Music For All Seasons

The divine art recordings group (also including diversions, métier, athene and historic sound) performs an invaluable service in releasing CDs that examine rare corners of the repertory. In the 2014 release, “Remembering Alfred Deller”, a group of English musicians of various generations, all of them Baroque specialists, pay honor to the pioneering Alfred Deller by playing and singing an interesting mix of Baroque and contemporary compositions that came to be associated with the late English countertenor. Among the artists featured in this recording the countertenor James Bowman, for whom Benjamin Britten wrote the part of Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, must be singled out as a significant example of the tradition of English countertenor singing.

Walter Bergmann (1902-1988) was German born composer who, after practicing Law in Germany for a number of years fell out of favor with the Nazis and escaped to England, where wartime restrictions severely curtailed his range of activities as an enemy alien. After the war his lack of familiarity with English Law proved his Law degree to be worthless, so he decided to pursue a second career as a composer and performer. His 1946 Pastorale for countertenor and recorder is featured on the first track of the divine art recording, with countertenor Robin Blaze pairing up with John Turner in a lovely rendition of a polytonal duo for countertenor and recorder.

Michael Tippett (1905-1998) authored the Four Inventions for two recorders featured next in the divine art CD, with Laura Robinson’s and John Turner’s recorders weaving in and out of each other’s melodic lines with grace and tonal purity.

Alan Ridout (1934-1996) wrote the Soliloquy for countertenor, recorder, cello and harpsichord in 1985, His music is decidedly tonal, but underpinned with harmonic asperities, owing much to the influence of Michael Tippett, his teacher.

William Willams, of whom only the 1701 death date is known, composed the Sonata in A minor in 1696. Its three movements show a typical Middle- Baroque English composer writing under the long shadow cast by Henry Purcell.

In the case of John Blow (1649-1708) the Purcell presence is a non-issue, as Blow, ten years Purcell’s senior and teacher, was first and foremost a Church composer whose duties as Composer to the Chapel Royal took up most of his time. His Ode to the Death of Mr. Henry Purcell is a seven part composition for two countertenors, recorders and continuo. Running over 32 minutes, this is by dint of size and scope the main musical event of this recording. Countertenors James Bowman and Robin Blaze display dazzling vocal technique and great facility with the ornamentation of the work. The work of John Turner and Laura Robinson in this instance is largely that of accompanists, with Ian Thomson’s harpsichord and Tim Smedley’s cello providing the perfectly grounded continuo.

German-born, but most strongly associated with English music, Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759) raises the bar in any collection in which his name and music appear, as is the case with his 1707 Sonata in F major for two recorders and continuo, a work of a twenty-two year old man with the compositional technique of someone twice that age. The lively allegros of the first and third movement bookend a middle grave, all three movements displaying the musical signature of a grand master of the Baroque.

Peter Racine Fricker (1920-1990) wrote Elegy: The Tomb of St. Eulalia for countertenor, cello and harpsichord, in 1955, sung here by James Bowman. It is a severe, atonal, meditative work. Guitarist Dave Bainbridge and harpsichordist Ian Thompson provide solid support. Walter Bergmann’s Three Songs for countertenor and guitar closes the CD with a perfect performance by James Bowman and Dave Bainbridge of three songs: Mater cantans filio , To Musick , and Chop-Cherry .

With its handsome packaging, its extensively researched and excellently written booklet by John Turner and its enticing mix of rare and familiar compositions for voice and recorders this album is a welcome addition to the library of any serious collector.

—Rafael de Acha