This is an enjoyable CD of songs by the Welsh composer Gareth Glyn. They have been composed over his entire career with the earliest dating from 1970 and the most recent in 2015. They are sung here by tenor voice, but not all were first conceived in this form. The first, eleventh and the last feature all ‘Three Tenors’. Glyn is not afraid to use ‘modern’ technology: he is perfectly happy to feature keyboards, bass and drum kit where he feels it is appropriate.
I want to reflect on what for me were highlights. The opening song, Gwynt yr Haf (Summer Wind) is possibly the most appealing of the set. This was composed in 1974 and was subsequently recorded by the Welsh five-piece female vocal group Sidan. The song is all about strolling with one’s lover in the countryside, presumably Welsh, on a beautiful summer’s day. It is powerfully sung by the ‘Three Tenors.’
The second song on the disc is much more in the mould of an art song. Araf y Tipia’r Cloc (Slowly the Ticking Clock) was written in 1970; it is the earliest work on this CD. The composer explains that the poet describes ‘a traditional Welsh kitchen displayed in a museum, but longs to see and hear the family which would once have occupied it.’ It is a moving number that reveals Glyn’s skill at setting words and creating an appropriate musical mood.
The most significant work on this disc is the first recording of the song cycle I Wefr Dadeni (Life Reborn) composed in 1995. It was commissioned by Wynford Evans (1946-2009). After recovering from surgery, Evans ‘vowed to travel widely giving concerts to celebrate what he saw as his ‘rebirth’.’ The five songs all reflect this idea of rebirth.
The opening number, Y Pair (The Cauldron), compares a ‘coal-blackened collier,’ entering his tin bath to a warrior placed in the Cauldron of Rebirth found in the great Welsh legends known as the Mabinogion. The second song, more predictably, majors on Golgotha and Christ’s suffering and resurrection. The concept of Resurrection is continued in the song Eirlysiau (Snowdrops), where the poet sees the early snowdrops as an allegory for believers at the Last Judgement ‘clad in dazzling white raiments.’ Equally symbolic, is the Y Gwanwyn (Spring) which matches the ‘birth’ of an early primrose with the revelation of the empty tomb. The music here is passionate and reflects the fast-paced poetical examination of metaphors connected with this new birth. The final song is all about the onset and implications of middle and old age. Again, Sialens (Challenge) is an ardent song which concludes with the challenge ‘I’ll not surrender, but come young and free/I know, from my sore strife, when that shall be.’ It is an effective and demanding song cycle that deserves much better recognition. All the songs in the published cycle have English lyrics too, so the material is there for anyone who might consider making a recording in that language.
Turning to a different genre, Fy Ngeni dan Felltith Mam (Born under a Mother’s Curse) was taken from the musical ‘Gwydion’. This was first heard at the 2015 National Eisteddfod. Glyn has provided a new arrangement of this song with the refrain including the ‘three tenors.’ It is a rather splendid number which is probably better than anything written by Andrew Lloyd Webber (in my opinion!). The song derives from the Mabinogion legend of Blodeuwedd, where a young man complains to his mother that she has laid three curses on him: one of these is that he could never have a human wife.
The final track also features the three tenors. Carol y Seren (The Star Carol) is one of the composer’s most popular pieces. The carol was a winning entry in a 1984 competition to write and compose a carol for Trebor Edwards. Glyn’s wife provided the text. He has arranged this attractive number for many combinations, including soloists, massed choirs with orchestra and ‘everything in between. It is, as they would say in the North of England ‘a reet good sing.’
It was unfair of me to select only nine of the songs on this CD. I enjoyed all of them. Up to now I have only really known Gareth Glyn as an orchestral composer. Certainly, based on the works presented here, Glyn deserves an accolade for his vocal music which provides ‘excellent examples of his skill for setting words, clothed in the most loving and sensitive melodies and harmonies.’ (Dr Alwyn Humphreys MBE, CD liner notes).
One of the problems with this CD release is the lack of an English translation of the songs. Most CDs of lieder and song that I have reviewed provide this essential facility which allows the listener to engage fully with the singers and the songs. I accept that that the gist each number is presented in English in the liner notes.
It would be a pity if this attractive CD does not gain traction beyond the Welsh border, simply because most people do not understand the language. The rest of the liner notes are given in both languages.
The sound quality of this disc is excellent. Whether it is the singers, the piano or the keyboards, it is all superbly performed.
I did feel that the programme was a wee bit short: 49 minutes does seem a little mean for a CD these days. I am sure that Gareth Glyn has many more songs up his sleeve that could have been included.
On the other hand, this disc presents a song-cycle and 14 other songs which are all approachable, enjoyable, and with limited resources for non-Welsh speakers, sometimes exciting and at other times quite moving.
Gareth GLYN (b.1951)
Gwynt yr Haf (Summer’s Wind) (1974)
Araf y Tipia'r Cloc (Slowly the Ticking Clock) (1970)
Llys Aberffraw (The Royal Court of Aberffraw) (2007)
Brodyr Maeth Hywel (The Royal Court of Aberffraw) (2007)
I Wefr Dadeni (Life Reborn) (Song Cycle) (1995) Y Pair (The Cauldron); Golgotha; Eirlysiau (Snowdrops); Y Gwanwyn (Spring); Sialens (Challenge)
Carol yr Alarch (The Swan Carol) (1989)
Fy Ngeni Dan Felltith Mam (Born under a Mother’s Curse) (2015)
Ionawr (January) (2001)
Eirlysiau (Snowdrops) (2001)
Crafangau (Talons) (1970)
Carol y Seren (The Star Carol) (1984)
Rhys Meirion, Elgan Llŷr Thomas, Rhodri Prys Jones
Annette Bryn Parri (piano and keyboards), Owen Lloyd-Evans (bass), Graham Land (drums)
Rec. Stiwdio Sain, Llandwrog April-June 2017
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.