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Julian Phillips new piece alongside Britten and Schubert in a splendidly imaginative programme for tenor, horn and piano at Oxford Lieder Pageant


Julian Phillips: The Country of Larks, Britten: Canticle III: Still falls the rain, Schubert: Auf dem Strom, Brahms, Beach; Stuart Jackson, George Strivens, Jocelyn Freeman; Oxford Lieder Festival


Julian Phillips: The Nation of Larks, Britten: Canticle III: Nonetheless falls the rain, Schubert: Auf dem Strom, Brahms, Seashore; Stuart Jackson, George Strivens, Jocelyn Freeman; Oxford Lieder Pageant
Reviewed 25 October 2022 (★★★★½)

A splendidly imaginative programme combining three totally different approaches to tenor, horn and piano, together with Julian Phillip’s placing new Robert Louis Stevenson setting

Stuart Jackson was alleged to premiere Julian PhillipsThe Nation of Larks on the Oxford Lieder Pageant in 2021, alas sickness prevented this and the premiere truly passed off in Ludlow this Spring, however the work returned to Oxford on 25 October 2022, when tenor Stuart Jackson, horn participant George Strivens and pianist Jocelyn Freeman gave a revised model of that deliberate 2021 recital on the Holywell Music Rooms for the early night live performance at Oxford Lieder Pageant. Written for tenor, horn and piano, Julian Phillips’ The Nation of Larks was paired with Britten’s Canticle III: Nonetheless falls the rain and Schubert’s Auf dem Strom, plus songs by Brahms and Amy Seashore.

Jackson, Strivens and Freeman started with Julian Phillips’ The Nation of Larks setting a textual content tailored from Robert Louis Stevenson’s early essay Autumn Impact (1875) a few nation stroll ending in listening to larks. Phillips has written the cycle as 4 linked actions, however it nearly performs repeatedly. The preliminary ‘Recitative’ set the scene, a form of strolling determine within the piano that hinted at operatic recitative with out fairly going there, lyric arioso from the tenor complemented by horn enjoying that created a duet. All through the work, Strivens’ horn intertwined with Jackson’s tenor in a moderately magical manner and while this was a tenor track cycle, the horn half was very, very vital certainly with Strivens enjoying nearly repeatedly. The identical ambiance continued in ‘Strolling Track’, however the music step by step intensified, the recitative/arioso fashion giving option to one thing extra atmospheric. Phillips’ writing was lyric and tonal, with out speaking all the way down to his viewers, and it definitely gave the impression to be gratefully written for Jackson’s voice. ‘Cloud and Solar’ moved between atmospheric, descriptive moments and parts of recitative, with the strolling determine within the piano reoccurring in an nearly Mussorgskian manner.  With the ultimate motion ‘Lark Track’ we had some magical textures, with Jackson’s excessive tenor set in opposition to trilling horn and the sound of larks excessive within the piano, and the music moved into one thing approaching mystical rapture, climaxing in a shocking solo motion for Strivens. However the stroll continued, and the ending merged the strolling determine with the larks. 

This was a difficult piece for all three performers, and every introduced it off stunningly and the three created somewhat little bit of magic.

Jackson and Freeman then gave us a bunch of Brahms songs, bringing out themes from the Phillips and the Britten, transferring from larks to nightingales to rain. There have been different connections too. One of many songs got here from the Songs Op. 59 sung by Yajie Zhang on the lunchtime recital [see my review] setting poetry by Robert and Clara Schumann’s youngest son, Felix.

Lerchengesang (Op. 70 no.2) was mild, with Jackson nearly caressing the vocal line and hints of these larks within the piano. An die Nachtigall (Op. 46 no.4) introduced out Jackson’s story-telling aspect, and it was all effortlessly participating with a stunning sense of line. Versunken (Op. 86 no.5) was quick and vivid, with waves within the piano while Jackson mixed voice, eyes and physique to inform this story. Regenlied (Op. 59 no.3) was extra of a ballad, alternating lyrical and perkier sections, each performers displaying clear enjoyment and a few beautiful rain within the piano.

Britten’s Canticle III: Nonetheless falls the rain was written in 1954 and premiered in 1955 by Peter Pears (tenor), Dennis Mind (horn) and Britten himself. The work units Edith Sitwell’s poem, written in 1941 after the 1940 air raids in London. Britten wrote the canticle within the aftermath of his opera The Flip of the Screw and it makes use of the same theme and variations kind. Horn and piano carry out a sequence of variations between the six verses of the textual content and solely within the closing part do horn and tenor carry out collectively. 

Strivens and Freeman introduced out the extraordinary dramatic aspect of Britten writing within the horn sequences, transferring from lyric depth to vividly pressing to positively offended. The tenor’s verses every start with the chorus ‘Nonetheless falls the Rain’ which was hauntingly sung every time by Jackson utilizing a hushed mezza-voce. However in every verse, he actually introduced out the depth of the phrase setting, conserving a flexibility within the line but with a delicate edge to his voice. Britten makes use of a form of free recitative, and Jackson emphasised this by actually spitting his phrases out, making progressively extra vivid drama till the highly effective closing (and longest) verse. The ultimate part turned a form of calming chorale for tenor and horn after the storms. 

Subsequent adopted a bunch of songs by Amy Seashore. These all appeared to partake of the language of the parlour ballad, but every was considerably extra advanced than anticipated, by no means fairly settling into the ballad kind. On this, they moderately jogged my memory of songs by Sir Paolo Tosti, and also you imagined Seashore composing with a quantity of Tosti’s songs sitting on the piano.

Autumn Track, setting phrases by Seashore’s husband, was pleasant and Seashore wrote with a stunning freedom, by no means fairly settling into the track we count on. Forgotten featured a wonderful melody, however once more Seashore avoids the plain and Jackson actually introduced out the depth of the top. The 12 months’s on the spring, the primary of two Browning settings, was quick, vivid and pressing with a positive huge end. Ah, Love, bout a day, was melodic, however Jackson and Freeman introduced out the drama and Jackson actually offered the track.

We ended with Schubert’s Auf dem Strom, for tenor, horn and piano. This can be a much less demonstrative piece than Schubert’s different main track with instrumental obbligato, Der Hirt auf dem Felsen. Schubert units Rellstab’s poem in a strophic method, and the enjoyment of the efficiency was the best way the three performers heightened and diversified the feelings between the verses, ending in one thing approaching rapture.

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