The Art Song's Golden Age Revisited

Not the easiest of genres, this nonetheless makes for a satisfying experience.

Composer: Bennett, Britten, Gurney, Head, Howells, Ireland and Warlock

Repertoire: English Art Songs

Artist: Sarah Connolly, Malcolm Martineau 
Rating: Vocal 4/5

Genre: Vocal

Label: Chandos chan 10691

The Music: 20th century art songs by Benjamin Britten, Ivor Gurney, Herbert Howells and lesser-known names such as Michael Head and Peter Warlock. Eleven tracks here date from the 1920s, considered the golden age of the genre, while Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s 1995 A History of the Thé Dansant, with words by his poet sister Meg Peacocke, is the most recent contribution. 

The Performance: Connolly and Martineau make an impressive double act. The former has performed this material live to glowing reviews, and you can hear why. Her voice has such a pleasing weight and texture – it is womanly rather than girlish; velvet rather than satin – and her sense of drama is never overstated. She excels, therefore, in capturing the masculine melancholy of Britten’s lullabies and Bennett’s brittle, unpredictable scenes from a long marriage. Martineau responds throughout with characteristically flawless, subtle and intuitive accompaniment. 

The Verdict: The English art song, an acquired taste, can make for a rather dark and rainy listen if you’re not completely in the mood for it. if you are, however, this is as good a collection as you’ll find.

Want More? Connolly tackles Lieder for Chandos in Schumann: Songs of Love and Loss (Chan 10492).