Thursday 24 July 2014

Anyone with the slightest interest in English song should acquire this new release from Metier of songs by David Dubery, coupled with his very fine string quartet

Just occasionally a new release comes along that highlights a very special talent. This is the case with a new release from Metier  of songs by David Dubery that are very much in the great tradition of English song.

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David Dubery (b.1948) was born in Durban, South Africa but returned with his family to Manchester, England where he studied piano with Eileen Chadwick and Kendall Taylor at the Northern School of Music. He went on to study composition with Dorothy Pilling. As a baritone, singing with the Halle and as an accompanist, song has been a major part of his life.

This new release, entitled Observations, brings together four collections of his songs as well as a string quartet and features tenor, James Gilchrist , mezzo soprano, Adrienne Murray , flautist, Michael Cox  and the Cavaleri Quartet .

Three songs for voice, flute and piano were written in 2012 and set poems by Douglas Gibson (1912-1984). This poet is something of a discovery, someone whose poetry I will seek out.

Swans in flight opens with a flowing melody for piano and flute before James Gilchrist enters. Dubery’s setting is sensitive to the natural flow and metre of the poems with Gilchrist in fine voice, adding to the sensitive use of the texts.

Dubery’s falling melody catches the feel of the poem, Lizard beautifully, as do the little piano inflections played here by the composer.

Piano and staccato flute open the upbeat setting of A memory.  This is very fine word setting indeed, driven forward by Dubery’s use of piano and flute.  

Written when the composer was just 16 years of age, Full fathom five: for alto voice and piano sets words by William Shakespeare. The piano introduces a melancholy theme before mezzo soprano, Adrienne Murray, enters in this wonderfully effective setting, beautifully sung. Once again the piano contribution adds so much to this striking setting. How Dubery draws from the texts so well, especially so early in his career. No wonder it won the composer a composition prize at the Northern School of Music.

First performed in 1982, Time will not wait: Three songs for tenor voice and piano were Dubery’s first setting of the poems of Douglas Gibson. James Gilchrist returns for these songs; the first of which is Winter journey that has a fast, forward moving piano part that sets the pace, conjuring up the atmosphere of a snow covered Cotswold journey.

There is a lovely opening to Cloud shadows, a gentler setting that exquisitely evokes the words Cloud shadows on the Hills, moving like ghostly sheep…’ especially in Gilchrist’s fine performance. Dubery’s feel for the words is so fine.

Time will not wait has a powerful opening for piano with Gilchrist capturing perfectly the ecstatic appreciation of Spring. David Dubery’s very fine playing is something that must be mentioned, so full of passion.

Night Songs: for voice, flute and piano are intended to be individual songs despite their mutual theme of the seasons.

One night in December takes the traditional words familiar as the carol Away in a manger. Dubery’s music also has a traditional feel as the flute and piano open before the familiar words appear in Dubery’s lovely setting, finely sung by Adrienne Murray.

Evening in April (2010) returns us to the verses of Douglas Gibson with a gentle, tentative opening from flute and piano. Adrienne Murray brings her full, beautiful toned voice to this setting that rises passionately in the central section. Dubery’s instrumental accompaniments add substantially to the lovely feeling of this song.

June evening (2010 rev.2013), another Douglas Gibson setting, again opens tentatively on piano before the flute enters with a slow, gentle melody.  Adrienne Murray is the soloist who enters on the inspired words ‘…There is genius here, in the delicate hand. That traced these exquisite pastels across the sky…’ And exquisite is exactly the word for this song, exquisitely sung by Murray. Surely this is one of the finest of English songs in recent times.

An August midnight (2010) a setting of Thomas Hardy has an almost Debussian flute opening. James Gilchrist returns for this last song of this group, remarkably fine verses so finely set by Dubery who brings out so much feeling and atmosphere.

Written in 1979, Observations: Six songs for voice and piano sets poems by Walter de la Mare and demonstrates Dubery’s lighter side with de la Mare’s entertaining texts. The barber’s has Dubery judging just the right feeling for this song that is finely sung by Adrienne Murray whose voice is so musical in The old sailor, full of lovely tones, in this curious little character picture.

The rhythmic setting of Esmeralda is again finely sung by Murray with a terrific ending. Yet for all the lighter side of these songs Dubery catches the fleeting nature of The window exquisitely, as does Murray in her beautifully judged performance. Pathos and humour are subtly combined in a finely judged setting Done for with a fine piano part.

If The old sailor was a character study then there is a more general observation of passing individuals in The promenade 1880, with de la Mare’s curious verses expertly set at a brisk walking pace with Adrienne Murray brilliant in the often tricky word settings. Again there is such a fine piano contribution from the composer.

The Cavaleri Quartet bring a particularly strong performance of David Dubery’s

Cuarteto Ibérico: Los fantasmas de los tiempos pasados (Ghost of times past) for string quartet, written in 2005 and recalling memories of Spain.

El bailarin en la plaza (The dancer in the square) is a sunny, vibrant movement that opens with Dubery passing his theme between the players. Soon a slower, more thoughtful passage arrives that has a particularly languid, Iberian flavour that grows richer in tone in a slow dance rhythm before regaining its momentum to lead to the coda.

En el Parque de Maria Luisa, Sevilla (In the Maria Luisa Park, Seville) opens with pizzicato decorations around a theme that grows and develops. Shimmering strings appear in this rather quixotic movement before a very Iberian melody for unison strings is heard, exquisitely played.

El mendigo en el Barri Gòtic, Barcelona (The beggar man in the Gothic Quarter, Barcelona) has a melancholy feel bringing more of Dubery’s fine ear for sonorities, well brought out by the Cavaleri Quartet. The music becomes rather passionate with little surges of energy before brightening at the last in a scamper to the end.

Carnaval has a slow opening that seems to lead out of the mood of the preceding movement, before attaining a vibrant mood, full of Iberian atmosphere with strummed strings, building through some lovely moments to the vibrant coda.

Throughout this fine quartet one is aware of Dubery’s fine ear for texture and sonorities. The Cavaleri Quartet give a first rate performance with fine ensemble, sensitivity and panache.

This new disc came as a real find. Anyone with the slightest interest in English song should snap it up, coupled as it is with a really fine string quartet.

The recordings made at the Carole Nash Recital Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester, England are excellent and there are informative booklet notes from William Ferguson and the composer.


  1. Stupidly, I hadn't come across this review till now. Agree with it completely, and wonder why we hear so little of this composer's work on Radio in the UK. Friends in Ireland and New Zealand are hear these tracks regularly. His earlier CD of Songs and Chamber Music is similarly attractive, with players like Craig Ogden, Richard Simpson and Graham Salvage and again that lovely mezzo voice of Adrienne Murray. Try that one too!

  2. i like ENGLISH SONGS very much i like that songs