Having enjoyed the performance in the Toronto Music Garden of Alec Roth’s Songs in Time of War I downloaded the CD of the original version with violin rather than erhu. There are actually three pieces on the CD. There’s the complete Songs in Time of War with tenor Mark Padmore, guitarist Morgan Szymanski, harpist Alison Nicholls and violinist Philippe Honoré, there are two solo guitar pieces Canción de la Luna and Danza de la Luna (Szymanski) and Padmore and Szymanski collaborating on Chinese Gardens; a setting of four Vikram Seth poems inspired by the Ming dynasty gardens at Suzhou.
Listening at home the texts came over as grittier than I remembered them on first hearing. There’s a lot more blood, torn skin, bones and carrion birds than I recalled! Still there are also more elegiac texts too. Padmore is a sensitive interpreter with perfect diction so no troubles on that score. One impression remained from hearing them live. These are very much modern art songs in which the instruments are not so much accompanying the voice as telling their own version of the story. The violin definitely makes the pieces sound more “western” than the erhu. I prefer the new version though the original is very fine.
The guitar pieces are quite meditative as befits a moonlit night. They are beautifully played and rather lovely. The Chinese Gardens poems are, unsurprisingly, very much in the English Pastoral vein; highly evocative and full of nature imagery. If the accompaniment is less rich than the first piece it’s still very well crafted and most enjoyable. FWIW the piece was originally written for mezzo and the tenor version makes its first appearance on this CD.
The CD was recorded at St Paul’s Church, Deptford in October and November 2007. It’s crystal clear. I listened to standard quality .wav files as found on the physical CD but it’s also available as mp3 and standard and high quality FLAC. There’s a comprehensive booklet with bios, lots of useful background info and full texts.
Catalogue number: Signum Classics SIGCD124