I’ve heard quite a lot of music by Alec Roth
in recent years, both on disc and in concert, and I’ve been consistently
impressed. Here two artists who have done a lot to champion his music
renew a partnership on disc that has already included one fine release
of Roth’s music (review
In fact much of the music on this new disc was either written for Mark
Padmore and the Mexican guitarist, Morgan Szymanski or has been revised
for them to perform.
The most substantial work on their programme was composed for them.
My lute and I
is a cycle of nine songs in which Alec Roth sets
poems by the Elizabethan poet and diplomat, Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542).
The songs are consistently pleasing and attractive and sound to be splendidly
written for Padmore’s voice, which the vocal line fits like a
glove, and for the guitar. It seems to me that in this cycle Roth has
very successfully re-interpreted and re-imagined the Elizabethan lute
song for the twenty-first century. I’ve noticed a fine melodic
strain in his pieces that I’ve heard to date and that trait is
well evidenced here - and, indeed, throughout the programme. The music
is delightful to hear and suits the words very well indeed.
I know from hearing him in concert, not least in Britten’s War
that Mark Padmore has plenty of strength and steel in his voice when
necessary. Here, however, he adapts most intelligently and sensitively
to a much more intimate assignment. So from the very start, in ‘Sigh
and Moan’ - all the titles for the songs are the composer’s
own - his tone is essentially light and sappy. The second song, ‘Tell
Me’, is one of those that calls for the singer to deploy two different
voices, in the manner of settings of Housman’s ‘Is my team
ploughing?’; so Padmore alternates a lithe, innocent tone of voice
with the Voice of Experience, which part he delivers with a mild rustic
accent. The fourth song, ‘A Kiss’, features very sparing
accompaniment - Roth is not afraid to minimise his accompaniment on
several occasions in the cycle - and Padmore brings the words vividly
to life. The eighth song gives the CD its title. This is a touching,
melancholic song. The music seems ideally suited to Padmore’s
timbre and he spins the line with enviable control. This is another
song in which the accompaniment is discreet. I thought it one of the
loveliest things on the whole disc. The final song, ‘Now Cease’
is quite clever in that during three of the verses Roth revisits the
music of the very first song, thus emphasising the poet’s admonition
‘My lute be still, for I have done’. This is an excellent
and most appealing set of songs which I enjoyed very much; the performance
is surely definitive.
Roth has collaborated on several musical ventures with the distinguished
author, Vikram Seth, who has now become a close friend. Indeed, Seth
has chronicled their collaboration on three works in a book, The
(2011). There are four Seth settings in this programme,
including the very first one that Roth made, Dark Night
we hear in a 2008 revision for tenor and guitar, made for Padmore and
Szymanski. Three Night Songs
, written for these performers, contains
music pared down to essentials; I don’t believe there’s
a wasted note. I enjoyed listening to all four of these Seth settings
though I’ll be honest and say that I don’t feel I’ve
come fully to terms with them yet as I haven’t quite got to grips
with Seth’s poetry, though I’m sure this will happen.
Two of the pieces, Autumnal
and Lights Out
with Roth’s highly entertaining work for soloists, choir and orchestra,
A Time to Dance
which impressed me very much when I reviewed
its second performance in 2012. A version of Autumnal
solo, male chorus and orchestra forms part of the third section of A
Time to Dance
while Edmund Thomas’s poemLights Out
one of Roth’s favourites, he says, features in Part IV of the
work. I don’t know whether these solo versions were composed before
A Time to Dance
- judging by the dates of composition that may
be the case - but I love the intimacy and sensitivity of the small-scale
setting of Autumnal
while in this version of Lights Out
the spare textures of voice and guitar produce a fine intensity, Padmore
singing this latter song with particular eloquence.
I enjoyed the five folk song arrangements very much. I sometimes feel
that Britten, in his celebrated folk song arrangements, provided over-elaborate
accompaniments which draw attention away from these essentially simple
tunes and their messages. That’s emphatically not the case here.
Roth’s guitar accompaniments are subtle and sensitive and complement
the fine original melodies beautifully. Almost invariably the accompaniments
vary from stanza to stanza, if only slightly, which I like very much.
Padmore and Szymanski do them splendidly; I particularly relished the
way Padmore tells the story in ‘The Brisk Young Widow’ and
the performance of ‘The Turtle Dove’, with its melancholic,
quintessentially English melody, is moving.
Szymanski, who accompanies Padmore throughout with great finesse and
sensitivity, gets his own moment in the spotlight with Invocation
an atmospheric and gently beguiling little nocturne.
This is a delightful disc containing some highly accomplished and very
imaginative music, beautifully written for voice and guitar. This is
Music for Pleasure. Alec Roth must be delighted with the superb performances
that his music receives from these two sensitive and skilled performers.
Signum continue to champion Roth’s music most effectively for
which they deserve great credit. Is it too much to hope also for a recording
of A Time to Dance