Thursday 19 April 2018

Songs of Vain Glory: Sophie Bevan & Sebastian Wybrew

Sophie Bevan - Songs of Vain Glory - Wigmore Hall
Songs of Vain Glory; Sophie Bevan, Sebastian Wybrew; Wigmore Hall Live
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 April 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A sidelong glance at the First World War through songs written in the first half of the 20th century

The dictionary defines 'Vain glory' as excessive vanity or unwarranted pride in one's accomplishments. Soprano Sophie Bevan and pianist Sebastian Wybrew have used the title Songs of Vain glory for their thoughtful programme of songs exploring the First World War on the Wigmore Hal Live label. Whilst some of the songs on the disc were written during the war, and many were written by composers who experienced it, the programme uses other composers from the 20th century, notably Benjamin Britten to create a programme which has a sense of narrative. Whilst there is a song by Haydn, this is very much a selection of 20th century songs with music by Gerald Finzi, Benjamin Britten, Arthur Somervell, Frank Bridge, Charles Ives, Charles Villiers Stanford, Haydn Wood, Robert Weston & Bert Lee, Nat D. Ayer, Ivor Novello, Edward Elgar, Ivor Gurney, John Ireland, Liza Lehman, Peter Warlock and Gustav Holst.

It is an imaginative idea, we start with a gloomy and thoughtful prelude, Gerald Finzi's Thomas Hardy setting, At a lunar eclipse. Then comes a section called A call to arms with songs by Somervell, Bridge, Ives and a Britten arrangement. The Home Front provides a thoughtful glance at life back home, with Gurney, Haydn Wood and another Britten arrangements. A Popular Medley is just that, with two First World War songs and Novello's We'll gather lilacs. A Sea includes Haydn, a later Elgar song (from 1917), Gurney and Britten's arrangement of Dibdin's Tom Bowling.

Bereavement includes songs by Ireland, Liza Lehmann, Bridge and a Britten arrangement, whilst After the Armistice includes Peter Warlock, Holst and Stanford, with Novello's We'll gather lilacs returning as an encore.

There is a strong popular element running through the programme, there are four Britten folk-song arrangements, plus of course Roses of Picardy, Goodbye-ee, If I were the only girl and We'll gather lilacs. These form an interesting contrast with the darker elements. Charles Ives' Tom sails away is an intriguing conclusion to A call to arms, whilst Ivor Gurney's Most Holy Night is certainly not a comfortable start to The Home Front.

At sea contrasts the brightness of Haydn's Sailor's Song with Elgar's rather dark Kipling setting, Submarines, with its rhythmic evocation in the piano of the engine's thrum, and Ivor Gurney's thoughtfully mediative The ship (not published until 1952).

Bereavement not only includes John Ireland's delicate melancholy of Spring Sorrow but also Liza Lehmann's rather thoughtful When I am dead, my dearest setting Christina Rosetti. The final two songs of After the Armistice form an interesting contrast, Holst's rather unnerving Journey's end (setting Humbert Wolfe) and Homeward Bound by his teacher, Stanford. This latter song, from 1904, sounding far less certain and Edwardian than might have been expected in a beautifully subtle performance.

This is an intriguing recital, a sidelong glance not only on the First World War but on English song in the 20th century. Sophie Bevan and Sebastian Wybrew make a fine pairing, with the recording capturing the lyrical beautiful of Bevan's voice. Both create something rather thoughtful from a programme which could easily have been jingoistic.

Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) - At a Lunar Eclipse
A call to Arms
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) - O the sight entrancing
Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) - To Lucasta, on going to the wars
Frank Bridge (1879-1941) - Tis but a week
Charles Edward Ives (1874-1954) - Tom Sails Away
The home front
Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) - Most Holy Night
Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) - A soft day
Benjamin Britten - Sweet Polly Oliver
Haydn Wood (1882-1959) - Roses of Picardy
A Popular Medley
R P Weston/Bert Lee - Good bye-ee
Nat Ayer (1887-1952) - If I were the only girl in the world
Ivor Novello (1893-1951) - We'll gather lilacs
At Sea
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) - Sailor's song HXXVIa:31
Edward Elgar (1857-1934) - Submarines
Benjamin Britten - Tom Bowling
Ivor Gurney - The Ship
Benjamin Britten - Oft in the stilly night
John Ireland (1879-1962) - Spring sorrow
Liza Lehmann (1862-1918) - When I am Dead, My Dearest
Frank Bridge - Come to me in my dreams
After the Armistice
Peter Warlock (1894-1930) - My Own Country
Gustav Holst (1874-1934) - Journey's End
Sir Charles Villiers Stanford - Homeward Bound

Sophie Bevan (soprano)
Sebastian Wybrew (piano)
Recorded live at the Wigmore Hall, 12 December 2014
WIGMORE HALL LIVE WHLive0090 1CD [69.42]
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • William Billings to contemporary Icelandic & Finnish music: Skylark's Seven Words on the Cross (★★★) - CD review
  • Missa Tulerunt Dominum Meum: Siglo de Oro (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Returning home: Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen at Oper Leipzig (★★★★)  - Opera review
  • Sacred and Profane: The Sixteen's 2018 Choral Pilgrimage opens at St Albans Cathedral (★★★★)  - concert review
  • Light Divine: a final glimpse of treble Aksel Rykkvin (★★★½) - CD review
  • David Hare's The Moderate Soprano at the Duke of York's Theatre (★★★★)  - theatre review
  • Handel's Teseo at the London Handel Festival (★★★★) - opera review
  • Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto from Early Opera Company at London Handel Festival  (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Concrete Dreams (★★★★)  - exhibition review
  • Britten, Bernstein, Moore, Sutherland, Chagall, Piper - Walter Hussey & his commissions (★★★★)  - Book review
  • Shedding light on Claude le Jeune's psalm settings (★★★½) - CD review
  • Journey to Nidaros: Alexander Chapman Campbell (★★★) - CD review
  • Fantasies can be dangerous: Mark-Anthony Turnage's Coraline (★★★) - opera review
  • Competitive edge: Thomas Arne's The Judgement of Paris and arias from Handel's Semele  (★★★★) - opera review
  • Home

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