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E.J. Moeran
COMPLETE SOLO FOLKSONG ARRANGEMENTS

Adrian Thompson, tenor
Marcus Farnsworth,baritone
John Talbot, piano
Members of the Weybridge Male Voice Choir
(Conductor: Christine Best)
Cat. No. BMS438CD
 
 
Moeran 'Complete Solo Folksong Arrangements'
Six Folksongs from Norfolk. The North Sea Ground. High Germany. The Sailor and Young Nancy. The Little Milkmaid. The Jolly Carter. Parson and Clerk. Gaol Song. Six Suffolk Folksongs. Songs from County Kerry.
Adrian Thompson tenor Marcus Farnsworth baritone John Talbot pianoforte Weybridge Male Voice Choir/Christine Best
British Music Society BMS438CD (65"• DDD)
 
Moeranites will not want to miss out on this delightful folksong anthology.
 
...Jack Moeran was a 19-year-old student at the Royal College when he encountered one of Vaughan Williams's Norfolk Rhapsodies at a Queen's Hall concert in the spring of 1914. A Norfolk lad himself, Moeran was entranced by how the music "seemed to breathe the very spirit of the English countryside", promptly purchased Cecil Sharp's Folk Songs from Somerset and returned home to set about collecting folksongs for himself. Either side of the Great War (in which he enlisted as a motorcycle despatch rider before being invalided out with a head wound in May 1917), Moeran managed to transcribe nearly 70 songs from such local figures as James "Old Larpin" Sutton from Winterton, Bob "Jolt" Miller from Sutton and Harry Cox from Hickling. Arranged in 1923 and published the following year, the collection entitled Six Folksongs from Norfolk includes two tunes that were to prove particularly fruitful: "Lonely Waters" subsequently inspired his haunting orchestral impression of the same name; and "The Shooting of his Dear" stalks the elegiac slow movement of his glorious Symphony in G minor. A second, rather less distinctive set, Six Suffolk Folksongs, appeared eight years later and is preceded here by a further seven settings, of which the bracing, rather Stanfordian "The North Sea Ground" (1915) only came to light as recently as 2000.

...From the early 1930s Moeran divided his time between England and Ireland, eventually settling in Kenmare, County Kerry. Seven of the tunes he collected in Kenmare, Caherciveen and Sneem found a home in the enchanting and subtly crafted Songs from County Kerry (published in 1950, the last year of his life), in the preface to which Moeran states: "The verse-by-verse variants in some of the tunes are exactly as I heard from the singers themselves on a number of occasions." Perhaps the most fascinating aspect, though, is the shared heritage of so much of this material: trawlermen from East Anglia and Kerry regularly plied their trade in each other's fishing grounds and would certainly have performed songs together over a glass or two of ale or stout. As Moeran's fellow composer and friend Aloys Fleischmann has observed: "It is true that the folk music of these islands may at times be difficult to distinguish but the composer himself used to point out that in Norfolk he heard characteristically Irish tunes, and again, Norfolk tunes in Kerry, brought in each case by visiting fisherfolk from one country to another...[the] folk music of each county contributed its share to the texture of his music."

...Baritone Marcus Farnsworth, winner of the 2009 Wigmore Hall International Song Competition, has the lion's share of duties and brings a most personable warmth, commitment and no little narrative flair to the task in hand (his enunciation, by the way, is admirable). Tenor Adrian Thompson possesses a less ingratiating timbre but there's no denying his infectious ardour and idiomatic delivery. Moreover, that indefatigable champion of the composer, John Talbot, contributes consistently understanding and stylish accompaniments. Vividly truthful sound - and a special word of praise for Roy Palmer's painstakingly researched annotation, which strikes me as a model of its kind. Full texts can be downloaded from the BMS website at http://www.britishmusicsociety.com. A job well done!
(Andrew Achenbach - Gramophone Magazine, June 2011)
 
 
International Record Review Homepage
Roughly contemporaneous with the activities of Bartok and Kodaly in Hungary, Romania and elsewhere, the upsurge of interest in local music traditions in Britain made arguably less impact on the wider scene. Though it grieves me to say so, Vaughan Williams and Holst are still not household names in Vienna, Berlin or Paris. Is that because they are too local, too steeped in native idioms, too closely linked to the folk music revival? Maybe so: though I think the problem is more one of perception than of fact. It is almost dangerous to know that Vaughan Williams collected over 800 folk-songs, as one starts to hear them whether present or not. A further obstacle is the standard image of the folk singer himself, and maybe of the collector too: a probably slightly insalubrious farm labourer or road mender, in an equally insalubrious pub in Norfolk or Suffolk, say, perhaps getting on in years, quavery of voice, dubious of intonation, performing to a tweed-jacketed antiquarian from London. Recordings and photographs sometimes serve to confirm the impression. Add a touch of fol-de-rol and the damage is done. (Actually, here, only Parson and Clerk and Gaol Song have that kind of refrain, and one of the Irish songs.)

All the same, you should get hold of this outstanding disc. It is not far short of a revelation. Never mind that you have to dig deep into the BMS website to find the full texts. You do not need them, as every word sung here by Marcus Farnsworth and Adrian Thompson is crystal-clear. Both singers - the baritone has the lion's share - are a pleasure to listen to: even in tone, injecting just enough variety into the usually strophic settings to dispel any threat of tedium. John Talbot is a wholly sympathetic accompanist, and the recording, made in the auditorium of the Menuhin School, is first-rate. The resulting disc has a touch of alchemy about it, for what it presents is, of course, not so much folk-song, as art-song. It is none the worse for that: the better, even.

What Moeran does - and it is high time I brought him into the picture - is indeed not only to transform a couple of dozen originals into something worthy of the concert platform but also to blur the boundary between tradition and something almost original. Reminders are probably unnecessary that Moeran was later to translate 'Lonely Waters' into an extended and delicate miniature, and incorporate 'The Shooting of his Dear' (the fifth song of Six Folksongs from Norfolk) magically into the slow movement of what is surely his masterpiece, the G minor Symphony (though the Cello Concerto comes close). Their melodies as encountered here are simply exquisite, but there are many other hidden gems, such as 'Nutting Time', or the sad yet happy tale in 'Blackberry Fold', or the unvarnished melancholy of 'The Dawning of the Day' (Songs from County Kerry). True enough, many of the usual folk themes recur: catching a girl or losing her, sailors and the sea, fishing and its dangers, parting and loss: perhaps that was inevitable since Moeran's preferred collecting grounds were the Eastern coastal counties of England, and his second home in County Kerry. So do not be surprised at the sadness of quite a lot of what results.

The lack of texts is more than compensated for by a 14-page booklet article (including detailed bibliography) by Roy Palmer that goes deep into Moeran's involvement with folk-song - he collected over 80, apparently. Half a dozen evocative photographs are buttressed in support. There is also a comprehensive separate note by Ian Maxwell on one song, The North Sea Ground, that is possibly an original composition, though it sits entirely comfortably in this context. Three of the numbers require a unison male voice choir in support: the Weybridge Choir sounds enthusiastic.

It is, of course, Moeran's piano accompaniments that are the vital added ingredient: they add variety, interest, colour, even a little drama if required, but they alwavs stay within the bounds of moderation. I turned to another version of one of the songs here, 'The Shooting of his Dear', the one made by another great composer and folk arranger (though not I think a collector, as Moeran was): Benjamin Britten. Even at a livelier tempo, the song is still recognizably the same, but Britten's accompaniment, written with Julian Bream in mind, not so much supports the singer as underlines the emotional content of the song, leaving the singer to go his own way, as the verses unfold. Britten modernizes it into a miniature drama, in an idiom and in a way of which Moeran might well not have approved. All the same, Moeran's own treatments are of more than passing interest and this beautiful collection is a fine way to encounter them.

(Piers Burton-Page - International Record Review) March 2011


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Link to a Review on the MusicWeb website
Review by Rob Barnett

My usual declaration of interest: I am a life member of the British Music Society and am currently editor of the Society’s newsletter.

Moeran did not write a great deal and what he did write has in large part been recorded. Only recently have we had the delight of hearing his ‘Complete solo songs’ on Chandos CHAN 10596(2) (review review). The present project shares Adrian Thompson (tenor) and John Talbot (piano) with those Chandos songs. John Talbot’s contribution to the Moeran renaissance has been benevolent both as an instigator and as a pianist with the skills and empathy to search out the sensitive and sometimes ebullient soul of this music. Take the fragile and elusive beauty of The Dawning of the Day which he limns in with the unerring strength that lies in restraint as much as heroic assertion. Thompson meets Talbot in splendour of approach. Everything feels just right.

I confess that unadulterated folksongs do not in general hold my attention. These however are done with the irresistible life-enhancing vitality that Moeran gave to his own concert works. This, in general, fends off the worst excesses of pretty milkmaids and the other vapid apparatus of the genre. The songs are varied: poetic settings are mixed in with rough and rolling ballads in the manner of Finzi’s Budmouth Dears, Ireland’s Great Things and Sea Fever, Stanford (Songs of the Sea and Songs of the Fleet) and Warlock (Captain Stratton’s Fancy) such as A Seaman’s Life and The North Sea Ground. Even so there is time for a most effective and triumphant moment of pensive reflection just at the end of this last song. I wondered from Talbot’s way with the utterly fascinating and intensely original asymmetrical rhythmic underpinning of High Germany whether I was in for more of the same – no such thing. This is a gloriously shaped song which deserves a concert status of its own. A handful of the songs do suffer from the enervation that goes with an oh-so-precious compositional style. It’s the sort of thing that certainly afflicts The Little Milkmaid, Parson and Clerk and The Tinker’s Daughter. For good or ill I always associated this prissy prancing with Peter Pears. Some Warlock songs are not immune from this phenomenon and when it is coupled with nonsense ‘faddadiddles’ and the like despair is just one step away. Others will be fortunate in not having this as an obstacle to enjoyment. The members of the Weybridge Male Voice Choir finely take the chorus in The Sailor and Young Nancy, The Jolly Carter and The Gaol Song. John Talbot once again infuses a brightness and glinting dazzle which is more than compensation for the occasional wince provoked by the words in three or four of the songs. Marcus Farnsworth rather nicely darkens his voice for Blackberry Fold, the second of the Six Suffolk Folksongs. Farnsworth – the baritone who takes seventeen of the 26 songs - has a fine voice and is well in style carrying off his role with aplomb. Thompson despite a strain in his voice is very affecting in slow sunset warmth of The Isle of Cloy. He takes all seven Songs from County Kerry. These are in the same superior league as the Six Norfolk Songs. Piano parts in all 26 songs are invariably inventive and satisfying but these Kerry and Norfolk sets are excellent in both vocal and piano lines. The Murder of Father Hanratty can be counted in the same company as the subject-related Housman song Farewell to barn and stack and tree from the cycle Ludlow Town.

The 24 page English-only booklet is superbly done. There’s an essay on E.J. Moeran and Folksong by Roy Palmer of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. There’s also a substantial piece by another Moeran authority, Ian Maxwell on his edition of The North Sea Ground. The sung words are not reproduced but the diction of the two singers is such that every word can be heard. In any event you can download the words in pdf format from the BMS site. The recording was released on the sixtieth anniversary of Moeran’s death on 1 December 1950.

An essential companion to the Moeran songs on Chandos.

(Rob Barnett - MusicWeb International)
 
 
Link to a Review on the MusicWeb website
Review by Nick Barnard
There must be so many feathers in the cap of the BMS now that I’m surprised it has not discovered flight. To which another must be added with this simply superb collection that is an automatic addition for anyone interested in the music of E J Moeran or the folk-song revival in Britain generally. Hot on the heels of the excellent survey of the – nearly – complete songs on Chandos this acts as a fascinating appendix.

The truly illuminating and extensive liner-note by Roy Palmer points out that in comparison to the doyen of folk-song collecting Vaughan Williams’ 800 transcriptions, Moeran’s 70 or so examples seems pretty small beer. But it could well be argued that ultimately folk-song and by extension folk culture was more of an abiding influence and inspiration for Moeran than Vaughan Williams. There will always be an argument about the validity of any folk-song transcriptions. On a basic level there is a corrupting of the original song in the sheer act of notation – the freedom of rhythm and pitch in folksong being bent to the will of western notation. Furthermore, even when recordings are made a degree of self-consciousness and indeed self-censorship by the performers results in documents that do not tell the whole story. Add to that performances by trained ‘classical’ singers and the sanitisation of these traditional songs and the earthy energy they exude is complete.

I mention this here as a kind of worst-case scenario; the arrangements and performers on this disc are far removed from this. Moeran produced three main groupings; a set of songs from Norfolk, another from Suffolk and finally a set from County Derry. Additionally there are half a dozen miscellaneous songs and the set is completed by the first recording of an original – early – song in a clearly faux-folksong style The North Sea Ground. The choice of these counties exactly reflects Moeran’s life-long association with the peoples and landscapes of these different parts of the British Isles. I think there is a case to be made that the choice of these particular songs for inclusion in these sets reflects and gives insight into Moeran’s own musical mind and preferences. For sure these are beautiful songs with evocative story-telling texts but for me the real interest is the mirror they hold up to Moeran’s musical personality. This is especially true of two songs that form the third and fifth of the set Six Folksongs from Norfolk. Number three is Lonely Waters – a title which anyone familiar with Moeran’s fairly modest orchestral output will recognise as a name of an exquisite orchestral miniature. In the orchestral work Moeran expands on the lonely desolation implicit in the folksong. He wrote that the last verse of the song should be sung as part of this miniature tone-poem; “So I'll go down to some lonely waters, Go down where no-one shall me find, Where the pretty little birds do change their voices, and every moment blow blustering wild”. There is one recording of this work which takes the vocal – preferred – option but the fruitily voiced Anne Murray rather destroys the atmospheric moment and conductor Jeffrey Tate seems ill at ease with the genre generally. Palmer mentions the other significant song of this set The Shooting of My Dear rather in passing as appearing in Moeran’s greatest work the Symphony in G minor. Geoffrey Self in his superb book The Music of E. J. Moeran published by Toccata Press presents a very compelling analysis that places this song at the very centre of the work both musically and emotionally. The symphony had a long genesis between 1924 and over a decade later. The simple fact that folk-derived material was influencing Moeran for such an extended period proves its significance to the composer. Once you strip away Folk Song suites or Rhapsodies, I would go as far as saying I do not know of another English/British work (or indeed body of work) where the influence of folksong is so key in so many important works. Moeran was very much at ease in the social convivial environment where most of the songs were collected – the village pub - so again it is hard not to reach the conclusion that this music encapsulates ‘the best of times’ for him and hence has a biographical significance for him rather than just being a musicological way of escaping the suffocating influence of much 19th Century Germanic music.

Whilst singing his praises, the actual quality of the piano accompaniments as written here is well worth noting. The dilemma for the composer/arranger is how interventionist to be. Whether to provide a simple harmonic bed from which the songs can spring or to write something more overtly pianistic to satisfy an audience with a more sophisticated[?] palette. Moeran does neither – instead his piano writing seems to act as a kind of musical commentary in parallel with the songs. This is a brilliant solution since it neither patronises nor overwhelms the music instead capturing the composer’s own delight and inspiration in the source material. I listened recently to the Naxos release of songs by George Butterworth which includes that composer’s Folksongs from Sussex where he opts for a very understated simple approach to the piano accompaniments. In its own right that is very effective but if forced to make a choice I prefer Moeran’s more expressive and involved approach. At the end of the day these are not meant to be wholly authentic versions so as long as the composer’s musical commentary adds to our appreciation and enjoyment of the original – as Moeran’s undoubtedly does – the resultant music is a success.

Key to that success though is the quality of the performance. Both singers and Moeran stalwart John Talbot are magnificent. The bulk of the programme is performed by baritone Marcus Farnsworth. He is a new singer to me but on the evidence of this recording a name to follow. This is ideally unaffected singing with a naturally beautiful tone across the entire range. There is none of the arch mannered word pointing that some singers feel honour-bound to do to give these essentially simple songs more perceived weight. Just good musical phrasing and excellent diction. This latter is particularly welcome given that there are no texts provided in the booklet. There is something very apt about a young vibrant voice such as Farnsworth’s singing songs about love and adventure. Another detail I appreciate greatly is that at no point does Farnsworth indulge in any gum-shrinking, toe-curling “Mummerset” accent. Roderick Williams does this to differentiate between characters on his Naxos disc and it is a bad mistake. Apart from anything else it is inaccurate and patronising and such a choice would not be made if the characters portrayed were of different ethnic backgrounds. Tenor Adrian Thompson is in committed form too – this recording finds him in fresh and ardent voice although it is a statement of simple fact that clearly his voice is not as young as Farnsworth’s nor is his diction quite so pin-sharp. This latter detail is most clear in the Song from County Derry where the pattering nature of some of the lyrics means that occasional words are swallowed up along the way. Farnsworth is joined in three of the songs with the Weybridge Male Voice choir in much the same way that in the Chandos set male voices were added for the communal drinking songs. For these folksongs this seems a very good choice and the fact that the Weybridge men a good but slightly rough singers adds hugely to the character of the performances.

Both this disc and the Chandos set are accompanied by John Talbot who is without doubt one of the most experienced keyboard exponents of Moeran’s music. His playing is everything you would wish to hear – illuminating and appropriate without dominating the voice. The discreetly sophisticated engineering aids this by allowing weight and clarity to register without sounding in any way synthetic. By definition this is more of a reference disc rather than a balanced recital. Even in performances of this calibre of much very beautiful music there are not many times I think I would wish to listen to the whole disc at a single sitting. Some songs linger longer in the memory than others. On a purely personal front I enjoy the lyrical reflective ballads more than the roistering songs if for no other reason than the former give Moeran just a little more space to exercise his rhapsodic gift to great effect. That being said it is also fascinating to hear Moeran’s solo treatment of songs such as High Germany and The Sailor and Young Nancy. A melody variant of the former turns up in Holst’s Somerset Rhapsody and the latter was also set by Moeran for SATB chorus.

Given that the essence of folksong inhabits so much of Moeran’s most important music I must reiterate that I think this is a very important release. That being the case I am all the more pleased to be able to report that it is a success in every respect.

(Nick Barnard - MusicWeb International)
 
 
Link to a Review on the MusicWeb website
Review by John France
I agree with Rob Barnett when he says ‘that unadulterated folksongs do not in general hold my attention.’ That said, whichever way one looks at British music of the first half of the twentieth century this genre can be seen to be pervasive … or possibly corrosive, depending on one’s musical aesthetic. It manifested itself in a number of ‘rhapsodies’ often qualified by Constant Lambert’s dictum that ‘the whole trouble with a folk-song is that once you have played it through there is nothing much you can do except play it over again and play it rather louder.’ Or it could be the case that from Stanford to Britten composers have been keen to produce editions of indigenous tunes – be they Irish, Scottish, English or Welsh. Vaughan Williams is known to have edited over 800 examples; E.J. Moeran considerably fewer.

The present CD complements the recent release on Chandos of the ‘Complete Solo Songs of E.J. Moeran’, which consists of his ‘art’ songs, including his Housman and Joyce settings.

The first volume of folksongs arranged for voice and piano was the Six Folk Songs from Norfolk. This was published by Augener in 1924. The songs were collected in three villages in the County from performances by four local men. Two of the tunes collected, ‘Lonely Waters’ and ‘The Shooting of his Dear’ were to be used in orchestral compositions by Moeran.

Two things can be said about these folksong arrangements. Firstly the style of John Ireland is pervasive in the piano accompaniment. This is not a criticism, for it certainly adds value to the total effect of these songs. Secondly he approaches these songs with a lightness of touch often denied to similar compositions by Percy Grainger and Arnold Bax. For example ‘The Shooting of his Dear’ has an accompaniment that at times seems to be almost non-existent.

Six Suffolk Folksongs appeared eight years after the Norfolk set and were conceived as a companion volume. They were collected from two small villages, Earl Stonham and Coddenham. Geoffrey Self notes that they were ‘realised’ at Ipswich where Moeran was convalescing. These songs do not quite match the ‘out of doors’ feel of the Norfolk series. However, it is clear that they are an accomplished contribution to the genre: perhaps what is lost in spontaneity is made up in the subtlety of the combination of voice and piano?

The Songs from County Kerry set is a late addition to Moeran’s catalogue. These seven songs were composed in 1948 and turned out to be the composer’s last foray into the genre. The composer’s preface to this collection notes that: “These arrangements are taken from a much larger collection I noted in Co. Kerry at odd times during a period roughly between 1934 and 1948. They were sung by Kerrymen in Cahirciveen, Sneem and Kenmare. The verse by verse variants in some of the tunes are exactly as I heard them from the singers themselves on a number of occasions.” Certainly it is possible to agree with Geoffrey Self that these seven songs represent ‘a mature approach and [a] masterly touch rarely reached in the earlier sets.

This CD also includes a number of standalone folksong settings. These include the well-known ‘The Sailor and Young Nancy’ with its chorus sung by a male voice choir. The recording also presents the ‘pseudo-folksong’ ‘The North-Sea Ground’ which may have been composed for the Oxford and Cambridge Musical Club. Yet it is a fun piece that deserves its place in this collection. Performers should note that the group of ‘miscellaneous’ numbers would make a good sequence of songs at any recital.

The liner-notes for this BMS CD release are superb – in fact they set a standard that many other writers should aspire to. The essay by Roy Palmer of the English Folk Dance and Song Society is divided into two complementary sections – Moeran as ‘collector’ and Moeran as ‘composer/arranger’. There is a separate essay by Ian Maxwell on the recently re-discovered song ‘The North Sea Ground’. Alas, space has not permitted the reproduction of the texts for these 26 songs. However, the BMS have thoughtfully provided a .pdf file on their website. These texts make fascinating and enjoyable reading in their own right. My one concern is the epithet ‘complete’. There is always one ‘trainspotter’ that finds the exception that proves the rule. In this case it would appear to be ‘O Sweet Fa’s the Eve’- which is listed in Geoffrey Self’s catalogue listings for Moeran’s ‘folksong arrangements’. Now, I guess the reason is that the words are not ‘anon’ but are by Robert Burns and the tune would appear to be an Old Norwegian one. Fortunately, it is available on Moeran: The Collected 78rpm Recordings with John Goss as the soloist.

Yet this is an insignificant complaint against this excellent collection. I enjoyed the singing by the two soloists, the Weybridge Male Voice Choir and the piano accompaniment by John Talbot. I have a preference for Marcus Farnsworth’s vocal style but Adrian Thompson gives a good account of the nine numbers he is billed to sing. Every word is clearly enunciated and the sense of each song is easily understood.

There is, I believe an excellent strategy for listening to this CD. It has to be recalled that much of Jack Moeran’s (and other composers’) folksong collecting was done in public houses. The first thing is to find an appropriate bottle of beer – Adnams' Oyster Stout for the Suffolk Songs, Woodforde’s Wherry for the Norfolk examples and Clanconnel Brewery's McGrath's Irish Red for those from County Kerry. Like the beer, these songs need to be approached slowly and with considerable respect. Listen to them in the order given in the track-listing. However, I would suggest keeping the ‘miscellaneous’ song group till last. Even without the ale, these songs will reveal their charm only if sampled slowly. Any attempt to ‘binge’ may put the listener off them for good.

These are typically well-wrought realisations of a part of the British Heritage that was dying out rapidly in the first few decades of the Twentieth Century. We should be grateful to the many enthusiasts for their assiduity in saving these songs before they disappeared forever. In spite of Jack Moeran’s often haphazard methods of noting, documenting and filing the material he collected, these 26 songs are a testament to his skill as a composer and as a musical antiquarian. It is the tension between these two occupations that makes these songs interesting, perfectly satisfactory and ultimately moving.

(John France - MusicWeb International)
 
 
Moeran: Complete Solo Folksong Arrangements
Adrian Thompson (tenor), Marcus Farnsworth (baritone), John Talbot (piano), with members of the Weybridge Male Voice Choir. BMS 438CD

Those readers who share my love of English and Irish folksongs will enjoy many of these arrangements by E.J. Moeran. Some share the robust style of Warlock’s Yarmouth Fair yet Moeran’s own characteristic and cunning piano style informs them throughout. The artists perform these songs with affection and great distinction. The disc is a welcome companion to the 2CD set of the Complete Solo Songs of Moeran, released earlier this year on the Chandos label with most of the same artists. It’s heart-warming to hear the BMS publicising this unique area of British music. The involvement of John Talbot, whose championship of Moeran is well-established, adds authority to this issue. I shall not attempt a description of every one of the songs but select particular ones that especially appealed to me or have interesting connections.

Marcus Farnsworth and Adrian Thompson share the singing, with the former, a multi-prize-winning young artist, bearing the larger burden (seventeen of the twenty-six songs). He begins the recital with Six Folksongs from Norfolk. Down by the Riverside tranquilly opens the group, its fluid line reflected in the warm tone of the singer and John Talbot’s limpid piano inflections. Lonely Waters is sketchily accompanied, allowing the melody to make its full, poignant, lovelorn effect. The Pressgang creates contrast with its brisk marching rhythm and boisterous masculine tale. It may not be too fanciful to suggest that in The Shooting of his Dear, we experience a visit to what I would call Van Dieren’s Land. The arrangement takes on that richly bitter-sweet chromatic flavour that Moeran perhaps derived from the Dutch composer.

After this first group Moeran travels north, for – to my delighted surprise – he includes a song relating to my own county of Lincolnshire, The North Sea Ground, with references to Grimsby on whose docks many of my cousins worked in the heyday of the port. How they would have enjoyed the bright forthright tones with which Marcus Farnsworth lavishes praise on their town and its people, in this première recording of the composer’s earliest-known song setting. High Germany uses the same melody that Vaughan Williams includes in his Suite for Military Band and exemplifies the way in which folksong singers commented on the significant historical events of the day. What a valuable opportunity for history and music teachers to inter-relate their subjects and widen students’ interest and knowledge.

The Jolly Carter
is one of the songs music teachers may recall from music festivals as it was often set for school choirs. To establish these choral credentials indeed, this is one of the three songs in which men from the Weybridge Male Voice Choir join the solo baritone.

We now move to Suffolk for six songs from that area. This county of broad farmlands and coastal areas affords examples of land songs such as Nutting Time and Cupid’s Garden and sea songs - the final two, The Isle of Cloy and A Seaman’s Life. Marcus Farnsworth illuminates his four of these six charming songs with considerable variety of tone and sensitivity. Adrian Thompson sings the remaining two, Fathers and Daughters and the Isle of Cloy, with delicacy and tenderness.

The final group, Songs from County Kerry, offers a distinct change of mood from the earlier songs. I make no secret of my belief that of all British folksongs, those from Ireland are the richest and most interesting. Moeran – this also is no secret - loved the country and spent many of his happiest times here. The melodies generally have a more sinuous line, immediately apparent in the first song, The Dawning of the Day. Adrian Thompson’s flexible tenor is well-suited to these songs and he sings the entire group with apt and engagingly varied colours. The Murder of Father Hanratty brings us a more sinister aspect of folk music which Moeran matches with darker harmonies and quasi-hysterical high melodic comments. The Lost Lover again is lightly arranged and the melody has immediate appeal. The final two songs, The Tinker’s Daughter and Kitty, I am in Love With You, have our toes tapping to those infectious Irish jigs and almost laughing aloud at the end of this enjoyable recital.

In other reviews of song recitals where no words were included I have been critical. In this case, two factors make my strictures unnecessary: neither singer loses a word – all come through as clear as bells; and for those who wish to see them, the words are available on the BMS website: www.britishmusicsociety.co.uk .
 
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(Brian Blyth Daubney - BMS NEWS)
 
"The two singers, Marcus Farnsworth and Adrian Thompson, are crystal clear in their diction, and bring constantly varied expression, giving vitality to the songs; and we owe a great debt to the pianist, John Talbot, who not only plays the piano superbly, but has rescued from near oblivion many fine works of Moeran through publication and recording, which had fallen out of print - thus reminding us of the sterling worth of this under-appreciated composer."
 
(Richard Carder - BMS NEWS January 2013 )
 
 
   
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Listen to a music sample on the CHANDOS website
   
   
   
   
E.J. Moeran
COMPLETE SOLO SONGS

Geraldine McGreevy, soprano
Adrian Thompson, tenor
Roderick Williams, baritone
John Talbot, piano
Cat. No. CHAN 10596(2)

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Tempo Magazine, April 2011
E. J. MOERAN: Complete Solo Songs. Geraldine McGreevy (sop), Adrian Thompson (ten), Roderick Williams (bar), John Talbot (pno). Chandos CHAN 10596 (2-CD set).

This handsome double CD collects the complete solo songs of Ernest John (‘Jack’ to his friends) Moeran (1894-1950), settings which range from Shakespeare and Marlowe, to Dorothy L. Sayers and James Joyce. This amounts to a substantial 58 songs (tracks varying in length between 0.46 and 4.10, though the majority average 1.30), five song cycles, and includes 17 première recordings. The notes, by the splendid accompanist John Talbot, present a concise account of Moeran’s development as a song composer. In fact Moeran’s earliest surviving song , North Sea Ground (words by Cicely Fox Smith) of 1915 was only discovered in 2000 and was not available for recording; the earliest song on the discs thus dates from the following year, and is the first of many setting of A.E. Housman. When I came last to Ludlow is set in A minor, and has uniform atmosphere, largely due to a deliberately restricted harmonic range, mainly using chords i, V and flattened VII. Moeran uses simple substitutions, such as replacing G with Eb, and has a poignant tierce de Picardie ending. A single example of ‘word-painting’ is the whole-tone material on the first appearance of the words ‘moonlight pale’.

The song was originally the second of Four Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’ (1916). The fourth, Far in a western Brookland, is given here in its rewritten 1925 version, when it was paired instead with a new song , Tis Time, I think, by Wenlock Town. That song is different kettle of fish to the other two, mainly occasioned by the composer’s obvious technical development in the intervening years. Besides more enterprising piano writing, and a wider range and more assured handling in the vocal part, the obvious new feature is the inclusion of sliding chromatic harmony which one associates with other, better-known composers of the time: Delius, Grainger, or Scott, or more particularly Moeran’s sometime flatmate and boozing buddy Peter Warlock (they collaborated on the song Maltworms [i.e. lovers of malt liquor!] and are featured drinking together in two brochure photographs). The overall effect is an outstanding effusive setting, full of poignant regret. There are further harmonic advancements in Loveliest of trees, written six years later – in fact taken out of context (and minus the voice part) certain passages could easily pass for the jazz of the period: if you listen to the introduction, interlude and coda (omitting the closing chords) (0.01-07, 0.27-31, 1.22-1.33), you’ll hear what I mean. (footnote*1)

The cycle of four Housman songs entitled Ludlow Town was premièred in 1924. Each of the poems is concerned with death in some form, and besides displaying the characteristics noted above, one finds here piano writing of much greater complexity, and a sweeping romanticism, especially in the abandoned left-hand arpeggios of the second song. The final song recalls the deaths of The Lads in their hundreds in the service of Queen Victoria’s army. Although the poem was written in 1896, it took on an especial significance in World War I. Moeran’s straightforward setting, the least emotional in the cycle, avoids sentimentality and lets the words speak for themselves rather than colouring with specific harmonies (cf. the hauntingly beautiful setting of the similarly expressed sentiments of Masefield’s Twilight). This makes up all of Moeran’s settings of Housman, all taken from A Shropshire Lad, and all for baritone.

________________________________________

(*1) However, no mention is made of songs 1 and 3 from the original set of Four Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’: one wonders whether they are also presented here in some (not indicated) reworked version, or not included because of a simple lack of artistic merit? Whilst one can well see the necessity of not including every version of every song, Moeran’s final setting of Housman’s Oh fair enough are sky and plain is presented in three versions with only paper-thin differences, mainly confined to the piano part. This is all the stranger, given that Moeran himself expressed a preference for the third version.
 
At differing times Moeran set three of Pomes Penyeach by James Joyce (whom he knew personally), all for soprano. The brief Rosefrail (1929) has a simple ‘folky’ accompaniment. The longer Tilly (1931) was included in The Joyce Book, a prestigious limited-edition volume containing all 13 poems from the original collection, each set by a different composer. Moeran sets the poem much in the manner of a dramatic ballad. The most individual is his final song, Rahoon (1946), a setting of the poem Joyce wrote when he and his wife visited the grave of her former lover. Its disturbed, discordant introduction giving way to sliding harmony is certainly appropriate, therefore, but whilst I’d concur with Talbot’s characterization of it as ‘depressive’, I wouldn’t describe it as a ‘masterpiece’, nor as his ‘possibly greatest song’.

To my mind Moeran hits his stride much more effectively in the earlier Seven Poems by James Joyce (1929) for baritone, taken from Chamber Music. Whether this is because the setting of the cycle produced a concentration in the composer’s work, or whether for some reason he identified more strongly with these words, is unknown. As Chandos were unable to reach an agreement with Joyce’s estate, the words are not reproduced in the brochure. No matter, they are not needed: Roderick Williams delivers with exemplary clarity and diction. The first song is a folksy, Delian, even jazzy miniature. The second and third are forthright, almost bawdy. The next two, slow, songs are outstanding in this collection. The Pleasant Valley is again folk-like (cf. the FS The Water is Wide), haunting and touching without being innovative. The Donneycarney uses simple word-painting devices to depict the exquisite pleasure of a first kiss ... left ‘lingering’. Like the first song, the sixth, Rain has Fallen, is an expertly fashioned miniature, evocative without making any attempt to depict rain. The last song perfectly captures love ended, complete with a hushed coda. If one had to summarize this, perhaps the finest cycle on the disc, it would be true to say that although the settings don’t attempt anything startlingly original and sound very much of their time, when music-making is done this well one doesn’t necessarily regret the lack of a ‘pioneering spirit’. The poems are beautifully set; with music that adds to rather than detracts, and speaks with simple directness ... why seek for more?

Another poet Moeran often returned to and knew personally was Seamus O’Sullivan. The Six Poems of Seamus O’Sullivan for soprano provides good examples of two different approaches to song writing found elsewhere on the disc. At one extreme he writes songs in which everything seems to be subservient to the text: for instance the second song, The Poplars. Aside from the opening and closing verses, the central three verses (hauntingly attractive though they are) seem waylaid by momentary details which impinge on the overall sense of momentum/purpose. At the other extreme there are songs which present a more ‘straightforward’ musical trajectory. The first song, Evening, is a lovely natural setting using an arpeggiated piano accompaniment throughout (almost in the manner of a prelude) but with rich and sometimes surprising harmonies to underline certain vocal motifs. But there are any number of approaches in between. Lullaby, the fifth song, is similar in approach to second, yet seems to link its ‘momentary details’ together with greater cohesion. Funnily enough the outstanding song of this set, A Cottager, is a largely strophic setting with the last line of each of the three verses being treated as a kind of refrain. Moeran nevertheless finds the scope to colour individual words or phrases with exotic harmonies. Perhaps the best example is the line ‘Winter and Summer and Autumn and Spring’. Whilst it would be ridiculous to suggest Moeran captures the atmosphere of each season in a single chord, nevertheless each season is matched to its own special harmony, loaded with a significance which cannot be measured by mere clock duration.

If what I’ve written so far gives the impression that the songs generally inhabit the same atmosphere whether setting Housman or Joyce, broadly speaking, that would be true. But that shouldn’t be taken to suggest Moeran was a ‘one-horse’ composer. Another string to his bow is the inclusion of a selection of humorous songs. Can’t you dance the Polka presents nothing original either, the opposite in fact. It could, I suppose, be called pastiche: four-square march-style, and best music-hall cockney accent. The murderous Mrs Dyer the baby Farmer is a raucous Victorian music-hall ballad (collected by Warlock), worthy of a comedy routine with its deliberately stilted waltz accompaniment from piano. Obviously more suited to the ad-libbing audience participation of live performance (approximated here by the Weybridge Male Voice Choir) than close study, these and other songs are nevertheless worthy inclusions, beautifully hammed up by Roderick Williams and crew, which one may want to play occasionally.

In many ways Moeran is at his best in single poem settings, whether in something which makes a complete overall statement like The Merry month of May for tenor (words by Thomas Dekker) or presents a sketch which leaves the listener wanting more, like Mantle of Blue for baritone (words by Padraic Colum). Several of these individual songs are real gems. In the first two verses of In Youth is pleasure for tenor (words by Robert Wever), the protagonist dreams he is with his lover. In the third and final verse Moeran manages to conjure joyous abandon for what still might be, with pathos for the unrequited love. In Invitation in Autumn for tenor (Seamus O’Sullivan again) a glorious piano introduction is adapted as the backdrop for a seasonal mediation, the first part of which concludes by comparing the image of melted frost with the constellations. The material slows to form a coda as the opening sentiments are repeated, but as if a lifetime of experience has occurred between whiles. I’ll conclude with two songs (both for tenor) from many others worthy of mention. In Rosaline Moeran’s setting naturally complements Thomas Lodge’s unforced rhyme scheme. The gloriously over-the-top conclusion is just about brought to heel at the last moment (although, as is noticeable elsewhere, the tessitura seems uncomfortably high in some of the tenor writing). The Monk’s Fancy, to words by Henry Hope, is an unusually austere, unsettled setting, and could almost be an epitaph for Moeran himself. The poem describes an old monk listening and dreaming by a beach who ‘thought that the waves were singing ... he set the tale in the great book gleaming with beautiful colours and letters of gold’.
 
Tim Mottershead

Gramophone Magazine recommendation (September 2010 edition)
     
June 2010
Even the persistent enthusiasm for British music from the first half of the 20th century hasn't quite embraced E.J. Moeran (1894-1950) as enthusiastically as it might. His Symphony in G minor, indebted to both Sibelius and Vaughan Willams, gets occasional outings, his Violin Concerto and Sinfonietta fewer performances still, while the rest of his output is hardly ever heard. Here, though, is a complete collection of Moeran's songs, and they reveal the half-Irish, half-English composer to have had a refined literary palate and a sensitive ear for setting his chosen texts. The poets represented range from Shakespeare and Marlowe to Yeats and Masefield, and if some of the songs are routine and sometimes rather twee examples of early 20th-century English word-setting, others are far more distinctive. A.E. Housman seems to have brought something special out of Moeran just as his poetry did in so many composers of the same generation, and the highlights of these discs are the two groups of Housman songs that baritone Roderick Williams sings with his usual burnished fluency. The miniature cycle Ludlow Town from 1920 and a more diverse sequence, including a ravishing O Loveliest of Trees, both reveal that Moeran's version of the pastoral was distinctly different from those better-known ones from Butterworrh and Vaughan Williams.

May 28 2010
Moeran, aka Jack, is a fairly dim figure now, but this half-Irish, unsettled character was one of the outstanding inter-war 'pastoral' composers who rejected serialism in favour of folk and early music, and suffered undue neglect for it later. Symphonic and orchestral pieces such as Wythorne's Shadow recall Vaughan Williams, but his songs are more reminiscent of smaller-scale contemporaries like John Ireland and Moeran's friend Peter Warlock. Some 50 are collected here for the first time, and while soloists Roderick Williams, Geraldine McGreevy, Adrian Thompson and pianist John Talbot uncover no startling masterpieces, they un-doubtedly reveal Moeran's achievement.
The songs comprise an impressive body, light-hued but intense, tinged with a distinctly Celtic melancholy. Two large A.E. Housman sequences often do bear comparison with Butterworth in their illumination of the verse, especially The Lads in their Hundreds and Loveliest of Trees - high praise. But other settings range surprisingly widely, from Jacobeans like Dekker, Shakespeare and Chettle to Yeats, Joyce - some limpidly wistful settings - and, remarkably, Dorothy L. Sayers; and they're all well worth hearing.
In raucous contrast, Moeran's
drinking habits inspired some pub
ballads such as Mrs Dyer, the Baby
Farmer
. The male voice ensemble
cheerfully hams up versions of
Maltworms (Back and side go bare)
and Can't You Dance the Polka!.

Michael Scott Rohan
PERFORMANCE *****
RECORDING ****

"With his considerable research into Moeran and his skill as a pianist and accompanist, it is unlikely that a more persuasive advocate of these songs could be found than John Talbot. His devotion to the music, evident in his published edition of them, added to the singers’ innate experience and total involvement, has produced performances of great character and beauty."

Complete Review as PDF here.



"However McGreevy is again magnificent and John Talbot likewise."

Complete Review as PDF here.


Long underrated together with those other composers of the "English cowpat" tendency Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950) is at last being rehabilitated. His love of folk song and his natural lyricism produced song settings of wistful poignancy, especially the Ludlow Town poems of A.E. Housman. This welcome, complete Chandos collection conjures a pastoral mystical England (and Ireland too: Moeran was famous for propping up the bars in Kenmare) beautifully expressed by the three soloists and pianist John Talbot. The imminent English Music Festival (Oxfordshire 28-31 May) and the English Song Weekend (Ludlow 3-6 June) are ideal chances to hear more of this neglected repertoire.

Fiona Maddox, Observer, May 23 2010

 
 
E.J. Moeran
String Quartet No.1
Fantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings in one movement
Sonata for Violin and Piano

Donald Scotts violin
John Talbot piano
Sarah Francis oboe
English String Quartet (Members)
Diana Cummings violin
Luciano Iorio viola
Geoffrey Thomas cello
Melbourne String Quartet *
Mary Nemet - Donald Scotts violins
Marco van Pagee viola
Henry Wenig cello
Buy from Chandos
   
 
'Here are some rarely recorded works by a superb composer in excellent performances at mid-price.'
American Record Guide

Moeran: String Quartet/Fantasy Quartet/Sonata for Violin and Piano

This unique coupling of Moeran’s chamber works is now available on the mid-price Chandos Classics label.

The Violin Sonata is a rare but attractive melodic work, which should be better known. The String Quartet No. 1 in A minor and the Fantasy Quartet demonstrate the highly appealing folk-like influences for which this composer is best known.

This CD is available at mid-price.
The chamber works of E.J. Moeran represent an important but comparatively neglected facet of his output. Despite his later success as an orchestral composer, it was as a composer of chamber music that Moeran first won critical acclaim. Indeed, towards the end of his life he considered he expressed himself best in the chamber medium.

Moeran was representative of his period in twentieth-century British music in his adoption of a tonal idiom coloured by modal and richly chromatic elements. His approach to composition was romantic, in that landscape and emotional states of mind played an important part in the conception of his musical ideas. However, he was also greatly concerned with the formal structure of his music and in that regard was extremely self-critical. It is thus not surprising that his music reveals a sure and effective compositional technique.

Moeran’s musical studies with Sir Charles Stanford at the Royal College of Music were interrupted by military service from 1914 to early 1919, during which period, in 1917, he was severely wounded while stationed in France. He did not resume his studies until 1920, this time with John Ireland, with whom he continued until 1923. Both the Violin Sonata and the String Quartet No. 1 date from this period and both were premiered on the 15 January 1923 at London’s Wigmore Hall. That concert brought Moeran’s first public recognition as a notable contemporary English composer.

   
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Songs by Brian Blyth Daubney
October Roses

Anna Dennis soprano
William Berger baritone
John Talbot piano

BMS433CD
"I hope that these songs find a constituency both within and beyond these shores...
Performances are admirable."
International Record Review..
Piers Burton Page...
"He writes with a sure touch: a feeling for the poems, and a well defined musical idea as the starting-point for his settings...Both singers deserve gratitude, with William Berger showing once again that he is one of the best of our younger baritones. John Talbot is the excellent pianist, catching the mood of each song and sensitive to every development."
Gramophone Magazine John Steane

Members of the British Music Society may well remember Brian Daubney who was for some time Chairman of the Society and Editor of the newsletter. He was and remains a dedicated champion of the music of Benjamin Burrows with whom he studied. Long-standing members of the Society may also know him as a composer since a handful of his songs had been recorded during the early pioneering years of the BMS (BMS 403 - cassette only). Since the time of his professional retirement in 1997, Brian Daubney resumed his composing career and composed a huge quantity of songs with remarkable regularity and consistency. Incidentally, the Society’s archives hold a considerable number of volumes of his songs, no less than twelve at the time of writing, as well as other material.

This brand new release includes seventeen songs written between 1999 and 2004, which give a good idea of Daubney’s "late flowering", to quote Stan Meares’ phrase. Incidentally I am much indebted to Stan for providing me with some factual information concerning Brian’s songs. The thirty songs recorded here are all fairly recent, composed between 1992 and 2004, with the exception of John Anderson, my Jo (words by Robert Burns) and She hath an Art (words by Thomas Campion) that date from the late 1950s. His literary sources are quite varied, from fairly well-known to some less familiar writers and poems. Over recent years, he has composed quite a number of songs to words by the American writer Theodora Goss (born 1968) and by John Alan Davis (born 1929); but a quick glance at the names of the writers reveals wide-ranging interest with settings to words by Keats, Yeats, Hardy, Betjeman, Charlotte Brontë and Randall Swingler to name but a few. The variety of literary sources ensures a remarkable variety in musical settings avoiding any monotony which may often be the main shortcoming of song recitals.

The comparatively early She hath an Art delightfully nods towards Warlock. I can imagine Brian’s eyes blinking with malice when writing this, whereas The Lent Lily and March (both to Housman’s words) bring John Ireland to mind, and none the worse for that. Other songs have an appropriately folk-like tone, such as John Anderson, my Jo and The Fiddler of Dooney (to words by Yeats) or the very beautiful Yeats setting The Lake Isle of Innisfree that sometimes brings Moeran to mind. Theodora Goss’s words, by turns deeply-felt and mildly ironic, find Daubney responding with equally vivid and eloquent tones. His setting of The Singer is one of finest here, very contrasted: declamatory, at times overtly dramatic and beautifully lyrical.

John Alan Davis’s poems, too, obviously mean a great deal to Daubney, and some of the Davis settings are among the finest things in this recital. I particularly like I must go and sleep, the mildly ironic October Roses and Resurrection Spiritual, the latter alluding – both in text and music – to some exalted American Allelujah-shouting preachers, again with tongue-in-cheek irony.

Brian Daubney is not afraid to set words that have been regularly used by generations of composers, such as poems by Housman (The Lent Lily) and Hardy, including Lyonnesse set by Gerald Finzi and by the Irish-born Gerard Victory, or Yeats (e.g. The Cloths of Heaven). However, settings of lesser-known poems also feature here, such as the deceptively simple but deeply moving On the Death of Anne Brontë (words by Charlotte Brontë) and the very fine Absence to words by Charlotte Mew, a name new to me. I was very happy to hear A Rose for Lidice to Swingler’s words again. This song was among the finalists of the 2002 Golden Jubilee Song Composers’ Competition. I suppose that some know Rawsthorne’s beautiful choral setting of this utterly moving text, but Daubney’s own setting is equally moving for all its apparent simplicity.

It would be idle on my part to go into detail about each of these thirty songs. They are all very fine, each one bringing off some facet of Daubney’s music-making. At the risk of repeating myself, I will say again that there is much variety here as far as literary sources and settings are concerned and much to relish. Daubney’s songs may not add anything new to the long British tradition of song-writing, to which they clearly belong, but they certainly breathe fresh air into it.

Both singers obviously enjoy these songs and are superbly partnered by John Talbot, who again proves a very attentive accompanist. The recorded sound is very fine too, with some nicely natural piano sound and the voices not too close. In short, a most welcome release.

Hubert Culot


What a welcome issue this is from the enterprising British Music Society. Brian Blyth Daubney’s long career as a music teacher, music editor, and producer of musicals and operas, has been paralleled by that of composer of choral and theatre music, but more especially, of songs. A lovely selection of these appears on this disc, most hailing from the last fifteen years or so, and only two, “She hath an Art” and “John Anderson, my Jo” dating from the late fifties.

Outstanding here are the settings of British poet, John Alan Davis. “I must go and sleep” has the simple inevitability of a good folksong, and “Hospital Grapes” shows Daubney at this most skilful: an experienced accompanist himself, the composer knows to keep the textures of the piano part sparse so that the text of this superb poem is crystal clear. William Berger’s performance also ensures this, relishing lines like “Your veined voluptuousness” and catching the somewhat more serious mood of the last section perfectly. “Mother Redcap” too shows an inventive response to another resonant poem by Davis.

Throughout these songs and indeed throughout this disc, John Talbot articulates the piano parts with unerring sensitivity, gauging precisely when restraint is appropriate as in the Davis songs, and when assertion is demanded as in “The Fiddler of Dooney”. In his choice of texts, Daubney responds particularly to the nostalgic melancholy of the Hardy poems. “The Sigh” seems to me the most distinguished song on this disc and “Lyonnesse” not far behind, Berger’s baritone ringing out thrillingly in the climactic final verse of this song as the mood changes from “lonesomeness” to exultation. Similar in their sensitive rapport with the nostalgic mood of poems by Keats, Yeats, and Charlotte Brontë, are “Shed no Tear”, the feeling nicely caught by Anna Dennis (how beautiful the piano part is here, relished and beautifully realized by John Talbot), “The Folly of Being Comforted”, and “On the Death of Anne Brontë” where Dennis again faithfully creates, with her rather plangent tone, Charlotte’s feeling of loss at the death of her sister. It is in his response to the mood of these sombre poems that Daubney is most successful, I think, rather than to the jolly, quirky texts of two other poems by John Allan Davis, “October Roses” and “Resurrection Spiritual”. But I’ll have to confess that this comment probably says more about the preferences of this reviewer than the quality of these two songs, objectively considered. Certainly Daubney’s version of a spiritual makes a rousing ending for this excellent disc.

Throughout, the balance between singer and piano is ideal, a tribute to the collaborative work of the artists and the work of the sound engineers. In the accompanying booklet, full texts are supplied, together with informative material on composer and artists.

(First published English Poetry and Song Society Newsletter 34, March 2007. Appearing here by permission)

Graham Bruce


I do not wish to discuss individual songs – either musically or poetically. It is clear that anyone with even a smattering of an understanding of English literature will be seriously impressed with the texts chosen by Brian Blyth Daubney. Big hitters include A.E Housman, John Keats, W.B. Yeats, John Betjeman and Thomas Hardy. But other names jostle for our attention. The great ‘socialist’ poet Randall Swingler, the American poet Theodora Goss and the writer of Linden Lea William Barnes all lend their excellent poems to the composer’s pen.

My first observation is that Daubney is unafraid to set words that have a life of their own. For example all lovers of English ‘lieder’ will know John Ireland’s setting of The Lent Lily. And let us not forget Ivor Gurney’s and C.W Orr’s offering of that fine poem too. Further down the track-list is the lovely Yeats poem The Cloths of Heaven. I guess most will associate this song with Janet Baker, Gerald Moore and of course Thomas Dunhill. In this case both Daubney and Dunhill hit the spot – but I feel that the utter simplicity of the latter is not quite achieved. The Rose of Lidice was given almost classic status by Alan Rawsthorne – but once again Daubney gives a totally acceptable and moving alternative.

My second thought is simply this. Does Daubney contribute to the corpus of English Song? This is a harder question to answer – on the face of it he has created a number of fine songs that well suit both voice and piano - of that I have no doubt. But the other side of the coin is that they are quite definitely derivative. It is not difficult to play spot the composer – Finzi, Moeran, Ireland et al. It is even possible to hear echoes of Benjamin Britten. But what there does not appear be in these songs is a genuine Daubney style. As Hubert Culot states in his review on these pages – "Daubney’s songs may not add anything new to the long British tradition of song-writing…" The composer does not push any boundaries: he quite clearly avoids the more avant-garde techniques of writing for vocal line. He is definitely a writer in the past.

But my answer to this is "So what!"

I have long argued against ignoring composers simply because they are not at the forefront of stylistic revolutions. I care not a whit that Stanford is beholden to Brahms – I just adore his music. I have never had any problems with C.W. Orr’s Delius-like songs. The bottom line is this – some composers make advances into new territories – others consolidate the ground already gained.

Perhaps the only caveat in all this is that in many of these songs Daubney seems caught in a style that is pushing seventy-plus years old. Maybe this is a little bit of musical escapism?

But lastly I ask simply the question – do these songs move the listener? The answer is clearly that many of them do. There is no more to be said.

My last thought is how to listen to this disc. Certainly it is wrong to bang the CD into the player and let rip for a generous 79 minutes and 30 songs. It needs a little more thought and attention. I suggest listening to it in cycles. For example play the seven songs by Theodora Goss at one sitting. Go have a cup of tea. Take Swingler’s Rose of Lidice on its own and so on. Only by doing this can we be fair to the composer and to the poets – and not forgetting the two wonderful singers and a fine pianist.

Hubert Culot concludes his review by saying that Daubney "certainly breathes fresh air into it" [the English Song tradition]. With this I heartily agree. A great release and required listening for all enthusiasts of English Lieder.

John France

 

     
   
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English Cello Sonatas
John Foulds
Sonata for Cello and Piano Op.6
Ernest Walker
Sonata in F minor for cello and piano Op.41
York Bowen
Sonata in A major for cello and piano Op.64

Jo Cole cello
John Talbot piano

BMS423CD
   
Jo Cole (cello) and John Talbot (piano)
'.. a performance of palpable, indeed eloquent, commitment.'
Hi-Fi News and Record Review
Calum MacDonald
TEMPO Quarterly
'.. (the Foulds Sonata) ought to be one of the mainstays of the international cello-piano repertoire .... a mandatory acquisition for anyone with a genuine interest in British music.'
TEMPO Martin Anderson
   
A few months ago a young cellist stated on the radio how few works there were for the cello. As a devotee of the cello repertoire I know this to be untrue as,according to my researches,I have listed well in excess of a hundred substantial works by well known composers; more than enough for any performer’s portfolio. Maybe, when compared to the violin repertoire, the number of works for the cello do take a back seat but there is clearly something there for all tastes. A young cellist could do worse than listen to and study these cello sonatas by the three relatively unknown English composers: Foulds, Walker and Bowen. These rarely played compositions, all of which are receiving their premier recordings, prove to be interesting and satisfying works and are most welcome additions to the cello repertoire.

The first work on this BMS release is the inventive and melodic cello sonata from John Foulds, which he conceived as early as 1905. Foulds was a professional cellist and aged 20 became a player with the Hallé Orchestra. Owing to his connections in the music world Foulds could boast meetings with the eminent composers Busoni, Mahler, Strauss, Delius, Bartók and Humperdinck. The cello sonata is said to have a high reputation which is not borne out by the small number of performances it has received. In fact, music writer Malcolm MacDonald classed this work as one of the finest, if not the finest, cello sonata by an English composer. In my view the Foulds sonata does contain some very fine moments especially in the lyrical second movement Lento but is inconsistent in quality and is certainly not in the same league as the sonatas by Delius, Ireland, Moeran and Bridge, for example. The Lento is a fascinating movement where Foulds displays his earliest use of quartet tones. To be frank Foulds’ invention took me by surprise as I momentarily thought that the cellist was tuning-up at my first hearing of the work.

Ernest Walker, a pianist and organist worked for the majority of this life as a music educator and author at Oxford's Balliol College and is a name that I am unfamiliar with. I found the cello sonata pleasant, extremely interesting and emotionally restrained but rather disappointing overall. This contrasts with Ivor Keys’view in The New Grove who stated: "The cello sonata combines passion and harmonic adventure." I did enjoy the central slow movement Adagio where Walker achieves some moments of real calm and serenity. The mood is predominately lyrical and rhapsodic but without that telling melodic expression and I feel that the work will continue to struggle for performances.

York Bowen can do no wrong for me at the moment and I am consistently impressed by the quality of his compositions that have finally made it to the recording studio. This cello sonata is out of the top drawer and I am amazed that this work is not a staple of the cello repertoire. As I have come to expect from Bowen, the sonata is often tender, melodic and shamelessly romantic in mood. Bowen's chamber music is extremely distinctive in style and the cello sonata is no exception. Here the piano part dominates and the brilliant writing could be from a Rachmaninov or Albeniz piano concerto. The highlight of a fine work is the final movement Allegro con fuoco, which demands to be heard. Unfortunately the technical difficulties seem to stretch Cellist Jo Cole beyond her limit at times.

Although I am not familiar with it, there is an alternative version of the Bowen cello sonata from the soloists of the Endymion Ensemble, from a release of Bowen chamber music on Dutton CDLX7120. The booklet notes on this BMS disc states that all these works are premier recordings, so I can only guess that they were recorded before the Dutton version.
Royal Academy of Music trained cello soloist Jo Cole clearly loves these works and gives energetic and enthusiastic performances. Frequently I wondered about the tuning of Cole's instrument. I'm sorry to report that I found her tone unpleasant at times, especially in the middle to higher registers. On several occasions she seemed to really struggle technically. It made me wonder how these sonatas would have sounded in the hands of a heavyweight cellist. The pianist John Talbot gives committed performances and consistently takes the lead; even dominating the proceedings at times. The piano I do not feel is heard to its best advantage, owing to Talbot's overuse of the sustaining pedal, particularly in the Foulds sonata. Furthermore, there is an over-reverberant acoustic, again particularly noticeable in the Foulds, a phenomenon which I have also experienced with another BMS recording.

It is suggested that owing to the generous length of the CDs playing time there could be a problem with ejecting the disc from the CD player. I can report experiencing no such problems.

Reservations aside, collectors of English chamber works are urged to hear these interesting works; especially the Bowen.

Michael Cookson MusicWeb International
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Sixty Glorious Years
The Midlands Chorale
Robert Williams conductor
Ian Wass organ

John Talbot piano
Katy Morell soprano
Phillida Bannister contralto
Campbell Russell tenor
Fiona Murphy cello
Wilfred Goddard clarinet


BMS422CD

 

We infrequently come across new recordings of vintage 19th Century songs, ballads and hymns so this CD is a rare and admirable find. Linked to a concert performance in celebration of the centenary year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, we sample the music of some forgotten composers. Here the mixture is wide and allows one to learn something of their styles.

The ballads, To Anthea and When I beheld the anchor, are both delightful and well suit Campbell Russell's light lyrical tenor voice. The Balfe ballad comes from his first major opera, The Siege of La Rochelle (1835), an opera unjustly neglected.

For me, particular highlights of the disc are the piano pieces. Here delightful compositions of Sterndale Bennett, Romance; Brinley Richards, Pastorale and Walter Macfarren L'Amitie, have been unearthed. All are beautifully played by John Talbot on a piano with warm tone.

The Midlands Chorale sing with good harmony and strength in the soprano section. They are particularly well accomplished in their handling of the four-part chorus/madrigal by Pearson. Armes' madrigal would be more charming if there was more attention to dynamics. The opening track of Sullivan's Jubilee Hymn seems a good choice to set the historical scene. Though well sung it suffers from a certain lethargy brought about by its plodding tempo. This disappoints as an opening piece. I can understand the need to take hymns slowly in a cathedral setting, but where reverberation problems are not in evidence a more lively speed would be an advantage. Perhaps the other choral pieces and hymns on this disc are similarly a touch on the slow side for many listeners' liking.

The Martin Festival Te Deum is engaging and although Martin's organ accompaniment is unsophisticated the choir hold it together with a good pace. Martin is not well known and as only two other entries appear in the catalogue (for a hymn and psalm) this representation of his music is appreciated. Goss wrote many pieces of church music during his long life yet the sombre example chosen does not for me contain much of interest. Mackenzie's Dormi, Jesu, on the other hand, provides plenty of interest and is delivered by Phillida Bannister (contralto) accompanied by Fiona Murphy (cello0 and John Talbot (piano).

Of all the pieces that could have represented the works of Henry Bishop, Home Sweet Home seems an uninspired choice. This gentle and dreamy song is already well known from the BBC Proms. Perhaps one of his Shakespearean pieces, fresh to the ears, would have been more welcome.

The singers are accomplished and deliver the lyrics with fair sensitivity. The brief, yet useful, notes unfortunately omit to give any dates of composition and so the listener cannot make comparisons of style with period.

Raymond Walker

 

As ever with British Music Society releases you can depend on a disc of carefully compiled and thoughtfully researched music. Quite whether the music here is as revelatory as some is more open to debate. In fact, my abiding thought is, yet again, what an extraordinary surge of musical creativity the English Musical Renaissance was when compared with the blandness of much that came before. This disc is in fact a recording of a concert given on 15 November 1997 showcasing (for want of a better word) music that was written during the reign of Queen Victoria. As a conspectus of the style and type of British music (away from the Parry/Stanford axis) it is a very useful document and I can imagine that attending the concert was both fascinating and rewarding. Whether any of the music here deserves preservation except for curiosity or reference value is more open to question. In the midst of the relatively well-known composers like Arthur Sullivan and Alexander Mackenzie we get to hear music by John Hullah, John Liptrop Hatton and Brinley Richards to name but three.

The concert was based on an idea by BMS stalwart Stan Meares and it is a well structured programme. I enjoyed the mixture of items from choral, to inspirational(?) songs to solo piano items. Quite deliberately I am sure this recreates a kind of concert-party atmosphere which the slightly dusty nature of the music does little to disperse. John Talbot on piano is the standout performer. The solo piano items are the most technically demanding items on offer here and Talbot plays them each impeccably and with as much musicianship as one could wish. It is quite extraordinary however just how hard these composers found it to throw off the shackles of 19th Century Germanic models. Sterndale Bennett’s Romance No.2 Op.14 impresses by its workmanship and easy-flowing melody while at the same time being more Mendelssohnian than Mendelssohn in his most Songs without Words mode. On that subject – is it just me or is the opening phrase here of Mackenzie’s Dormi Jesu (track 3) rather close to Mendelssohn’s O for the wings of a dove! Likewise, you can imagine Walter Macfarren’s L’Amitié – Caprice having composition professors purring their approval for all the things it does ‘right’ without ever troubling the concept of originality. Talbot is also the accompanist for the solo items in the programme. Unfortunately, given the number of items with words no texts are provided but this disadvantage is countered by clear diction from all the singers. The piano parts are uniformly dull providing little more than a simple harmonic basis on which the melodies lie. In the main the songs are in ballad form with a basic verse structure allowing the recounting of an enlightening narrative or text. In all honesty it could not be said that any of the soloists have exceptional voices but they are all very well attuned to the style required. Perhaps it does take a Benjamin Luxon in his pomp to ‘sell’ this type of song. The choral items are sung by the Midland Chorale. They are a hardworking and enthusiastic amateur chorus who sing well but again lack that last ounce of tonal refinement and technical address that would help lift the mediocre material onto a higher plane. Sullivan’s Jubilee Hymn – O King of Kings is a good example. It was commissioned personally by Queen Victoria to be sung “throughout the Empire” as part of her Jubilee. One wonders if she was hoping for another Onward Christian Soldiers because if so she didn’t get it. This is Sullivan at his most po-faced and least original – I’m sure the Victorian establishment was delighted! To take one further example – Michael Balfe (his dates are given wrongly in the liner-notes) was a composer hugely feted by the Victorian age. His statue was erected at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane as one of 4 ‘immortals’ of theatre – the other three are Shakespeare, Garrick and Keane. For sure his melodies are fluent and easy on the ear, but an immortal I think not.

In fact it is the slightest spark of real compositional genius that is conspicuously absent from this programme. Take Philip Armes’ madrigal, Victoria written in 1897 for the Jubilee it won (out of 34 other submissions) the Molyneux Prize and the Madrigal Society’s Medal but a hundred years hence it sounds drear and a pastiche in the worst way. Unfortunately it is this item that shows up the limitations of the choir with Armes’ carefully (too carefully?) written polyphonic lines finding out the singer’s weaknesses in terms of tuning and ensemble. Bear in mind by that year Elgar had already produced the relatively minor Songs from the Bavarian Highlands Op.27 and such miniature gems for choir as The Snow and Fly, Singing Bird Op.26, pieces which in their emerging personality go way beyond anything on offer on this disc. The best known work on the CD is Home! Sweet Home! by Sir Henry Bishop. This is a classic case of a melody known to nearly everyone but few, myself included, could name the composer. Yet in the context of this programme it is fascinating how naturally this drawing-room ballad evolves out of the musical language of the other more self-conciously ‘serious’ works. They are all ploughing the same musical/aesthetic furrow. To my mind that is the crux of the problem facing composers in 19th century Britain. They were struggling to produce work that served the dual purposes of ‘moral rectitude’ on one hand whilst paying homage to Germanic musical ideals on the other. It would take an outsider like Elgar, driven by his own artistic creed and from outside the establishment to break through this cultural glass ceiling.

Perhaps the ultimate example of the general mediocrity of the music here is the fact that ‘talented amateur’ Prince Albert’s Does my brother think of me? fits perfectly into the programme! Almost every piece seems to be a dilution of something else. So Macfarren’s Pack Clouds Away is blatantly influenced by Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock; one of the less successfully performed pieces to be honest – neither soprano Katy Morrell or clarinetist Wilfred Goddard sounding completely at ease. Conversely the two settings by Walter Carroll benefit from having a deliberate simplicity that makes them grateful to sing and pleasant to listen to. The largest piece in the concert closes the CD, Sir George C. Martin’s Short Festival Te Deum in A. This has historical interest as Martin, in his role as organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, wrote this for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The occasion is recorded by the painting reproduced on the CD’s cover and a vast and impressive event it looks too. Performed on the steps of St Paul’s by a military band, massed choirs and the ‘Great Paul’ bell of the Cathedral you can imagine the pomp. Sadly, stripped of that adrenalin-fuelled scenario again the music appears as frankly dull. Sadly, the organ of Tettenhall College where this concert was recorded, is simply not up to the job and the choir struggle to project the work as well as they might. Don’t forget The Dream of Gerontius was only three years away when Martin did his dutiful best, chalk and cheese doesn’t even come close!

The recording of this concert is straightforwardly achieved. The audience are immaculately quiet – barely a rustle or a cough from beginning to end with applause after the final item reminding one of its live nature. Very much a curiosity item then and not a disc I would return to often except for reference purposes. But as a disc to remind one of the blazing genius of Elgar and the unique path he trod through 1890s British musical culture invaluable.

Nick Barnard

 
 
     
     
 
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