What are we to make of songs that were written for people to sing and play at home, when nobody plays at home any more? The great canon of so-called ‘art song’ (horrible term) has shifted from the drawing room to the public stage and, in doing so, has lost something of its intended intimacy and improvisation. It seems to be that English song suffers more in this transition than French or German. All too often, in a concert setting, the singer feels obliged to pop a peach in his/her mouth for declamatory purpose.
The English mezzo Dame Sarah Connolly avoids these pitfalls by giving a confidential recital of songs she found in the Royal College of Music vaults, some of them unsung perhaps for decades. The opener – Muriel Herbert’s Lost Nightingale – is one I’d love to try. Others, by Ireland, Stanford and Parry – are neither more nor less than expected. But a melancholy Journey’s End of Frank Bridge sounds desperate to break out of its tonal corset and do some real damage to preconceived images of what an English composer might be.
I am not among the Ivor Gurney fans but Rebecca Clarke never lets me down; her Cloths of Heaven is intensely personal. A triptych of Tippett – how often do you get a chance to write that? – manages to be both cryptic and capricious, and a Farewell by Mark Anthony Turnage does what its title says. Dama Sarah barely rises above mezzo-forte. Lovely stuff: a lullaby album for grownups.