Michael introduces a showcase of versions of one of his favourite songs in the hope that some of you will be encouraged to try it out for size.
“O Lovely Night,” music by Landon Ronald (1873-1938) and words by Edward Teschemacher (1876-1940), is the final movement from the song cycle ‘Summertime’ written in 1901. Landon Ronald’s songs are quite exquisite. They are also neglected. The last time I accompanied anybody singing any of these live, would have been in 1982. Now, I would like to draw your attention to them. These are not songs for the faint-hearted performer (nor for that matter, listener) but they are extremely successful in recitals. There is a copy of this work in IMSLP. For best results, try listening through headphones.
Here are three recordings which are all a real treat.
Dame Eva Turner
The first one from (Dame) Eva Turner (1892-1990) was recorded about 1926. The orchestra is a smaller ensemble and that would be dictated by the size of the studio of the time. The final haunting phrase was done by wheeling Eva Turner away from the microphone on a trolly. It is a very early electric recording.
The second recording is Joan Sutherland (1926-2010) in an early 1950 recording in the presence of a large audience and when she was still performing as a mezzo-soprano before her work with Richard Bonynge. The recording is now a little scratchy but listen carefully. Enjoy the shared passion between the orchestra and the singer.
The final recording is of Gladys Swarthout (1900-1969) who may not be so well-known nowadays. She made her debut with the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1929 and created a memorable role in Carmen. This version is live and was made in 1946 for a radio broadcast. Miss Swarthout and the orchestra are simply completely at one. Miss Swarthout was a famous American broadcaster.
Later in 1952, she performed for Helen Keller, with Keller listening to the song using her hands. That too is videoed and on YouTube.
Incidentally, the orchestration of the song is Landon Ronald’s own.
Each recording teaches us something about control – Eva Turner’s control and use of power; Joan Sutherland’s sublime artistry and seemingly effortless breath control; and Gladys Swarthout’s unity with the orchestra – and her delightful rubato – are all lessons in how to perform and communicate to an audience.
Notice too that the tempo is chosen to show the music to its best advantage; Ronald wrote tricky intervals which can be very difficult to put across without the higher notes sounded like meteors exploding as they enter the earth’s atmoshpere! Yet these performers were not really giving a lesson. They were however performing a song that was genuinely popular the world over and one that would serve as an encore to a recital still. Better than listening, why not perform the song – or even the whole cycle?
by Edward Teschemacher
O lovely night!
Thou sweet and gentle maiden,
Binding the world with dreams so silently,
Thy voice is soft, thy breath is heavy laden
With garden scents and mem’ries of the sea;
Come not with tears, but charm them into flight,
O lovely night!
O lovely sleep!
Thou angel bright and tender,
Who with thy magic ev’ry heart dost own,
Lo! all the world in passionless surrender,
Bows to thy will and worships at thy throne;
Give thou repose to darkened land and deep,
O lovely sleep!