Tuesday 7 October 2014

Love said to me..

Love said to me - Caroline MacPhie
Love said to me...; Caroline MacPhie and Joseph Middleton; Stone Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 20 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Songs inspired by or written by women in a fascinating recital from this up and coming young soprano

This new disc, on Stone Records, from soprano Caroline MacPhie and pianist Joseph Middleton, Love said to me... , is a collection of songs either inspired by or written by women. Focussing on the period from the late 19th century to the present day, MacPhie includes songs by Richard Strauss, Francis Poulenc, Charles Koechlin, Hugo Wolf, Muriel Herbert and Elizabeth Maconchy, plus songs by Rhian Samuel and Cheryl Frances-Hoad which were specially written for the disc.The repertoire is nicely varied, and includes such rarities as Charles Koechlin's Sept chansons pour Gladys and a group of Ophelia songs by Richard Strauss, Elizabeth Maconchy, Rhian Samuel and Cheryl Frances Hoad.

Caroline Macphie
Caroline MacPhie
MacPhie and Middleton open with Richard Strauss's Drei Lieder der Ophelia, which date from 1918 and come at the end of a 12 year period when Strauss wrote no lieder because of a dispute with his publishers. Strauss sets German texts by Karl Simrock based on Shakespeare. From the first song, Wie erkenn'ich mein Treulich (How should I your true love know), MacPhie displays a bright lyric coloratura and her performance is both accurate and expressive. In Gute Morgen, 's ist Sankt Valentinstag (Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day) she is brilliant in the fast passages, with a dazzling, sparkling piano part from Middleton. MacPhie sings with bleached white tone in Sie trugen ihn auf der Bahre bloss (They bore him bareface on the bier) which captures the song perfectly, bringing bleakness but also with hints of a demented Zerbinetta. MacPhie captures the manic, demented nature of the songs (ably assisted by Middleton) but here, and elsewhere on the disc, I did wonder whether she could bring a little more variation in colour to her voice.

Francis Poulenc's Fiancailles pour Rire (Capricious betrothals) of 1939 sets a sequence of poems by Louise de Vilmorin (1902 - 1969). Poulenc talked of setting the songs during the war as a way of remembering Vilmorin who was imprisoned in her castle in Hungary. The songs do not strictly form a cycle.

La dame d'Andre (Andre's lady) shows MacPhie displaying the right combination of fragility and strength of line. Text is very important here and she shows a nice balance between words and music. Dans l'herbe (In the grass) is delicate yet bleak, with powerful moments. At times there is only a thread of sound, but you sense strength to it as well. Il vole (He steals away) is a brilliant patter song with a dazzling piano accompaniment too. MacPhie's thread of sound returns in Mon cadavre est doux comme un gant (My corpse is as soft as a glove) with hardly any piano, though gradually the song grows in power. Violon is something of a seductive slow waltz with a piano accompaniment that glitters and lovely langourous vocals. In Fleurs (lowers), MacPhie gives us a lovely firm yet endless slow line.

Lilian Harvey in Calais-Douvres
Lilian Harvey in Calais-Douvres
Charles Koechlin (1867 - 1965) studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Massenet and Faure, and himself taught Poulenc and Sauget. Film stars are one of the threads running through his work and Sept chansons pour Gladys, which set Koechlin's own texts, were inspired by the performance of Lilian Harvey as Gladys O'Halloran in Anatol Litvak's film Calais-Douvres (1931). The poems are all rather mad, and appropriately enough deal with the subjects of love and seduction.

M'a dit Amour (Love said to me) has hardly any piano accompaniment, with an exotic and rather seductive vocal line with MacPhie singing on a bright thread of sound. Tu croyons le tenir (You believed you held him) is a short fascinatingly evocative piece. The songs are all short, and many have no obvious melody. Instead they seem to invoke something seductively half-heard. Whilst they might appear similar, MacPhie and Middleton ensure the songs are not all samey and perform with wit and style. In La Colombe (The Dove) the singer repeatedly intones Gladys's name in a highly seductive manner. Here and elsewhere Koechlin seems to use a range of exotic scales. Whilst in the final song Fatum (Fate) we get the hint of a waltz.

Hugo Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch sets Paul Heyse's German translations of anonymous Italian poems. Wolf set only the shorter poems and the texts give a real sense of the demotic. Here MacPhie and Middleton give us a selection. Auch kleine Dinge (Even small things) is appealing with MacPhie singing with delicacy but with strong personality and good words. She brings good narrative sense to Du denkst mit einem Fadschen mich zu fangen (You think you can catch me with a thread), singing with something of a smile. There is the lovely hint of a waltz in the piano in Mein Liebster singt (My beloved sings) underneath the wandering vocal line. O war dein Haus durchsichtig wie win Glas (If only your house were as transparent as glass) is evocative with a lovely delicate piano part. Schweig einmal still (Be quiet for once) is perky with a characterful edge to the words and a witty contribution from Middleton at the piano. Ich hab' in Penna einen Liebsten wohnen (I have a lover in Penna) is a delightful fast patter song, though perhaps the song would take a little more edge.

Muriel Herbert (1897 - 1984) was born in Sheffield and grew up in Liverpool in some poverty after her father died in 1909. She was writing songs when she was 16 and got a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. To Daffodils (1916) setting Herrick is a bit of a shock to those that know the Britten part song. Herbert was much supported by Roger Quilter and her songs inhabit a similar world. To Daffodils is evocative with a delicate charm. The lost nightingale (1938-39) sets Helen Waddell's translation of the medieval Latin of Alcuin. It relies less on charm and is more intense with a lovely wistful quality. Renouncement (1922) sets Alice Meynell with a lovely clarity of texture, with Herbert using the piano sparingly. Cradle Song (1923) is a setting of Swinburne, with a gentle contemplative charm. Herbert met James Joyce in Paris and he commended her settings of his poems, so it is a shame that MacPhie and Middleton do not give us one of these.

For the final section of the recital we return to Ophelia, with a setting by Elizabeth Maconchy along with the three newly written songs by Rhian Samuel and Cheryl Frances-Hoad. Elizabeth Maconchy's Ophelia's Song dates from 1926 and is a hauntingly poignant song with a lovely combination of words and music. Rhian Samuel's The Gaze interweaves Ophelia's Act 2 scene 1 solo with her mad scene from Act 4. Samuel sets the texts by alternatingly being skittering, aetherial and angry, giving a real sense of madness. The result is a real dramatic tour de force.

Finally Cheryl Frances-Hoad's Two Shakespeare Songs set two of Ophelia's songs, Tomorrow is St. Valentine's Day and They bore him barefaced on the bier. The first has the underlying sense of a popular song, but with disturbing elements in vocal line and a glittery piano part. The second is hauntingly eerie with slow, slightly folk-sounding vocals.

The CD booklet includes full texts and translations, along with an article on the songs.

MacPhie and Middleton bring a nicely sidelong glance to the recital programme, mixing some well known with a fascinating selection of lesser known songs. Definitely a recital to investigate.

Love said to me..
Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949) - Drei Lieder der Ophelia [8.02]
Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) - Fiancailles pour rire [14.00]
Charles Koechlin (1867 -1950) - Sept chansons pour Gladys [12.04]
Hugo Wolf (1860 - 1903) - Italienisches Liederbuch (excerpts) [8.28]
Muriel Herbert (1867 - 1984) - To Daffodils [3.09]
Muriel Herbert (1867 - 1984) - The Lost Nightingale [2.31]
Muriel Herbert (1867 - 1984) - Renouncement [3.14]
Muriel Herbert (1867 - 1984) - Cradle Song [2.36]
Elizabeth Maconchy (1902 - 1994) - Ophelia's Song [2.52]
Rhian Samuel (born 1944) - The Gaze [5.57]
Cheryl Frances-Hoad (born 1980) - Two Shakespeare Songs [6.22
Caroline MacPhie (soprano)
Joseph Middleton (piano)
Recorded 4-6 January 2014, at the Britten Studio, Snape Malting, Suffolk.
STONE RECORDS 5060192780451 1CD [69.15]
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