Sonnet 144 [co-commissioned by Oxford Lieder, The Prince Consort & Wigmore Hall: world premiere]
Settings of: Catullus, Colette, S. C. Foster, Paul Goodman, Robert Hillyer, Frank O’Hara, Thomas Ken, Theodore Roethke, Edmund Spencer, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Elinor Wylie & W. B. Yeats
The Prince Consort [Anna Leese (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Tim Mead (countertenor), Andrew Staples (tenor), Jacques Imbrailo (baritone) & Alisdair Hogarth (piano)]
Reviewed by: Richard Landau
Reviewed: 14 March, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Jacques Imbrailo was appropriately debonair in “Early in the morning” (Hillyer) and mellifluously pining in “Jeanie with the light brown hair” (Foster). Anna Leese and Jennifer Johnston joined Imbrailo for ‘Requiescat’ (from the cycle “Evidence of Things Not Seen”), a touching setting of Oscar Wilde’s elegy on the death of his 10-year-old younger sister Isola – again beautifully sung. And in the Britten-influenced ‘On an Echoing road’ (from the same cycle), the two ladies blended their voices to perfection. Johnston used her expressive mezzo movingly in “Look down fair moon”, vividly conjuring up Walt Whitman’s scene of dead soldiers on the battlefield; and in “Orchid” (Roethke) she richly caught the poem’s balmy mood, eerily emphasised by Alisdair Hogarth on the piano.
Tim Mead is a stylish countertenor with an unusually wide range of hues. To take just two of his fine contributions, his reading of Whitman’s “Sometimes with the one I love” sensitively conveyed the poet’s message that art can harness the pains of love to artistic purpose; and in the admonitory “O do not love too long” (Yeats) Rorem’s beautiful word-setting benefitted hugely from Mead’s legato delivery. Andrew Staples sang “The Serpent” (Roethke) with great élan and sense of humour, while in “Catullus: On the Burial of his brother” the beauty of his tenor was as striking as the sadness he imparted to this tender adieu. He closed the recital with another elegy, “On a singing girl”, a perfect choice since it is Rorem at his most expressive, especially in this ‘felt’ performance.
This recital offered a feast of excellent singing, which made one eager to explore further Ned Rorem’s song settings.