Tuesday 21 January 2014

David Butt Philip lunchtime recital

David Butt Philip - Raphaelle Photography
David Butt Philip
Raphaelle Photography
David Butt Philip & David Gowland recital: Crush Room, Covent Garden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 20 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Fine control and not a little thrilling, David Butt Philip's lunchtime recital

Monday's lunchtime recital (20 January 2014) in the Crush Room at the Royal Opera House was given by tenor David Butt Philip, one of the Jette Parker Young Artists, accompanied by David Gowland. Their programme took in two 20th century English song cycles, RVW's The House of Life and Benjamin Britten's Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, Op.22

David Butt Philip's voice has an interesting dark-hued quality with a lovely richness to the vocal line, and a lovely evenness throughout the range. As yet his voice is quite lyric, but with a strongly vibrant quality to the upper register. He sang the both song cycles with a lovely sense of line combined with a fine attention to the words, bringing quite an inward quality to the RVW whilst giving the Britten a greater sense of gesture.

He trained at the Royal Northern College of Music as a baritone before changing to tenor in 2011, making his tenor debut as Rodolfo in La Boheme for Glyndebourne on Tour. His Covent Garden appearances have included Pang in Turandot as well as covering Rodolfo, Tamino (The Magic Flute) and Prunier (La Rondine).

RVW's The House of Life dates from very early in his career as a composer. It was premiered in 1904, at the same concert as his better known Songs of Travel. The House of Life sets a sequence of poems by Dante Gabriel Rosetti. The second song of the sequence, Silent Noon, has developed a life independent of the complete cycle.

In Love-sight he brought a nice flexibility to the line and gave us some glorious climaxes, though his stage presence was a bit impassive and I wanted him to reflect the passion in the words and music a little more. Silent Noon was magical, with David Butt Philip giving us a finely controlled and long breathed line. There was an interesting depth to his voice even in the very quiet moments.

Love's minstrels is one of the poems which it seems surprising that RVW chose to set; Rosetti's strong and richly coloured verse hardly seems to need music at all. After a lovely piano introduction David Butt Philip made the recitative-like vocal line austerely dramatic, bringing the piece to a vibrant climax before the strange and evocative end. Heart's heaven had a similar problem and here RVW gives us a rather free arioso which David Butt Philip sang with a nice flexibility. Whilst his top notes rang out finely, there was a hint of a lack of freedom in the quieter passages. Overall the song rather reminded me of Elgar, which was probably not RVW's intention.

Death in Love opened full of noble and grand sentiments, with the text full of chivalric images. David Butt Philip gave a lovely convincing and intent performance, bringing wonderfully vivid drama to the ending.The final song Love's last give rose to a glorious climax, before the nicely poised ending.

The piano part for the cycle is quite substantial, with many of the songs having significant piano introductions and postludes and David Gowland played them finely, all the time supporting David Butt Philip.

For their second song cycle, David Butt Philip and David Gowland gave us Benjamin Britten's Seven Michelangelo Sonnets, written in 1940 during Britten and Pears stay in America, but it was not premiered until 1942 when Britten and Pears performed it at the Wigmore Hall. The cycle, setting seven Italian sonnets by the sculptor Michelangelo, was the first that Britten wrote specifically for Pears. All seven sonnets deal with aspects of love and the settings have a virile vibrancy which lends them to voices quite dissimilar to that of Peter Pears.

In Sonnet XVI  David Butt Philip started with firm and open-throated tone, bringing a flexible response to the music combined with a vibrantly virile sound. Sonnet XXXI were Britten's setting is positively catchy, had a nice vividness. David Butt Philip brought a nice sense of line to the fascinating melody of Sonnet XXX though you sensed that the song perhaps stretched his control. At the words My will is solely within your will he brought a lovely veiled tone to the words.

Britten set Sonnet LV as something of a challenge with it patter-song delivery of words, but David Butt Philip brought the same care and attention here, bringing in passion where needed and giving us a very passionate ending indeed. Sonnet XXXVIII was strongly characterised, with a nice sense of musicality in the performance. Sonnet XXXII was another fast torrent of words, and David Butt Philip made them really mean something in a rather impressive performance. The repeated invocations in Sonnet XXIV, Spirto be nato were truly thrilling bringing the cycle to a fine climax.

Whilst some songs in the cycle certainly challenged him, David Butt Philip seemed entirely at home in the cycle and gave us a more passionately demonstrative performance than he had in the RVW. This was an impressive performance which can only develop in time.

We were treated to one encore, Britten's folk-song arrangement The Water is Wide in a nicely relaxed performance.

David Butt Philip sings the role of Ferrando in the first act of Cosi fan tutte being given by the Jette Parker Young Artists at Covent Garden on 20 July 2014

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