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6 Degrees Entertainment

Title - 'The Holy Sonnets' / 'A Young Man's Exhortation'
Artist - Vale Rideout (Tenor) / Caleb Harris (Piano)

For those not in the know, American tenor Vale Rideout has garnered critical acclaim for his musical artistry and superb stagecraft throughout the United States and Europe. Possessed of both a beautiful instrument and an ability to consistently deliver passionate, energetic performances, he is equally in demand for leading tenor roles from the standard repertory to contemporary works.

The Colorado native can be heard on this recently released solo CD of Britten and Finzi songs, as well as on live recordings of Rio de sangre (Albany Records, Grammy Award nomination) and, as Frank Shallard, in Elmer Gantry (on Naxos, received two Grammy awards, and voted No. 1 by Opera News “Best of the Year”), both produced by Florentine Opera.

Caleb Harris enjoys an active career as a pianist, conductor, chamber musician, and vocal and opera coach. He is equally at home at the keyboard and on the podium. Harris has appeared throughout the United States, Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Scotland, Slovenia, and Asia at many prestigious venues including Carnegie Hall, Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, and the National Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan.

Recorded in 2015 and produced by Geoffrey Silver, and featuring the compositions of both Benjamin Britten and Gerald Finzi, Rideout and Harris, remarkably, make both these works of art their own. If you were not completely in full knowledge, The Holy Sonnets — also known as the Divine Meditations or Divine Sonnets — are a series of nineteen poems by the English poet John Donne (1572–1631). The sonnets were first published in 1633—two years after Donne's death. The poems are sonnets and are predominantly in the style and form prescribed by Renaissance Italian poet Petrarch (or Francesco Petrarca) (1304–1374) in which the sonnet consisted of two quatrains (four-line stanzas) and a sestet (a six-line stanza).

However, several rhythmic and structural patterns as well as the inclusion of couplets are elements influenced by the sonnet form developed by English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (1564–1616). For all it is worth, neither Rideout nor Harris put a musical step wrong here. This is truly and incredible collection of these two works.

On the other hand, A Young Man’s Exhortation is a cycle, but has no narrative — unlike Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The thread is an emotional one, linking the young idealist as he matures to his gentle end under the yellowing trees. Over the first five songs Finzi set the quotation in Latin, ‘In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up’ (but even by song 4 the singer is imagining his own past obscurity) and over part II ‘In the evening it is cut down, and withereth’.

The first song begins lyrically, with imitation in the piano part, as if all set for a closed form; but it slackens into quasi-recitative for the questioning fourth verse; has a Holstian march bass at the mention of passing time, and ends (having started in A flat) on a surprising chord of E major—all characteristic Finzi procedures. The second song, apparently artless, is subtle in the way Finzi plays stress against metre to point up the words. ‘Budmouth Dears’ is deliberately more hearty, for contrast.

‘The Comet at Yell’ham’ is remote and still: poet and composer set our little human life in perspective, but without sitting in judgement. In ‘Former Beauties’ a vision, held in the memory, is re-lived. All five songs have their counterpart—in sentiment and form—in the later sets.

1. "Oh My Blacke Soule!" (3:48)
2. "Batter My Heart" (1:17)
3. "O Might Those Sighes and Teares" (3:45)
4. "Oh, To Vex Me" (1:08)
5. "What If This Present" (3:16)
6. "Since She Whom I Loved" (4:21)
7. "At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners" (3:09)
8. "Thou Hast Made Me" (1:27)
9. "Death, Be Not Proud" (4:42)
10. "A Young Man's Exhortation" (3:07)
11. "Ditty" (3:20)
12. "Budmouth Dears" (1:45)
13. "Her Temple" (1:50)
14. "The Comet At Yell'ham" (3:28)
15. "Shortening Days" (2:40)
16. "The Sigh" (3:30)
17. "Former Beauties" (3:02)
18. "Transformation" (1:44)
19. "The Dance Continued (Regret Not Me)" (4:34)