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, Seaside; Stuart Jackson, George Strivens, Jocelyn Freeman; Oxford Lieder Pageant
Reviewed 25 October 2022 (★★★★½)

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

Stuart Jackson was imagined to premiere Julian PhillipsThe Nation of Larks on the Oxford Lieder Pageant in 2021, alas sickness prevented this and the premiere truly befell 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 Seaside.

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 virtually performs constantly. The preliminary ‘Recitative’ set the scene, a kind of strolling determine within the piano that hinted at operatic recitative with out fairly going there, lyric arioso from the tenor complemented by horn taking part in that created a duet. All through the work, Strivens’ horn intertwined with Jackson’s tenor in a somewhat magical method and while this was a tenor music cycle, the horn half was very, very important certainly with Strivens taking part in virtually constantly. The identical environment continued in ‘Strolling Track’, however the music step by step intensified, the recitative/arioso type giving solution to one thing extra atmospheric. Phillips’ writing was lyric and tonal, with out speaking right down to his viewers, and it actually gave the impression to be gratefully written for Jackson’s voice. ‘Cloud and Solar’ moved between atmospheric, descriptive moments and components of recitative, with the strolling determine within the piano reoccurring in an virtually Mussorgskian method.  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 surprising 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 slightly little bit of magic.

Jackson and Freeman then gave us a gaggle of Brahms songs, bringing out themes from the Phillips and the Britten, shifting 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 virtually 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 partaking 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 an analogous 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 ultimate part do horn and tenor carry out collectively. 

Strivens and Freeman introduced out the extraordinary dramatic aspect of Britten writing within the horn sequences, shifting 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 refined edge to his voice. Britten makes use of a kind of free recitative, and Jackson emphasised this by actually spitting his phrases out, making progressively extra vivid drama till the highly effective ultimate (and longest) verse. The ultimate part turned a kind of calming chorale for tenor and horn after the storms. 

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

Autumn Track, setting phrases by Seaside’s husband, was pleasant and Seaside wrote with a stunning freedom, by no means fairly settling into the music we count on. Forgotten featured a wonderful melody, however once more Seaside avoids the apparent 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 high-quality large end. Ah, Love, bout a day, was melodic, however Jackson and Freeman introduced out the drama and Jackson actually offered the music.

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 music 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 way in which the three performers heightened and various the feelings between the verses, ending in one thing approaching rapture.

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