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Peggy Glanville-Hicks

The Songs

$23   (Australian dollars)


buy at: AMC - Buywell - iTunes

Gerald English - tenor

Roland Peelman - piano
Marshall McGuire - harp
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Anthony Walker - conductor

World premiere recordings of this Australian composer's songs, including the wonderful cycle "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird", sung by Australia's most versatile tenor, Gerald English.

Peggy Glanville-HicksProfiles from China
Three Songs
Mimic Heaven: Five Songs by A.E. Housman
Sonata for Harp
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Letters from Morocco


Recordings by Gerald English are as precious as sunshine in winter. I treasure broadcast tapes of BBC Radio 3 broadcasts by him including a superb account of Finzi's Oh Fair to See and the songs of Jasper Rooper. He is also well recalled for his role in Walton's Troilus and Cressida. He is not part of the great homogeneous sea of tenors churned out on a production line. His voice has poignancy - a penetrating nasal quality, probing and ecstatic. Glanville-Hicks is well served by it.

Glanville-Hicks was born in Melbourne and studied with Vaughan Williams, Boulanger and Wellesz. She had sojourns in Greece and the USA. She learnt her operatic craft (there are four operas and five ballets) working with Fritz Hart before his departure to Hawaii. She was married for some years to the Plymouth-born composer, Stanley Bate, whose turbulence-riven Third Symphony (1945), premiered by Adrian Boult, is a prime candidate for revival on CD.

The Chinese Profiles are settings of aphoristic poems by Eunice Tietjens. The style will be instantly familiar to and loved by anyone who has taken to the 1920s Li Tai Po settings of Arthur Bliss and Constant Lambert. The moon, rain, drunken poesy, melancholy and mossy gardens are the subject matter. The composer matches the subjects with concision and emotion.

Of the three miscellaneous songs two are by the Irish poet AE and the third is Fletcher's oft-set Sleep. These are recognisably of the genre of British lyrics. They are variously racked by the rolling Celtic surge while Sleep, in its regretful self-hypnosis, stands comfortably in the company of Gurney's and Warlock's settings of the same words. With the five Housman settings we move further into mainstream English song territory and these are as gloriously melancholy and deliciously pessimistic as the Orr, Gurney, Ireland and Vaughan Williams settings. Note the rippling arpeggio in Stars.

The Harp Sonata is a succinctly expressed delight. Serenade-like in character it strikes me as a three movement troubadour song shot through with voices familiar from William Alwyn's Lyra Angelica at one extreme and Haydn's British folksong settings at the other. I was not surprised to read that this was the most broadcast piece of Australian music in 1996.

The Wallace Stevens songs gallop lightly, glitter starrily, speak soft profundity, slewing between Britten-like economy and Finzian tenderness. These must be heard by anyone who reckons himself or herself a lover of British song.

The Letter from Morocco is the only sequence here to be accompanied by orchestra. It was borne out of composer, Paul Bowles' letters to Glanville-Hicks. These letters were part of a forty year correspondence. The sequence is honeyed, exotic, romantic, desolate and deeply serious. There is a touch of Warlock's Curlew about this. The orchestration is a glimmering web - as rich as that conjured by Szymanowski and yet not suffocating the vocal line.

A delightful disc. Good notes and technical aspects. Matchless singing. This is a discovery I am very pleased to share and recommend.
Rob Barnett
Classical Music on the Web

The amazing Paul Bowles (1910-99)--composer, novelist, translator, existentialist, expatriate, and general literary cult figure--seems to have been able to transfer his Midas touch to others just by knowing them. The notes to this recording make much of Australian composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks's (1912-90) long friendship with Bowles, extracts of whose letters Glanville-Hicks set to music as the orchestral song cycle Letters from Morocco (1952). Glanville-Hicks has taken on a bit of cult status herself. Born in Melbourne, she studied with Vaughan Williams, Wellesz (ironic, given her antipathy to serial music), and Boulanger. Later, in America, she served for 10 years as a music critic for the New York Herald Tribune (under the editorship of Virgil Thomson) and organized the concert series of the Museum of Modern Art.

Ever the expatriate, Glanville-Hicks's love of the world is reflected in her choice of texts. Profiles from China is a setting of five poems by the widely traveled American poet Eunice Hammond Tietjens. Mimic Heaven sets five poems by Houseman, while Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird tackles Pulitzer Prize winner and insurance executive Wallace Stevens's famous poem of the same name.

These works vary widely. The Blackbird songs don't work all that well, but that may be because Stevens's cycle defies musical treatment. On the other hand, the settings of the more conventional Houseman lyrics are quite good, while Letters from Morocco, introduced by Stokowski, is a real find.

Gerald English, who has been singing more than 40 years, does well with this demanding material, his age notwithstanding. Granted, the recordings were made in 1993-94, but English sounds as if he were a much younger man. Unfortunately there are times when the wear and tear of a four-decade career shows through uncomfortably. This is especially true in the more delicate parts of the Blackbird songs and in the demanding passages that imitate the call of the muezzin in 'Wind, Water, Birds, and Animals', which opens Letters from Morocco.

Sound in the songs with piano is very realistic, slightly favoring the piano. In the orchestral songs, though, the orchestra sounds as if it were playing behind a curtain, with English well up front, a fault I've noticed in other concert tapes from the Australian Broadcasting Company.

Thrown in for good measure is the delightful Harp Sonata, which neatly fills out this program of unusual music by a most unusual woman.
John Boyer
American Record Guide, Jan-Feb, 2002

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