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Em Marshall
Albion Magazine Online, January 2009

Another good addition to Naxos' English Song Series, this is full of effective songs and performances. Jeremy Huw Williams' strong baritone is accompanied by Iain Burnside's piano in the song cycle Mirages, and in Six Nocturnes (recorded here for the first time). Elin Manahan Thomas, with her soaring light soprano, and Burnside are joined on Seascapes by John Turner on treble recorder, which lends the cycle a sometimes folk-like, sometimes slightly mysterious air. The disc is concluded by the song-cycle Invocations for soprano and piano.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, October 2008

Mirages is a set of poems to words by the composer himself. There’s rippling unease and appropriately so in the first, Undine, in which Jeremy Huw Williams’s quite wide vibrato brings an almost quasi-operatic force.  The juxtaposition of flitting nature and stasis in the second is equally dramatically effective. Romantic warmth and ardour vie with stentorian pain (‘Do not leave me’) in the third, The Honeysuckle. And the remorseless pounding and anguished declamation of the final lines of Metronome are almost brutal in their starkness. This is no complaisant cycle, and it doesn’t shirk the big, bleak picture. In the last song for instance he surveys himself in the mirror with the pitiless scrutiny of Lucian Freud—the disbelief at the sagging of the flesh, ending finally with some sort of reconciliation. Love, loss, disillusion, decay, death, extinction of self; big issues then but not bleakly set. Characterful and full of vitality in fact; fearful, yes, but absorbed by the struggle and by the need to see oneself unflinchingly.

The Six Nocturnes followed three years later and are not quite so forcefully descriptive. There is muted romanticism here and nature setting too; the urgent rain in Summer’s Rain speaks of love’s fissures. The spooky hallucination of Visitation brings one up short and it’s in a setting such as Circle that we are most reminded of the starkness of Mirages; the poems are by Michael Armstrong as they are in Invocations and Seascapes. The latter is a cycle of seven poems set in 1977 by Alwyn. Thee opening of an Alwyn cycle tends to be rather remote; here there’s a withdrawn, remote romanticism at play. The second song Holding the Night strikes me as lacking the dramatic vocal line necessary fully to convey the compressed intense romanticism of the poem. But certainly those who lived through the rainless summer of 1976 will appreciate the parched chordal accompaniment in Drought. The poem that gives its name to the cycle, more fully Invocation to the Queen of Moonlight, is simply beautiful, one of Alwyn’s most mysterious, refractive and lovely inventions. And the cycle ends excitingly with Our Magic Horse, energetically and vitally sung by Elin Manahan Thomas, though her tone can lose body in higher registers.

Seascapes is written for soprano, treble recorder (John Turner) and piano. Thomas sings with almost bloodless purity here, especially in Sea-Mist but of the four I am most taken by the wheeling, wheedling uplift and gentle current-surfing of the Black Gulls. Alwyn composes about birds almost as well as Rex Warner writes poetry about them.

There is another exciting thing here as well. Slum Song, to words by MacNeice is a ballad, reflective, elegant and heard in its first ever recording. The Nocturnes are world premiere recordings as well.

Throughout Iain Burnside plays with a true vein of poetry and sensitivity. There are full texts and the notes by the composer are augmented by those of Andrew Knowles and John Turner.

Some real discoveries here—lucid and fearful poetry transmuted into self-knowledge via the composer’s consoling self-awareness.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, August 2008

…baritone Jeremy Huw Williams…sings with passion and interpretive insight. …Elin Manahan Thomas's pure, crystalline soprano soars…one is bathed in a delicate shower of silvery tone. …Iain Burnside is a marvelously sensitive pianist whose phrasing, pedaling, sense of drama and color are all outstanding. John Turner is one of the finest recorder-players I've heard in a long time; his tone is so golden that it sounds almost exactly like a traverse flute. I enjoyed Seascapes tremendously, but was less taken with the other works. Caveat emptor.

Robert R. Reilly, July 2008

After giving us British composer William Alwyn's orchestral music, including his Five Symphonies, Naxos had added three more CDs featuring his piano music (8.570359), song cycles (8.570201) and chamber music (8.570340). The latter contains some real jewels, like the Sonata Impromptu for Violin and Viola, and the Three Winter Poems for String Quartet. All praise to Naxos for giving Alwyn (1905-1985) his belated due.

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, May 2008

Jeremy Huw Williams brings conspicuous ardour and intelligence to the task in hand, though the voice is prone to harden under pressure and his vibrato takes a little getting used to (the ear does adjust, though). Elin Manahan Thomas sings with chaste purity and unfailing accuracy… It almost goes without saying that lain Burnside proffers immaculate support. © 2008 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

R Moore
American Record Guide, May 2008

"Though he wrote prolifically in many genres William Alwyn (1905-85) is probably best known for his film music (Swiss Family Robinson, The Running Man, A Night to Remember, Desert Victory, and Safari are among his 70 film scores—one source credits him with as many 200). Alwyn taught composition at the Royal Academy of Music from 1926 to 1955. His film music, symphonies, and chamber music are well represented by available recordings, but his songs are hardly represented."

"Turning to vocal composition toward the end of his life, Alwyn composed his major works for the voice between 1965 and 1980, including the four song-cycles included here. Texts are by the composer himself, the Irish poet Louis MacNeice, and Alwyn's good friend, Michael Armstrong. The liner notes indicate that seven of the songs are recorded here for the first time."

"Alwyn's 1980 Seascapes are delightful—four songs for soprano, recorder, and piano with words by Michael Armstrong. Especially delightful is the singing of Elin Manahan Thomas, whose 2007 release 'Eternal Light became a best-seller. Some may find her singing a bit rarefied and emotionally distant but her ethereal voice has rare beauty and her high notes have crystal clarity as she soars to Bs and Cs with apparent ease. The recorder enhances the music particularly well. The purity of sound that has made Thomas such an important member of the Monteverdi Choir The Sixteen, the Gabrieli Consort, Polyphony, Ex Cathedra, and the Cambridge Singers serves her well in these songs.""

"Williams sings two baritone cycles Mirages and Nocturnes, composed for Benjamin Luxon in 1970 and 1973 with excellent perspicacity and articulation of the words. The ever admirable Iain Burnside offers his usual excellent accompaniment Notes and texts."

Andrew Stewart
Classic FM, March 2008

Superb music making and artistry in this excellent release - a winner at any price. Alwyn's striking individuality as a songwriter emerges in sharp relief here.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2008

Last month I was expressing my gratitude to Naxos for their William Alwyn piano series, little realising that we were to have this indispensable disc of his vocal music. Born in 1905, Alwyn saw his education at London’s Royal Academy brought to a close with the untimely death of his father, his need to add to the family income being his prime concern. Thankfully a few years later his mentors were able to offer him employment as a composition tutor at the Academy, which restored him to the musical world. His life was to further change when he found a demand for his music in the film industry, the 60 major scores largely funding his time as a ‘serious’ composer. Sadly the music establishment did not see a place for his music in the ‘brave new world’, and starved of that support, audience and critical acclaim was not sufficient to place his output in the mainstream repertoire. In style the songs sit between Vaughan Williams and Britten, always tonal, they largely come from his last creative period, 1965 to 1980, the words taking Alwyn through so many moods, and often mirror the type of narrative we find in Schumann and Schubert song cycles. They make few technical demands on the performers, but they do call on the singer to find a strong characterisation, the opening cycle Mirages bringing together love and death, the dividing line being so slender in Alwyn’s six poems. Apart from the brief Slum Song the remaining cycles are to words by Michael Armstrong, each in their own way dealing with our transitory existence, Everything is Now, at the opening of the Six Nocturnes, one of the saddest songs I have encountered. Mirages and Six Nocturnes are for baritone, with Seascapes and Invocations set for soprano, and in general I feel Alwyn was more fluid when writing for the female voice. They are performed by two of the UK’s most experienced singers, Jeremy Huw Williams, a familiar name in the opera house, most convincing when he can open up his voice in the more dramatic moments. That acts as an ideal foil to the gorgeous floating quality of Elin Manahan Thomas, her intonation so perfectly centered. She is joined in the haunting Seascapes by the recorder of John Turner, the whole disc accompanied by Iain Burnside, a pianist steeped in the English song tradition.The sound quality is all you could ever wish for.

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