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One of the key elements in English music is the use of the voice, both chorally and in the more intimate setting of song. At St Mary de Lode we were treated to four recitals of English song during the course of the week. The first of these was given by Helen Withers accompanied by Roger Buckley. After a little nervous waywardness at the start she settled into a beautiful Rubbra setting. Withers has a beautiful tone but she hides behind this, allowing it to speak over the words she is singing.

There seems to be a blasé-ity about singing in one's native tongue which assumes one doesn't need to work the words so hard; there is also an open honesty in singing in English which leaves one feeling vulnerable: it is this that may have turned the unassuming English-interpreter away from English song and towards German Lieder, behind which they can hide their true expression. This seems to have been the case in parts of Helen Withers' recital. Delius found much inspiration in the Scandinavian poets and composed a number of songs to Danish and Norwegian texts. Withers performed Five Songs from the Danish for which Delius himself had provided both German and English translations; having provided both, why sing them in German? This aside, three new songs by Christian Wilson setting poems by Ursula Vaughan Williams were very much in the English song vein. If one were to pigeonhole them, one could hear shades of Finzi and Howells: both composer and Mrs Vaughan Williams (present) were very well received.

Perhaps the greatest mistake was to cut the two Howells songs, King David and Come sing and dance : you could feel this Three Choirs audience sink. The audience was slightly appeased by an obviously unrehearsed encore of King David; it might have been better if they hadn't.

A degree of the same over-singing was evident in Julie Kennard's recital the next day. Accompanied by a crisply detailed and attentive Christopher Robinson, Kennard's programme, interspersed with readings by the firm alto voice of Cheryl Pay, explored some of the lesser-known corners of the repertoire including five Geoffrey Bush songs, indicative of a composer who deserves much greater exploration and recognition.

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Copyright © 20 September 2001 Philip Lancaster, Chosen Arts, Bristol, UK





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