Nights Not Spent Alone
For her second solo album, the British mezzo Kitty Whately has set down authoritative accounts of what is billed as the ‘complete works for mezzo-soprano’ by Jonathan Dove. These consist of five song-cycles, prefaced by the unaccompanied and ultra-sensuous ‘My Love is Mine’ of 1997 (words from the Song of Songs), a superb mini-scena in its own right. Also from that year are the Five Am’rous Sighs, whose superficial, syllabic simplicity belies an acute sensitivity and ability to switch moods on a bar line. The fourth song, ‘All these dismal looks’, stands out for its bouncing freshness. The whole set is engaging and definitely faces towards North American models (Barber and Copland spring to mind).
Dove joins an illustrious parade of composers who have set Ursula Vaughan Williams’s verses. All the Future Days (composed in 2004) makes greater demands on the pianist, especially in ‘The Siren’. Here – as on the rest of the disc – Simon Lepper is on fantastic form. He clearly relishes the poundingly angry Latin American/Bernsteinian inflections of the outer songs of the three Federico García Lorca settings of Cut My Shadow.
The CD’s title-cycle, Nights Not Spent Alone, was a BBC Radio 3 commission for Whately. There is a strong flavour of Britten in these Edna St Vincent Millay settings, especially in the first song, ‘Recuerdo’. Whately is at her most vividly dramatic in the concluding, soaring ‘I too beneath your moon’.
All You Who Sleep Tonight (1996) was composed for Nuala Willis, an important muse for Dove. Vikram Seth’s taut verses receive a variety of pithy treatments: the cheeky ‘Prandial Plaint’, the timeless ‘Dark Road’ and the hypnotic ‘Night Watch’ are just three further highlights on this beautifully crafted disc.
We can only hope that following this outstanding release Dove will not avoid future opportunities to write mezzo soprano song-cycles.