Monday 16 May 2016

Songs to the Moon from the Myrthen Ensemble

Myrthen Ensemble - Songs to the Moon
Songs to the Moon, Peter Warlock, Brahms, Schumann, Samuel Barber, Elizabeth Maconchy, Joseph Szulc, Mompou, Saint-Saens, Debussy, Chausson, Hahn, Duparc, Massenet, Faure; Myrthen Ensemble; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 13 2016
Star rating: 4.0

The power of five, young ensemble explore moon-struck songs, duets and ensembles

The Myrthen Ensemble (Mary Bevan, Clara Mouriz, Allan Clayton, Marcus Farnsworth, Joseph Middleton) is a group of young performers (four singers and a pianist) who use group recitals to explore theme not possible in the solo recital. This disc, Songs to the Moon, on Signum Classics is their debut disc and it brings together songs of the moon and of the night by composers as diverse as Peter Warlock, Brahms, Schumann, Samuel Barber, Elizabeth Maconchy, Joseph Szulc, Mompou, Saint-Saens, Debussy, Chausson, Hahn, Duparc, Massenet and Faure.

It is Graham Johnson and the Songmakers Almanack who cast a long shadow on the disc, with their concept of the group recital. And on this disc the Myrthen Ensemble give very much a group performance, of the 28 tracks on the two discs, three are quartets and ten are duos. The repertoire on the disc mixes the well known with the lesser known, and even with a composer like Brahms, his vocal quartets are relatively rare visitors to the recital room.

Myrthen Ensemble
The Myrthen Ensemble (Sophie Bevan, Allan Clayton,
Joseph Middleton, Clara Mouriz, Marcus Farnsworth)
After a beautifully hushed account of Peter Warlock’s nocturne The Night from Allan Clayton, the remainder of the first disc is devoted to Brahms and to Schumann. In the Brahms group there are three vocal quartets, almost like part-songs with piano, ranging from the night-time anxieties of Nächtens, the beautifully phrased Der Gang zum Liebchen, and the calm beauty of Der Abend (though even here the night is more disturbing in the middle section). The duets represent the more folk-ish side of Brahms with the perky delight of Vor der Tur  (from Mary Bevan and Marcus Farnsworth), the sense of two individual characters in dialogue in Walpurgisnacht (from Mary Bevan and Clara Mouriz), and Vergebliches Ständchen has the contrast between Marcus Farnsworth’s great sense of line and Clara Mouriz character. There are just two solos in the Brahms group with Marcus Farnsworth showing a fine sense of real ardency following a quiet start in Unbewegte laue Lust, and Clara Mouriz bringing out the folk-ish character of Ständschen.

The first of the Schumann group is the duet, Unterm Fenster with a poised Mary Bevan challenging an ardent Allan Clayton. Mary Bevan sings Mondnacht with her spun line and Joseph Middleton’s fine piano playing contributing to a sense of evocatively calm stasis. Marcus Farnsworth follows with Zwei Venetianische Lieder, both full of charm and with a great feel for the words. Clara Mouriz’s mezzo-soprano makes Die Lotosblume darkly exotic, and the group finishes with Mary Bevan and Allan Clayton in the atmospheric duet In der Nacht, where what seems like a soprano solo develops into an evocative duet.

The second disc has a far wider group of composers, though after a pair of English songs (from Samuel Barber and Elizabeth Maconchy), the rest of the disc is devoted to French song (with the honourable exception of Federico Mompou).

Barber’s Nocturne (from Marcus Farnsworth) starts of all lyric calm with some delicate magic in the piano, before Farnsworth’s vocal line rises to real passion. Elizabeth Maconchy’s Sun, Moon, and Stars is far darker, very freely rhapsodic with a real edge to the harmony.

Polish Joseph Szulc is a relatively unknown name, but his Verlaine setting Clair de lune is lovely, as Allan Clayton’s relaxed, fluid line is surrounded by Joseph Middleton’s delicate piano. Clara Mouriz makes Mompou’s Damunt de tu nomes les flors full of haunting exotic perfume, whilst Marcus Farnsworth’s vibrant line in Saint-Saens Guitars et mandolines is complemented with some very Spanish guitar effects in the piano. Debussy’s Apparition from the Vaisnier songbook has Mary Bevan all subtle and elusive before rising to intense passion.

Mary Bevan and Marcus Farnsworth sing Chausson’s duet La nuit, with long flexible lines and a sense of the erotic. This mood continues with Clara Mouriz’s beautifully poised account of Hahn’s L’heure exquise. Duparc’s duet La fuite is complex and dramatic with an impetuous Clara Mouriz and a more considered Marcus Farnsworth, and some beautifully urgent piano playing. The final song in this group is Massenet’s duet Revons, c’est l’heure. This sets the same text as the Hahn song, to very different effect as Mary Bevan and Clara Mouriz create a lovely sense of suspended time.

The final three works are by Faure, first his setting of the Verlaine Clair de lune sung by Allan Clayton with fluid line and a sense of the poetry, surrounded by some delicate shading in the piano. Allan Clayton and Marcus Farnsworth sing the duet Pleurs d’or, a beautifully poised and shapely performance. And finally Mary Bevan and Clara Mouriz dazzle in the delightful Tarantelle.

The recital is spread over two discs which seems rather extravagant given the total duration of 80:47, but it does enable the Brahms/Schumann group to be separated from the rest. There is a fine article in the book, by Richard Stokes, along with an introduction to the programme by pianist Joseph Middleton.

This is a lovely disc, one of those in which the different items seem to set each other off. I thought that the second disc was more successful than the first, because the singers all seemed to have a real affinity with the settings of French poetry and prosody, though this might be a reflection of my own preferences.

The Night - Peter Warlock
Nachtens, Op. 112 No. 2 - Johannes Brahms
Vor der Tur, Op. 28 No. 2 - Johannes Brahms
Unbewegte laue Luft, Op. 57 No. 8 - Johannes Brahms
Der Gang zum Liebchen, Op. 31 No. 3 - Johannes Brahms
Walpurgisnacht, Op. 75 No. 4 - Johannes Brahms
Standchen, Op. 106 No. 1 - Johannes Brahms
Der Abend, Op. 64 No. 2 - Johannes Brahms
Vergebliches Standchen, Op. 84 No. 4 - Johannes Brahms
Unterm Fenster, Op. 34 No. 3 - Robert Schumann
Mondnacht, Op. 39 No. 5 - Robert Schumann
Zwei Venetianische Lieder, Op. 25 No. 17: Leis rudern hier - Robert Schumann
Zwei Venetianische Lieder, Op. 25 No. 18: Wenn durch die Piazzetta - Robert Schumann
Die Lotosblume, Op. 25 No. 7 - Robert Schumann
In der Nacht, Op. 74 No. 4 - Robert Schumann
Nocturne, Op. 13 No. 4 - Samuel Barber
Sun, Moon and Stars - Elizabeth Maconchy
Clair de lune, Op. 83 No. 1 - Joseph Szulc
Damunt de tu nomes les flors - Federico Mompou
Guitares et mandolines - Camille Saint-Saens
Apparition - Claude Debussy
La nuit, Op. 11 No. 1 - Ernest Chausson
L’heure exquise - Reynaldo Hahn
La fuite - Henri Duparc
Revons, c'est l'heure - Jules Massenet
Clair de lune, Op. 46 No. 2 - Gabriel Faure
Pleurs d’or, Op. 72 - Gabriel Faure
Tarentelle, Op. 10 No. 2 - Gabriel Faure
The Myrthen Ensemble (Mary Bevan - soprano, Allan Clayton - tenor, Clara Mouriz - mezzo-soprano, Marcus Farnsworth - baritone, Joseph Middleton - piano)
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, 14-20 May 2015
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD 443 2CD's [38.00, 42.47]
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