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Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Love’s White Flame - Songs Volume 1
Elisabetta Paglia (mezzo-soprano)
Christopher Howell (piano)
rec. Studios of Griffa & Figli s.r.l., Milan, Italy, 27 October & 24 November 2018
No texts supplied
DA VINCI CLASSICS C00304 [65:50]

The last time I heard the team of mezzo Elisabetta Paglia and pianist Christopher Howell was in their very persuasively performed recital of songs by Cowen (see review) and this volume of their Stanford songs inaugurates a new series of recordings from them.

One of the virtues of this selection is its frequent novelty and avoidance of the more commonly encountered songs. Other labels have made serious forays into this body of music but there has never been anything like a complete edition, so I think it both tactically astute and discographically helpful to promote the two main cycles here, to continue with the two female songs from the Four Songs, Op.125, and to add a scattering of other items too.

Interestingly both Da Vinci Classics and Somm [SOMMCD 0627] had the bright idea to record Five Sonnets from The Triumph of Love, Op.82 but the Da Vinci team got in first. This is a passionate cycle, published in 1903 – the year of his 25th wedding anniversary – that sets words by his friend Edmond Holmes. There’s a quasi-operatic intensity to the opening song in particular, fully realised in this performance, whilst the second setting offers a strong oasis of reprieve. The stalking piano accompaniment in the third setting gradually expands in amplitude to explore a rich expressive canvas whilst I Think That We Were Children gives opportunities to Paglia to lighten her tone and vibrato in her exploration of its innocent qualities; affectionate and rewarding. Stanford orchestrated the last three settings and one can well imagine the final one making its mark in this form, offering as it does a triumphant close to a cycle that makes a real impression in this performance.

Die Wallfahrt nach Kevlaar represents the culmination of his Heine settings and was originally written for piano accompaniment and then orchestrated, though these orchestrations are lost. The three songs are varied and confident, the first being notably sturdy with bell tolls, the second exceptionally acute as to word setting, commandingly sure and with a deftly questioning piano postlude. The Four Songs, Op.125 was composed for the powerhouse couple of Clara Butt and her husband Kennerley Rumford. Paglia assumes the Butt songs and in John Kelly once can certainly imagine the six-foot two Butt declaiming this from the stage.

The eight remaining songs offer a variety of moods and impressions. Dainty Davie, a setting of Burns, offers a lightly tripping two-and-a-half-minutes whilst A Corsican Dirge presents an almost scena-like breadth in its powerful outbursts. Stanford doesn’t go for the obvious in A Japanese Lullaby – he’s much too subtle a setter for that – and he treats Robert Bridges’ The Linnet straightforwardly and pleasingly. La Belle Dame sans Merci is the earliest setting in this volume and one of the songs that has been recorded before. Relatively extensive, its dramatic setting tends to the histrionic and this is duly conveyed here but the Paglia-Howell don’t leave us here, preferring to end with the lusty, jovial The Calico Dress. As the header makes clear the texts aren’t reprinted in the booklet, a typically fine one from Howell himself, but are available via www.lieder.net.

As for the recording, for my taste there is a touch too much separation between voice and piano in a slightly chilly acoustic, but in significant compensation this is another exploratory and valuable release from this duo, and fourteen of the eighteen tracks are heard in premiere recordings.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: John France

Contents
Five Sonnets from The Triumph of Love Op.82 (1903) [16:30]
1. O one deep sacred outlet of my soul [2:32]
2. Like as the thrush in winter [3:44]
3. When in the solemn stillness of the night [4:27]
4. I think that we were children [2:58]
5. O flames of passion [2:41]
Die Wallfahrt nach Kevlaar Op.72 (1898) [14:26]
1. Am Fenster stand die Mutter [3:47]
2. Die Mutter-Gottes zu Kevlaar [5:50]
3. Der kranke Sohn und die Mutter [4:44]
Four Songs Op.125 (1911) [7:37]
1. The Song of Asia [4:48]
2. John Kelly [2:49]
Dainty Davie (1905) [2:29]
A Corsican Dirge (1892) [6:29]
May’s Love (c.1884) [2:59]
A Japanese Lullaby (1918) [3:48]
The Linnet (1902) [2:22]
Der Kukkuk (German folk song arr. Stanford) (1908) [1:00]
La Belle Dame sans Merci (1877) [5:32]
The Calico Dress (1896) [2:48]

 



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