SIR THOMAS ALLEN Bridgewater Hall
WHEN a singer is in their 70s, the voice is naturally not the same as it was in younger years.
I remember hearing Elisabeth Schwarzkopf give one of her last recitals in
, in the 1970s (she was in her 60s
then), and the legendary silvery tone was not what once it had been. But what
remained – intensified, if anything – was the artistry. Manchester
Sir Thomas Allen is probably on the cusp of that period in his career. There is power, and there is glorious tone, in his lovely baritone voice. But what you appreciate more is the skill and subtlety with which he uses it.
His recital on Wednesday night was part of the Bridgewater Hall’s series of events on open air and landscape themes, Echoes Of A Mountain Song. But Sir Thomas (and accompanist Joseph Middleton) had clearly been thinking of the time we’re in, as well as the place we’re from, in their choice of English song, and several of them bore distinct echoes of the centenary of the First World War’s tragic
Battle of the Somme.
Vaughan Williams’ Songs Of Travel began the programme. We heard five of them, ending with Youth And Love and In Dreams, giving a valedictory tone to the selection.
Sir Thomas’s resources are used to the full and most effectively in the lyrical and gentle Let Beauty Awake and The Roadside Fire, and there was real poetry in the understatement of the final songs.
John Ireland (local composer!) was represented by two Masefield settings, and the theme of Sea Fever continued in Michael Head’s The Estuary – a wonderful piece whose big impressionistic passage showed Joseph Middleton’s skills to evocative effect.
Sir Thomas is good at the combination of vigour and nostalgia we meet in Quilter’s Elizabethan and Shakespeare songs, and moving in the Housman settings of Somervell and Butterworth, which straddled the interval. We heard The Lads In Their Hundreds in both composers’ versions (with a gentle, loving postlude from Joseph Middleton to the Butterworth one), and Is My Team Ploughing – vividly characterized – was moving even though we knew the end that was coming.
After that there were lighter ditties – Northumbrian songs including a very entertaining Dance Ti Thy Daddy, and sentimental lyrics by Purcell, Penn and Coates. The trilling piano in Bird Songs At Eventide sounded almost like Schubert.
Finally two encores: VW’s Linden Lea (which, let it not be forgotten, was first heard in its original choral form at Hooton Roberts near Rotherham), and Limehouse Reach, by Michael Head, which showed Sir Thomas ending the evening with as much strength and finesse as he began it.