HOLLOWAY The Lover's Well
Song forms (or, more generally, vocal music) do not play such an important role in Robin Holloway’s creative output as for, say, Schubert or Wolf. Nevertheless, much of his music is informed or influenced in some way by ‘texts’ of various kinds, be they in the form of overt allusions to pre-existing vocal works, secret programmes and subtexts percolating underneath the surface, or echoes – distant or near – of other composers’ ‘voices’.
Marking Holloway’s 75th birthday, this album traces his preoccupation with music and text, both explicitly in the form of song-settings and cycles and implicitly in a work that treats music as text. The latter is reflected in Souvenirs de Monsalvat – a substantial eight-movement suite for piano duet which recomposes material from Wagner’s Parsifal in a manner evoking French Wagner send-ups of the late 19th century. Such a musical homage about other musical homages may not be to everyone’s taste but Souvenirs de Monsalvat manages to imbue Wagner’s original material with wit, colour, youth and candour.
Holloway’s ability to reconcile opposites of various kinds often sees him exploring that murky middle ground between tonality and atonality. ‘The Zodiac Song’ – John Ruskin’s characterful inventory in rhyming couplets – provides Holloway with the means by which to shift effortlessly between styles through word- and sound-association, allusion and symbolisation. His setting of Shelley’s ‘The Food of Love’ also fuses consonance and dissonance within a tensile, unsettling tonal idiom that eventually rests on a glowing E major triad.
However, the standout work on this recording is the song-cycle The Lovers’ Well. With baritone Simon Wallfisch providing colourful and effective characterisation and Edward Rushton providing excellent support, Holloway manages to impart a strong sense of dramatic and thematic integration despite the selective nature of the setting (selections from Geoffrey Hill’s ‘The Pentecost Castle’). Here is a music that, despite its multifarious origins, is always, in Geraint Lewis’s words, ‘masterly in realisation’.