By Robert Hugill
NIGHTS NOT SPENT ALONE: COMPLETE WORKS FOR MEZZO-SOPRANO by JONATHAN DOVE
Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano), Simon Lepper (piano)
Champs Hills Records
This new disc from Kitty Whately and Simon Lepper on Champs Hill Records presents Jonathan Dove’s complete works for mezzo-soprano, setting to music for piano texts by Ursula Vaughan Williams, Mary Wortley Montague, Matthew Prior, Vikram Seth, Edna St Vincent Millay and Federico Garcia Lorca.
The works on the disc cover a wide range of Dove’s career from 1996 through to 2015, and the songs present a more varied, and perhaps more intimate, view of Dove’s composing than we get from his operas. In fact, some of the songs were premiered with the composer at the piano.
The disc opens with the only single song on the disc, “My Love is Mine” (setting words from the Song of Songs). a rapturous unaccompanied song, with Whately combining warmly seductive tone with superb diction.
‘Nights Not Spent Alone: I. Recuerdo,’ Kitty Whately with Simon Lepper (piano), from Nights Not Spent Alone: Complete Works for Mezzo-Soprano by Jonathan Dove
‘Nights Not Spent Alone: II. What lips my lips have kissed,’ Kitty Whately with Simon Lepper (piano), from Nights Not Spent Alone: Complete Works for Mezzo-Soprano by Jonathan Dove
‘Nights Not Spent Alone: III. Too Beneath Your Moon, Kitty Whately with Simon Lepper (piano), from Nights Not Spent Alone: Complete Works for Mezzo-Soprano by Jonathan Dove. The third in a cycle of three poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay set to music by Jonathan Dove.
“Five Am’rous Sighs,” dating from 1997, sets poems by Lady Mary Wortley Montague and Matthew Prior with Dove conjuring a variety of amorous moods, ranging from the languorous eroticism of “Between your sheets” to the vivid rhythms of “Finish” and “All these dismal looks and fretting.” Yet many of the poems finish with a witty sting, to which Kitty Whately blends her appealing, warmly lyrical tone with a suggestion of a knowing gleam in her eye.
“All The Future Days” sets poems by Ursula Vaughan Williams. This sequence of seven quite dense, philosophic poems was commissioned as a birthday present and premiered privately in 2004 by Anne Mason accompanied by Jonathan Dove. Dove sets them with lyrical intensity, with some magical piano writing, to create a series of lovely textures. The final song “The Siren,” with its dazzling piano textures, really takes us into the world of Dove’s operas. Ms. Whately makes these songs sing, coaxing out the warm beauties of the vocal lines, always shaping the sense and the words. Simon Lepper dazzles at the piano, sometimes sounding as if he has three hands.
‘Cut My Shadow: I. Surprise,’ the first of three Federico Garcia Lorca poems set to music by Jonathan Dove on Nights Not Spent Alone: Complete Works for Mezzo-Soprano by Jonathan Dove, with Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano) and Simon Lepper (piano).
“Cut My Shadow,” from 2011, is far darker, edgier and more complex. Written for the mezzo-soprano Buddug Verona James., it sets three Federico Garcia Lorca poems (in English translations) and the atmosphere is bleaker, with Whately and Lepper giving the songs a spare intensity that complements Lorca’s poetry. This is Dove exploring a rather different world to some of his more lyrical music, and whereas still approachable, the songs have a toughness about them reflecting r the powerful images of Lorca’s poetry.
“Nights Not Spent Alone” sets poems by Edna St Vincent Millay. The cycle was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 (where Kitty Whately was a New Generation Artist) and the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Young Artist’s Scheme. It was Whately who suggested the poet to Dove, and Whately (accompanied by Simon Lepper) who premiered the cycle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2015. Dove’s piano writing here again evokes some of his operatic writing. The first song, “Recuerdo,” with the piano evoking both the sounds of the ferry and New York, is like a small operatic scene. The three contrasting songs comprise a complex yet seductive trio.
‘All You Who Sleep Tonight: XIII. All You Who Sleep Tonight,” the last in a cycle of 13 short songs set from poems by Vikram Seth on Nights Not Spent Alone: Complete Works for Mezzo-Soprano by Jonathan Dove, with Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano) and Simon Lepper (piano).
“All You Who Sleep Tonight” is a cycle of 13 short songs, dating from 1996, from poems by Vikram Seth. Dove brings a few cabaret influences to bear on songs originally written for mezzo-soprano Nuala Willis (who created at least seven roles in Dove’s operas), whom Dove accompanied in cabaret. Here Dove is writing music ranging from cabaret to the more classical. It calls for performers of great flexibility as the songs are not all about wit, “Telephone” has a spare bleakness about it, whereas “Prandial Plaint” moves into Sondheim territory.
‘My Love is Mine’ (setting words from the Song of Songs) from Nights Not Spent Alone: Complete Works for Mezzo-Soprano by Jonathan Dove. This is the album’s only unaccompanied song, featuring mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately a cappella.
Each of the cycles on the disc is, to a certain extent, a portrait of the singer for whom it was written. Kitty Whately shows herself something of a chameleon as she brings out the distinctive character of each cycle, yet never loses her own qualities: the creamy warm tone, that delightful frankness of utterance, the superb diction and the sense of storytelling so that each song, no matter how short, makes a real narrative. She is joined on this journey (or these journeys) by Simon Lepper who, equally chameleon-like, brings all Dove’s different piano parts alive and seamlessly traverses both the complex operatic and the real cabaret styles the music requires.
This is a completely engaging disc, as Whately and Lepper seduce you with a fascinating combination of musicality and storytelling, whilst Dove’s songs show his familiar sense of being approachable but never overly simplistic or condescending. The mixture of beauty, ease and contemplation here really engages a listener. –By Robert Hugill
Reprinted by permission of Robert Hugill, a contemporary classical composer based in London. Recent performances of his works have included sacred motets, orchestral music and a one-act opera. Click here for his full biography. For more of Mr. Hugill’s classical reviews and interviews, visit Planet Hugill—A World of Classical Music.
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