The distinguished baritone Mark Stone and pianist Stephen Barlow brought a programme of mainly little-heard works to the Celebrating English Song festival at this venue.
The heat of this July afternoon was contradicted by the glacial subject matter of The Andrée Expedition by Dominick Argento, who is noted for his frequent use of unusual texts. This 40-minute piece stretching over 13 songs uses journal entries by the Swedish explorer Salomon Andrée and his companions from their ill-fated and unsuccessful attempt to travel to the North Pole by balloon in 1897.
Stone’s performance – sung, as was the whole programme, from memory – led us through the tragic story without ever slackening his hold on our attention, taking us on an emotional as well as physical journey from optimism through disaster and hallucinations to oblivion.
It was a relief to move from the specific tragedy and operatic intensity of Argento to the more generalised air of loss in Roger Quilter’s Songs of sorrow. Stone found a more detached tone for these Dowson settings where Quilter is successful in disguising the more clomping of the poet’s rhymes.
Delius’s Seven songs from the Norwegian charmed afresh, with their variety and creative tension between the lush accompaniments and modal vocal lines.
While recording the complete songs of Quilter, composer-pianist Stephen Barlow and Stone found reference to several missing songs. Barlow therefore composed three of these songs in the manner of Quilter, which ended the concert. Putting aside any artistic or philosophical caveats, these are a resounding success just as songs. If thou would’st ease thine heart especially was a knockout, with a great arc of melody moving through shifting phrases until achieving a satisfying rest, and Love is a Bable proving the perfect roistering finale to a programme so full of love in all its manifestations.