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Songs & Sonnets – Songs in English and German from the reign of Queen Victoria
Belinda Williams (mezzo-soprano)
Mark Wilde (tenor)
David Owen Norris (piano)
rec. 2016, Northampton, UK

It is indeed most wonderful to hold in one’s hands – particularly in this year that we celebrate Queen Victoria’s and Prince Albert’s 200th anniversaries – this collection of Songs & Sonnets in English and German which were composed during her long reign. Especially as all the pieces by William Sterndale Bennett and Walter Battison Haynes are world première recordings.

With David Owen Norris and his keen interest in neglected composers of the 19th century, this project was almost certain to produce a splendid recording. I am glad to say that my great expectations have been completely met. They have even been slightly surpassed by the sheer quality of voice of both the mezzo-soprano Belinda Williams and tenor Mark Wilde.

Belinda Williams studied opera at the Royal Academy of Music and Trinity College and gave her German debut in 2012, winning a Wagner Society scholarship to the Bayreuth Festival in 2014. Her German diction is perfect and interpretation of the text exemplary. Mark Wilde studied at the University of East Anglia and the Royal College of Music and his repertoires (as tenor) include a substantial list of opera and oratory. He shares a passion with David Owen Norris for rediscovering neglected art-song repertoire. He is professor of singing at the Royal Academy of Music. He, too, has perfect diction.

When William Sterndale Bennett was introduced to Mendelssohn at a concert in London, he invited him to come to Germany. Bennett asked if he might come to be his pupil, but Mendelssohn’s reply was ‘No, no, you must come to be my friend.’ Playing his own piano concertos and having them published by Kistner in Leipzig, he soon made his mark on the city. Kistner even greeted Bennett by singing the melody from the first of his three Romances. In addition to Mendelssohn, Bennett made another very good friend there: Robert Schumann. Interestingly, he was happy to set both German and English words to music, be it original or translation, thus setting a trend that would continue for the next century, and only gradually to be replaced by puristic approaches. Hence we find both English and German titles for his op.23 and op.35, as well as for Battison Haynes’s Op.8 on this recording. When Bennett returned to London, he engaged heavily in Britain’s musical life – not only as a touring virtuoso, but as professor of music at Cambridge, teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, founder and president of the Bach Society, whilst still composing from time to time.

Given his achievements for Britain, Bennett is still little known, and albeit his bigger works have been recorded, it was about time for these songs and lieder to make their way onto CD. Fortunately, this was achieved with the highest quality possible. With Hubert Parry being the most famous name of this compilation, it comes as no wonder that his Sonnets featuring on this recording have been performed and recorded before. However, they make a very fine addition here as they show another aspect of the arguably well-known composer. They come in two parts, the first being the four Sonnets in German, the second the same Sonnets in English. Although set to similar music, it differs remarkably between the two versions. To enhance the effect of the distinction between the two languages, the German set is sung by Belinda Williams, the English set by Mark Wilde.

Walter Battison Haynes, on the other hand, might be said to be even less well-known than William Sterndale Bennett. He, too, studied at the Leipzig conservertoire but was treated even less favourably by history than Bennett. It is indeed wonderful to see him included on this CD. The experience of listening to the sweet music is enhanced by David Owen Norris’s marvellously informative notes. These even include a description of the Leipzig-style of performing. Other than the lyrics, however, they come in English only.

David Owen Norris, who presides over the 1887 Pleyel grand piano on this recording, is the first winner of the Gilmore Artist Award and appears regularly on stage as well as accompanying ambitious recording projects. He appears on TV regularly and is a prolific composer in his own right, apart from being director, chairman and fellow of a plethora of art and music related institutions. His rendition is indeed the icing on the cake that is this CD.

Maximilian Burgdörfer

Sir William Sterndale Bennett
Six Songs, op. 23 (1842)
Musing on the roaring ocean/Brütend über Wog’ und Klippe [2:30]
Maienthau/May-Dew [3:19]
Forget-me-not/Vergißmeinnichtt [1:34]
To Chloe (in Sickness)/An Chloe als sie krank war [4:01]
The Past/Entflohenes Glück [2:51]
Gentle Zephyr [1:28]
Holder Zephyr wenn dein Hauch [1:25]

Six Songs, op. 35 (1855)
Indian Love/Indische Liebe [2:40]
Winter’s gone/Winters Macht [4:10]
Dawn, gentle Flower/Keim’, holde Blum [2:36]
Castle Gordon/Schloß Gordon [2:17]
Waldeinsamkeit/As lonesome through the woods [1:58]
Sing, maiden, sing/Sing’, Mädchen, sing’ [3:35]

Four Songs, op. 47 (1875)
Maiden Mine [1:55]
Sunset [2:15]
Dancing Lightly [3:31]
Stay, my Charmer [2:54]

Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918)
Four Sonnets of Shakespeare (1887)
Sonnet XXIX [2:10]
Sonnet LXXXVII [3:22]
Sonnet XVIII [2:06]
Sonnet XXX [2:53]

Walter Battison Haynes (1859-1900)
Vier Lieder, op. 8 (1885)
Vorsatz/A Vow [2:26]
Gute Nacht/Good Night [2:49]
Das Heidekind/The Child of the Heath [2:03]
Das Mädchen spricht/A Maiden’ request [1:31]

Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918)
Four Sonnets of Shakespeare (1887)
Sonnet XXIX [2:12]
Sonnet LXXXVII [3:11]
Sonnet XVIII [1:54]
Sonnet XXX [3:16]

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