"Songs of Madeline Dring," released in 2013 by Cambria, features mezzo-soprano Wanda Brister, tenor Stanford Olsen, and Timothy Hoekman, piano. Dring, a British composer who studied composition with Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells and orchestration with Gordon Jacob, only published four songs during her short lifetime. Her husband Roger Lord, principal oboist of the London Symphony Orchestra for over 30 years, championed her work, even transcribing some pieces by hand. Slowly, they have become part of the standard repertoire, and are well worth the wait.
This two-CD set compiles all of Dring's songs and presents them largely in the order in which they were composed. Interestingly enough, the poetry is largely from the 15th and 16th centuries, ranging from well-known Shakespeare texts to Herrick. The notable exception are the Five Betjeman Songs and Four Night Songs, set to text by John Betjaman and Michael Armstrong, respectively.
Brister's mezzo-soprano is both clear and warm, with a lovely lyrical quality all too often missing in lower voices. Limpid tones are the hallmark of her middle voice, and bright, easy top notes are a welcome surprise, particularly in "I feed a flame." The cabaret song "Snowman" was actually written for Dring herself, and is charmingly composed and sung. "Song of a Nightclub Proprietress" from Five Betjeman Songs has hints of her cabaret style as well.
One of the standard-bearers of the lyric tenor repertory, Olsen's singing is a delight in every way. Perfectly balanced and with an uncanny immediacy of text, his affinity for the music of Britten and English poetry serves this repertoire well. His "Melisande" is particularly haunting, and "To Phillis" is brilliantly engaging.
Hoekman's collaborative work at the piano is outstanding. Here is true partnership between singer and pianist. A seemingly endless variety of colors and dynamics are at his disposal, and there is an admirable synergy between him and both singers.
The liner notes, written by Brister, reveal her scholarship and depth of research on Dring. Having corresponded with many from Dring's past and having been given access to a great deal of her letters and diaries, she is a primary source on the composer.
This CD is unique and replete with gorgeous singing and top notch pianistic work. It is a treasure for those in search of English art song that is far from being overdone. Highly recommended.