Solitude review | Erica Jeal's classical album of the month

Gilchrist/Tilbrook
(Chandos)
Singer James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook explore aspects of being alone with composers including Purcell and Schubert on a powerful, poised album


Four kinds of solitude are here explored by the tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook – and it’s safe to say it carries far greater resonance for listeners now than they can have imagined in the studio last summer.

James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook: Solitude album art work
James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook: Solitude album art work Photograph: PR Handout

The music spans more than 300 years. For Purcell, being alone is the spark for the kind of melancholy, painful and yet delicious, that renaissance poets found irresistible. His 1685 song O Solitude, My Sweetest Choice is sung, with finely calibrated intensity, in the 1955 arrangement by Britten, in which a solemn piano accompaniment opens up the space around the melody and turns the focus outwards, making the introspection into something that feels universal.

For Schubert, solitude is a kind of nirvana, attained and appreciated at the end of a long life – or at least that is how he portrayed it in 1818 in his relatively little-heard first song cycle, Einsamkeit. Jonathan Dove’s 2017 cycle Under Alter’d Skies, setting words by Tennyson to somewhat static melodies winding over mesmerically repeating piano lines, examines grief at the loss of a soulmate; Barber’s 1953 Hermit Songs, setting the margin-jottings of medieval Irish monks, explore the feeling of being at peace with one’s ranging thoughts.

Together these make for a rewarding programme that repays concentration. Gilchrist is, as ever, a hugely clear and communicative singer, in perfect balance with Tilbrook’s sense of focus and poise, even if at some moments in the Barber the piano seems a bit tasteful when something gaudier is called for. As a team, they are highly effective at building slow-burning tension, shaping long crescendos while holding just a little bit back. In that way, it’s the Purcell that’s arguably the highlight; its ending, with Gilchrist holding the final note as if he’ll never let go, is quietly devastating, a sting in the tail that might be felt especially by those who have recently experienced solitude not by choice.

This week’s other pick

Is a previously missing piece in the quirky puzzle that is Carl Nielsen. A century ago, with Denmark celebrating the redrawing of its borders following the first world war, Nielsen wrote incidental music for a triumphant allegorical play by Helge Rode, The Mother. Recorded in its entirety for the first time, played and sung with panache by all-Danish forces conducted by Andreas Delfs, it’s a score of almost operatic scope, going way beyond mere nationalism in its storytelling flair.

Contributor

Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Vanitas: Lieder by Schubert, Beethoven and Rihm review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
Nigl’s controlled, supple voice is aided by Pashchenko’s fierce accompaniment in a thoughtful selection

Andrew Clements

05, Nov, 2020 @3:45 PM

Article image
Schubert: Sonatas & Impromptus review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
A 19th-century Viennese fortepiano shows off its special tonal qualities in this magnificent detailed and expressive double disc set

Andrew Clements

11, Apr, 2019 @11:00 AM

Article image
Peter Grimes review | Erica Jeal's classical album of the week
Britten’s opera sounds huge and thrilling in a nuanced recording with sparkling interplay between singers and orchestra – it’s rarely sounded better

Erica Jeal

03, Sep, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
Schubert Symphony No 9 review | Erica Jeal's classical album of the week
Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev inspires the SCO in Schubert’s massive work, with grandeur and great washes of feeling

Erica Jeal

14, Nov, 2019 @3:00 PM

Article image
Dausgaard/Appl/BBCSSO: Kullervo review – thrilling and intense account of Sibelius' epic
Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony conjure grand landscapes and a rousing plot with Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl the persuasive soloists

Erica Jeal

27, Jun, 2019 @2:30 PM

Article image
Schumann: Myrthen review – warm and poetic songs for a wedding | Andrew Clements' classical album of the week
Christian Gerhaher, Gerold Huber and Camilla Tilling deliver bright and varied recordings of songs the composer wrote for his wife

Andrew Clements

24, Oct, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Britten: Songs – review
Ian Bostridge, Antonio Pappano and Xuefei Yang bring out the sharply different characters of these three Britten song cycles quite superbly, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

30, May, 2013 @4:27 PM

Article image
Heart & Hereafter: Songs of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor | Erica Jeal's classical album of the week
The soprano’s debut, singing 25 songs by the mixed-race Victorian composer, is a delight – she and pianist Lepper really mine their essence

Erica Jeal

27, May, 2021 @2:00 PM

Article image
Clairières: Songs by Lili and Nadia Boulanger review – perfect advocacy for sibling composers
Tenor Nicholas Phan and pianist Myra Hang do perfect justice to vocal works by the Boulanger sisters, illustrating their contrasting stylistic leanings

Andrew Clements

30, Jan, 2020 @3:00 PM

Article image
LSO/Pappano review - intense and unsparing emotional directness
A programme of Britten and Vaughan Williams was played with a gathering ferocity, though a glimmer of hope shone through

Tim Ashley

16, Mar, 2020 @5:48 PM