William Alwyn (1905-1985) was an inspired and accomplished English composer of unquestioned skill and professionalism, but his music, while immediately attractive, never quite rises to the level that would put him in the first rank of composers. His harmonic language is reminiscent of Vaughan Williams, but his melodies don't have the folk-like directness that makes Vaughan Williams such a successful vocal composer. Alwyn was especially gifted as a dramatic composer and wrote dozens of film scores as well as a very effective opera, Miss Julie, which has never been staged, but is strong enough that it could well hold the stage if it's ever produced. The songs here embody his lyrical aesthetic vision and display his compositional inventiveness, but few are memorable enough to make it into the repertoire. The CD includes four song cycles written between 1970 and 1980, and a single song from 1947. It's perhaps telling that it's difficult to discern any stylistic development between the earliest and latest songs. The performances and recorded sound are of variable quality. Baritone Jeremy Huw Williams, who sings two of the cycles, has a basically pleasant voice, but his vibrato sometimes becomes so wide that it's distracting. Soprano Elin Manahan Thomas is entirely successful in the two cycles she performs; her voice is light, clear, soaring, and secure, and she sings with great insight. In Seascapes, she is accompanied by the annoyingly hooty recorder of John Turner. In that cycle, the piano and recorder sound fine, but Thomas is so distantly miked that it sounds like she's singing from another room. The whacked-out balance makes those tracks almost unlistenable. The cycle that closes the album, Invocations, is the most fully successful and compelling because of the quality and variety of the music, Thomas' radiant performance, and decent engineering. Pianist Ian Burnside provides a sensitive and colorful accompaniment for all of the songs.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Mirages, song cycle for voice & piano|
|Nocturnes (6), for voice & piano|
|Seascapes, for voice, recorder & piano|
|Invocations, song cycle for voice & piano|