We’ve been raving for some time about a superb performance of The Seal Man that’s running on BBC Radio 3 through November 29, and now—thanks to our new friends at BBC Northern Ireland and at Northern Ireland Opera, and by kind permission of the artists—we can bring it to you on a continuing basis. You can find it on an Audio page that we’ve just created for recordings of exceptional interpretive value or historical importance that are not available for purchase.
(Our running chronicle of commercial releases on CD, vinyl, and download platforms continues under the handle Discography—and if anyone has a more technopropriate collective noun, please let us know.)
The Seal Man is a defining work in the Clarke canon, and James Newby, one of Britain’s rising-star baritones, and Simon Lepper, one of the world’s finest collaborative pianists, put it over as if it were this morning’s breaking news, with every syllable bursting with feeling and intent. There’s nothing showy or stagey about it—it’s just a strange, beautiful, riveting tale, perfectly told, and if it doesn’t make the hair rise on the back of your neck, then you have no soul and I pity you.
Simplicity of means, clarity of gesture, and absolute truthfulness of expression are the hallmarks of Clarke’s style, and this gives her works emotional power and lasting impact without need of large forms, multiple movements, or vast amounts of time. She would never have claimed greatness for herself, let alone greatness on a par with Wagner or her idol Debussy, but the fact remains that Tristan takes about five hours to destroy your heart, and Pelléas needs nearly three, but The Seal Man gets the job done in only five minutes.
The piece is popping up everywhere these days—three of the most extraordinary recent performances are on our Video page—but Newby and Lepper seem uniquely attuned to everything we know about Clarke’s own performance-style, and the styles of the singers and pianists she valued most highly. Their work on The Seal Man is exemplary. Enjoy.