Wednesday, January 4, 2012

You cannot dream things lovelier

Michael Head is an unaffected composer. Eschewing the harmonic twists of Warlock and, thankfully, Vaughan Williams' modish modality, his songs offer heartfelt utterances from a cluttered century. The great achievement of Hyperion Records new release of 27 of his songs is that they are delivered with untrammelled sincerity. It is a rich and rare disc.

Head will never turns heads. He's a moderate conservative, with a varied taste in poetry and a ballad-like approach to form and sound. While his contemporaries went into the dark recesses of the English psyche, the younger Head preferred a more relaxed and melancholic vein. Roderick Williams is the perfect protagonist for his tales. His fond remembrance in 'Limehouse Reach' and the open appeal of 'Lean out of the window' are a genuine joy to behold.

While Head attempts a more astringent sound world in 'The Viper', it can feel somewhat ersatz when compared with Britten's contemporaneous work. But there's atmosphere aplenty in Catherine Wyn-Rogers' Three Songs of Venice. Her and Williams' ease of communication matches Head's style perfectly. Ailish Tynan is perhaps a little too skittish with occasional blurs in diction, though she too sings beautifully.

Throughout, none of the singers overstates their case and Christopher Glynn is the model of coherence and care at the piano. Collectively, they are great exponents for this handsome list of songs. From the parlando ease of the Margaret Rose poems 'Star Candles' and 'The little road to Bethlehem' to the bravado of 'Tewkesbury Road', this is a great testament to an unpresuming gem of a composer. Click here to order a copy.