My Beloved is Mine = BRITTEN: On this Island, Op. 11; The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Op. 35; Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, Op. 22; Canticle I “My Beloved is Mine”, Op. 40 – James Gilchrist, tenor/ Anna Tilbrook, p. – Linn multichannel SACD CKD 404, 62:16 (9/17/12) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
James Gilchrist is almost the ideal Britten singer, especially in these works. All four require a tenderness, and light, airy sound that is able to navigate the oft-times horrifically difficult vocal lines, so expressive of individual words and sounds, but also a world unto themselves in their constantly arching lines and change of dynamic
On this Island was written when the composer was 24 years old, and its almost self-conscious excursions into high technique and perfected melody rival only the songs of Samuel Barber in their obsession with craft. The five songs are taken from texts of W. H. Auden, some of his less turgid, whom Britten had recently met and who was to prove a strong influence (he also met Peter Pears around this time).
It might seem strange that the Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo were written in America in 1940 at a time when Britten was anxious to try his skill in the setting of different languages (Les Illuminations was finished only a year earlier). The poetry itself is pure Michelangelo, lyrical by the very nature of the language, full of love and longing.
My beloved is mine is a post-war piece based on the poetry of Francis Quarles, who in turn based his on the biblical Song of Songs. It is one of five works, each radically different, that Britten called Canticle.
Finally, the greatest cycle on this disc is The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, written in 1945 after Britten returned from his self-imposed American exile. Though the war was over its spirit lingered in this dark and unsettling work, full of contradictions and tugs of war between love and hate, insecurity and steadfastness, faith and doubt, though in the end Donne usually wins and things work out okay. This is a profoundly affecting work of great nuance and very demanding on singer and audience, not for any sort of musical difficulties, but because of the intensity of the emotions.
Gilchrist sings wonderfully while pianist Tilbrook is with him every step of the way. I love hi-res surround sound in lieder performances; it adds an air of reality around the voice and enables the performers to emote more freely. This is a terrific production from Linn, complete with excellent notes and texts.
This is a delightful holiday collection.