What do you think a specialized blog in 20th & 21th century Opera and one about Art Song have in common? Apart from this strong impulse to talk over minority subjects? Well, they have in common Strauss, Britten, Korngold, Berg... many composers. The two of us, OperaXX and Liederabend, thought that it would be a nice idea to talk about the same new composer in both blogs this week. I can give you a hint for his name: we are going to listen to newest song in this blog so far. But let's go step by step...
L'abadia a la roureda - C.D. Friedrich
L'abadia a la roureda - C.D. Friedrich
“What do you know about Philippe Sly?” A friend of mine asked me last summer. I didn't know anything about him, so I did some research. The first thing that Mr Google told me was that Philippe Sly is a Canadian bass baritone who has two recordings, the first of which, released a year ago, is an Art Song recorded with the pianist Michael McMahon: En rêves/In dreams/In Träumen, I usually test new recordings by picking some songs I already know, so I can concentrate on the singing rather than on the song. My choice sounded interesting: Sly has a beautiful timbre and he knows what he is doing (I mean, he is aware that he's singing song, not opera; that's something that not every young singer would remember). He sounded quite expressive in some songs, in others not that much, but as a whole the recording was requesting for a new complete audition.

While listening to the recording I found out something more about Philippe Sly: he's only 24 and that’s a complete different story. Because when a singer his age sings as he does he is not just interesting but really interesting! That's why I thought of putting him on this blog, to share with you the find; please, when you listen to him, would you let me now your thoughts? Is he worth following? Or have I been affected by my baritonephilia?

I had almost finished listening to the album and chosen a song to share, when I got to the last three. That was my second find. The last three songs form a short cycle by Jonathan Dove, Three Songs Tennyson. Jonathan Dove is an English composer born in 1959, well known for his operas (OperaXX this week’s is about one of them, Siren Song), but I didn't know that he had also written songs, again some more research had to be done. There are several song cycles in Dove's catalogue, most of them without commercial recording yet; the latest, premiered in April 2001 by Philip Sly and Esther Gonthier is exactly the one I had just listened. On these songs, the composer said:

“I wrote Three Tennyson Songs as a gift for Philippe Sly, in celebration of a musical friendship. When we first met in Banff in the summer of 2009, I was amazed by the sheer beauty of his voice, and the confidence of his musicianship. Accompanying him was a delight—in Schumann, at first, and other lieder.

Later on, I discovered that he could improvise with rare ease, and so we would choose a poem and extemporise together. I had wanted to set Tennyson’s O Swallow, Swallow for some time, and had also thought about Dark House from In Memoriam, Tennyson’s great outpouring of grief for his lost friend. I chose The Sailor-boy as a contrast, to make a rousing finale.

I listened to Dove's songs more than once but then, there was that second one Dark House... that I had to listen over and over again. As the composer says, Dark House is one of the cantos, the seventh, from Alfred Tennyson's poem In Memoriam, dedicated to his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died in 1833 at the age 22. The verses convey great sadness; the poet goes during the night to his friend's house because grief doesn't allow him to sleep, and he stays there until dawn, when life comes back to the street. Dove's song begins with the voice absorbed on memories and with an obsessive piano accompaniment, until movement around the poet makes him to come back to reality, and then we hear his rage...

I hope you enjoy both the song and the performer, from Liederabend we wish Philippe Sly the best of lucks and a long and successful career.

Dark House 

Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street.
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, waiting for a hand.

A hand that can be clasped no more –
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.

He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day.


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