Magazine article Gramophone

Tenor Hulett Sings Greene's Spenser-Inspired Songs

Magazine article Gramophone

Tenor Hulett Sings Greene's Spenser-Inspired Songs

Article excerpt

M Greene

Spenser's Amoretti--25 Sonnet Settings Benjamin Hulett ten Luke Green hpd Giangiacomo Pinardi theo Naxos (S) 8 572891 (66' * DDD * T)

The songs of Maurice Greene are not exactly well known, any more than are most English art-songs from Handel's time. Emma Kirkby has championed a small selection over the years and recorded some for Musica Oscura (8/95) but this release of his settings of 25 Spenser poems documenting a successful courtship is so far the most substantial project in their honour.

Published in 1739, the songs are contemporary with Handel's own period of engagement in his oratorios with English literary giants such as Milton, Dryden and Congreve, and it cannot be denied that the music of both composers gains an extra thread of quality thereby. Handel was often disparaging of his colleague but a few minutes spent with Greene's music are enough to reveal an elegance of line that, more than Handel's, anticipates the sweet and artful simplicity of later-18th-century English song. In the Amoretti he responds strongly to Spenser's imagery and there are numerous sensitive and subtle mood-shifts, but Greene can also see beyond the words occasionally, as when adding a dart of jealous spite to Sonnet XXVIII. True, inspiration does not always run so high; there are flat moments, and claims that have been made for the whole set as a prototype songcycle are not supported by any sense of musical continuity from one song to another. The best, however, are definitely worthy of a hearing; the concluding 'Like as the Culver' strikes me as very fine. …

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