Anthony Dean Griffey and Warren Jones’ TSMF recital at Walter Hall last night was an all English language affair with offerings from both sides of the pond. IT kicked off with Frank Bridge’s Three Songs for voice, viola and piano with the viola part played on the cello by David Heiss. These might better be billed as for “Viola, piano and voice” as the viola part is much, much more interesting than the vocal line. Really it felt more like a piece of chamber music that happened to include a vocalist. Heiss played beautifully as did Jones and Griffey did what was to be done with the vocal line.
Griffes’ Three Poems of Fiona Macleod followed. This was more late Romanticism with a vengeance though it did give Griffey more to do. He produces a rather beautiful sound, especially at the top of the voice, and he certainly doesn’t lack for power. Rather he seemed to be having to work to contain the voice in such a small hall. The same could be said of Warren’s very emphatic and percussive accompaniment. One felt that this needed to be heard in a bigger venue.
The solo piano piece of the night was Griffes’ Barcarolle; a piece also inspired by a Fiona Macleod poem and dealing with the changelessly changing nature of the sea and love. Quite an attractive piece which got the full Jones treatment.
The first half closed with Barber’s Three Songs Op. 10; settings of James Joyce. The songs are quite varied. Sleep Now, for instance, was quite delicate allowing Griffey to float some lovely high notes and Jones to provide much more restrained accompaniment while I Hear an Army was full on dramatic for both voice and piano.
The second half kicked off with Finzi’s Let Us Garlands Bring. This is a piece that people tend to feel strongly about, one way or the other. I rather like it and I’ve never heard it sung by a tenor before. The two more meditative songs; Come Away Death and Fear No More the Heat of the Sun were sung with considerable delicacy and feeling. The lighter pieces; Who is Sylvia?, O Mistress Mine and It Was a Lover and His Lass showed a vocal agility and a cheekiness that we hadn’t seen in the earlier works. Sure there are too many “Hey nonny nonnies” but I can deal with that.
Three songs by Copland came next; Boatman’s Dance, The Dodger and Long Time Ago. These are very much Americana and got a high spirited and witty treatment with more beautiful high notes. It seemed like things were lightening up a bit and both Griffey and Jones were having more fun. So was I.
John Jacob Niles’ The Roving Gambler and Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair came next. Lots of art song has its roots in folk music and it was interesting tio hear American examples. Curious things happen to a song when it goes back and forth across the Atlantic and back and forth between composed art song and a more improvised folk style. Black is the Colour got a composed but clearly American treatment. It was quite straightforward but enjoyable. The Roving Gambler was a composed song anyway; also enjoyably direct.
There had to be some Ives of course and we got the rather pretty Berceuse and a truly Ivesian piece of Ivesiana; The Circus Band. I was happy to find a completely over the top Ives song that isn’t stuffed full of Jingo. It got a suitably OTT comic treatment. This was probably the one time where Griffey was massively over acting but I think it was justified. The encore, as ever, was a puff with a personal connection. In this case This Little Light of Mine. Oh well.
So, an interesting concert that went from somewhat laboured (on the part of the composers not the performers) high Romanticism to folksier Americana. Each part got a skilled and appropriate treatment from three excellent musicians. I have to say the lighter stuff was more fun!