Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Proud Songsters: a survey of English song by ten distinguished alumni of King's College, Cambridge on the college's own label

Proud Songsters; Michael Chance, Tim Mead, Lawrence Zazzo, Ruairi Bowen, James Gilchrist, Andy Staples, Gerald Finley, Ashley Riches, Mark Stone, Simon Lepper; King's College, Cambridge

Proud Songsters; Michael Chance, Tim Mead, Lawrence Zazzo, Ruairi Bowen, James Gilchrist, Andy Staples, Gerald Finley, Ashley Riches, Mark Stone, Simon Lepper; King's College, Cambridge

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 30 March 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Distinguished alumni of King's College, Cambridge come together on the college's own label for a lovely programme which is the epitome of 20th century English song

The latest disc from King's College, Cambridge's own label is a very intriguing idea. Under the title of Proud Songsters (the name of a Gerald Finzi song, sung on the disc by Gerald Finley), the disc gathers together nine singers who are college alumni, all former members of the choir, in a recital of English song. Michael Chance, Tim Mead, Lawrence Zazzo, Ruairi Bowen, James Gilchrist, Andy Staples, Gerald Finley, Ashley Riches, Mark Stone all feature on the disc accompanied by Simon Lepper (also a graduate of King's College) in a programme of songs by William Dennis Browne, Benjamin Britten, RVW, Gerald Finzi, Celia Harper, Roger Quilter, Frank Bridge, Eric Thiman, Jonathan Dove, Rebecca Clarke, Ivor Gurney, Herbert Howells, Peter Warlock and Iain Bell.

The CD booklet does not explain what the impetus for the disc was, but perhaps such an assemblage of vocal talent does not require an excuse. Certainly the line-up features a fascinating mixture of ages and experiences, right down to the most recent graduate Ruairi Bowen. And the bonus track on the CD is Landon Ronald's O lovely night sung a duet by Gerald Finley with his father-in-law, the baritone Christopher Keyte (another former choral scholar of King's College, 1955).

Proud Songsters; Michael Chance, Tim Mead, Lawrence Zazzo, Ruairi Bowen, James Gilchrist, Andy Staples, Gerald Finley, Ashley Riches, Mark Stone, Simon Lepper; King's College, Cambridge
Michael Chance, Tim Mead, Lawrence Zazzo, Ruari Bowen, James Gilchrist, Andrew Staples, Gerald Finley, Ashley Riches, Mark Stone

Repertoire features some of the key stones of the 20th century English song repertoire, but there are also some more intriguing inclusions to spice the mix. Ruari Bowen sings Eric Thiman's engagingly poetic I wandered lonely as a cloud and we certainly don't hear enough of Thiman's songs. James Gilchrist sings Rebecca Clarke's The Seal Man; a terrific performance with some eerie storytelling in a song once woefully neglected by now seemingly coming into its own. 

Other songs, whilst not exactly rare or unusual, do not pop up on programmes as often as they should, such as the two Gerald Finzi songs, The Sigh (from The Young Man's Exhortation) in a finely intimate performance by Andrew Staples and Proud Songsters, sung by Gerald Finley with a wonderful conversational ease and vibrant piano playing from Smon Lepper. Ivor Gurney's I will go with my father a-ploughin (sung by with poetic swagger by Ashley Riches) isn't amongst his best known, whilst Britten's Since she whom I loved, from The Holy Sonnets of John Donne (in a finely intimate performance from Andrew Staples) does not pop up on programmes often.

But the repertoire also ventures into the contemporary field, showing the the English song style is alive and well. Michael Chance sings Celia Harper's timeless quasi-folksong, My love gave me an apple unaccompanied, whilst Lawrence Zazzo sings three strikingly contrasting and almost aphoristic songs from Jonathan Dove's All you who sleep tonight and Iain Bell's Feste (Come, away Death, full of wonderfully seductive harmonies.

The disc opens with Ashley Riches in finely ingratiating form in William Denis Browne's To Gratiana Singing and Dancing followed by Tim Mead in a haunting account of Britten's arrangement of The Salley Gardens. Mead was obviously on good form because he also gives a terrific account of Herbert Howell's King David, making you listen to the song anew. This is something that Mark Stone also does with his terrific account of Frank Bridge's Come to me in my dreams, a long way from the romantic ballad. And the recital closes with Stone's beautiful account of Quilter's Go, lovely rose and Gerald Finley on terrific form in RVW's Silent Noon. In between we get a series of gems, well organised to create a satisfying recital with voices and performing styles nicely contrasted. The result adds up to an intelligent survey of what it is to be English song, and having nine distinguished singers means that we have nine different but equally valid approaches.

There is a fine article by Stephen Banfield which uses the line up of songs to try and come to grips with what English song actual means. There are also full texts (not that you need them, diction is uniformly superb) and biographies. And whilst I can well understand why there are no dates, part of me is intrigued enough by that aspect of the project to wish that we could have had graduation dates as well!

1. To Gratiana Dancing and Singing | William Denis Browne (1888-1915) (Ashley Riches)
2. The Salley Gardens | arr. Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) (Tim Mead)
3. Linden Lea | Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) (Ashley Riches)       
4. The Sigh | Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) (Andrew Staples)   
5. My love gave me an apple | Celia Harper (born 1945) (Michael Chance)   
6. Fear no more the heat o’ the sun | Roger Quilter (1877-1953) (James Gilchrist)
7. Come to me in my dreams | Frank Bridge (1879-1941) (Mark Stone)       
8. I wandered lonely as a cloud | Eric Thiman (1900-1975) (Ruairi Bowen)   
9-11. All You Who Sleep Tonight | Jonathan Dove (born 1959) (Lawrence Zazzo)   
12. The Seal Man | Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) (James Gilchrist)   
13. I will go with my father a-ploughing | Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) (Ashley Riches)       
14. Proud Songsters | Gerald Finzi (Gerald Finley)   
15. King David | Herbert Howells (1892-1983)  (Tim Mead)   
16. Since she whom I loved | Benjamin Britten (Andrew Staples)
17. Sleep | Peter Warlock (1894-193) (Mark Stone)
18. Feste (Come away, death) | Iain Bell (born 1980) (Lawrence Zazzo)     
19. Go, lovely rose | Roger Quilter (Mark Stone)
20. Silent Noon | Ralph Vaughan Williams (Gerald Finley)   
Michael Chance (counter-tenor)
Tim Mead (counter-tenor)
Lawrence Zazzo (counter-tenor)
Ruairi Bowen (tenor)
James Gilchrist (tenor)
Andy Staples (tenor)
Gerald Finley (bass-baritone)
Ashley Riches (bass-baritone)
Mark Stone (baritone)
Simon Lepper (piano)
Recorded at All Saints' Church, East Finchley, 29 October 2019 and 10 February 2020
KING'S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE KGS0052 1CD [61:30]



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