Alfred Deller is the focal point in this intriguing selection of music. The other twin figures to provide columnar support are Michael Tippett – who first ‘discovered’ Deller at Canterbury Cathedral – and Walter Bergmann, the émigré German composer and performer who did so much to further the revival of early music in Britain. Almost inevitably Morley College looms large, as that’s where Tippett invited Deller to perform at his early concerts, where Tippett was a central figure and Bergmann the accompanist for Tippett’s Morley Choir.
Musically the focus is on the counter-tenor voice and the recorder. Bergmann’s brief 1946 Pastorale features both. First performed in Canterbury by Deller to whom it was dedicated, and Delia Ruhm, on the flute, it effectively amplifies the text by poet Norman Cameron. It’s sung here with considerable artistry by Robin Blaze. Bergmann’s Three Songs for counter-tenor and guitar is a short cycle originally dating from 1973 when there was a fourth song. Revision a decade later saw the omission of the Easter Hymn and substantial revision of the remaining three songs. Quite spare in the main, the very brief last song is the most athletic and is sung by James Bowman.
Tippett’s Four Inventions were premièred by Bergmann and fellow recorder player Freda Dinn in 1954. Brief though they are they do require some dexterity and fine breath control. Tippett’s clever use of entwining figures and – in particular – fanfare-like moments is especially ingenious. Peter Racine Fricker’s Elegy: The Tomb of St. Eulalia is almost contemporaneous with the Tippett. It was first performed by Deller, viola da gamba player Desmond Dupré and harpsichordist George Malcolm. Bowman, husbanding his vocal reserves well, sings with accustomed musicality and insight. Alan Ridout’s Soliloquy dates from much later, 1985, and was written in memoriam for David Munrow (1942-76). Two of the performers in its first performance appear, happily, in this recording: James Bowman and John Turner, who are also central players in this disc. It deliberately invokes the music of Campion and has a particularly expressive cello line, played here by Tim Smedley. At the first performance the cellist was Christopher van Kampen, and Robert Spencer the lutenist. After this performance Ridout omitted the lute, redistributing its writing amongst the other instruments.
William Williams is a little-known contemporary of Purcell and his tuneful sonata for two recorders and harpsichord, played by Ian Thompson – well balanced in St Thomas’s, Stockport – makes an immediate appeal not least because of the bird imitations and the rapport between Turner and Laura Robinson. Handel’s Sonata in F major, for the same instrumentation, was given its first performance in modern times by Turner and David Pugsley. It’s good that the former has recorded it here, with Robinson and Thompson.
Deller left behind a wonderful recording of John Blow’s Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell – with Bergmann, incidentally, on Vanguard. Bowman too has recorded it before, with René Jacobs, Max von Egmond, Anner Bylsma and Gustav Leonhardt. Bowman and Blaze make a good team, though one would have difficulty preferring Bowman’s older self to his younger, inevitably.
This interestingly programmed and thoughtfully prepared disc comes with good notes and texts. It salutes Deller’s memory and continuing influence. It also restores works associated with him, written by his contemporaries that may have become eclipsed in the years since his death.
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