Isolation Songbook

The feeling which many of us experienced in spring 2020 as, country by country, the world went into lockdown – a sense of life gone into standstill – was especially acute for musicians, deprived suddenly of both their livelihoods and the human connections that give their work meaning.

For singers Helen Charlston and Michael Craddock, it was not only their art that they could no longer express publicly: they had been due to marry in April. Forced like so many to put plans of any kind on hold, Helen began to find ways of redirecting her creative energies. She wrote a poem for Michael to mark their postponed wedding date, and the composer Owain Park, a friend of the couple, set it to music.

Helen began to contact other composers and poets, and unexpectedly but quickly a project took shape that would both fill the empty time and bear witness to it. The project - first performed as part of the City Music Foundation Livestream Series from St Pancras Clock Tower - chimed with Delphian’s determination to maintain the flow of album releases while live music was in abeyance, and so – with music again proving its ability to build connections across physical distance – the Isolation Songbook swiftly found a home on disc; recorded during the summer relaxation of restrictions, its release marks the anniversary of the beginning of lockdown in the UK.

"Witty and touching in equal measure, this personal but deeply relatable lockdown project from a young husband-and-wife-to-be stemmed from Owain Park’s appropriately bitter-sweet setting of a poem which Charlston wrote for her fiancé to mark what would have been their wedding-day last year"

EDITOR'S CHOICE - March 2021

"this collection of 15 new songs provides a snapshot of our almost incredible lives [during the pandemic]: from a posponed wedding ... to daily exercise and valuing nature anew, to baking - in Melancholy (and Buttercream) by Kerensa Briggs ... a lovely, accomplished miscellany of composers, poets and moods"

"Some of us baked, others did DIY, and most of us managed our daily walks. Mezzo Helen Charlston and baritone Michael Craddock – lockdown over-achievers par excellence – commissioned, rehearsed, premiered and recorded an album of entirely new music ... The results are varied, from comic miniatures to distilled dramas and contemplative outpourings, but together add up to a recital that’s hard to resist, at once fresh and profoundly familiar"

"It is a mood of introspection, many of the works can read almost as stream of consciousness, thoughts flowing. And faced with Helen Charlston's wondrously plangent voice and terrific sense of strong line, many composers opt for a sort of undulating, expressionist line pointed from beneath by the piano ... [the recital] captures 2020 in a musical microcosm"


★ ★ ★ ★

read the full review here

"Brixey-Williams’ music conveys strikingly the poem’s mood of intimate isolation. Helen Charlston and Alexander Soares distil a very strong atmosphere ... There are some very interesting songs here and it’s fascinating to see how the 15 composers have responded to the perceived challenges – and opportunities in the case of our increased connection with nature – that lockdown brought.

The standard of performance is extremely high. These songs clearly mean a great deal to Helen Charlston and Michael Craddock – as one would expect, given the circumstances that led to the compositions – while Alexander Soares supports them expertly. The recorded sound is up to Delphian’s usual very high standards and Erica Jeal’s notes guide the listener expertly through the programme"


read the full review here

Release Date: 26 March 2021
Catalogue No: DCD34253
Recorded: 3-5 September 2020, The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Producer: Paul Baxter

Editor: Paul Baxter

The Isolation Songbook was made possible by the generous support of the City Music Foundation

Singing In Secret: Clandestine Catholic Music by William Byrd CD Delphian Records


Owain Park:18th April

Featured interview

Helen & Michael on Isolation Songboook

The couple chat to Presto Classical's Katherine Cooper to discuss how what began as a low-key, highly personal project snowballed into something much bigger ...

What impact has lockdown had on musical creativity?

In a special feature in Gramophone Magazine, Jack Pepper talks to performers and composers about the ways that they have managed to keep productive in a year of pandemic restrictions ...

image Calum McMillan

The last year has had a catastrophic impact on the music profession, on the business of making a living from music. But what about the impact on musical ideas themselves? Composers have in many cases continued composing. Can we hear lockdown in music?

"they’ve created a lasting sonic memorial to a unique year"

Mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston and baritone Michael Craddock were due to marry on the April 18 last year. Forced to cancel their plans – and finding their concert diaries suffering what Craddock described to me as 'death from a thousand cuts', as performance dates were continually ripped out of the calendar – they were determined to find a creative outlet.

Charlston wrote a poem for her fiancé; their friend Owain Park set it to music. Soon this led them to Twitter, asking for composers and writers to likewise respond to the lockdowns; the resulting commissioned poems and music were written almost entirely between May and July 2020. From friends of the couple to those they have yet to meet, this project brought together creatives from across the UK to capture the sound of lockdown, in real-time.

From Helen’s father Terence Charlston to 23-year-old Derri Joseph Lewis, the 18 composers included each offer a personal response to lockdown, and in doing so reflect the different ways humanity deals with a difficult situation; some of the songs strike a humorous tone – responding to challenges with laughter – whilst others carry a strain of reflection and melancholy. Craddock admitted this was one of the project’s greatest challenges: mastering the vast emotional and stylistic range required, when so many distinct voices had contributed to the collection.

Take the work of Elliott Park; he placed a microphone in his garden over the May Bank Holiday, poignantly recording the sounds of nature and – living near a hospital – the wails of distant sirens. This track can then accompany the song cycle he wrote. As Charlston put it, he had created an 'aural history of lockdown'

It came at the right time. From a composer’s perspective, the project gave an impetus to write in a period otherwise filled with doubt and confusion; a few of the writers involved had been experiencing creative blocks, and the tight turnaround of this commission provided an icebreaker to get them back into writing. Likewise, it helped both Charlston and Craddock to maintain a regular practise schedule, since new and complex pieces were pouring into their email inboxes throughout the summer......

Jack Pepper

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