Wednesday, 30 March 2011

October Roses – The Songs of Brian Blyth Daubney

Brian Blyth DAUBNEY (b. 1929) The Lent Lily; March; A Rose for Lidice; She hath an Art; Autumn, the Fool; Echo and Narcissus; The Frost; Helen in Sparta; Goblin Song; Mother Redcap; Hospital Grapes; Young Friend; The Singer; I must go and sleep; Absence; Dirge for a Lady; John Anderson, my Jo; Wantage Bells; Shed No Tear; Natura Naturans; The Storm; The Lake Isle of Innisfree; The Folly of Being Comforted; The Sigh; Lyonnesse; The Fiddler of Dooney; On the Death of Anne Brontë; The Cloths of Heaven; October Roses; Resurrection Spiritual William Berger (baritone); Anna Dennis (soprano); John Talbot (piano) BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY BMSCD433

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 song 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 70-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 seek to 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.

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published

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