Thursday 23 June 2022

Never such innocence: Benjamin Hewat-Craw & Yuhao Guo in RVW, Butterworth & Gurney

Never such innocence - Vaughan Williams: The House of Life,  George Butterworth: Six songs of A Shropshire Lad; Ivor Gurney: Five Elizabethan Songs; Benjamin Hewat-Craw, Yuhao Guo; ARS Produktion
Never such innocence - Vaughan Williams: The House of Life,  George Butterworth: Six songs of A Shropshire Lad; Ivor Gurney: Five Elizabethan Songs; Benjamin Hewat-Craw, Yuhao Guo; ARS Produktion
Reviewed 21 June 2022 (★★★½)

An enterprising disc from the young German-based English baritone, bringing to the fore three highly poetic English song-cycles from the decade prior to World War One

Benjamin Hewat-Craw is a young English baritone based in German. His latest disc, Never such innocence on ARS Produktion, is a recital of English song with pianist Yuhao Guo, combining Vaughan Williams' The House of Life with George Butterworth's Six songs of A Shropshire Lad and Ivor Gurney's Five Elizabethan Songs.

Craw moved from England to Germany at the age of 22, studying at Cologne conservatoire from 2015-2018 with Christoph Prégardien, and his debut recording was Schubert's Winterreise released on ARS Produktion in 2020.

Never such innocence moves from RVW's 1904 cycle setting Rossetti, The House of Life, to music by two of RVW's beloved younger contemporaries. George Butterworth wrote his A.E. Housman cycle in 1911. Housman's poems were written at the time of the Boer war but they became highly popular during World War I and the fact that Butterworth himself died in the conflict means that cycle has taken on different resonances. Ivor Gurney survived the conflict, but shellshock and his bipolar disorder meant that his mental health suffered and he died in an asylum in 1937. His Five Elizabethan Songs were written in 1913 whilst he was at the Royal College of Music. The songs were popular at the college, but Gurney's health lead to a nervous breakdown whilst he was studying.

Vaughan Williams was 32 when he wrote The House of Life and yet his style still had not fully crystallised. The music is recognisably RVW without having quite all the fingerprints; he had yet to study with Ravel and he only started folk-song collecting in 1903-1904. These two events were to have a significant effect on his style. The six songs include Silent Noon which has taken on a life of its own, though none of the other songs display quite that poise. In style, a great debt can still be heard to RVW's teacher, Stanford.

Hewat-Craw as a lovely, well-modulated baritone voice with an attractive, slightly husky quality. He brings a highly poetic sensibility to the RVW songs combining a finely flexible line with fine tone and good words. The result is warmly attractive and beautifully shaped, though at times he favours poise over emotionalism. His diction is good, however you feel that music sometimes comes first. Yet there are plenty of moments to astonish, such as the free opening of 'Love's Minstrels'

In the Butterworth you feel that his and Guo's poetic approach can be a little considered, and that I missed a sense of youthful impulsiveness. That said, there is a strong musicality to the performance. In 'Loveliest of Trees' the sheer beauty of tone and line counts for much indeed, though I have heard 'When I was one and twenty' sung with much more swagger. It is poetry that counts for much here, making 'The lads in their hundreds' rather poignant, and bringing a nice ghostly chill to 'Is my team ploughing'.

With Gurney's songs, we feel in a different world again. Though Gurney was affected by mental health and by his travails in the war, these songs seems to exist in a time of their own. Hewat-Craw and Guo capture the freedom of Gurney's thought, these are songs that never quite settle into the 'correct' form, the music flows and ebbs as the poetry does. The opening of 'Tears' is simply beautiful, and both performers combine to make 'Sleep' (the best known song in this cycle) something rather special, poetic and intimate, yet also hinting at the profound.

I have to confess that at first I found the recording quality somewhat close and boxy, but as I adjusted I appreciated the intimacy with which both performers were presented.

The programme, combining three pre-war song cycles which for various reasons both look back and look forward, is an intelligent one. In the UK, the programme might not attract significant notice; the composers are familiar as are many of the songs. But the disc was recorded and issued in Germany, and reflects and interesting way of bringing these composers to the fore as well as forming a strong calling card for Hewat-Craw and Guo.

The disc was released by ARS Produktion at the beginning of May (see their website), though the Amazon UK website states that the disc will not be available until 1 July 2022.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) - The House of Life (1904)
George Butterworth (1885-1916) - Six songs of a Shropshire Lad (1911)
Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) - Five Elizabethan Songs (1913)
Benjamin Hewatt-Craw (baritone)
Yuhao Guo (piano)
Recorded June 2021
ARS Produktion ARS 38 610 1CD [61:11]

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • The Lost Art of Frances Cole: recordings from the 1970s provide a glimpse of the art of the Black American harpsichordist - record review
  • Giving voice to unconventional instruments: the Lawrence Graduate Bayreuth Tuben Quintet - record review
  • Madcap theatre & magnificent music: Janacek's The Excursions of Mr. Brouček at Grange Park Opera - opera review
  • A strong affinity to melodic music: I chat to composer John Brunning about his works for guitar - interview
  • Strong meat: Grange Park Opera stages Ponchielli's rarity, La Gioconda in a performance that full embraces the work's drama - opera review
  • Rising to the challenge: the Young Artists of the National Opera Studio in Sondheim: Before & After - opera review
  • Vivid & vibrant: Poul Ruders' Harpsichord Concerto from Mahan Esfahani, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Leif Segestam - record review
  • Young Artists performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin at Opera Holland Park - opera review
  • On a highly concentrated scale: Verdi's Macbeth at The Grange Festival - opera review
  • Baroque mind games: Handel's Tamerlano at The Grange Festival - opera review
  • Violinist Midori Komachi has not only recorded Vaughan Williams' Violin Sonata but is planning performances of the composer's music in Japan - interview
  • A romantic woodland walk with Igor Levit and Simon Bode at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • i berzs, i smilgas... (and a birch and grasses...) - Latvian song across the generations from Emils Melngailis & Kristaps Petersons - record review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month