‘Wistful settings... lyrical… always accessible.’   The Sunday Times (Hugh Canning)

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Programme Notes

The musicality of Michael Donaghy’s poetry is often remarked upon, and perhaps this is what drew me to his texts – a musicality that is more than just pervasive lyricism, one that extends to his precision of gesture and cadence and a delight in the union of formal elegance with expressive heft.  But I think what I love is the magic, and with it the making-strange, whether of poem-as-spell or of a seemingly quotidian observation. The magic holds me.

The five poems in this set are selected from across Donaghy’s output and are unrelated, though ‘Tears’ and ‘The River in Spate’ are placed next to each other in his third collection, Conjure. They are not intended to present a coherent narrative, nor are they a cycle – though the music offers cyclic elements, and a narrative could be constructed if desired. I chose them because I could hear them sung as I read them, and – with the exception of The Tuning, whose exposition-heavy text required a different approach – I set them as songs: simple, often strophic vocal lines and a piano part focusing on a single figuration, as in classic Lieder.

After an extended introduction, ‘The Present’ places cycling pairs of vocal phrases against ever-expanding piano descents. ‘The River in Spate’ and ‘Tears’ both offer types of musical near-suspended animation. In ‘The Tuning’ the piano takes the melodic lead, sinuous counterpoint enveloping the narrator’s arioso. The final song, ‘Two Spells for Sleeping’, practices a hypnotism of unceasing pulsation and not-quite-repeating loops to create an uneasy lullaby of departure: In the soft dark welling, / two tales to be telling, / one spell for sleeping, / one for kissing, / for leaving.

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Reviews

‘…wistful settings of verbally virtuosic yet thoughtful poems, in a lyrical arioso recitative… always accessible... I hope to hear this lovely mezzo sing them again in the future.’
The Sunday Times (Hugh Canning), 27 October 2019

The Tuning

Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham (Birmingham, United Kingdom)

Marta Fontanals-Simmons, Christopher Glynn

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The Tuning

St John the Evangelist (Oxford, United Kingdom)

Marta Fontanals-Simmons, Christopher Glynn

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