Classical home listening: the fruits of lockdown

Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne work as one on a set of French piano works recorded last March, while a postponed April wedding sparked Isolation Songs

• The cover image of French Duets (Hyperion) gives away one secret of the music the pianists Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne perform – or, rather, the way they play it: in Boaters Rowing on the Yerres by Caillebotte, two mighty rowers hold one oar each, pulling with equal weight. What appears deceptively easy – Fauré’s Dolly, Debussy’s Petite suite, Stravinsky’s Three Easy Pieces – requires perfect equilibrium between the players.

This sunny, wistful recital by two of the greatest British pianists currently working was recorded at Saffron Hall, Essex, on 22 and 23 March last year. Given that the UK was on the brink of its first lockdown, with all the confusion of that time, we’re lucky it went ahead. The unruffled, laconic mood of this album, which culminates in Ravel’s Ma mère l’oye, suavely played, gives no hint of a world in chaos.

Isolation Songbook (Delphian), by the mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston, baritone Michael Craddock and pianist Alexander Soares, was recorded in the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, last September. This collection of 15 new songs, written at Charlston’s request in response to the pandemic, provides a snapshot of our almost incredible lives: from a postponed wedding (Charlston and Craddock themselves are the couple, their cancelled happy day marked in song by Owain Park) to daily exercise and valuing nature anew, to baking – in Melancholy (and Buttercream) by Kerensa Briggs.

Some of the songs are settings of new poems; other poems are already known. Richard Barnard sets three Early Stroll tweets by Ian McMillan, each in contrasting mood. Ben Rowarth makes merry theatre out of AA Milne’s The King’s Breakfast; Derri Joseph Lewis conjures a miniature out of Mary Elizabeth Coleridge’s A Moment. Héloïse Werner, Elliott Park and Gerda Blok-Wilson are included in this lovely, accomplished miscellany of composers, poets and moods.

Helen Charlston, Michael Craddock and Alexander Soares (piano) recording Isolation Songs.
Helen Charlston, Michael Craddock and Alexander Soares (piano) recording Isolation Songs. Photograph: Calum McMillan

• The music of the island of Ireland should be better known. When did you last hear the violin concerto by Ina Boyle, a pupil of Vaughan Williams? Me neither. Or Stanford’s Irish Rhapsody No 4, described by Radio 3 as “a folk-song infused evocation of misty Lough Neagh”? The Ulster Orchestra is playing these, together with Brian Irvine’s Secret Cinema and Deirdre Gribbin’s Empire States; Sunday, 2.30pm, Radio 3/BBC Sounds.

• This article was amended on 13 March 2021 to clarify that the recording of French Duets was completed before England’s first lockdown, which began on the evening of 23 March 2020.

Contributor

Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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