Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Hugh Cutting / Christopher Glynn review – the Ryedale Festival continues its superb amuse-bouche recitals

2 May 2023

Hugh Cutting is the first countertenor to become a BBC New Generation Artist.


Christopher Glynn & Hugh Cutting (Photo: Ryedale Festival)

Hugh Cutting was also the first countertenor to win the Kathleen Ferrier prize, and he did so in a year when the finalists were a particularly strong bunch, including the superb mezzo Helen Charlston. It’s typical of the Ryedale Festival that it should have snapped him up so early in his career, and this recital, in the glorious setting of Pickering’s 12th century church, confirmed the promise of his winning talents. A former vicar of the church regarded its famous wall paintings as rather crude, and likely to distract the parishoners from the service; no chance of that here, with such vibrant singing and virtuoso playing.

It’s a bit of an understatement to call the programme varied, since it featured music from the mid-17th century to the 21st via a detour into the 19th, but the theme was ‘Untethered’ from Michael A. Singer’s book The Untethered Soul which is based on the idea of liberation from the patterns of thinking that ‘disturb’ our daily lives. We found this a trifle tenuous, but it did nothing to detract from the performances.

Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea provided the first piece in the programme; Ottone’s opening aria, at first full of the joys of anticipated love, but with hopes soon dashed by the presence of Nero in his home. It’s the ideal vehicle for this voice – obviously since it was written for just this tessitura – and Hugh Cutting gloried in its long phrases and convoluted lines. It would have been a good idea for someone to have provided a translation in the programme – after all, ‘Linden Lea’ which is set to an English poem, was printed there.

“…this recital… confirmed the promise of his winning talents”

Hugh Cutting

Hugh Cutting (Photo: Roger Hillman)

Two songs from 19th century German Lieder were the centrepiece of the concert’s first half, and here one sensed that the voice still has time to grow into the works. It felt as though the performers had said “Let’s take the Schubert song with the most challenging high notes, and the Wolf song with equally challenging low notes…” and indeed they did, Schubert’s ‘Ganymed’ giving Christopher Glynn plenty of opportunity to display his mastery of the contrasts in the composer’s piano writing, and Wolf’s ‘Herr, was trägt der Boden hier’ allowing the singer to demonstrate his affinity with a sombre narrative.

Vaughan Williams’ Linden Lea sets one of the Dorset poet William Barnes’ most beloved works, and here both singer and pianist captured the mood of Barnes’ love of nature and defiance of the urban, as well as the composer’s echoing of those qualities in his wonderfully free, flowing music. Reynaldo Hahn’s much loved À Chloris was equally well served, with Glynn’s subtle playing of the Bach-like accompaniment and Cutting’s persuasive phrasing and diction.

The scheduled programme closed with songs from Piers Connor Kennedy’s Rough Rhymes, which sets texts from the English priest, soldier and poet Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy. The poems are moving in their simplicity, and the musical settings capture their qualities. An enthusiastic audience was given a very well chosen encore in the shape of Purcell’s Music for a While, which like the afternoon’s first piece was the ideal vehicle for this voice; it was dedicated to the great James Bowman.

• This performance was recorded for BBC Radio 3’s Lunchtime Concert series. It will be broadcast on 9 May at 13.00.

• Details of the Ryedale Festival can be found here.

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Hugh Cutting / Christopher Glynn review – the Ryedale Festival continues its superb amuse-bouche recitals