A LAD’S LOVE / GURNEY: Ludlow and Teme.* In Flanders.* BRITTEN: Canticle II: Abraham & Isaac.+ Fish in the Unruffled Lakes. WARLOCK: In an Arbour Green. QUILTER: Love’s Philosophy. IRELAND: Ladslove. We’ll in the Woods No More. VENABLES: Songs of Eternity and Sorrow: Because I Liked You Better* / Brian Giebler, ten; *Katie Hyun, Ben Russell, vln; *Jessica Meyer, vla; *Michael Katz, cel; +Reginald Mobley, counter-ten; Steven McGhee, pno / Bridge 9542
Young American tenor Brian Giebler, a graduate of the University of Maryland, Eastman School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, has a light but attractive voice and, better yet, crystal-clear diction. In this recital he gives us mostly older British songs on the loves of various lads down through the ages, mostly focused on songs of the 1920s.
Ivor Gurney’s song cycle for tenor, piano and string quartet, Ludlow and Teme, owes its configuration to Vaughan Williams’ famous early cycle, On Wenlock Edge. I smiled to myself recognizing several turns of phrase within these songs (as well as several modulations) stolen outright from Vaughan Williams. (Even the third song in this cycle is titled “’Tis Time, I Think, By Wenlock Town”!) Well, at least the music is pretty good in itself, and since my download copy of this CD didn’t include a booklet it was fortunate that Giebler’s diction was so good that I didn’t need it. The pick-up string quartet plays very well behind him. In Flanders, though a separate song written five years earlier, is in much the same style.
Next up is Benjamin Britten’s famous Canticle II: Abraham & Isaac, apparently representing a lad’s love for his father who is about to sacrifice his ass to his god. I was very upset by the use of a countertenor in this piece; Britten clearly wrote Isaac for mezzo-soprano, though he was close friends with countertenor Alfred Deller and in fact wrote the role of Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream for him. Why ruin a piece of music by going against the composer’s wishes? I thought all you classical folk were into Historically-Informed Performances? Happily, Mobley’s voice isn’t too “hooty,” and he has good diction, but I didn’t much like the change and cut the performance short at the five-minute mark.
The next five songs are all by excellent British composers of the period, Warlock, Quilter, Britten and Ireland, and these, too, Giebler sang extremely well. Britten’s early (1937-41) Fish in the Unruffled Lakes, an excellent song cycle, was new to me, and I must also give praise to pianist Steven McGhee for his excellent, lively accompaniments. We end with a song in the old style by the more modern composer Ian Venables (b. 1955), Because I Liked You Better.
A good recital overall except for the desecration of Britten’s Canticle.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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