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  Linn Records -
  CKD 296
  Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge - James Gilchrist
  Ralph Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge, Peter Warlock: The Curlew, Arthur Bliss: Elegiac Sonnet, Ivor Gurney: Ludlow & Teme

James Gilchrist (tenor)
Fitzwilliam String Quartet
Anna Tilbrook (piano)
Michael Cox (flute)
Gareth Hulse (cor anglais)
Track listing:
  Classical - Vocal
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Related titles: 1

Reviews: 4 show all

Site review by Polly Nomial February 4, 2009
Performance:   Sonics:  
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Review by terence July 23, 2007 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Artistically and sonically this is an outstanding issue. On the evidence of this performance of Vaughan Williams's "On Wenlock Edge" James Gilchrist is very much in his prime vocally. He has many of the characteristics of the classic "English tenor" - a voice basically lyric in nature, naturally tilted towards the upper sections of the tenor register, clean diction, and liquid, unforced vocal production. It suits these settings of A.E. Housman's yearning, loss-haunted poems from "A Shropshire Lad" pretty much perfectly.

Gilchrist has, moreover, some special advantages marking him out from other singers of this repertoire. The tonal quality of his voice, for one thing, runs evenly throughout its register - there are no rough bumps or judderings as he switches from one "part" of the voice to another, technically all is seamlessly integrated.

Secondly, regarding diction, there is no over-emphasis on individual words or syllables, no straining for semantic effects or special pleading - he certainly shades words both dynamically and colouristically, but never at the expense of longer arcs of structure and of melody.

The lack of mannerism in Gilchrist's singing is also notable - Peter Pears, by contrast, was undeniably a great artist, but had noticeable technical quirks and idiosyncracies (often wickedly parodied), and even Ian Bostridge isn't entirely free from this type of personal "birthmark" in his vocalism. It can become distracting on repetition.

Gilchrist is simply an extremely well-schooled, natural singer, capable of sustained warmth and generosity of expression, and also of a tougher edge when needed. Both extremes are well illustrated in the third of the "Wenlock Edge" settings, the magnificent "Is my team ploughing?", where he scales the voice down considerably for the ghostly questioning of the dead lover, then jolts the listener back into the rude light of day for the blunt responses of the living man who has replaced him. "On Bredon Hill" is another beautifully sustained and concentrated performance, its potentially sprawling seven minutes held raptly together as a single, cogent outpouring of nostalgia and emotion.

The other pieces on the disc are no less impressively negotiated. Specially impressive is Ivor Gurney’s “Ludlow and Teme” (Housman again), a seven-song cycle which deserves much wider currency than it has had on record previously. Gilchrist’s hushed account of “Far in a western brookland” here is particularly effective, very finely gauged indeed both technically and emotionally.

The Fitzwilliam Quartet are omnipresent, and excellent, and a special word is needed for the highly sensitive playing of pianist Anna Tilbrook, tellingly punctuating the musical narrative without ever seeming obtrusive.

Linn’s engineering (I listened to the SACD multichannel layer) strikes me as notably successful. Quartet, piano and voice is a very difficult combination to capture convincingly, and with judicious tweaking of balances the voice here is cleanly focused, and the accompaniment registers clearly without becoming over-insistent.

The overall ambience is on the warmish side of neutral, and it’s possible some listeners will hanker for even sharper definition – but I like the homogeneous feeling of a live performance here, without the musicians being TOO sharply compartmentalised in their performing spaces. The discreet use of rear channels brings the usual benefits of a larger, more living soundstage and more “air” round the performance.

All told, this is a very fine achievement, a most attractive and intelligent choice of repertoire which I think will not quickly be replicated in the SACD medium. I hope that Linn will do more recordings with Gilchrist, and that they will continue to be in SACD format (a previous, excellent Finzi recital wasn’t).

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Review by JJ September 21, 2007 (3 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Amoureux du chant, ce disque exceptionnel est pour vous. Car la voix, combinée aux harmonies d'instruments adéquats, reflète une dimension plus mystérieuse encore où se devine l'individu dans sa nudité même. Comme le souligne Rossana Dalmonte, "Pour décrire la voix, les caractéristiques de son timbre - mais aussi tout ce que dévoilent ses cassures, ses fêlures, ses envolées, les coups de frein, les foucades, ondulations et dégringolades vertigineuses - nous ne disposons que de quelques rares adjectifs. Dans la plupart des cas, nous sommes obligatoirement condamnés à rendre compte de " la lettre" de la voix, autrement dit des paroles qu'elle prononce ou des fréquences sur lesquelles elle se déploie...". Ici, le ténor James Gilchrist, accompagné par le piano d'Anna Tilbrook et la flûte de Michael Cox ainsi que par le Quatuor Fitzwilliam, nous offre une expressivité d'une rare sensibilité. En explorant l'univers poétique de quatre compositeurs anglais avec "On Wenlock Edge" de Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), "The Curlew" de Peter Warlock (1894-1930), "Elegiac Sonnet" d'Arthur Bliss (1891-1975) et "Ludlow & Teme" d'Ivor Gurney (1800-1937), James Gilchrist décline un chant inspiré, engagé et passionné que l'accompagnement instrumental rend encore plus vibrant. Ce SACD est, en fin de compte, un petit bijou de finesse interprétative malgré une prise de son PCM un peu claire. Le DSD aurait apporté plus de rondeur et de chaleur. Un grand moment tout de même, car après tout, lorsque la musique touche le cœur et l’âme, « qu’importe le flacon pourvu qu’on ait l’ivresse ».

Jean-Jacques Millo

For those who love song, this exceptional disc is for you. For, the voice, combined with the harmonies of the right instruments, reflects an ever more mysterious dimension where the unclothed individual is revealed. As Rossana Dalmonte states, “To describe the voice, the characteristics of its tone – but also everything that reveals its cracks, its creases, its flights, its halts, its whims, undulations and vertiginous falls – we only have a few rare adjectives at our disposal. In most cases, we must make do with “the letter” of the voice, that is the words it pronounces and the frequencies it deploys… ”. Here, tenor James Gilchrist, accompanied on the piano by Anna Tilbrook and the flute by Michael Cox as well as the Fitzwilliam Quartet, offers us expression of rare sensitivity. Exploring the poetic universe of four English composers in “On Wenlock Edge ” by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), “ The Curlew” by Peter Warlock (1894-1930), “Elegiac Sonnet ” by Arthur Bliss (1891-1975) et “Ludlow & Teme” by Ivor Gurney (1800-1937), James Gilchrist expresses nuances in inspired, committed and passionate singing that the accompanying instruments render all the more vibrant. This SACD is, in the end, a small jewel of interpretive refinement despite a PCM recording that is a bit too bright. DSD could have added more fullness and warmth. Still, this is a great moment, for, when music touches the heart and soul, “who cares about the bottle when all that counts is the joy of what’s in it”.

Jean-Jacques Millo
Translation: Lawrence Schulman

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Works: 4  

Arthur Bliss - Elegiac Sonnet
Ivor Gurney - Ludlow & Teme
Ralph Vaughan Williams - On Wenlock Edge (1909)
Peter Warlock - The Curlew