American Record Guide

This new release, “Remembering Alfred Deller”, honors the significance of Deller and the com­posers he inspired in the resurgence of the countertenor in the later 20th Century. This recording is a mixture of “early” and “modern” music. Deller made two different recordings of John Blow’s Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell, the earlier with John Whitworth (recorded 1959) and the later with his son, Mark (recorded 1970); on both the harpsichord is played by Walter Bergmann, who was also instrumental in promoting the Early Music revival in England after World War II. On this new release, two generations of countertenors are represented: lames Bowman, who worked with David Munrow and Christopher Hogwood, and Robin Blaze, who is especially well known for his current recordings with Bach Collegium Japan. It appears that Walter Bergmann’s own edition of the Blow has been used; and the harpsichordist, Ian Thompson, adopts many of Bergmann’s artful solutions for the continue realization, though by current standards his playing is rather pedestrian. John Turner and Laura Robinson, who supply the obbligato recorders in the Blow, also perform two trio sonatas by William Williams and Handel. Their playing is solid but not very colorful. This new release is not the best recording of this difficult work. Blow expects both soloists to comfortably sing parts that range over almost two octaves; in the lower passages countertenors can sound weak. This is not as evident on Bowman’s two earlier recordings, with Rene Jacobs (recorded 1973) and Michael Chance. On two earlier recordings with high tenors, the upper register is thin: Russell Oberlin and Charles Bressler sing at pitch, but Rogers Covey-Crump and Charles Daniels, even with the whole work sounding a tone lower, have the same problem. While the recent release sung by Carlos Mena and Damien Guillon is good), I have a slight preference for the Bowman and Jacobs recording from 1973, both vocally and for its sensitive recorders (Ricardo Kanji and Marion Verbruggen) and continuo (Anner Bylsma, vc, and Gustav Leonhardt, hps).

What is more significant about this new release is its inclusion of otherwise unrecorded modern compositions for countertenor. Blaze sings Walter Bergmann’s elegiac ‘Pastorale’ for countertenor and recorder and Alan Ridout’s ‘Soliloquy’ in a later revision for countertenor, recorder, cello, and harpsichord, which was commissioned as a lament for David Munrow and first performed by Bowman. Bowman sings Peter Racine Fricker’s poignant ‘Elegy: The Tomb of St Eulalia’ and Bergmann’s three songs for countertenor and guitar (originally for lute). Also included are the ingenious ‘Four Inventions for Two Recorders’ by Michel Tippett, who “discovered” Deller. In these selections, the music and the performances are much more engaging.

—Charles Brewer