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Track(s) taken from CDA67168

Ten Blake Songs

author of text
from Songs of Innocence & Songs of Experience

John Mark Ainsley (tenor), The Nash Ensemble, Gareth Hulse (oboe)
Recording details: October 1999
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: September 2000
Total duration: 18 minutes 13 seconds


'John Mark Ainsley's performance is among his best on record in these austerely beautiful, imaginatively scored settings' (Gramophone)

'It would be hard to find an interpreter more beautifully suited to the Blake Songs than John Mark Ainsley' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Superbly sung. A warm recommendation' (International Record Review)

'John Mark Ainsley’s voice has exactly the right timbre for this music. First-rate. A most desirable disc. Very strongly recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

'Hyperion could have no better champion here than John Mark Ainsley. With beautifully sensitive playing from the Nash Ensemble, his clean, mellifluous tenor draws us in to the hidden riches of this marvellous music' (Amazon.co.uk)
The Ten Blake Songs were composed over the Christmas period 1957/58 for the film The Vision of William Blake, produced and directed by Guy Brenton for the Bi-Centenary Committee of the Blake Society. Only eight were used in the film (numbers 2 and 3 were omitted) which also used extracts from Job, Vaughan Williams’s 1939 ‘Masque for Dancing’ based on Blake’s remarkable illustrations. The cycle was first heard over the air in a BBC recital by Wilfred Brown (tenor) and Janet Craxton (oboe) on 8 October 1958. The first public performance took place at a McNaughten Concert on 14 November, and the film itself was premiered in London on 10 October. Vaughan Williams never heard any of these performances, for he had died on 26 August, well into his eighty-sixth year.

In these marvellous songs of his old age, the vocal line ranges from the extreme simplicity of ‘Infant Joy’ to the stern declamation of ‘Cruelty’, and embraces the formal tune of ‘The Lamb’ (a poem which Vaughan Williams once declared he hated!) as readily as the strophic variations of ‘The Divine Image’. Though the voice and oboe never get in each other’s way, three of the songs dispense with the oboe altogether. In the remainder it acts sometimes in an illustrative capacity (as in ‘The Piper’), but more often as a discreet support that provides a magical pivot for the implied harmonies as they change in deference to the poet’s words. Composed nearly fifty years after On Wenlock Edge, Vaughan Williams’s Blake settings are a moving swansong to the achievements of a remarkable creative life.

from notes by Michael Hurd © 2000

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