Jonathan Lemalu - Love Blows as the Wind Blows
This is an attractive programme but two items in particular are sure to draw me back to it. George Butterworth’s Love blows as the wind blows is rarely heard, though each of the four songs (settings of unfashionable but newly appealing poems by William Henley) carries the mark of true feeling. The composer’s arrangement for accompaniment by string quartet adds interest – this appears to be the only available recording in this form.
Richard Rodney Bennett’s Songs Before Sleep is also without another recording to compete, this time rather more unsurprisingly since the little set of three nursery rhymes was sung first by Lemalu (its dedicatee) as recently as 2003. These are utterly delightful, each with a lively and pianistically tricky accompaniment immaculately played by Malcolm Martineau. Perhaps a personal reminiscence is in order, as I must surely be of the last generation of children brought up to fear the terrors of Bonaparte in the rhyme Baby, baby, naughty baby, ‘as he gallops past the house’ and the awful fate of infants who crossed his path: ‘limb from limb at once he’ll tear you, just as pussy tears a mouse’. Compared with this, Arnold Weinstein’s Black Max is a joke and William Bolcom’s music a slick job for cabaret.
Other works in the programme (the Finzi and Barber especially) speak for themselves; but it is really about the singer that I find myself in some uncertainty. He has a fine voice, though I don’t admire its production (not enough legato). He is, up to a point, expressive, careful about words – yet I don’t truly find him responsive. His face doesn’t light up of a sudden; he holds a rather set expression, unsmiling, untenderising, fundamentally uninteresting. At present I see him as a gifted singer, but still more (in his recording career at least) as a lucky one.