> Choral and Song
Ailish Tynan, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Roderick Williams and Christopher Glynn: "Michael Head Songs"
Texts. Hyperion CDA67899
While only a small handful of works by composer Michael Head (1900–76) remain well known today, Hyperion's new release — a lengthy disc featuring twenty-seven songs performed by three different singers — demonstrates that there are many gems in his extensive catalogue waiting to be rediscovered and appreciated.
Soprano Ailish Tynan sings eleven of the included songs. She is at her best in the opening track, "Dear delight," in which she skillfully spins her lustrous tone with great sensitivity and delicacy. She also excels in the melodically melancholy four-song cycle Over the Rim of the Moon — Head's first published composition — and the wistful fantasy of "Foxgloves." However, in these songs and elsewhere throughout the album, an absence of clarity in her diction threatens to strip her singing of its communicative power. Tynan's habit of pronouncing final voiced ds as unvoiced ts is particularly problematic, as is her penchant for modifying vowels rather past the point of recognition. With intelligibility being of such crucial importance in art song, this shortcoming is unfortunate.
There are moments when mezzo-soprano Catherine Wyn-Rogers also fails to make the most of the texts, though she is consistently more satisfying than Tynan. Wyn-Rogers contributes eight songs, including the dance-like "A Piper," the brilliantly evocative Three Songs of Venice and a lilting rendition of "The little road to Bethlehem" (though the high F at the climax of the latter does not quite shimmer as it might). While Wyn-Rogers's voice is lovely, it has a tendency to become unwieldy on high notes at full volume.
Baritone Roderick Williams is exceptionally nuanced in his eight songs, paying equal attention to text and musical interpretation. His performance of "Limehouse Reach" — a song imbued with a timeless, folk-like quality — is touching in its pathos, the emotion behind the refrain ("I would have loved you so") becoming increasingly palpable and profound with each successive verse. Williams's warm voice sounds thoroughly at home in this repertoire, whether tackling the rousing declamation of "Money, O!" or the lyrical sentimentality of "Lean out of the window."
Anchoring the entire program is outstanding pianist Christopher Glynn, who provides elegant support for the vocalists and fills the piano lines with expressive musicality. His magical realization of the Three Songs of Venice brings to vivid life images of water gently rippling around a gondolier's oar and the pigeon-filled majesty of St. Mark's Square. Those who love finely crafted art songs will find much to enjoy here.
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