Hugh Canning
The Sunday Times
June 2019

The Scottish tenor joins Philip Langridge and Ian Bostridge as one of the foremost non-Czech interpreters of Janáček's remarkable narrative song cycle, but his sturdy, heroic timbre sounds more idiomatic than either. This is the first masterpiece the composer wrote after his encounter with his 'muse', Kamila Stösslová, although his desire to cast her as the gypsy Zefka—the narrator is called Jan or Janíčku—and the inclusion of a piano solo intermezzo erotico verges on what we might today call stalking. (His infatuation with this married woman was never reciprocated.) Spence is prized for his operatic Janáček roles and delivers a wide variety of tone, while Drake adds quasi-orchestral drama to the piano part. The makeweight works are welcome, revealing the composer’s roots in Czech and Moravian tradition.