SONGS OF ARIEL: Music by Dowland, Purcell, Handel, Rubbra, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Warlock, Tippett and others – James Bowman, countertenor. Kenneth Weiss, harpsichord and piano – Saterino

by | Feb 10, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SONGS OF ARIEL: Music by Dowland, Purcell, Handel, Rubbra, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Warlock, Tippett and others – James Bowman, countertenor. Kenneth Weiss, harpsichord and piano – Saterino SR 052, 59:00 ****:

This is an early contender for next year’s Grammy awards! Besides being an overwhelming musical experience, Bowman’s choice of repertoire demonstrates how effective a recital can be when it diversifies among different historical periods and musical styles. In the Purcell and the Britten items, Bowman closely recalls his onetime idol Alfred Deller, with a slightly more distanced vibrato but with a sad beauty that Deller would have deeply admired, and perhaps envied.

Included on the program are two unusual items, a song from Ralph Vaughan Williams’ opera The Pilgrim’s Progress (not originally written for countertenor but performed after the composer’s widow assured Bowman that her husband would have approved) and the only selection by a living composer, a lovely concluding song by Andrew Gant, “Organist, Choirmaster and Composer of Her Majesty’s Chapels Royal,” of which Bowman is a member. The CD takes its title from Tippett’s extraordinary, other worldly Songs for Ariel, written for a performance of The Tempest at the Old Vic. (Tippett’s presence on this recording has an added meaning—it was he who, Bowman says, “discovered” Alfred Deller during an audition in Canterbury and “thrust him into the limelight.”)

Throughout Kenneth Weiss partners with imagination and a depth of feeling which makes each track a voyage through a world all its own. His contributions to the Purcell and Britten songs are particularly memorable.

The sound for both performers is as exquisite as the music making. The very first note that Bowman sings in the opening plainchant, though it lasts only a few seconds, echoes through the discreetly resonant acoustic of the Abbey of Saint-Michel en Thiérache in the small French town of Aisne, near the Belgium border and the Ardennes, with such poetry and precision that it is an ideal test for the most high of high end audio components. Add Bowman’s passionate liner notes, with their vivid personal recollections of the music, and an arresting interview by Richard Langham Smith and a host of pictures from Bowman’s life and career, and you have a total winner. Strongly recommended.

– Laurence Vittes
 

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