Schumann and the English Romantics

Schumann and the English Romantics

A recital series with James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook

'The poetry is full of misty, veiled night-time scenes where one is not quite sure what is going on – there are knights and maidens and strange happenings down in the valley.'

James Gilchrist

About the Project

Tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook take to the stage at Wigmore Hall for a series of three recitals across three seasons, performing Robert Schumann’s song cycles alongside music inspired by the English Romantic poets. The project premieres three new commissions from major British composers: Scottish composer Sally Beamish looks to the Gothic, setting Percy Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’, performed alongside Eichendorff’s mist-shrouded Liederkreis (op.39). Heine’s Liederkreis (op.24) is paired with Julian Philips’ new setting of poetry by John Clare, exploring man’s connection with the natural world.  Finally, the journeying protagonist of Heine’s Dichterliebe finds an echo in a new work by Jonathan Dove.


For further programme information, click here – Gilchrist-Tilbrook – Schumann and the English Romantics

(All performances took place at the Wigmore Hall, London)

22 June 2016
Robert Schumann: Liederkreis, op.39
Felix Mendelssohn: Settings of Heine, Byron & Eichendorff
Franz Liszt: Settings of Heine & Goethe
Sally Beamish (b.1956): West Wind (Setting: Percy Bysshe Shelley) World premiere of new work.

This performance was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

20 September 2016
Gerald Finzi: Oh Fair to See
Julian Philips (b.1969): Love Songs for Mary Joyce (Setting: John Clare) World premiere of new work
Robert Schumann: Liederkreis, op.24
Gustav Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen

2 November 2017
Robert Schumann: Dichterliebe, op. 48
Jonathan Dove: Under Alter’d Skies (Settings of Tennyson ‘In Memoriam’) World premiere of new work.
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Songs of Travel



Click here to read James Gilchrist’s interview with BBC Music Magazine about the English Romantics project.

Programme I – 22 June 2016

 ‘Tilbrook’s delicate pianissimo wonderfully evoked the dreamy exoticism of the third section of Shelley’s poem. The accompaniment’s sparse textures and ‘barely-there’ gestures, anchored by a steady quaver pulsing, were a perfect support for the tenor’s incantatory lyricism. His diction superbly crisp, Gilchrist made much of the imagery. …Beamish’s text-setting recalls Britten and Purcell in its alertness to the rhythmic potential of the words and the clarity of the sometimes angular melodic line. Gilchrist proved himself the perfect proponent of the work, communicating with a naturalness and directness which complemented the easy, conversational flow of Shelley’s iambic pentameter. I hope that we have the chance to hear West Wind again soon.’

Claire Seymour, Opera Today review (June 2016)


‘Contemporary music is very much on the roster at the Wigmore Hall these days, with no fewer than 40 commissions coming to fruition this season. One of these is a setting of Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind by Sally Beamish, for the tenor James Gilchrist.

Beamish’s attractive work obliquely references Schumann’s Liederkreis – also on the programme – but is otherwise a personal response to the poem. The anger of the second stanza was communicated by Gilchrist, as was the languorous Mediterranean setting of the third. He began and ended offstage, suggesting the wind-driven leaves of the first verse and the famous “trumpet of a prophecy” of the last.

The opening Mendelssohn group demonstrated Gilchrist’s command of half-tone, sometimes just a thread of sound. In a Liszt group he ventured a greater range of tone, generally better focused, occasionally at last using the full voice, even exploiting a more baritonal register in There was a King in Thule. Liszt’s too-infrequently performed songs are a gift too for an accomplished pianist and here Anna Tilbrook realised the miraculous keyboard textures beautifully.

In the Liszt songs and Schumann’s Liederkreis, Op 39, her exceptionally skilled playing complemented Gilchrist’s vocal subtlety to perfection. In both this cycle and a Schumann encore, Gilchrist essayed a full range of tone that more than once achieved an expressive result of almost unbearable poignancy’.

Barry Millington Evening Standard Review, (June 2016)


Programme II – 20 September 2016

‘Gilchrist and Tilbrook performed the cycle with absolute commitment and impressive skill.’

‘The evening began with Finzi’s Oh Fair to see, sung with Gilchrist’s customary elegance and sweetness of tone; ‘Since we loved’ was especially poignant. Schumann’s Liederkreis Op. 24 was remarkable for its ‘heart on sleeve’ interpretation (how else can you sing Schumann if you’re going to do him justice?) with the first song evoking all the lover’s impatience without over-doing it, and the second, with its challenging phrases, crisply enunciated and elegantly phrased. ‘Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen’ was taken very slowly, almost prayerfully, and ‘Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden’ was remarkable for its lovely ‘rocking’ piano accompaniment. ‘Mit Myrthen und Rosen’ brought the cycle to a close with singing of perfect intimacy and playing of the closest understanding; you seldom hear those crucial lines ‘Einst kommt dies Buch in deine Hand, Du süsses Lieb im fernen Land’ sung with such ardour.’

‘Gilchrist is a master at expressing sadness, anguish and despair, and he demonstrated this most effectively in the final stanza of ‘Ging heut’ Morgen übers Feld.’ His natural ease of delivery was evident even in the closing bars of ‘Die zwei blauen Augen’ and his phrasing and quiet, unforced yet intense singing of the crucial ‘Auf der Strasse stand ein Lindenbaum’ confirmed his status as one of our finest Mahler singers. This is not a dispassionate observation of a man’s youthful passion but a searing account of loss and rage: as always, Anna Tilbrook’s playing was the equal of the singing in its capacity to evoke both.’

Melanie Eskenazi, MusicOMH (20 Sept 2016)


Programme III – 5 November 2017

‘Gilchrist is a consummate communicator, and his recitals are a model for all singers, with tone, glance and gesture all playing their part in engaging the audience.’

‘Gilchrist and Tilbrook caught the ambience exactly, giving us a rippling, lyrical paean to nature in ‘Let beauty awake’, a quiet, mystical wonder at the vastness of the sky in ‘The infinite shining heavens’, the jaunty optimism of a travelling pedlar seeing the open road stretching before him in ‘The roadside fire’, and a magnificently contrasting ‘Youth and love’, from mellow mezza voce and the gentlest accompaniment for ‘deep in the gardens golden pavilions hide’ to the loudest, most jubilant Heldentenor note of the evening on ‘Cries but a wayside word to her’.’

‘The repeated ‘Ave’ in ‘Peace, come away’ was the most moving line in the set, and Gilchrist delivered it with hushed intensity.’

Barry Creasy, MusicOMH (4 Nov 2017)

Project Manager

Sue Nicholls (Cambridge)