Thursday 4 November 2021

Two Equal Voices: for their debut disc the two sopranos of Fair Oriana create a programme inspired by Elizabethan duets

Fair Oriana - Two Voices - Voces8 Records

Two Voices
- Thomas Morley, Tobias Hume, Henry Purcell, William Cornysh, Handel, Dowland, Fraser Wilson, Owain Park; Fair Oriana; Voces8 Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 4 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A pair of light, silvery sopranos take Thomas Morley's canzonets as a starting point for a delightful programme

Fair Oriana is the duo of sopranos Angela Hicks and Penelope Appleyard and on this, their debut disc, Two Voices on Voces8 Records, the duo mixes early music with leavening of more modern pieces, so there is Thomas Morley, Tobias Hume, Henry Purcell, William Cornysh, Handel, and Dowland, plus Fraser Wilson and Owain Park. For some the items the sopranos are joined by musicians Harry Buckoke (viola da gamba/lirone), Jonatan Bougt (theorbo), Sam Brown (lute), Alison Kinder (cello & recorder), Tom Gamble (guitar), Alexander Duggan (percussion) and Penelope Appleyard (flute).

The core of the disc is Thomas Morley's Twelve Canzonets to Two Voices (from 1595), these lovely duets weave their way through the whole disc. The music is arranged thematically, starting with happiness and love, featuring the most spirited of Morley's canzonets, then moving through intrigue and teasing in love, to passion and then finally loss. The canzonets are all unaccompanied and to vary the textures the duo welcomes various instrumentalists for the other pieces which are dotted about the disc. 

So, punctuating the canzonets we find Tobias Hume's Fain would I change that note, Purcell's Two daugthers of this aged stream from King Arthur, William Cornysh's Ah Robin, Dowland's O Sweet Woods, Purcell's With Dropping Wings from Dido and Aeneas, and Handel's Eternal Source of Light Divine. These latter three are all in arrangements by the duo so with the Handel the trumpet part is replaced by a second soprano, a change which makes the piece far more ethereal but removes the lovely element of contrast between the voice and the trumpet. And in the Tobias Hume the duo splits a solo song into a duo.

Of the modern pieces, Fraser Wilson's two works, Come live with me and Now is the month of Maying are both folk-inspired pieces which sit neatly alongside their Tudor forbears. Owain Park's Midnight Poem is far more substantial (around 9 minutes in duration) and takes full imaginative advantage of what can be done with two beautifully balanced equal voices. The result is nothing short of spectacular, and I do hope Fair Oriana mines this vein somewhat more.

The two singers are both members of Dame Emma Kirkby's ensemble Dowland Works, and both sing in several UK ensembles. The two have beautifully clear, poised soprano voices, finely matched and with an ability to match intonation, timbre and mood. They rise finely to the challenge of Morley's twelve unaccompanied duets, moving from charm to something more expressive, and always able to capture a mood. Well matched and finely balanced, the two are spot on with their pitching and rhythms, making these duets a complete delight.

The recording comes with a fine pedigree, it is issued on Voces 8's label with Barnaby Smith and Paul Smith as executive producers. And in the selection of repertoire, the duo shows a clearly balanced view, combining the period authenticity of the Morley and the challenge of recording all 12 with being somewhat more creative with the other pieces, yet always true to the original spirit. And they are well supported by their instrumental colleagues, though somewhat frustratingly I could not see any detail of who played what on each track.

Thomas Morley - Twelve Canzonets to Two Voices
Fraser Wilson - Come live with me
Tobias Hume - Fain would I change that note
Fraser Wilson - Now is the month of Maying
Henry Purcell - Two Daughters of this aged stream
Owain Parke - Midnight Poem
William Cornysh - Ah Robin
John Dowland - O Sweet Woods
Henry Purcell - With drooping wings
George Frideric Handel - Eternal source of light divine
Fair Oriana (Angela Hicks and Penelope Appleyard)
Harry Buckoke (viola da gamba/lirone)
Jonatan Bougt (theorbo)
Sam Brown (lute)
Alison Kinder (cello & recorder)
Tom Gamble (guitar)
Alexander Duggan (percussion)
Penelope Appleyard (flute)
Recorded at Sonica Studios, London, July 2019 and VOCES8 Centre, London, October 2020

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