Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Telling tales - Cheryl Frances Hoad's Magic Lantern Tales from Champs Hill

Cheryl Frances Hoad - Magic Lantern Tales
Cheryl Frances Hoad Magic Lantern Tales; Champs Hill Records Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 November 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Engagingly diverse selection of songs from Cheryl Frances Hoad, showcasing some powerful emotions and striking textures

This new disc, on the Champs Hill label, gives us a selection of entrancing songs by Cheryl Frances Hoad performed by tenor Nicky Spence, pianist Sholto Kynoch, soprano Verity Wingate, mezzo-soprano Sinead O'Kelly, counter-tenor Collin Shay, Philip Smith baritone, Beth Higham-Edwards vibraphone, Anna Menzies cello, Anna Huntley mezzo-soprano, Alisdair Hogarth piano, Sophie Daneman soprano, Mark Stone piano, Edward Nieland treble, Natalie Raybould soprano, George Jackson conductor. Between them these performers give us Magic Lantern Tales, Star Falling, Blurry Bagatelle, A song incomplete, Love Bytes, Lament, Invoke now the Angles, The Thought Machine and Scenes from Autistic Bedtimes.

We start with songs based on Ian McMillan's poems which were written in response to interviews and documentary photographs by Ian Beesley, who was Artist-in-Residence at the Moor Psychiatric Hospital in Lancaster. The poems tell the stories of three elderly people interviewed by Beesley, telling the stories from the First World War. We start and finish with a poem about the stories, and then have three narratives, three very different points of view. Nicky Spence gives a terrific performance, really bringing the songs and the people alive, making the words very powerful. Frances Hoad's opening song (repeated in the closing) is rather folk-ish in feel with the spare piano part evoking the pipes. Then the three tales are beautifully told, strong story-telling with a spare piano accompaniment, folk and World War One songs being influences. Such was the enchantment worked by Spence, Kynoch and Frances Hoad, that I did not want the piece to end.

Sholto Kynoch then plays two short piano pieces, Star Falling and Blurry  Bagatelle, one bell like the other quiet and concentrated.

A Song Incomplete, an occasional piece setting Aristotle, is for soprano (Verity Wingate), mezzo-soprano (Sinead O'Kelley) and counter-tenor (Collin Shay), and these give it a rather striking texture. Love Bytes (words Tamsin Collison), is a short, almost-opera, for two voices (Verity Wingate and Philip Smith) and ensemble (Beth Higham-Edwards, vibraphone, Anna Menzies, cello), full of striking, magical textures with sting in the tail.

An Andrew Motion setting, Lament, for mezzo-soprano (Anna Huntley) and piano (Alisdair Hogarth) is a powerful piece, spare and concentrated with a bleak intenseness. Invoke Now the Angels, with a text by Kei Miller, was commissioned for Britten's centenary in 2013, for soprano (Verity Wingate), Sinead O'Kelly (mezzo-soprano), Collin Shay (counter-tenor) and  piano (Alisdair Hogarth). A large-scale, powerful piece with angular harmonies and a remarkable spareness.

The Thought Machine is ten songs setting poems from Kate Wakeling's collection of children's poetry, Moon Juice, for soprano (Sophie Daneman), baritone (Mark Stone), and piano (Sholto Kynoch). Despite the source material, these are not children's songs and form a remarkably varied and coherent group. Moving from the quiet intensity of the spare opening song, through dramatic moments, strong story-telling and a duet which is amost a patter song. Frances Hoad uses her soloists both singly and severally, so that this is very much about the two acting together in a series of striking duets.

The final piece has a different, equally interesting complexity. Scenes from Autistic Bedtimes is three scenes from a projected chamber opera, using a libretto by Stuart Murray, author Representing Autism. It is three scenes from bedtime with just two characters the child (Edward Nieland) and mother (Natalie Reybould) with cello (Anna Menzies), vibraphone (Beth Higham-Edwards), piano (Alisdair Hogarth). The piece captures the naif nature of the child's point of view, and the more complex thoughts of the mother, often spoken, to striking effect. The three fragments capture the contrast between the comforting repetition wanted by the child, and the more vibrant feelings of the mother, though whether it would have worked as a larger scale piece is an interesting question.

I enjoyed all the pieces on the disc, the sheer diversity of the ideas and the wonderful textures from the rich to the spare. But it is the opening sequence, with their powoerful combination of story and music, that I will come back to.

Cheryl Frances Hoad - Magic Lantern Tales
Cheryl Frances Hoad - Star Tales
Cheryl Frances Hoad - Blurry Bagatelle
Cheryl Frances Hoad - A Song Incomplete
Cheryl Frances Hoad - Love Bytes
Cheryl Frances Hoad - Lament
Cheryl Frances Hoad - Invoke Now The Angels
Cheryl Frances Hoad - The Thought Machine
Cheryl Frances Hoad - Scenes from Autistic Bedtimes
Nicky Spence tenor
Verity Wingate soprano
Natalie Reybould soprano
Sophie Daneman soprano
Sinead O'Kelly mezzo-soprano
Anna Huntley mezzo-soprano
Collin Shay counter-tenor
Philip Smith baritone
Mark Stone baritone
Beth Higham-Edwards vibraphone
Anna Menzies cello
Alisdair Hogarth piano
Sholto Kynoch piano
Edward Nieland trebleGeorge Jackson conductor
Recorded 26-28 May 2018, Music Room, Champs Hill
CHAMPS HILL  1CD [80.24]

Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Lincolnshire Remembers: Britten's War Requiem from Lincoln Cathedral - concert review
  • Enjoying the musicianship: Josquin masses from The Tallis Scholars  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Brushing away cynicism: Philippe Jordan & the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven - (★★★★) CD review
  • The Unknown Traveller: The Fieri Consort in Italian madrigals from Musica Transalpina and Ben Rowarth (★★★★) - CD review
  • Disturbing intensity: Lucia di Lammermoor at ENO (★★★★) - opera review
  • Voices of Aotearoa - Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir at Cadogan Hall (★★★½) - concert review
  • Die Walküre - Royal Opera House Live  - (★★★½) Opera review
  • Confidence: Julien Behr in 19th century Romantic French opera arias (★★★★★)  - CD review
  • Musical drama: Bellini's Norma with Helena Dix in the title role  - (★★★★½) - Opera review
  • New music in Manchester - I chat to Tim Williams, artistic director of Psappha  - my interview
  • A walk with Ivor Gurney: Sarah Connolly and Tenebrae at Wigmore Hall (★★★★) - concert review
  • Colour and movement: orchestral music by Kenneth Hesketh (★★★½) - CD review
  • Abbandonata: Italian cantatas from Carolyn Sampson and Robert King  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Vivid story telling: Schubert's Swansong with Sir John Tomlinson and Christopher Glynn (★★★★) - CD review
  •  Home

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