Album review: Nights Not Spent AloneReview
Kitty Whately’s second album of English songs is a refreshing look at the music of Jonathan Dove. With pianist Simon Lepper, Whately has recorded Dove’s complete works for mezzo-soprano, which add up to five song sets, and one stand-alone work for a cappella voice. The album is Nights Not Spent Alone, and Whately’s voice seems to match beautifully the personal touches found all over Dove’s music.
“My Love is Mine”, for solo voice, is a piece Dove wrote in 1997 as a wedding present for Elizabeth Gorla and Rick Allen. His Five Am’rous Sighs (1997) were written to be performed at a private party; similarly, All The Future Days (2004) is a privately commissioned set for a birthday party, set to texts by Ursula Vaughan Williams (second wife to Ralph).
The songs of All You Who Sleep Tonight were written for Nuala Willis, a singer, actress, and children’s author with whom Dove worked often (“I wanted to write some songs that would hint at that side of this unique performer – songs she might sing somewhere between a night-club and the Wigmore Hall.”), and Cut My Shadow is an arresting set written for Welsh mezzo Buddug Verona James. Whately adds herself to the living voices for whom Dove wrote his music; the title set, Nights Not Spent Alone, are set to texts by Edna St Vincent Millay that Whately herself brought to the composer.
Without those bits of Dove-trivia, it would be hard to pinpoint precisely which set was written with Whately’s voice in mind - she seems to suit them all. She sings with a beautiful balance of care and abandon; the songs of All the Future Days and Nights Not Spent Alone demand big, operatic moments, yet she can come right down to the conversational, almost Sondheim-like moments in Cut My Shadow.
Stylistically, Dove’s music is hard to place, which keeps it interesting. It’s in the piano parts of these songs where we can hear the influences of American minimalism, the lilts of jazz, the warmth of Vaughan Williams, and the virtuosity of a Prokofiev piano concerto.
For two English artists performing music by an English composer, Whately and Lepper seem to create something almost North American in style; those sounds are in Dove’s scores, but the two performers keep an immediacy that feels like an American revue show or even a cabaret. Whately is polished and real, and Lepper is flexible and soloistic.
Nights Not Spent Alone is available for pre-order, leading up to its official release on Friday, June 2, 2017. In the meantime, Whately’s earlier album of English song, This Other Eden, is available for purchase here.