Friday, 14 August 2020

Words and line: Stuart Jackson and Jocelyn Freeman's fine recital disc, Flax and Fire, moves from Purcell to Britten, via Liszt, Wolf and Schumann

Flax and Fire, songs by Britten, Wolf, Liszt, Schumann, Browne; Stuart Jackson, Benjamin Britten; Orchid Classics
Flax and Fire
, songs by Britten, Wolf, Liszt, Schumann, Browne; Stuart Jackson, Benjamin Britten; Orchid Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 14 August 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A fine debut recital for the English tenor which moves beautifully from Purcell to Britten, via Liszt and more

Tenor Stuart Jackson has popped up on the blog in a variety of roles over the years, whether as Iro in Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse with the Royal Opera or as a Classical Opera Associate Artist, so it is pleasing to be able to welcome his recital disc Flax and Fire on Orchid Classics, performing music by Benjamin Britten, Hugo Wolf, Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann and William Denis Browne with pianist Jocelyn Freeman. The twin centrepieces of the disc are Britten's Canticle I: My Beloved is Mine and Liszt's Tri Sonetti del Petrarca.

The recital centres around songs of devotion and passion, with the title inspired by a line from Britten's Canticle I 'For I was flax and he was flames of fire'.

We open with Britten's realisation of Purcell in the delightfully lively Man is for the woman made, made in 1947 for Britten and Pears to perform, which introduces Jackson's lithely flexible tenor, sense of line and fine attention to the words. These Purcellian elements are to the fore in Britten's Canticle I, which the composer did indeed base on the model of Purcell's Divine Hymns. Britten also wrote it in 1947, a setting of the 17th century Francis Quarles which fascinatingly combines elements of the Song of Solomon with the homo-erotic; rather daring in British music in 1947!

Jackson seems to bring out the fluidity of the vocal line with effortless elegance, all the while giving full attention to the text. The result is Purcellian indeed, and I do hope that we get to hear Jackson joining in the other Britten Canticles. The final Britten is his Goethe setting, Um Mitternacht from around 1960, the only one of a planned sequence of Goethe settings. It is wonderfully haunted and eerie, with Jocelyn Freeman's piano contributing considerably to the atmosphere.

We then move on to Hugo Wolf, four songs devoted to different types of love. First the explicit romantic passion of Peregrina 1 (from the Morike Lieder). Jackson's attention to line and word pay dividends in these songs also, and along with Freeman the two bring out the remarkable modernity of Wolf's writing. An die Geliebte (from Morike Lieder) is perhaps more conventional, looking back to Schumann, before going on to ecstasy which hints at the neo-Wagnerian. Verschiegene Liebe No. 3 (from Eichendorff Lieder) sees Jackson responding sensitively to Eichendorff's poetry of silent devotion, he and Freeman creating a lovely poetic whole. The final Wolf song is Nimmerstatte Liebe No. 9 (from Morike Lieder), making a wonderfully characterful end devoted to insatiable love!

Liszt's three Petrarch sonnet settings went through a variety of versions, but here we hear the original version for high voice and piano which was written 1838 and 1842. In the three we hear Liszt writing in the manner of Bellini, but filtered through his own imagination. We open the first sonnet with some wonderfully dramatic recitative, where Jackson's operatic experience tells in the way he handles the recitative. The 'aria' is finely passionate with vivid tone, strongly vibrant line and again terrific words. Jackson does not quite have the classic Italianate tone which tenors bring to this music but his care and attention pay great dividends. There is a lovely elegance to the second sonnet, which Jackson and Freeman take at quite a fast speed, making the aria flow beautifully and seem remarkably impulsive, though sometimes the recording catches Jackson's voice a little too close which gives an effortful quality which is not present when you hear him live. And in the final sonnet there is a beautifully suave feeling to the way the voice shapes the vocal line over Freeman's flowing piano.

After the Liszt comes Schumann. We start with Mein schoner Stern! from the lesser-known Minnespiel of 1849 setting text by Ruckert. Whilst the two composers are indeed different, Jackson and Freeman seem to find similar qualities to the Liszt in this first song. Then comes the well known Widmung from Myrthen which was Schumann's wedding present to Clara when they married in 1840. Perhaps not the most intense or obsessive performance, this dedication is beautifully wrought and finely committed. Also from that year, Schumann's year of song, is Stirb', Lieb' und Freund! from the Kernerlieder, another song which mixes devotion and passion in equal measure, again in a beautifully shaped song. Finally, some late Schumann, Geisternahe, Op.77 no. 3 setting poetry by Halm.

For the final song we return to England, again a 20th century setting of 17th century words, in this case To Gratiana dancing and singing by William Denis Browne, a young composer who died in World War I.

I am uncertain as to whether Peter Pears included Liszt's Petrarch sonnets in his repertoire, but all the rest of this disc is the sort of repertoire which would be part of Pears (and Britten's) recital programmes. I am not sure whether this was a conscious decision, or not, but the result makes the programme a highly satisfying one though it does rather present Jackson and Freeman with quite a challenge to live up to!

I enjoyed the recital immensely, Jackson's attention to word and line pays great dividends in the varied repertoire on the disc. And the programme shows a willingness not only to be challenged, but to wander off the set pathways of programme-making. Throughout, Stuart Jackson is finely partnered by Jocelyn Freeman, a partnership which dates back to the Wigmore Hall Song Competition in 2011 (when Jackson won second prize and was the youngest finalist).

Henry Purcell (1659-1695), arr. Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) - Man is for the woman made (1947)
Benjamin Britten - Canticle 1: My beloved is mine (1947)
Benjamin Britten - Um Mitternacht (c1960)
Hugo Wolf (1860-1903) - Peregrina 1
Hugo Wolf - An die Geliebte
Hugo Wolf - Verschwiegene Liebe
Hugo Wolf - Nimmersatte Liebe
Franz Liszt (1811-1886) - Tri Sonetti del Petrarca, S270a  (1838-1846)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) - Mein schoner Stern!
Robert Schumann - Widmung
Robert Schumann - Stirb', Lieb' und Freud!
Robert Schumann - Geisternahe
William Dennis Browne (1888-1915) - To Gratiana dancing and singing
Stuart Jackson (tenor)
Jocelyn Freeman (piano)
Recorded in Snampe Maltongs Concert Hall, 19 and 20 April 2018
ORCHID CLASSICS ORC100139 1CD [60:00]

Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Born in Cyprus, trained in London, the name Kemal Belevi is perhaps not well known but this disc from Duo Tandem is full of delightfully evocative pieces - CD review
  • On disc at last: Ethel Smyth's late masterwork, The Prison, receives its premiere recording in a fine performance from American forces - CD review
  • Outdoor engagement and energy: the Corran Quartet in Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven in an Islington courtyard - concert review
  • The close of an amazing season, and a farewell: the last Opera Holland Park of 2020 - concert review
  • 2000 years of history: guitarist Xuefei Yang on exploring the music of her homeland on her new disc Sketches of China, on DECCA - interview
  • Engaging dexterity: Bach's English Suites from the young Italian harpsichordist Paolo Zanzu  - CD review
  • A short yet magical experience: Interstices from Brother Tree Sound  - CD review
  • In the tavern of sweet songs: settings of classical Persian poetry in Edward Fitzgerald's English versions by contemporary composer David Lewiston Sharpe - Cd review
  • The Prison: conductor James Blachly on how an American conductor & orchestra finally brought Ethel Smyth's late masterwork to disc - interview
  • Towards German romantic opera: Carl Maria von Weber's struggle to create modern German opera - feature article
  • Live music returns: Opera Holland Park's uplifting evening of operatic arias from an impressive line-up of performers - concert review
  • 'Home


No comments:

Post a comment

Popular Posts this month