Music for a While
If Music be the Food of Love [both arr.Tippett/Bergmann]
O solitude [arr. Britten]
Till Earth Outwears, Op.19
From the Vaile of Restles Mynd
Rest sweet nymphs
On this Island, Op.11
James Gilchrist (tenor) & Anna Tilbrook (piano)
Reviewed by: William Yeoman
Reviewed: 26 May, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
On the evening of this concert a photograph of a plover sat on a wooden music stand in the foyer. James Gilchrist explained, in a short introduction to “Boyhood’s End”, that he had put it there as an aid in further capturing the mood of the piece. This slightly eccentric passion and attention to detail is typical of Gilchrist’s art, as is the ability to project a text with clarity and understanding, aided by a voice of great beauty and power.
The recital began with three arrangements of Purcell, two by Tippett and the musicologist Walter Bergman, and one by Britten. That both composers revered the master of early English music is well documented, not least in their own music. The audience was given the opportunity to ‘compare and contrast’ by Gilchrist’s following these works with Tippett’s Purcellian Boyhood’s End and his ending the recital with Britten’s On this Island, where the relationship to Purcell (and Dryden) is more subtle and complex but equally obvious.
Gerald Finzi’s refined Hardy settings, along with those by Peter Warlock and Ivor Gurney of English Renaissance poetry, represent a different relationship to the music of the past. Compared with Tippett and Britten, these composers can seem lightweight and reactionary, although this is hardly the case, given the sheer craftmanship and depth of feeling this music evinces. It’s simply a matter of temperament.
Ryan Wigglesworth’s “From the Vaile of Restles Mynd”, dedicated to Gilchrist and Tilbrook, offers a third approach to the art of the past, setting as it does six anonymous medieval lyrics embracing both the sacred and the secular and translating ancient compositional techniques into a challenging, contemporary idiom.
Both Gilchrist and Tilbrook were relentless in extracting every nuance from their material; he deploying a formidable array of colouristic effects and bodily gestures (always natural and apposite, never affected) with taste and discernment, she effortlessly balancing the twin role of commentator and artist while producing a sparkling, sonorous tone from the piano. The overwhelming impression was of two artists combining considerable intelligence with imaginative candour, the result being one of the best song recitals this reviewer has ever had the pleasure of hearing.