Voices of the Past and Present
“Your voice…is attracting the most discerning audiences.” In the 1994 film “Farinelli,” the actor and performer Graham F. Valentine looks down at the kneeling castrato, delivering faint praise in a nobleman’s reedy French. His normal speaking voice is a bass-baritone with a Scottish accent; he can also sing in a penetrating head voice. In this playlist, he covers music of great timbral diversity, from Liszt-era piano to thin music-hall vibrato to exhausted microtonal half-song.
Franz Liszt – Elegie No. 1, S. 196; Andrea Bonatta (Piano)
In this recording, the sense of loss and longing is enhanced by the understated dryness of the old piano Bonatta is using. I think it dates from Liszt’s time—possibly, it was even played by him. The first time I heard this piece was while rehearsing for Christoph Marthaler’s “Papperlapapp” in the Episcopal Palace in Avignon—it was played during the performances then by Bendix Detleffson ensconced in a window high on the façade.
Davie Stewart – “Dowie Dens o Yarrow”
This Borders ballad is about a young noble lady, courted by nine noblemen but in love with a young ploughboy who worked for her father. He fought the lords, but her brother treacherously came up from behind and slew him, leaving her to carry him home and die of grief. It is sung by a Traveller, accompanying himself—they have borne the oral ballad tradition through the centuries. Davie Stewart used to tour the back courts of the tenements in Dundee in the 1950s. He would sing ballads and music-hall songs and the denizens might toss him down a coin wrapped in newspaper.
Harry Fragson – “Amours Fragiles”
Fragson was a famous bilingual music-hall star of the turn of the last century, who was equally at home and celebrated onstage in London and Paris until October 1913, when, presaging the mechanism of what was about to ruin Europe, he was assassinated by his own father on returning from a charity performance in Paris.
Joseph – “Tricky”
“Angel, touch my face…..she gives to give a song.” I love this song’s edgy elegant urbanity, and its simplicity.
Enno Poppe – “Arbeit Nahrung Wohnung,” Schweiss
Enno Poppe – “Arbeit Nahrung Wohnung,” Bermudablick
These two selections are from Poppe’s opera about Robinson Crusoe on his desert island, which was premiered in Munich in 2008, with a text by Marcel Beyer. “I’ll give you a view of Bermuda…a bag…and other sweaty things,” he says. I have the solo voice here—on the first night I flaked out and had to be taken to hospital, but survived for the subsequent shows and on tour. Enno used choral Gaelic psalms as one of his main inspirations.
The McPeake Trio – “My Singing Bird”
An Irish love song. The McPeake family was very influential in the folk song revival of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Gerry Rafferty – “The Right Moment”
One day it might be possible to get it right. In the meantime this is comforting. ¶