Tuesday 17 March 2015

This Other Eden - Kitty Whately's debut CD

This Other Eden - Ktty Whately
Ireland, Warlock, Quilter, Gurney, RVW, Howells, Stanford, Head, Horovitz, McMillan, Britten, Barber; Kitty Whately, Joseph Middleton, Navarra Quartet, Kevin Whately, Madelaine Newton; Champs Hill Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 22 2015
Star rating: 4.5

English song and more on a debut disc, exploring music and poetry

For this, her debut recital on CD (on the Champs Hill Records label), mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately and pianist Joseph Middleton have come up with something intriguing. This Other Eden: A Landscape of English Poetry and Song combines English song (with the odd foray elsewhere) with poetry spoken by Whately's parents, the actors Kevin Whately and Madelaine Newton. The range of composers covered is wide with music by John Ireland, Peter Warlock, Roger Quilter, Ivor Gurney, RVW, Herbert Howells, Charles Villiers Stanford, Michael Head, Joseph Horovitz, James McMillan, Benjamin Britten and Samuel Barber. This latter for Dover Beach which sets the poetry of Matthew Arnold (a friend of Whately's ancestor Archbishop Whately). The presence of the Navarra Quartet on the disc means we also get songs by Roger Quilter and RVW which use instrumental accompaniment.

One of our favourite Sunday radio programmes is Words and Music on BBC Radio 3, a seamless blend of words and music on a particular theme. Last year, during the Free Thinking Festival at the Sage Gateshead, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a live version of the programme with Kitty Whately (then a BBC Radio 3 Young Generation Artist) and her parents. This disc very much has a feel of one of these programmes, with the advantage that at home with a Cd the listener can skip the spoken bits if they really wish (but I would not advise it).

Kitty Whately - photo credit credit Natalie J Watts and the Royal College of Music
Kitty Whately
credit Natalie J Watts and the Royal College of Music
Things start with Kevin Whately reading the famous This sceptred Isle speed from Shakespeare's Richard II. Then Kitty Whately and Joseph Middleton perform John Ireland's The Earth's Call with its vivid, shimmering piano and Kitty Whately's lyric yet eager vocal line. There is a magical moment when time seems to stop still, before the ecstatic final pages. Peter Warlock's Hilaire Belloc setting My own country is a lyrical piece which she sings with poised clarity and melodious warm tone. Walter de la Mare follows, read by Madelaine Newton, then Roger Quilter's I will go with my father a-ploughing which is a folk-ish piece with a lovely lilt to it, given interest by its obligatto violin and cello parts. And Kitty Whately brings a vibrant sense of the words.

The items on the disc are grouped into themed sections and the opening section This Other Eden is followed by Forests and Gardens. This opens with Kevin Whately reading John Clare's In Hilly-wood followed by The Sally Gardens. Not Benjamin Britten's arrangement, but Ivor Gurney's setting with a different tune. It is actually quite a lively piece, to which Kitty Whately brings a lovely shape to the melody. RVW's We'll to the woods no more dispenses with piano and accompaniment is provided by Magnus Johnston's violin, an elegant combination. Remarkably effective, with a strong sense of lyric rhapsody in RVW's familiar tones, a certain austerity is warmed by Kitty Whately's voice and the sweet tones of Magnus Johnston's violin.

Joseph Middleton
Joseph Middleton
Madelaine Newton reads The Pace of the Wild Things by Wendell Berry, followed by Herbert Howells' King David with its nightingale in Joseph Middleton's evocative piano. Both he and Kitty Whately bring a lovely sense of quiet, yet rhapsodic intensity. Thomas Hardy's The Darkling Thrush is followed by a song that takes us into a darker, more mysterious world, Stanford's Keats setting La belle Dame sans Merci. The song is roughly strophic but Kitty Whately shows herself adept at shaping the music to convey the meaning of the words and she brings a real sense of story telling. Both performers keep it moving swifty, and the urgency of the performance really bends your ear.

The Meadows and Hills section opens with something of a Rosetti sequence. First RVW's Silent Noon setting Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Here, Kitty Whately has a lovely beauty of tone and line, and she and Joseph Middleton gradually create a sense of something magical.  Madelaine Newton then reads The Lambs of Grasmere by Christina Rosetti, whilst Michael Head's A Green Cornfield also sets Christina Rosetti. The song is beautifully sung, but by this point in the recital I was keen to move to the wilds of Scotland for something a bit grittier.

An extract from AE Housman's Spring will not wait leads straight into John Ireland's piano solo of the same name. This is a richly textured lyrical piece with some lovely sophisticated harmonies.  Thankfully Edward Thomas's Adlestrop, read by Kevin Whately, is far less pastoral though we return to pastoral things for the final song in this group Ivor Gurney's The Fields are Full which sets Edward Shanks.

Moving to the Wilds of Scotland, Joseph Horovitz's Lady Macbeth: A Scena comes as a welcome change of texture. Horovitz sets three sections of speech from Macbeth to portray the gradual deterioration in Lady Macbeth in a substantial piece which lasts over eight minutes. The piece uses an arioso-like recitative which Kitty Whately sings with with a flexible strong line and a vivid sense of the words. There are some thrilling moments, and a wonderful urgency to her and Joseph Middleton's performance. For me, this was one of the highlights of the disc. They follow it with a complete contrast, Roger Quilter again in folk-ish mood with I wish and I wish to which Quilter adds a certain certain Scots lilt, whilst the obligatto violin and cello are very fine indeed.

Kevin Whately reads AE Housman's In my heart an air that kills, followed by James MacMillan's William Soutar setting The Children. This is a lyrical, austere piece with a terrifying piano part and a daring use of silence. The result here is mesmerising.

We then move to Coasts and Seas with more AE Housman, O stay at home my lad and plough read by Kevin Whately then Kitty Whately sings the touching folk-song Ma bonny lad unaccompanied, a Northumbrian folk-song about a lad lost at sea. Madelaine Newton reads Louis Untermeyer's poem The Swimmers, followed by more watery activity with Benjamin Britten's piano solo Early Morning Bathe (part of his 1934 Holiday Diary) where the music glitters but with a real edge to it. Michael Head's The Estuary sets Ruth Pitter, which starts with a calm evocation of a quiet sea and slowly builds, the rather plain vocal line clearly in service to the words.

John Masefield's Sea Fever is not sung, but read by Kevin Whately and we finish with Samuel Barber's setting of Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach accompanied by the Navarra Quartet. Despite Samuel Barber's seductively lyrical vocal line, Kitty Whately really makes the poetry work with the beautifully modulated vocal line surrounded by the flowing strings of the Navarra Quartet. Strictly this is a baritone piece, but Kitty Whately certainly makes it work.

A sense of Kitty Whately's warm and lively personality comes across the disc, making it feel as personal as one of her recitals. The imaginative combination of of words and music make for a lovely complete package and whilst we spend slightly too long in an English meadow the wilds of Scotland are certainly worth the wait. Throughout Joseph Middleton is a superbly responsive partner, and rightly gets some limelight in his two solos, whilst the players from the Navarra Quartet make a real contribution to the music making. A fine debut and a lovely recital.

You can read my interview with Kitty Whately, talking about her new disc, on this blog.

This Other Eden
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) - This sceptred Isle (Richard II)
John Ireland (1879-1962) - Earth's Call [5.24]
Peter Warlock (1894-1930) - My own country [2.27]
Walter de la Mare (1873-1956) - England
Roger  Quilter - I will go with my father a-ploughing [2.21]
Forests and Gardens
John Clare (1793-1864) - In Hilly-wood
Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) - The Salley Gardens [2.23]
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) - We'll to the woods no more [1.42]
Wendell Berry (born 1934) - The peace of wild things
Herbert Howells (1892-1983) - King David [5.02]
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) - The Darkling Thrush
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) - La belle Dame sans Merci [6.06]
Meadows and Fields
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) - Silent Noon [4.05]
Christina Rosetii (1830-1894) - The Lambs of Grasmere
Michael Head (1900-1976) - A Green Cornfield [2.17]
John Ireland (1879-1962) - Spring will not wait [3.58]
Edward Thomas (1878-1917) - Aldestrop
Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) - The Fields are Full [1.37]
Wilds of Scotland
Joseph Horovitz (born 1926) - Lady Macbeth: A Scena [8.31]
Roger Quilter (1877-1953) - I wish and I wish [2.14]
AE Housman - Into my heart an air that kills
James MacMillan (born1959) - The Children [6.51]
Coasts and Seas
AE Housman - O Stay at home my lad and plough [00.31]
Folksong - Ma bonny lad [1.11]
Louis Untermeyer (1885-1977) - The Swimmers
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) - Early Morning Bathe [2.32]
Michael Head (1900-1976) - The Estuary [4.40]
John Masefield (1878-1967) - Sea Fever [1.07]
Samuel Barber (1910-1981) - Dover Beach [7.52]
Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano)
Kevin Whately
Madelaine Newton
Joseph Middleton (piano)
The Navarra Quartet (Magnus Johnston, Marije Ploemacher, Simone van der Giessen, Brian O'Kane)
Recorded 7-10 July 2014, Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex.

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