Sarah Connolly spins 20th-century English songs into gold in this new recital, the latest in a string of excellent solo discs from the English mezzo. It’s hard to believe that just seven years ago, Connolly was obliged to self-fund her first solo album – she’s a natural in the recording studio, singing with irresistible warmth and unfailing elegance.
On the operatic stage, where many of her signature roles put her in breeches, Connolly can swagger with the best of them; in the quieter and more intimate world of art song, she’s just as vivid but in a very different way.
English art songs are prone, rightly or wrongly, to being viewed as twee or irretrievably stuffy. Not so in Connolly’s care. Even the most familiar folk tune – Britten’s arrangement of O Waly Waly for example – is sung with hushed intensity, and Connolly handles lyrics about flowers and fields with as much sincerity as she does darker fare, such as Gurney’s stark By a Bierside.
Her diction and phrasing are so exemplary that one ceases to notice them and is simply caught up in the finely wrought world of each song, be it a tale of lost love, a paean to nature or a sacred subject: Britten’s Corpus Christi Carol, for instance, provides one of this recital’s most moving performances, while Howells’ extraordinary King David is a melancholy masterpiece.
Malcolm Martineau’s gorgeous, perceptive playing matches Connolly breath for breath, bringing out just as deftly as she does the depth, variety and sheer beauty of this repertoire.