Acclaimed as a concert soloist, recitalist and a recording artist, James Gilchrist is one of the finest British tenors of today. In his first solo disc for Chandos, he performs a representative survey of the songs of Lennox Berkeley which demonstrates the distinctly Gallic flavour inspired by his time in France along with a spiritual intensity from his devotion to Roman Catholicism. James is accompanied by Anna Tilbrook on piano and Alison Nicholls on harp.
This collection, of complete song cycles and individual songs is offered in a more-or-less chronological layout and presents five premiere recordings: Autumn’s Legacy, Cocteau’s Tombeau, Bells of Cordoba, Five Herrick Poems and Sonnet Op. 102. The miniature cycle, Cocteau’s Tombeau dates from Berkeley’s first year in Paris where he went to study with Nadia Boulanger and is characteristic of Les six. Autumn’s Legacy is recognised as Berkeley’s most ambitious cycle, commissioned by the Cheltenham Festival. The seven songs draw on a variety of poets including Beddoes, Lawrence Durrell, Tennyson and Hopkins – which show the range of Berkeley’s reading.
James Gilchrist writes of the recording project, ‘I was enormously excited to be given this opportunity to record some of Berkeley’s songs. I’ve long known and loved many. But putting together this disc has allowed Anna and me to study his songs in some detail and find many new treasures. There is a strikingly varied approach to his setting of song, from sparse simplicity to almost over-egged lusciousness. But throughout is a truly individual voice. Recording the monumental Autumn’s Legacy was a huge challenge, and Berkeley is able to find a convincing musical voice for Hopkins, a poet whom I feel often sees composers stumble. And it’s striking how Berkeley kept coming back to setting French poems, with great success.’
This collection helps to reveal the status of Berkeley’s vocal music, which makes an unrivalled contribution to the central repertoire of songs in the English – and partly French – tradition. Peter Dickinson provides extensive booklet notes about each individual song.