original backing/playback tracks studio-recorded by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields). “Crises have often been the catalyst,” Zeffman reminds, “for artists to develop not only new work, but also new ways of working. The COVID pandemic gripping the world has made impossible the two fundamental requirements of most art forms—the interaction of artists with each other, and between artists and audiences. Rather than trying to repurpose something written in another context, I felt it artistically imperative to commission something that is very much of and for our current situation that speaks to the shared experience we are all going through.” Muhly’s text comes from the 17th-century English metaphysical poet, Anglican cleric, and religious writer Thomas Traherne—The Salutation. [1st recording, voice/piano version.]

Commissioned by the Wigmore Hall (5 July 2013, with Thomas Dunford, lute), Old bones, Muhly says, “combines texts taken from the media around the rediscovery of Richard III’s bones [Greyfriars Priory, Leicester, September 2012] with fragments of poetry in praise of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, who is said to have killed the king [Battle of Bosworth Field, 1485]. Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society gave a series of extraordinary interviews in which she humanises the mythology surrounding Richard III, and insists on our noticing the details of his daily life: ‘The scientists say you can’t see character in bones—but for me, you kind of can.’ The poetry, too, operates mythologically as well as practically: a young man has come to protect the community, but suddenly he is a rose, a star, a hawk. Old Bones begins with a news report, delivered as a sort of recitative, and moves through several episodes of [instrumental] patterns before landing on a stylised processional music. The piece ends with the phrase, ‘Everyone else was looking at old bones, and I was seeing the man’.” The setting draws on words from Richard Buckley Philippa Langley, and the 15th century Welsh soldier-bard Guto’r Glyn. [1st recording, voice/piano version.]

Dedicated to Iestyn Davies, Muhly’s Four Traditional Songs (2011) were a joint commission from Carnegie Hall and the Wigmore (premiered New York 15 December 2011, London 7 May 2012 respectively, both with Kevin Murphy). “I selected these four songs,” he says, “after spending many hours obsessing over Alfred Deller’s [1961] Vanguard recording of British folksongs. One in particular struck me as heartbreakingly poignant: his unaccompanied rendition of “The bitter withy” [Roud 452]. I tried to imagine what a highly stylised but understated accompaniment might sound like, and that forms the fourth song in this collection. “The cruel mother” [Roud 9], about a woman who kills her children and is then visited by their ghosts, is a particularly gruesome murder ballad, and works over a large vocal range. “Searching for lambs” [Roud 576] has a wonderfully irregular footprint, which required very little interference from me, and “A brisk young lad” [Roud 60] is one of the most unforgivingly sad ballads in the catalogue. As the song are all, loosely, narratives, the performers should take enormous liberties with tempo and dynamics. The indicated dynamics in the piano part are just suggestions and should be subject to vigorous and joyful replacement.” [1st recording, voice/piano version.]

Walter de la Mare—“magician of poetic sound” (Willian Wootten)—included “King David” in his 1913 children’s collection Peacock Pie, A Book of Rhymes. His friend Herbert Howells completed his iconic setting six years later, in August 1919, dedicated to the tenor John Coates (of Purcell and Gerontius celebrity): “I am prouder to have written ‘King David’ than almost anything else of mine.” Quasi lento, cast on an ambitious motivic and structural scale (more scena than song-like Jeremy Dibble has proposed), voyaging from E flat minor to E major, its mood “progresses from one of sadness to one of freedom from sadness. There is no clear evidence of elated happiness replacing the depressed spirit, but rather a cessation of sorrow which leaves the sufferer at peace” (Peter Hodgeson, 1970).

Anonymous aphoristric Latin verses haunt The Lover in Winter (autograph London 16 May 1989, rev 1993, untitled songs I-IV), a youthful work of striking creative signature dating from Adès’s period studying with Robert Saxton at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama—where it was premiered by William Turner and Steven Neugarten in July 1989. Cellular relationships, precise dynamic attacks and veils of varied pedalling colour the relatively spare texture, pianistically the most extended contribution coming in the splintered-glass postlude of the third song.

“Thomas Adès is as compelling as any contemporary practitioner of his art because he is, first and foremost, a virtuoso of extremes. He is a refined technician, with a skilled performer’s reverence for tradition, yet he has no fear of unleashing brutal sounds on the edge of chaos … He conjures both the vanished past and the ephemeral present: waltzes in a crumbling ballroom, pounding beats in a pop arena. Like Alban Berg, the twentieth-century master whom he most resembles, he pushes ambiguity to the point of explosive crisis” (Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 15 August 2016). A joint commission between the Salzburg Festival, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Metropolitan Opera and Royal Danish Opera, with a libretto by Tom Cairns, Adès’s vastly conceived third opera, The exterminating angel, based on Luis Buñuel’s late film of the same name (1962), was premiered at the Salzburg Festival, 28 July 2016, with Iestyn Davies creating the rôle of Francisco de Avíla—whose 'Coffee-spoon cavatina' in Act II complains about the impossibility of stirring coffee with a teaspoon. Lusingando [flattering], casually (as if)—insistent, penetrating—minaccioso [threatening], bass chords, harmonically pungent and generally rolled, marking the pulse within an esitando (hesitant) time-frame (4/4 or 4/4+1/8, crotchet 64). The present 32-bar arrangement by the composer, featuring a piano part of complex intricacy, voicing and coloration, was published in 2020. [1st recording.]

“I was born in Worcestershire, [but] I had a sentimental feeling for Shropshire because its hills were on our Western horizon”. Published in 1896, A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad was completed in the Georgian urbanity of Byron Cottage, North Road Highgate. Following the First World War “these were the poems which I and my contemporaries used to recite to ourselves, over and over, in a kind of ecstasy” (George Orwell). In their lines and verses we meet with “a continuous glow saturating the substance of every picture and motive with its own peculiar essence … [the ability] to etch in sharp tones the actualities of experience … [the] imaginative wizardry of exultation” (William Stanley Braithwaite, 1919). We witness “innocent charm and rural passion … the continual longing for lovers and friends unjustly separated from one other, the mesmerising, almost mythical, beauty of the countryside contrasted with the destructive forces of war and the melancholy of the human condition, and a deeply-felt nostalgia for the simplicity and unity of the past … reflections on what it is to be human, or even a mere lad, against the hazy backdrop of village sport, agricultural labour, war and beer …” (David Butterfield, 2017).

George Butterworth—Eton/Oxford, folksong collector, morris dancer—assigned his Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad to Augener & Co of Great Marlborough Street in 1911, during when they were first heard in London (June 20th, Aeolian Hall, J Campbell McInnes, baritone/Hamilton Harty, piano). “Loveliest of trees” (Housman II): “About the woodlands I will go / To see the cherry hung with snow”. “When I was one-and-twenty” (XIII): “The heart out of the bosom / Was never given in vain; / ‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty / And sold for endless rue”. “Look Not In My eyes” (XV): “A Grecian lad, as I hear tell, / One that many loved in vein, / Looked into a forest well / And never looked away again”. “Think no more, lad” (XLIX): “If young hearts were not so clever, / Oh, they would be young for ever: / Think no more; ‘tis only thinking / Lays lads underground”. “The lads in their hundreds” (XXIII): “The lads for the girls and the lads/for the liquor are there, / And there with the rest are the lads / that will never be old”. “Is my team ploughing?” (XXVII): “Yes, lad, I lie easy, / I lie as lads would choose; / I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart,/Never ask me whose”.

One of Housman’s “luckless” multitude, Butterworth died at the Battle of the Somme, Pozières 5 August 1916, 4.45am, his body unrecovered. Aged 31.

Ateş Orga © 2023

Waiting for content to load...
Waiting for content to load...