With a daunting range of emotional expression and poetic moods, Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel challenge every singer who performs them. Singers performing these songs must have a convincingly profound understanding of the composer’s affinity for the poet’s (Robert Louis Stevenson) own spiritual wanderlust. Canadian-British baritone David John Pike travels well in Vaughan Williams’ universe. He understands the evolutionary push these works gave to English parlour song, moving the art form into the 20th century and unimagined new realms of form and tonality. Vaughan Williams writes with the feel of open-ended free form that nevertheless rests on solid compositional craft. Pike seems naturally at home with this, flowing easily from the lighter-hearted Blackmore by the Stour to the mystical and sacred The Call.
Pike’s dark roast baritone voice is wonderfully robust yet clear and his articulate pleasure at singing art song in English is a joy to hear. His repertoire choice makes for a superb program on a disc that includes works by two of Vaughan Williams’ friends and colleagues: Gerald Finzi and Roger Quilter. Finzi’s language is more restrained and introspective, qualities that Pike senses and portrays beautifully. But the real surprise on the disc is Quilter’s Three Shakespeare Songs that Pike delivers with imagination and elegance. Here is an unassailable argument for hearing more of Quilter’s work performed and recorded.
Finally, accompanist Isabelle Trüb is stunningly virtuosic without stealing the limelight … incredible.