I’m delighted to announce that I will be returning in March to Champs Hill to make a new solo recording.
Since I was last there to make my all-McNeff CD, Madrigali dell’Estate, Champs Hill Records won the RPS 2014 Award for Chamber Music and Song:
“This award celebrates a unique venture in West Sussex which offers holistic support for chamber music and song: promoting excellence in performance, and through its own record label, nurturing young talent and exploring unusual repertoire in a calm and supportive environment”.
It is therefore a great compliment to be invited back there and to be working with a wonderful accompanist, Libby Burgess. Libby is also a familiar face at Champs Hill, having previously recorded there with the oboist James Turnbull.
For the new CD I wanted to build on my work with Stephen McNeff and, in particular, to record his song-cycle written for me and Libby Burgess in 2013, Vivienne. This work met with critical acclaim when performed in a staged version and will be presented again in June 2015 to mark the 100th anniversary of the marriage of TS Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood.
I also wanted to develop a thematic programme that complimented the content of Vivienne. This took me down twin paths:
Vivienne Haigh-Wood was a real person, married to a famous poet but with her own artistic aspirations, who suffered mental illness and an early death. Sylvia Plath followed a remarkably similar personal arc (although her artistic achievements are unquestionably greater than Vivienne’s). The American composer Ned Rorem has set a group of five of Plath’s magnificent poems from her Ariel collection, which seemed an obvious pendant to McNeff’s song-cycle. The Rorem songs also offered me the chance to involve clarinettist Catriona Scott, whose instrumental line provides a powerful other voice in the cycle.
The second path I explored is that of fictitious literary women who experience madness and death, of whom there are many examples. This led me to the austere beauty of Brahms’s Ophelia Lieder (settings of her texts from the Shakespeare in German translation), and also to Wolf’s Mörike Lieder. A particular group of his texts appear as songs within Mörike’s early novel, Maler Nolten, in which Agnes, a sheltered young woman like Ophelia, is disappointed in love, goes mad and drowns herself. Several of her songs are well-known but they are not always performed together and it is satisfying to re-unite them as a companion group to the Brahms songs, whose heroine suffers a similar fate.
To open the programme we will perform Britten’s realisation of Purcell’s Mad Bess, setting an anonymous Bedlam text from the seventeenth-century that typifies the fascination of the time for lunacy and asylum-dwellers. Bess’s humour and self-awareness provide a wonderful departure-point for the rest of the programme, in which dark comedy and sharp truths abound.
Madness may seem at first to be a depressing subject for a recording, but the quality of the repertoire we will be exploring makes this a very exciting and thought-provoking project. Watch this space for news of the release date and the commemorative performance of Vivienne in June.