Brindley Sherratt: Fear No More

Brindley Sherratt’s pre-eminence as an operatic bass is the result of two daring career shifts. Initially trained as a trumpeter, he gave up his first instrument as a student to become a singer. Yet even then, it was only in his mid-thirties that he left the professional security of a position in the BBC Singers to explore the world of opera.

Now, the voyage of discovery continues as Sherratt turns to the intimate medium of the song recital. With the superb pianist Julius Drake as collaborator, in Fear No More Sherratt draws on all of his accumulated technical and expressive wisdom to traverse death-haunted songs by Schubert, Mussorgsky and Richard Strauss before arriving at a final group of five twentieth-century English songs in which consolation and acceptance are the keynotes.

'Sherratt possesses that rare gift: a genuine bass voice that carries its lyrical, expressive clarity from its ringing high notes right down to a full-toned basso profundo delivered without a trace of muddiness ...The opening series of five songs by Schubert includes L'incanto degli occhi, a rare setting of an Italian text, in which Sherratt displays a characteristic operatic panache. Elsewhere, there is a lightness and flexibility that sounds positively youthful, culminating in a magnificent bottom D at the end of Der Tod und das Mädchen.A centrepiece to the recital is Musorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death, which is full of tonal variety and colour, with Sherratt clearly relishing the nuances of the Russian language in these expressionistic songs. Throughout the recording, Sherratt's projection of text is exemplary, and that is especially so in the 20th-century English group that ends this album. The title song, Finzi's 'Fear No More' is typical of the singer's approach as he relishes every fricative and plosive of Shakespeare's text while sustaining a generous, unfalteringly lyrical vocal line ...Pianist Julius Drake's contribution is superb, sensitive to every dynamic shift in the singer's performance. This is a true partnership of two experienced musicians at the peak of their powers.'

★ ★ ★ ★ ★PERFORMANCE    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★RECORDING

'If you’ve seen Brindley Sherratt in action, you’ll know him to be a consummate stage animal ...Sherratt performs Gerald Finzi’s masterly setting of Fear no Morewith a lugubrious relish for the text’s gloomier aspects, his obsidian bass the living personification of the Grim Reaper.The same sensitivity to words and feeling for the macabre informs his dramatic accounts of Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death. Trepak has a deliciously grisly swing while Field Marshall conjures the horrors of battle, both aided by Julius Drake’s flexible and colourful accompaniments. What makes Sherratt special is his careful avoidance of Gothic excess, something the voice could easily encompass were he a less thoughtful artist ...The first part of the disc shows him to be a fine Schubertian with a granitic account of Mayerhofer’s darkly despairing Fahrt zum Hades and a lollop through an Italian serenade to words by Metastasio. Death and the Maiden is another pearl and a chance to deploy his spinetingling pianissimo as the most seductive of spectres.He’s at his finest, however, in the concluding set of five English songs, including a bleak yet salty account of Ireland’s Sea Fever and an aching resignation in Michael Head’s Limehouse Reach. As he waves us off with a Falstaffian turn in Warlock’s Captain Stratton’s Fancy, we are already looking forward to volume two'

'Sherratt can do no wrong ... "Wenn endet diesel Qualen? Wann?” ends with one of those beautifully resonant low notes that are such a joy to encounter throughout the recital ...All credit to Drake for dealing with Schubert's demands so comprehensively in Der Schiffer, D 526 a better-known song, its storm visceral. But how fascinating to hear on of Schubert's Italian songs: L'Incanto degli occhi (The Wonder of the Eyes), slow, miraculous. The same - slow, miraculous - could be said of Auf Der Donau , D 563, a least initially: the variety of Drake's part, the entreaty of Sherratt's cries of "wo?" (where) in the more disturbed second stanza.The song Der Tod und das Mädchen, D 531, is one of Schubert's best known. Full of contrast, Sherratt and Drake make it into almost an operatic scena: Sherratt's “voice of Death” is truly disturbing ... Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Deathsounds as if it is in his bones from birth, though. Sherratt finds lyricism as well as inhabiting Shostakovich's world, his diction crystal clear, the drama of the final “Field Marshal” in contrast to the desolation of “Trepak” ... Billed as Sherratt's “debut song recital recording,” all I can say is what a way to start'

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'[this album] captures his drinkably deep bass voice at its peak. Teamed with the pianist Julius Drake, Sherratt offers a programme exploring themes of fear and death, with a final affirmative twist ... He’s in his element in four German songs by Schubert, starting with the journey across the Styx in Fahrt zum Hades ... In Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death, Sherratt is no pantomime villain, instead chilling us with steady characterisation and long, velvety lines. He closes with English songs, including touching performances of Finzi’s title track and Gurney’s By a Bierside, where contradictory responses to death conclude with the idea that “It is a grand thing to die”. Fear dissipates, and Sherratt’s final two numbers, both old-sea-dog songs, brim with warmth and acceptance"

★ ★ ★ ★

"a voice that’s lived in ... [Sherratt] delivers clarity of the text but this grit, this dramatic experience; he’s a real powerful story teller ... it sends shivers down your spine ... an overdue recital for this hugely experienced singer"



"Wow! The resonance and depth of Brindley Sherratt’s voice are impressive from the moment he delivers Schubert’s Fahrt zum Hades ...Pianist Julius Drake accompanies with his usual technical brilliance and sympathetic interpretations. There are many exceptional moments, whether it be capturing the drama of Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death, especially the Trepak, the control of his low notes at the end of Strauss’ Spatboot, or the richness and warmth of the English songs. Sherratt's striking voice is impressive, and the clarity, reach, dynamics, and emotional fervour are remarkable. He holds the listener captive with an intensity that grips through his tremendous skill at accelerating towards crescendos and carefully decelerating to diminuendos, which showcase his mastery in impassioned performances. This disc is a winner, so let’s hope the Delphian team plans another disc sooner rather than later"

read the full review here

"As John Fallas puts it in his informative booklet note, 'not many singers recordtheir first recital album two decades into a successful international career' ... In short, though, it's been worth the wait ... Right from the start, one marvels at the sheer easy authority of Sherratt's voice, the richness, the baleful depths, the steadiness and smoothness across the range. One starts to look forward to the low notes: the D in an especially imposing 'Der Tod und das Mädchen', the D flat that concludes 'Im Spätboot'. But there's great deal more to the album than just that. With Julius Drake a superb partner at the keyboard, these are considered, affecting performances - as one would expect from an artist with Sherratt's experience. In the best sense, he's a reliable guide through all the songs ... Sherratt's interpretations have an imposing power all their own, the deep, oaky patina of the voice carrying with it a special emotional weight. This is perhaps especially true in the English songs, where his natural delivery brings special rewards: the gnarly authority conveyed in 'Sea-Fever', the grandeur of the climaxes of both 'Fear no more the heat o' the sun' and 'By a Bierside' or the easy swagger of 'Limehouse Reach'. They make for a rewarding conclusion to an imposing, impressive album. Here's hoping for a follow-up."

"Sherratt is magnificent here ... his simple, sincere story-telling skills come to the fore. The particular quality of Sherratt's voice, however, aligned with vocal power and directness of utterance, makes this an awesome performance of Mussorgsky's masterpiece. Julius Drake is magnificent, making the most of Mussorgsky's frequently ungrateful piano writing. His treatment of the piano parts throughout this recital is a model of its kind, supporting the singer in every way yet inventive and full of individual character ... wide-ranging, unusual and deeply satisfying recital."

"it is in the final five very well-chosen songs in English that the particular expressive power of this voice and its aura really do come into their own. The mature bass voice has a specific kind of communicative directness and warmth that other voices don't. In Masefield/John Ireland’s “Sea Fever”, ‘the seas’ to which the singer feels drawn are simply more appealing and have more gravitas about them.

In Finzi’s “Fear No More…” this splendid voice gives the listener more assurance than others can, that everything really will be all right. And in Michael Head’s “Limehouse Reach” from 1949 - a discovery for me - there is wonderful tenderness which I find I want to go back to. Julius Drake’s playing has real authority too, and Delphian Records have given writer John Fallas the space to write an excellent sleeve note. "

Release Date: 26 April 2024
Catalogue No: DCD34313
Total playing time: 58:20

Recorded on 26-28 March 2023 at Henry Wood Hall, London

Producer/Engineer: Paul Baxter

24-bit digital editing: Jack Davis
24-bit digital mixing & mastering: Paul Baxter

Piano: Steinway model D, serial no 607138 (2017)
Piano technicians: Marcus Dods & Nigel Polmear

Cover photography © Benjamin Ealovega
Session photography & videography: William Coates-Gibson / foxbrushfilms.com

Booklet & traycard design: Eliot Garcia
Booklet editor: John Fallas

Delphian Records Ltd – Edinburgh – UK www.delphianrecords.com

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Schubert:Fahrt zum Hades

Gramophone Magazine talks to ...

The veteran bass discusses his diverse career and introduces his debut recital album, 'Fear no more'

Brin in recording sessions image foxbrush.co.uk

This is your first recital album despite being now 20 years into your operatic career. Why have you chosen to record this album now?

My career had a bit of a topsy-turvy' start to it. I started out as a trumpet player before joining the choir at St George's Chapel Windsor, which then led on to me joining the BBC Singers, who I sang with for 13 years. Things started to change when I got my first decent role. Publio in La clemenza di Tito at Covent Garden. After that I just took every day as it came, and never really thought about doing any recitals, still less an album. It wasn't until a colleague of mine introduced me to [pianist] Julius Drake, who really encouraged me to sing and play together.

How has the variety of your musical training influenced where you are now?

I really enjoyed my time with the BBC Singers, an incredible group which I'm so grateful to have been part of for so long. My favourite part about working with ensembles like the Singers was being part of a team, whereas being a soloist in an opera comes with a degree of separation. I now try to bring this community feel to any production I am part ot. The other thing I took from the BBC Singers was how to learn repertoire
extremely quickly, which has come in handy when learning different repertoire at the same time.

What do you like to do when you're not on stage?

I love anything to do with bikes, so I do a lot of cycling. I really enjoy being outside. too. We've just moved into a new house, so we've got a lot
of work to do with the garden, and well be ticking off a lot of bucket list destinations I've always wanted to visit as well including the Isle of Skye. On top of all that, I'm hoping to do some more writing. I've done a few articles about opera and singing and it's something I'm very passionate about. I find it very cathartic.

Have you seen any changes in the opera world since you began? Are there any challenges you have picked up on that younger people are facing entering the industry?

I get messages quite regularly from the younger generation of opera singers expressing their worries about getting work. and to an extent these struggles have always been the same for every generation, but I fear for the long-term future of singers in this country. Opportunities for singers seem to keep getting removed, the ENO situation particularly stirs me up, having sung with them for the best part of 10 years, and like many English singers I cut my teeth there. On top of that many of our great opera companies can no longer afford to tour. Everything appears to be shrinking down, which is disappointing when you look at the value that opera holds in society in nations like Germany. I'd like to get more heavily involved in the issues that British opera faces and to really make a difference if I can. I am lucky to have a profile and I'd like to use it for good

This article originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of Gramophone.


John Ireland's Sea Fever, performed by Brindley Sherratt and Julius Drake during recording sessions in London's Henry Wood Hall ...

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