SOMM Recordings launches a revealing three-volume survey of One Hundred Years of British Song with tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Nathan Williamson.
Compiled to reflect the rich variety of British song, Volume 1 throws a spotlight on composers who made a considerable contribution to the song repertoire but whose success in other genres often led to their songs being overlooked.
All four featured composers – Gustav Holst, Rebecca Clarke, Ivor Gurney and Frank Bridge – were born in the late 1800s and lived through the horrors of the First World War and the extraordinary social, cultural and political upheaval that followed.
Two songs by Holst – the liturgically-accented A Vigil of Pentecost and folk-infused The Ballad of Hunting Knowe – receive first recordings.
Songs from Holst’s Twelve Humbert Wolfe Songs are also heard alongside Clarke’s macabre setting of AE Housman’s Eight O’Clock and John Masefield’s The Seal Man, which Williamson describes in his informative booklet notes as “one of the most thrilling English songs in the repertoire”.
Also featured are Ivor Gurney’s powerful and poignant Snow and Sleep and his affecting treatment of WB Yeats’ Down by the Salley Gardens together with Four Songs by Frank Bridge including three romantically heightened settings of Rabindranath Tagore and the deeply moving, lullaby-like Journey’s End to a text by Humbert Wolfe.
James Gilchrist’s previous SOMM releases include Volumes 1 and 2 of Parry’s English Lyrics (SOMMCD 257 and 270) and Penelope Thwaites’ From Five Continents (SOMMCD 0612), to which, theclassicalreview said, “Gilchrist brings authority throughout”.
Nathan Williamson’s SOMM association includes Great American Sonatas (SOMMCD 0163), hailed by Gramophone as “a release of distinction”, and Colour and Light (SOMMCD 0196), a 2019 Recording of the Year for International Piano: “No praise could be high enough for Williamson’s performances, which unearth buried musical treasure beyond price”.
On This Recording
Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
- A Vigil of Pentecost*
- The Ballad of Hunting Knowe* From Twelve Humbert Wolfe Songs
- A Little Music
- The Dream-City
- The Floral Bandit
- Betelgeuse Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979)
- June Twilight
- The Seal Man
- A Dream
- Eight O’Clock Ivor Gurney (1890-1937)
- Down by the Salley Gardens
- Lights Out
- Sleep Frank Bridge (1879-1941) Four Songs (1925)
- Day after day
- Speak to me, my love!
- Dweller in my deathless dreams
- Journey’s End
“The first of three discs from the Somm label that will chart the history of a ‘Hundred Years of British Songs’ presented by the smooth and refined tenor voice of James Gilchrist, and pianist Nathan Williamson. Strange to relate they have discovered two unrecorded songs by Gustav Holst, the disc roughly divided between the three composers, and date from the first half of the last century in the ‘British Music Renaissance’. Mostly well known to concert audiences, it contains Ivor Gurney’s Down by the Sally Garden’s, Rebecca Clarke’s A Dream and Frank Bridge’s Speak to me my love. The most gorgeous sound quality. A disc not to miss.” —David Denton, Yorkshire Post
“Tenor James Gilchrist has superb diction with every word crystal clear and no need for the listener to make use of the full texts (English only) supplied in the liner. Likewise he is willing to deploy a very wide dynamic range for maximum expressive effect. This is particularly beguiling in the softer, lyrical passages where he floats his voice very beautifully. But one thing that struck me on several occasions; Gilchrist is an excellent storyteller. This is not just a question of word-painting or emphasising this phrase or that. He has the knack of characterising the songs in a compelling way – Rebecca Clark’s setting of John Masefield’s The Seal Man is a case in point – that transcends use of accents or “singer-acting”. He simply draws the listener in. … In this he is helped enormously by the exceptionally sympathetic and perceptive piano playing of Nathan Williamson. … The highlight of this disc for me are the songs I had never heard before by Rebecca Clarke. My knowledge of Clarke is limited to the obligatory Viola Sonata and some other chamber works. Clarke’s ability to condense atmosphere and real narrative drama into relatively brief songs and give them musical settings of interest and independent power is very impressive. … each element is individually excellent as is the technical presentation of the disc in its entirety.” —Nick Barnard, MusicWeb International
“Many ingredients go to make up the perfect recital, but the first volume of James Gilchrist’s One Hundred Years of British Song includes that indefinable something else. An intelligent, immaculately crafted program, it contains premiere recordings by an acknowledged master and revelatory works by a criminally neglected female composer, but this disc digs deep, with Gilchrist and pianist Nathan Williamson (who also wrote the excellent sleeve notes) getting under the skin of these 19 songs in a way that regularly raises hairs on the back of the neck. … Gilchrist’s light, lyric instrument comes with immaculate diction and rare talents for storytelling and illuminating a text. The recording feels closely miked, every intake of breath audible, but Gilchrist and Williamson create such an aura of intimacy that any cavils are swept away.” —Clive Paget, Limelight Recording of the Month (January 2021)
“James Gilchrist’s contribution is past praise in its probing range of expression and unfailing sensitivity to the text. What’s more, he enjoys immaculate support throughout from Nathan Williamson, who also provides a stimulating booklet essay. Glowingly realistic sound and full texts boost the desirability of a most impressive release. I look forward to the next helping!” —Andrew Achenbach, Gramophone
“This wonderful selection of early-20th-century British songs, many concerning dreams and nightmares of the subconscious, opens with two Holst premieres. … James Gilchrist, a fine lyric tenor with admirable sensitivity to text, gives committed performances effectively accompanied by Nathan Williamson. … a very attractive recital.” —Daniel Jaffé, BBC Music (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)