Wednesday 28 November 2018

Percy Whitlock: The Man and his Music

In a few days, I will post an essay on one of Percy Whitlock’s better-known organ pieces. This work is suitable for the beginning of the imminent Advent season. In the meantime, I present a slightly edited version of an essay I wrote for MusicWeb International. It was published there in 2000. In this I gave a brief overview of the ‘man and his music.’ I have rechecked my facts, made a few corrections and several edits.

At the time when Ralph Vaughan Williams was writing his middle-period symphonies and Benjamin Britten was beginning to find his mature voice, a composer was writing music for the organ (and other forces) which would become part of the standard repertoire. Percy Whitlock did not devise a 'new' music - he was no Marcel Dupré or Olivier Messiaen. However, what he achieved was a perfect fusion of three styles or genres: late-romantic, neo-classical and dance hall - with the emphasis on the late-romantic. He was a master-craftsman who is impossible to classify. He cannot be defined as a 'light' music composer - witness his great Organ Symphony. Yet he was able to produce 'pop' pieces such as the 'Bucket and Spade Polka' and the ‘Picnic March.’ He was eclectic and in this sense his style appeals to all except those who despise any nod in the direction of what is popular.

The Man
Percy Whitlock was born in Chatham, Kent on 1 June 1903. At the age of seven he was given a voice trial at Rochester Cathedral, where he was successful in being accepted as a probationer. This was the beginning of a long association with the organ loft. He was a scholar at the Cathedral Choir School and then the Kings School, Rochester. He attended the Royal College of Music between 1920 and 1924. There he studied organ with Henry G. Ley and composition with Ralph Vaughan Williams. One of his tutors was the indefatigable Sir Charles Villiers Stanford.
In 1921 Whitlock became the assistant organist at his old 'alma mater'. The organist of Rochester at that time was Charles Hylton Stewart (1884-1932). Around this time, Whitlock was organist and choir master at St Mary's Chatham and then at St Mathew's Parish Church, Borstal. It was always expected that he would become the organist at Rochester when the post became vacant. However, a certain Harold Aubie Bennett was appointed when Hylton Stewart left for Chester Cathedral. Whitlock resigned as assistant and moved to Bournemouth where he became organist at St Stephen's Parish Church (1930-35). However, Whitlock’s main appointment of the nineteen-thirties and forties was the Borough Organist at the Municipal Pavilion, commencing in 1932. He remained in this post until his untimely death in 1946. It was here that he discovered his truly eclectic spirit. The post required an ability to play 'heavy' classics and 'light' dance music. He was a master of both.
In January 1931 Percy Whitlock married Edna Kingdon who was also a musician.
In the pre-war years, Whitlock was much occupied with giving recitals in London, Bournemouth and other parts of the South. He gave many performances for the BBC. A perusal of the appendices to Malcolm Riley's biography (1998) reveal a fine catalogue of journalism. A regular contribution to the Bournemouth Daily Echo was published under the pseudonym of Kenneth Lark. This 'nom de plume' was also used in some compositions written at the time. There were several literary contributions to the standard musical journals of the day.
Percy Whitlock died on the 1st May 1946, an untimely death at the age of 42. It was a loss regretted by all who knew him. L.S. Barnard in the obituary for Musical Opinion (June 1946) states that ‘[Whitlock] had the most extraordinary and endearing personal qualities. His personality carried with it an atmosphere of serenity and gentleness seldom encountered in these sophisticated and disingenuous times. He had, too, a virile wit and sense of fun…’
Whitlock had several other interests than music. He was a Meccano aficionado, a railway enthusiast and built working clocks. He wrote a monograph on the steam locomotives of the South Eastern & Chatham Railway.

The Music
Percy’s Whitlock's catalogue is not extensive. The range of his compositions is limited: this is not a criticism. For what has survived the vagaries of time, is of an exceptional standard of workmanship and is an invaluable addition to the literature. The main corpus is the organ music. From the relatively light ‘Chanty’ from the Plymouth Suite (1937-39) to the deeper waters of the two Fantasie Chorales, Whitlock never allows the quality of his writing to slip. He rarely attempts to surprise the listener with 'harmonic or formal novelties'. His music is quite conservative in its sound and structure. Although much of his writing has a delicious ‘light' quality to it, it never becomes sentimental or trite. The listener may hear echoes of the 'cinema organ’: it is often equally possible to imagine an accompaniment to a 'high ceremonial' in a great cathedral.
There were excursions into orchestral music and chamber pieces. He wrote, as was common with many composers of the day, a Phantasy Quartet in A minor. There were works for string quartet and violin and piano. Unfortunately, many of Whitlock's scores have either been destroyed or lost. It will remain impossible to hear much of what he wrote. 
There is a fair catalogue of choral music. This includes settings of the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis, a simple communion service and several anthems and liturgical pieces. Two pageants were written severally for the communities of Bridgewater and Rochester which were designed for chorus and orchestra. In this case it is probably difficult to rescue what were highly ephemeral pieces of music.

Whitlock fans are lucky that in 2001 Marco Polo/Naxos (8.225162) released an album of Whitlock’s orchestral music. Nearly two thirds of the surviving scores are included on this CD. Most of it is frankly 'light' music though none the worse for that. They have evocative titles such as the Wessex Suite and the Holiday Suite. This first of these has sentimental but attractive movements such as 'Revels in Hogsnorton' and 'The Blue Poole' - the second suite enjoying evocative titles such as the 'Bucket and Spade Polka' and 'In the Ballroom'. Echoes of holidays by the sea - especially at Bournemouth.
More profound is the Prelude Air and Fugue of 1939 which was given at Bournemouth to somewhat mixed reviews. I understand that although the full-score of this work is available, it has yet to receive a recording.

There is much organ music. Many of the pieces have become favourites of those who haunt organ lofts. Most organists probably have one or more of them well and truly under their belts.
The earliest were the Five Short Pieces (1929) with the most popular number being the second piece, ‘Folksong’. It has all the trappings of the 'English folk song revival'. Four Extemporisations were issued in 1933 followed by the two volumes of Seven Sketches on Verses from the Psalms. Whitlock entered on a more serious period with his Two Fantasie Chorales (1931-33) - one in D flat major and the second in F sharp minor. Both these pieces reflect Whitlock’s romanticism at full flight. The Organ Sonata in C minor (1935-36) dwarfs most of the other pieces that Whitlock wrote. There is little of the 'sea front and deck chairs' about this work although the Scherzetto has a lot of 'fun' about it.
The Plymouth Suite is probably the composers most famous and most popular work. The Toccata and the quieter Salix retains it place in the repertoire of most organists. There was gap of six years between this famous work and the two volumes of the Six Hymn Preludes of 1945.
The last published organ music Whitlock wrote was Reflections (Three Quiet pieces) given in 1946.
Malcolm Riley (1998) mentions a lost set of Variations which were the last piece to exercise the composer before his untimely death.

Whitlock's masterpiece is his 'Organ Symphony' of 1936/37. It is a work in four movements lasting nearly three quarters of an hour. Scored for large orchestra including two harps, it is set in four movements. The concerto was inspired by an article in the Radio Times where George Thalben-Ball lamented the fact that there was no good 'English Organ Concertos' in existence. (I was unable to locate this article). Whitlock rose to the challenge and produced this work which is more of a 'concertante' piece than a concerto. Musical detectives have found references to the styles of many composers in this work including Edward Elgar, Richard Strauss, Frederick Delius and Sergei Rachmaninov. It is important to understand that this is no pastiche: no cut and paste exercise. It is pure Whitlock. A highly romantic and tuneful work which deserves to be in the repertoire of all concert organists and is just crying out to be played at the Proms.
The 'Organ Symphony' is an extremely moving work, touching the heart and mind much more than many supposedly finer and more subtle works produced by the 'big boys' of the immediate pre-war days.

Riley, Malcom, Percy Whitlock: Organist and Composer, (London, Thames Publishing, 1998)
Ed. Riley, Malcolm, The Percy Whitlock Companion, (The Percy Whitlock Trust, 2007)

Sunday 25 November 2018

Wandering Pathways: Music for recorder and chamber ensemble

This CD is a celebration of the centenary of the American conductor, composer and author Leonard Bernstein. Prima Facie has reissued his Variations on an Octatonic Scale, for recorder and cello (1988/9) along with an interesting selection of music by other composers including John McCabe, Alun Hoddinott, Robert Crawford and David Ellis. At the end of my review I note the source CD of each work.
The opening track features one of the last works composed by Bernstein. The piece was written as a gift for Helena, daughter of the film and television director Humphrey Burton. She is a competent recorderist.
The world premiere of the Variations on an Octatonic Scale was given at St. Catherine's Church, Port Erin, Isle of Man on 2 July 1997. The soloists were John Turner, recorder and Jonathan Price, cello. The theme was derived from Bernstein’s ballet score Dybbuk (1974). The same ‘tune’ was later used in the composer’s Concerto for Orchestra: Jubilee Games (1989).  The Variations is a fascinating little piece that explores some of the furthest reaches of recorder technique, including flutter-tonguing, low registers and overblowing.

Peter Hope’s Fantasia on John Dowland’s ‘Flow my Tears’ (2011) is interesting. It is a timeless work that is well-able to counterpoint the original instrumental sound of Dowland with something more astringent from the 21st century-and points between. There is even a rapturous jig. But the surprise twist is the introduction of a blues-inspired middle section. Somehow all this stylistic diversity holds together and creates a memorable piece of music that is faithful to Dowland’s original lament and the vicissitudes of our own day. Instrumentally, the work makes use of descant, treble and tenor recorders which test the soloist to the extreme. A little masterpiece.
I did wish that Robert Crawford’s Variations on a Ground, for recorder and string quartet went on longer that its four and a half minutes. Based on a six-bar ‘ground-bass’ formed from all twelve notes of the chromatic scale, this is a work that exudes invention and is a masterclass in the musical development of his ‘theme.’
These Variations were originally written in 1993 for recorder and piano and dedicated to John Turner and Peter Lawson. It was reworked in 2012 in the present arrangement, and was premiered at St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh on 29 October 2013. This is a challenging work that is both intense in its working-out and deeply lyrical. It was to be Crawford’s last completed work.

Every year John Turner sends a ‘musical’ Christmas card to his friends and colleagues: it is an event that I always look forward to. And Xmas treat is literally the score of a carol printed on the card, with Seasonal Greetings! In fact, last year a CD from Divine Art (dda 25161) was issued featuring many of these remarkable carols. David Beck took the tune of one of these and reinvented it as ‘Carol Variations’ for recorder and harpsichord. This was soon followed by the present version featuring string quartet. It is a lovely little piece that begins and ends with the composer’s harmonisation of the tune. In-between, are five charming variations including a beautiful ‘siciliano.’ The work was completed in 2011.

Alun Hoddinott’s ‘Lizard Variants’ was inspired by a poem of Gwyn Thomas. It is written for solo recorder. This piece is written in a complex arch form and explores a wide variety of instrumental techniques and effects from the soloist. It was composed in 1998 in honour of Sir John Manduell’s 70th birthday. It is a demanding tour de force.
This poem was the inspiration for three further works by Hoddinott: Lizard for piano (1997), the song cycle Tymhorau (Seasons) op. 155b and Lizard: concerto for orchestra, op. 181 (2003).

David Ellis is a composer who deserves more recognition. The few works that I have heard, including the Symphony No.1, are impressive and interesting. The Elegiac Variations, op.66 for recorder, viola and cello, written in 2001 is a case in point. This is a set of highly contrasting variations that exhibit intensity and depth of feeling.  Written in ternary form, the middle section is vivacious whilst the opening and closing music is true to the title. They were written for John Turner.

A few months ago, I reviewed Peter Dickinson’s imaginative ‘Translations’ for recorder, gamba and harpsichord (1971) (PRIMA FACIE PFNSCD009). This is a challenging piece devised specifically for David Munrow. Most often associated with early music, Munrow was keen to promote contemporary works for early instruments.
I noted in my review that I am not a passionate early music enthusiast (I like my Bach played on the piano, rather than the clavichord or harpsichord!). On the other hand, Dickinson’s eclectic ‘take’ on the medium is ‘right up my street.’ Look out for the avant-garde tropes of the late sixties and seventies lining up with ‘pop’ melodies, jazz and even rock riffs. It is my favourite piece of ‘early music’!

I would not normally associate John McCabe with the ‘cow and gate’ movement in music. Certainly, I would not have expected a ‘Meditation on a Norfolk Ballad.’ Yet, all is not quite as ‘pastoral’ as the title would suggest. True, the music is based on deconstructed phrases from the folksong ‘The Captain’s Apprentice’ which was collected in Norfolk by RVW in the early years of the 20th century and used effectively in that composer’s Norfolk Rhapsody. McCabe has created a penetrating score that underlies the tragedy of the death of the apprentice, the subsequent mutiny of the crew and the inevitable justice to the ship’s captain. This is not just a setting of the folk-tune, but a complex representation of the musical material: it creates a deeply felt miniature tone-poem. A work that deserves to be better known.

The oldest piece on this disc is Richard Arnell’s Quintet ‘The Gambian.’ It dates from around the time that The Gambia gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1965. Apparently, the Reverend John Faye, High Commissioner sang a tune which was written down by Arnell and then entered in a competition for a new national anthem. They lost. The Quintet uses this ‘improvised’ tune as the theme. The Quintet (recorder and string quartet) opens with a rhapsodic introduction, followed by a set of variations and concluding with a ‘chorale.  It is a particularly attractive work that belies its prosaic genesis.

The most remarkable work on this CD is the final track: David Forshaw’s ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’, for recorder and string quartet. I understand that it was originally written in 1996 for recorder and piano and was subsequently transcribed for recorder and string quartet around 2000. Poetry aficionados will guess that the inspiration for the work is derived from American poet Wallace Stevens’s (spelt Stephens in the liner notes) poem of the same title. The liner notes explain that the music is not an ‘attempt to imitate the song of the blackbird’ nor is it divided into 13 sections. The composer has not totted up the songs to ensure a baker’s dozen have been sung. The title is merely ‘a catalyst to the development of the music.’ This is an ebullient work which explores a ‘random placement of differing musical cells’ evoking, rather than creating, a scientific recording of birdsong.

As always, John Turner plays this music with enthusiasm, sensitivity and technical brilliance. The members of the Camerata Ensemble and The Manchester Chamber Ensemble both directed by Richard Howarth and New World Ensemble led by Andy Long make a splendid contribution to these works. The recording is ideal.
The liner notes are assembled by John Turner, presumably from the original CD releases. They are most helpful and provide a brief note on each composer and their contribution to this disc.  The only downside to this CD is the track-listing on the rear cover. This is very difficult to read, due to the use of white text on a variegated background.

John Turner is dedicated to promoting recorder music of all eras, however, he is specially to be commended for his sterling achievement in introducing many ‘modern’ works to the repertoire. ‘Wandering Pathways’ is  splendid collection of music that will interest, amuse, move and satisfy listeners who enjoy this unique instrument.

Track Listing:
Wandering Pathway
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-90) Variations on an Octatonic Scale, for recorder and cello (1988/9)
Peter HOPE (b.1930): Fantasia on John Dowland’s ‘Flow my Tears’ for recorder and string quartet (2011)
Robert CRAWFORD (1925-2012): Variations on a Ground, for recorder and string quartet (1993/2012)
David BECK (b.1941) Carol Variations, for recorder and string quartet (2011)
Alun HODDINOTT (1929-2008) Lizard: Variants, op. 166 no. 2, for solo recorder (1998)
David ELLIS (b.1933) Elegiac Variations, op. 66, for recorder, viola and cello (2001)
Peter DICKINSON (b.1934) Translations, for recorder, gamba and harpsichord (1971)
John MCCABE (1939-2015) Meditation on a Norfolk Ballad for recorder and string quartet (2013)
Richard ARNELL (1917-2009) Quintet (The Gambian), op. 107, for recorder and string quartet Op. 107, for recorder and string quartet (1966)
David FORSHAW (b.1938) Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, for recorder and string quartet (1996/2000)
John Turner (recorders), Jonathan Price (cello), Richard Tunnicliffe (gamba), Harvey Davies (harpsichord).  
Camerata Ensemble &The Manchester Chamber Ensemble/Richard Howarth, New World Ensemble/Andy Long

Thursday 22 November 2018

William Walton: Toccata for violin and piano Part II: Performance

In the spring of 1925, Walton had returned to London after a holiday in Spain with the Sitwell’s.
In a letter to his mother (4 May 1925) written from his lodgings at 2 Carlyle Square SW3, Walton apologises for being ‘unable to come home until the end of the month.’ This was due to having to ‘superintend the rehearsals’ of the Toccata. He was also trying to sort out a performance of his Fantasia Concertante for 2 pianos, jazz band and orchestra with the Savoy Orpheans. This latter work was never to see the light of day. Whether it was finished or not, the holograph is missing.

The premiere of Walton’s Toccata was given on Tuesday, 12 May 1925 during the London Contemporary Music Centre’s Spring Concert. The venue was No. 6 Queen Square, Bloomsbury.
This was an adventurous concert which featured the Phantasy Sonata for violin and piano (1921) by Dorothy Howell, a Piano Trio (c.1923) by the long-forgotten Liverpudlian composer, Ernest Lodge and the Cello Sonata H.20 (1920) by Arthur Honegger. The Walton Toccata was performed by Katie Goldsmith, violin and Angus Morrison, piano. Other musicians playing at the recital included Katherine Long, piano and Valentina Orde, cello.

The Times (15 May 1925) reviewer, who had arrived late at the venue regretted not hearing Howell’s Phantasy, which was described to him as ‘simple, harmonious and pleasing.’  Alas, the Lodge’s Trio was ‘diffuse’ despite being ‘harmonious.’ Honegger’s Sonata developed into ‘attractive music’ from ‘rather forbidding first movement.’ As for Walton’s Toccata this work clearly belonged to the ‘modern school.’ It was deemed to be ‘the most forceful music of the evening, original in matter and aerated in manner.’  

There are currently three versions of William Walton’s Toccata for violin and piano available on CD. The earliest was issued on Chandos in June 1991 (CHAN 9292). The performers were Kenneth Sillito, violin and Hamish Milne, piano.  This recording is incomplete, as the first page of the manuscript was at that time missing. Other works on this disc included Walton’s Duets for Children, Two Pieces for violin and piano, Two Songs for tenor and piano, Four Bagatelles for solo guitar, Anon in Love for tenor and guitar and the Valse from Façade for piano solo.

Writing in The Gramophone (October 1994) Edward Greenfield devoted several paragraphs to the work. He considered that ‘the important newcomer here is the Toccata for violin and piano, which Walton wrote between 1922 and 1923’ although he thinks that ‘the style is disconcertingly un-Waltonian.’ He points out that ‘Christopher Palmer in his notes…suggests that the young Walton was seeking to impress, above all, the then influential composer and critic, Kaikhosru Sorabji.’
Greenfield disagrees with Constant Lambert who thought that the Toccata has ‘a greater and more genuine vitality than the string quartet.’ On the other hand he concedes Lambert’s  ‘praise for the "emotional middle section". In that, with its eerie, hauntingly lyrical violin lines over ostinato pedal points, Palmer detects echoes of Szymanowski, a composer much admired by Sorabji. It certainly stands out as the most inspired section [and] in the pedal-points even anticipating the First Symphony.’

Henri Sigfridsson, violin and David Frühwirth, piano issued as two-CD set anthology of violin and piano music on AVIE AV0009. It included music by Hans Gál, Karol Rathaus, Adolf Busch, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Egon Wellesz and Kurt Weill. A surprise number on this CD was Ivor Gurney’s ‘The Apple Orchard: Scherzo’ dating from the 1920s.

In 2014 Natascia Gazzana, violin and Raffaella Gazzana, featured included a performance of Walton’s Toccata on ECM 0020437-02. Other works recorded were Alfred Schnittke’s Suite in the Old Style, Francis Poulenc’s Violin Sonata. Valentin Silvestrov’s Hommage à J. S. B., and Luigi Dallapiccola’s ‘Tartiniana seconda.’

For the ‘record’ Dorothy Howell’s Phantasy for violin and piano was released in 2004 on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7144. There are currently four recordings of Arthur Honegger’s Cello Sonata listed in the Arkiv Catalogue.

Monday 19 November 2018

William Walton: Toccata for violin and piano (1923) Part I

Since first hearing William Walton’s flamboyant and unconventional Toccata for violin and piano I have been surprised that it was not more popular. I can understand that the ‘Spitfire’ Prelude and Fugue, the ‘Crown Imperial’ and ‘Orb and Sceptre Marches’ and Façade are always going to gain more traction with concert promoters and record producers, yet there is something about this Toccata that demands our attention.

The early 1920s was a period when Walton was attempting to find his musical voice. Various avenues were explored. There was the free atonality of the present Toccata and the String Quartet. He was inspired by jazz and was an early enthusiast of Duke Ellington. This was evident in certain numbers in Façade. Walton apparently made many arrangements of music for dance bands. This interest never really took hold, and after the failure to complete his Fantasia Concertante for 2 pianos, jazz band and orchestra he put aside his attempt to write symphonic jazz. It was around this time that William Walton met George Gershwin, who was in London to give a performance of his Rhapsody in Blue.  Other attempts at establishing a style have been noted: the hazy impressionism of Siesta, the rhythmic drive of the Overture: Portsmouth Point and the Francophone Sinfonia Concertante (1927) with echoes of musical Paris in the 1920s. On the other hand, all these stylistic mannerisms would continue re-appear in his music until the end of his career.

As Gary D. Cannon has written (From Oldham to Oxford: The Formative Years of Sir William Walton, 2014) ‘Not until the Viola Concerto of 1929 did he arrive at a truly mature style, a blend of Classical structure, Romantic phrases, and Modernist harmonies, rhythms, and orchestration.’ It is a useful summary of Walton’s music.

William Walton’s Toccata for violin and piano was composed between 1922-23 when the composed was 20 years of age. It is a considerable work lasting for just under fifteen minutes. Christopher Palmer, in the liner notes for the Chandos recording of the Toccata explains that at this time, Walton had come under the spell of ‘the mysterious Kaikhosru Sorabji, the Parsee composer who wrote almost exclusively for keyboard (and keyboard with orchestra).’ Sorabji gathered around himself a circle of musicians including Bernard van Dieren, Peter Warlock and Cecil Gray. Walton was an adherent. Clearly, these ‘modernists’ would have had some impact on the composer. Palmer also notes the influence of Szymanowski, especially in the middle section of the Toccata.

Initial impressions are that the Toccata is an ad-hoc mixture of ‘cadenzas and rhapsodization,’ with not a lot of thematic development. The basic form is fast-slow-fast after an introduction that owes something to the start of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. (Not included on the Chandos recording, as this page in the manuscript was missing!)
This is a complex densely written piece that exploits the exuberant piano playing that is sometimes lush, typically employing the sustaining pedal and creating a wash of sound. Then again there is a great deal of virtuosity.  This does appear to have been inspired by Sorabji. The violin is often lyrical, creating a dreamlike song and but sometimes it rises to the peak of passion only to descend into strange and ‘haunting depressions.’

The Toccata was withdrawn by the composer once he had decided that this was a style which he was not going to pursue. The Quartet for strings dating from between 1919-21 and subsequently revised after the premiere was also supressed. Walton himself had said that the Quartet was ‘full of undigested Bartok and Schoenberg.’ By implication the Toccata falls into the same category.

On Saturday 27 November 1926, the Boston Evening Transcript published a long review of William Walton, written by the composer Constant Lambert. Lambert writes: the principal compositions of this period are a string quartet and a toccata for violin and pianoforte, both making considerable demands upon the virtuosity of the performers…The Toccata…a rhapsodical work showing traces of the influence of Bartok and even Sorabji, has to my mind a greater and more genuine vitality than the string quartet and contains at least one excellent passage – an emotional middle section in which the lyrical quality we noticed in the Piano Quartet in D minor (1919) makes a welcome reappearance though cast this time in a severer mould.’

Friday 16 November 2018

It's not British, but....Ansermet, Debussy and Ravel - 1947/8 recordings

My first introduction to Claude Debussy’s music was the Decca Eclipse recording (ECS 515) of La Mer, the March Écossaise, the Nocturnes and the orchestral arrangement of Claire de lune. This version of La Mer had been recorded by L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande conducted by Ernest Ansermet in Geneva during 1951. It was first issued on Decca LXT 2632. (There was some confusion in The Gramophone magazine about the version used for the Decca Eclipse release, so I hope I have got the antecedent correct!)
I recall playing the work repeatedly marvelling at the strange (to me) sounds and ‘sensuous beauty’ of the score. At the time, I did not know that Ansermet had made an earlier recording, released on 78 rpm discs (AK1606-8) of La Mer with the same orchestra in 1948. In fact, he  made four recordings in total of this work: 1948, 1951, 1957 and 1964.

La Mer was subtitled ‘Three Symphonic Sketches’ and was composed between 1903-5. The titles of the movements are ‘De l'aube à midi sur la mer’, ‘Jeux de vagues’ and ‘Dialogue du vent et de la mer’. Despite these colourful titles there is no specific programme, save to present the moods of the sea and skies throughout the day.
Often regarded as a masterpiece of impressionism, it is in fact a symphonic work where the movements are related by common themes and ideas. It is essential that La Mer is played from end to end and not excerpted into separate movements.  In this recording, Ernest Ansermet discloses the poetic nature of the music, as well as creating a performance full of colour, light and sensitivity. This is not an exclusive quality to Ansermet, but there is a definite magic here that is often lacking in more modern versions.

The CD opens with an idiomatic performance of Ravel’s ‘Alborada del gracioso’ which is an orchestration by the composer of the fourth piece in the piano suite Miroirs (1904-05). It displays all the excitement of Spain, seen through the eyes of a Parisian. Although all five pieces of Miroirs were orchestrated by Ravel or others, I understand that the ‘Alborada’ is the only one to have been recorded by Ansermet.

La Valse is a strange work. It was first conceived by Ravel in the dark days of the First World War and was completed by 1920. To my ear, it is an often disturbing and sometimes even macabre ‘take’ on the birth, decay and destruction of ‘The Waltz’, with a clear allusion to the political situation at the time. Although the composer denied this interpretation, it is hard to agree with him that this work does not at times reveal a ‘dance of death.’
Ernest Ansermet’s 1947 Kingsway Hall recording of La Valse is always in kept in check: he does not allow himself to get carried away by the sheer exuberance of the piece. Clearly the sound quality is a little less perfect than the later 1963 version released by Decca (SXL 6065) yet the maxim that Ansermet stayed true to his interpretations holds good here.

Ansermet made three recordings of Ravel’s Shéhérazade for soprano and orchestra: 1948, 1954 and 1963. The first two featured the remarkable Belgian soprano Suzanne Danco; the last the mezzo-soprano Régine Crespin.  Danco was renowned for her lightness of touch, her perfect diction and was regarded as a model interpreter of French music,
The present version was recorded on 28 May 1948 in Paris with Danco accompanied by the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire.  Sometimes criticised for the lack of warmth in her voice, this crystal-clear performance allows the listener to hear every syllable. It displays a perfect sensitivity to the words by Tristan Klingsor inspired by The Thousand and One Nights. Alas, the text/translation of these songs is not given in the liner notes.

I was amazed at the quality of the transfer from 78s of Debussy’s charming but uncharacteristic Petite Suite originally composed between 1886-89 as a piano duet. In 1907 it was arranged for orchestra by composer, organist and conductor, Henri Büsser. The movements are ‘En Bateau’, ‘Cortege’, ‘Menuet’ and ‘Ballet.’ Ansermet presents a truly idyllic performance of ‘En Bateau’, which is my favourite movement. ‘Cortege’ seems a little ‘light’ and hardly suggests a funeral procession. After the elegant ‘Menuet’, the Suite closes with a sprightly ‘Ballet.’ Ansermet’s 70-year-old reading sounds new-minted. It is a pleasure to listen to this delightful piece of early Debussy, and Busser’s sparkling arrangement of it.  

For the record, Ernest Ansermet was born in Vevey, Switzerland on 11 November 1883. As a young man he was equally competent in mathematics as he was music. In fact, he became lecturer in maths at the University of Lausanne. His first position as conductor was at the Casino in Montreux. He personally knew Debussy and Ravel and discussed their music with them. In 1915 Ansermet took up the post of conductor for the Diaghilev Ballet. At this time, he became familiar with Igor Stravinsky’s music, which he championed throughout his career. He was Stravinsky’s own favourite interpreter of his music. In 1918, Ansermet formed his own orchestra, L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva. He conducted this orchestra until shortly before his death on 20 February 1969.

The re-mastering of this disc impressed me. It is difficult to believe that all these recordings are 70-odd years old. The liner notes present an overview of Ernest Ansermet, his relationship with the recording studio and a discussion of the present ‘Ravel and Debussy 78s’.
From a personal point of view, I will always turn to Ansermet’s 1951 recording of La Mer, as that was the one I first discovered. For a slightly more up-to-date version, I turn to Jean Martinon’s account dating from the early 1970s. Bearing in mind that there are 170 versions of La Mer in the catalogue, it is not possible to hear them all (unless one is a Debussy specialist).
So, what of this present disc? It is wonderful to hear Ansermet’s ‘take’ on these five works. Enthusiasts of this maestro will demand these re-mastering’s which are released on Decca for the first time. It has been a pleasure them. 

Track Listing:
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Alborada del gracioso (1904-5)
La Valse (1919-20)
Shéhérazade for soprano and orchestra (1904)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La Mer (1903-5)
Petite Suite (1889) arr. Henri BÜSSER
Suzanne Danco (soprano), L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet (Alborada, La Mer); Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire/Ernest Ansermet (La Valse, Shéhérazade, Petite Suite)
Rec. Radio Studio, Geneva, 4 February 1947 (Alborada, La Mer); Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 6 October 1947 (La Valse); La Maison de la Mutualité, Paris, 28 May 1948 (Shéhérazade), 1 June 1948 (Petite Suite).
DECCA 482 5007
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Tuesday 13 November 2018

E.J. Moeran Cello Works on Lyrita

When I was looking through some old posts on my Land of Lost Content Blog I found that in 2008 I had posted this review originally published on MusicWeb International. On my blog, it had become corrupted with some missing text and the fonts lacking uniformity. I have no hesitation in posting this again. I have corrected a few typos and matters of style but have not changed the content or sentiment of the review.  It remains my all-time Desert Island Disc.

I must confess that at the age of about 16, I fell in love with Peers Coetmore. I recall buying the original Lyrita vinyl album (SRCS.43) of Moeran’s Cello Concerto from a shop called Cuthbertson’s in Cambridge Street, Glasgow. On the cover of that LP was a lovely photograph of Moeran and Peers looking out over a hilly landscape which I think was Hergest Ridge. It fulfilled all my youthful romantic notions of love, landscape and music. Since that time the Cello Concerto has been my number one Desert Island Disc. It has never, in 48 years, been usurped from that position. Despite a certain critical downer on Peer’s playing, it will always remain for me the definitive performance of this masterly work.

A few biographical notes about the composer may be helpful. Ernest John (Jack) Moeran was born at Heston, Middlesex on 31st December 1894. He was the son of an Irish clergyman working in Norfolk, so church music was a part of his upbringing. He attended what was at that time the most musical of all the public schools, Uppingham. His teacher there was Robert Sterndale Bennett, the grandson of the British composer, William.
On leaving school in 1913, he enrolled as a student at the Royal College of Music.  The course was to be short lived. Upon the start of hostilities in 1914, Moeran enlisted in the Army. After service on the Western Front he returned to England with a serious head wound: he never fully recovered from this injury.
After the war he had some musical instruction from John Ireland. However, most of his musical learning came from his two companions - Bernard van Dieren and Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock).
Although regarded as an ‘English’ composer, Moeran had an Irish streak in his blood: his father was born in Dublin! He was always to love that great country and its people.
Finally, Moeran was to die on the banks of the River Kenmare on 1st December 1950, from what was thought to be a brain haemorrhage.

Stylistically Moeran’s music changed from the ‘Irelandesque’ piano music of the early ‘twenties, through more folksong-inspired works and the ‘high’ romanticism of the Symphony in G minor to a new, personal, even neo-classical style forged during and after the Second World War. Yet, underlying all these so called ‘periods’ is a concern for structure and a warm, lyrical tone that is always a feature of Moeran’s music.

To understand the context of the works for cello it is necessary to look at Moeran’s relationship with the cellist Peers Coetmore- originally Kathleen Coetmore-Jones. The composer first met Peers in 1930 whilst visiting the painter Augustus John. She had been an exceptional pupil at the Royal Academy of Music, winning a number of prizes. Nothing came of this first encounter.
Many years later they were to meet once again at a concert in Leominster. This time their friendship developed and, for Moeran at any rate, it developed into love.
One of the outcomes of this relationship was a number of cello works dedicated to her.
On 26th July 1945 the couple were married. However it was not a particularly ‘successful’ union. Moeran needed to escape into solitude and Peers had considerable professional commitments which led to long separations. Gradually they drifted apart, with Peers finally working in Australia. All one can say is that as a couple they were ‘incompatible’. Yet they shared some happy moments, and this is well reflected in the one or two surviving photographs of the couple.

Geoffrey Self mentions four works composed for solo violoncello in his book The Music of E. J. Moeran (1986).  These are the Concerto for cello and orchestra of 1945, the Prelude for cello and piano of 1943, the Irish Lament of 1944 and the Sonata, for cello and piano of 1947.

The Prelude for Cello and piano is a simple, yet profound piece. A broad and lyrical melody is played over an extremely simple accompaniment.  Common chords and secondary sevenths are the staple harmonic feature. The Prelude was Moeran’s first piece which he dedicated to Peers. It was gifted to her as a ‘keepsake’ whilst she was on tour with ENSA during the war.  Strangely, but not surprisingly, the first performance of the piece was in Alexandria in Egypt.
Self does not rate the piece highly. He writes ‘it is a work of little distinction; the cello melody is shapely enough, but the piano part is frankly dull. It is....doomed to a humble place in grade examination lists.’
Yet perhaps the ‘dullness’ of the piano part gives the piece much of its charm. The lyrical quality of the melody is allowed to predominate without competition from the piano. The overriding characteristic of this piece is warmth. The Prelude was published by Novello in 1944

I am sorry that the Irish Lament does not appear to have been recorded by Peers Coetmore and Eric Parkin. I assume that if it had been, then it would have appeared on this CD. The Lament was based on a ‘genuine’ Irish folk song. It was composed in 1944 and was published by Novello in the same year.

The Cello Sonata has been regarded as Moeran’s most accomplished work. Whether this true is probably a matter of taste rather than judgement. However in this piece the composer seems to strike a good balance between his various styles and influences:  neo-classicism and romanticism come together in a satisfying unity. The composer wrote in a letter to Peers, ‘I have just spent all yesterday on cello sonata proofs. You know I don’t usually boast, but coming back to it, going through it note by note, and looking at it impartially, I honestly think it is a masterpiece. I can’t think how I ever managed to write it.’
Critics have noticed allusions to Bax and even to Bartok in the working out of the Sonata. Yet it is difficult to try to explain this or that passage in terms of influence. For this is a distinctive work by Moeran: it is mature and self-assured and never verges on parody or plagiarism.
The Cello Sonata is, to be frank, a depressing piece. Some of the pages have been likened to the peat bogs of Ireland: gloomy and dark.  There are moments of optimism and occasional flashes of light but surely the lasting impression is of quiet and shadowy restraint and perhaps even melancholy.
The Sonata has three movements - Tempo Moderato-Allegro, Adagio and Allegro. The first performance was given in Dublin by Peers Coetmore on the 9th May 1947. Charles Lynch was the pianist. It was published by Novello in 1948.

The world of British Cello Concertos is fairly sparse –at least when compared to symphonic works. Naturally every example of the genre is understood in light of the great and ubiquitous Concerto in E minor by Sir Edward Elgar. In fact, many music-lovers would be hard pressed to name another example. There are a number of fine concerti – including those by Arthur Sullivan, Alan Rawsthorne, Gerald Finzi, Frank Bridge and Kenneth Leighton to name but five. And from Central Europe is the great work by Anton Dvorak: this is regarded by Geoffrey Self as seminal for Moeran’s Concerto.
The Cello Concerto is surely the highlight of this present CD release. This is a work that manages to balance the formal constructs of a classical concerto with the beauties of Irish folk tunes. Many critics hold Raphael Wallfisch’s interpretation of the Concerto to be definitive. However, I have to hold my hand up and say that although I have enjoyed Wallfisch’s performances of this work – both at the Barbican Hall and on Chandos with Norman del Mar, I do not find it as satisfying as the Coetmore/Boult version. I have thought long and hard about this and I think that there are two good reasons why I take this stand.
Firstly, it is well known that Peers Coetmore had a style of playing that was more appropriate to chamber music. Moeran was conscious of this limitation – if that what it was. The work uses the orchestra as a partner for the soloist – not as an adversary. The work was created solely for her: he wrote ‘I would not allow anyone else to play it and I will not, while it is still under my control…’ Earlier he had written to Peers with enthusiasm, ‘Now please write and tell me you would like me to write a concerto specially for you, and I give you my promise that I will put my whole heart into it…I will be able to walk the Kerry Mountains with a real happy object in view.’ It was to be their own special work – a union of player and composer.
Certainly this present recording has been criticised for giving ‘an inadequate picture of this work’ and the reason given is that her ‘insight is not matched by playing of sufficient strength or skill.’ Now to my ear what Wallfisch clearly lacks is the insight to Moeran’s mood, his loves and quite natrually his feelings for his wife. I feel that Wallfisch gives a ‘big’ performance that sometime overwhelms the intimacy of this work.
Interestingly the reviewer of the Manchester Hallé performance was impressed by Peer’s playing. He wrote that she gave a ‘delightfully spirited performance.’ He notes that ‘once or twice a slightly doubtful intonation was heard.’ But finally he considers that the ‘general firmness and fluency of Miss Coetmore’s playing were as admirable as its interpretive range.’
Secondly, Peers manages to balance the various elements of this work in a more satisfying manner that Wallfisch. She empathises with the Celtic nature of many of the themes of the works - yet she never allows the Irishry to subsume those more urbane passages of which there are not a few. She brings a heart-rending beauty to the slow movement and a genuine sense of optimism to the finale. I have long felt that that this recording –made nearly twenty years after Moeran’s death- is to be regarded as Peers’s mature reflection of her life and love with Jack. And as such it is totally indispensable.

One last thought: it is not possible to read a definite programme into the Cello Concerto or any of the works written for Miss Coetmore: they are not ‘autobiographies’. However, it is clear that in many pages and passages of these works Ernest John Moeran expressed the genuine, deep love and devotion he felt for Peers.

Track Listing:

E.J. Moeran (1894-1950)
Cello Concerto (1945)
Cello Sonata (1948)
Prelude for cello and piano (1944)
Peers Coetmore (cello) Eric Parkin (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Lyrita SRCD.299 ADD

Saturday 10 November 2018

Graham Peel: Ettrick – song for baritone and piano (1925)

When I was looking through some old posts on my Land of Lost Content Blog I found that in 2008 I had posted this essay about Graham Peel: Ettrick – song for baritone and piano. Somehow it had become corrupted with some of the text missing and the fonts lacking uniformity. I have no hesitation in posting this again. I have corrected a few typos and matters of style but have not changed the content of the essay.

I was rummaging in a well-known second-hand music bookshop in London the other day (during 2008) and I found this song by the relatively unknown composer Graham Peel. This caught my eye largely because it is an evocation of the Scottish Border Country, an area that I have long-known and loved. It is a corner of Scotland that is often by-passed when tourists are heading north to the Highlands. Yet, ignoring the wind-farms and the monoculture of coniferous forestation, this part of Scotland remains a wild and unspoilt area. Literary associations abound, including Sir Walter Scott, John Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson and James Hogg. Culturally rugby and hunting are more important in this region that other parts of the Scottish Nation. From the latter, the ethos of this song surely derives.
Where he is known at all, Graham Peel, is seen as a respected writer of songs – especially his setting of four poems from Housman’s Shropshire Lad. However, he has written over a hundred other songs to texts by many diverse poets and versifiers. There are also a few piano pieces.
Graham Peel was born in Pendlebury, Salford in 1878 and was educated at Harrow and University College, Oxford where he was fortunate to study with Dr Ernest Walker. He moved to Bournemouth in 1914 and remained there until his death in 1937, aged 59. He spent much of his life as a public servant and was heavily involved in the Discharged Prisoner’s Aid Society. Naturally, music took up a considerable portion of his life: he was President of the local branch of the British Music Society and was chairman of the Bournemouth Municipal Choir. Composition was therefore a relatively small part of his day to day work.

It is easy to compare Peel’s settings of Housman with those by Vaughan Williams, Gurney, Butterworth and Somervell – and to declare them inferior. Yet this is to miss the point. Philip Scowcroft wisely suggests that ‘Peel’s genuine lyrical gift which hovers between ballad and art-song but perhaps is more often nearer the former.’ It is in this context that we must judge his vocal music.
The words of this song were written by the Scottish poet and writer William Henry (W.H.) Ogilvie. Ogilvie was born at Holefield which is situated in the Borders, between Kelso and Coldstream. After a good education at Fettes College in Edinburgh, he worked on a sheep station in Australia. He began writing poetry at his time. After his return to Scotland he became a published author, writing both verse and agricultural journalism. He produced a number of ‘small volumes’ of poetry including one dealing with fox-hunting – a popular pastime in the Borders.

Graham Peel had recently set Ogilvie’s ‘The Challenge’ (1920) and ‘Little Brown Bees’ (1925) Other settings included at this time ‘Ferry me across the water’ by Christiana Rossetti, ‘The Lute Player’ by William Watson, ‘Nick Spence’ by William Allingham and ‘Kew in Lilac Time’ by Alfred Noyes. As an aside, the back-cover advert of the sheet music is for several works by the largely forgotten composer Martin Shaw – his suite for String Quartet looks promising, as do his settings of Masefield’s ‘Cargoes’, and Bliss Carman’s ‘At Columbine’s Grave’. It is unfortunate that Shaw’s catalogue is largely unknown and unheard.

Wild Ettrick, Wild Ettrick,
Your blue river gleams,
An azure cloak’d lover
That rides thro’ my dreams,
The heath’s at your stirrup,
The broom’s at your knee,
You sing in your saddle
A love song to me.

Thro’ green lands you led me
In lone ways apart
In long days you told me
Things dear to my heart,
In dream-time, in silence,
With haunting refrain
You murmur them over
And over again.

Wild Ettrick, Wild Ettrick
Love-raider in blue
Ah! Swing me to saddle
And take me with you
To glens of remembrance
And hills of desire,
The stars over Kirkhope
The Moon on the Swire

The basic sentiment of the song is love of the native land that an exile may have and his dreams of that place. The poet draws an analogy with a lover in the accepted sense of the word. For the curious, a ‘swire’ is a gentle depression between two hills and would appear to be an ‘old English’ word that has jumped across the border.
The song is simple – both from the singer’s and the accompanist’s point of view. The vocal range is from D to Fand is hardly taxing for a good baritone. The work is in waltz-time and is written in G major. It is signed ‘allegretto grazioso’ which perhaps seems an odd tempo for a song of horsemanship.
The piano accompaniment echoes the progress of the vocal melody and is primarily written in octaves and common chords. The fundamental melody is derived from a G major triad in second inversion and slips between the tonic and the dominant chord. The tune could certainly be described as naïve – although this is, I think a deliberate attempt to mimic a ballad. There is also a feel of the hunting horn in this melody – which is highly appropriate, considering the poem’s protagonist is most likely a huntsman! Each stanza ends with a long-held note lasting for more than three bars. The second and third stanzas are set to a similar, but not identical melody. It is as if the composer had regarded the initial phrase as a ‘set’ and then presented the notes in varying order. The second verse has a brief modulation to B minor. The final stanza has an interesting variation for the penultimate line – Peel modulates to the dominant seventh of the subdominant. And finally, the very last line of the poem is signed ‘ad lib’ and is unaccompanied. This is preceded by a short cadenza on the piano and the song ends on a long tenor D and is supported by a piano coda.

The song was published by J.B Cramer of New Bond Street, London in 1925. There is no record of any first performances - although I guess it would not be too off the mark to suggest that it was given in Bournemouth. The work appears to have fallen out of the repertoire.
As far as I am aware this song is not presently available on CD. However, I have found a reference to a recording made in 1926 by Denis Noble. It was coupled with a song called Passing By alleged to be by a certain Mr Purcell – but apparently so dull as to make an ascription to Henry unlikely!

Wednesday 7 November 2018

With Harmony of Soul and Song: Songs of Hubert Parry

Unless I am mistaken, the first recording entirely devoted to the songs of Charles Hubert Hastings Parry was a selection from the 12 books of English Lyrics issued on the Decca label, recorded in 1977. It featured Robert Tear and Philip Ledger. This LP was released on the Argo label (ZK44).  

Twenty years later, Hyperion issued another splendid selection of Parry’s songs (CDA67044). The performers were Stephen Varcoe, baritone and Clifford Benson, piano. I recall buying the album as soon as it came out and was delighted by every number I heard. I guess that I was disappointed that the words ‘Volume 1’ did not appear on the back cover.

In 2013 Delphinan issued a wonderful disc of Parry’s songs entitled ‘From a City Window.’ (DCD34117). The artists included Ailish Tynan, soprano, Susan Bickley, mezzo-soprano, William Dazeley, baritone and Iain Burnside (piano). This had the added value of being recorded in the music room of Parry’s childhood home at Highnam Court in Gloucestershire. It received excellent reviews, including one on MusicWeb International by John Quinn.  At the end of his review, John wondered ‘when there’ll be another album of Parry’s songs…’
In fact, we did not have to wait long. In 2016 SOMM issued the first volume of the ‘Twelve Sets of English Lyrics.’ (SOMMCD257). Once again this was well-received. Two years later ‘Volume 2’ (SOMMCD270) of this cycle appeared in the record shops. I understand that there is a final CD in the offing. For the first time, Parry enthusiasts (and I am one) will be able to hear the entire run of his English Lyrics. Add to this, that the vocal scores for 11 of the 12 volumes of English Lyrics are available online for download, it will give enthusiast all the material they will need to evaluate Parry’s remarkable collection of songs.

Which brings me to the present CD from EM Records. This appears to be a standalone recital, with no suggestion of any subsequent releases of Parry’s songs. The batting order is largely in volume order of the published 12 volumes of the English Lyrics. I have not collated the songs selected to the above-mentioned CD and LP releases, but I understand that most of the numbers on this disc have been recorded before.

Parry’s enjoyment and appreciation of literature was eclectic. From Shakespeare to Sir Walter Scott and from Richard Lovelace to personal acquaintances of the composer such as Julian Sturgis, the list of poets and authors is wide-ranging in its artistic concerns. Parry does have a knack of choosing an excellent poem or verse, and then using his undoubted craftsmanship to create an enjoyable, satisfying and well-constructed song.

I do not intend to comment on every song, as this would make my review unwieldy. Four Songs particularly appealed to me.  One of the loveliest settings on this CD is ‘A Welsh Lullaby’, to a poem by Edmund O. Jones, translated by John Ceiriog Hughes (1832-1887). This peaceful song evokes the security of the cradle, without falling into sheer sentimentality. Hughes, a collector of Welsh folk-songs, was often referred to as the ‘Welsh Robert Burns’. Another Welsh poem made into a splendid number was ‘When Comes my Gwen’ with a text by Richard Davies (1833-77). This rhapsodic song gradually lessens in intensity to present the listener with a musical image that proves ‘Her loving eyes/Reveal the skies/And point the way to heaven.’  ‘On a time, the amorous Silvy’ is an anonymous little ‘pastoral’ verse which is turned into a coquettish song that tells of ‘Sylvia’s’ flirtation with her shepherd lover. Finally, ‘Ye Little Birds’ attributed to Thomas Heywood (c.1570-1641) reminds me of Arthur Sullivan: it is none the worse for that. Clearly other listeners will have their favourites.

The rear cover of the CD explains that the ‘Three Odes of Anacreon’ (1869-1878) are premiere recordings.  The first of these ‘odes’ ‘Away, away, you men of rules’ was written in 1868, when Parry was at Oxford University. It begins as rumbustious song, with a more reflective middle-section. The song ends by reminding the listener that ‘they drink but little wine below’ - in Hades, presumably. The second song, nods to ‘Bacchus and his merry crew.’ Once again this is a drinking song. The final number that Parry added before publication in 1880 was the more ‘sobering’ ‘Golden Hues of Life are Fled.’  The translations from Anacreon’s (582BC-485 BC) Greek were made by Irish poet and songwriter Thomas Moore (1779-1852).

Finally, it was good to hear another verison of ‘Dream Pedlary’. I guess virtually everyone knows and loves John Ireland’s setting, nevertheless, Parry has created a much more restrained song that perfectly reflects the mood of ‘A cottage lone and still…’

The liner notes present a brief but sufficient biography of Parry, written by Fabian Huss. This is followed by Paula Fan’s essay-length discussion of the repertoire on this CD. The text of all the songs is included. The booklet concludes with the usual notes about the performers.  I think that it would have been helpful to have given the poet’s name and the volume of English Lyrics the song is printed in the track-listing. I do know that it is ‘easy’ to gather this information from the above-mentioned essay and the song texts. I have included this detail in the track-listing below.

Baritone Jeremy Huw Williams brings an obvious enthusiasm to these songs. His diction is always crystal clear. I am not sure that I always enjoy Williams’ ‘falsetto’ in some of these songs. (e.g. A Welsh Lullaby’)
Paula Fan’s playing is always sympathetic, however, I felt that every so often the accompaniment was just a little too much in the background, with the baritone to the fore.

All in all, an enjoyable CD. I would suggest that the listener take a handful of songs at time, rather than plough through all 26 at one sitting. Parry overload, even for Parry enthusiasts can be a bad thing.  Taking this repertoire slowly will allow the full impact of these melodies to sink into the mind. There is no doubt that many are ‘minor’ masterpieces that deserve their place in the pantheon of ‘English’ Song.

Track Listing:
Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)

[EL= English Lyrics]
Three Odes of Anacreon (trans. Thomas Moore): Away, away, you men of rules; Fill me, boy, as deep a draught; Golden hues of life are fled
Good night (Percy Bysshe Shelley) (EL Vol.1)
Take, O take those lips away (William Shakespeare) (EL Vol.2)
To Lucasta, on going to the wars (Richard Lovelace) (EL Vol.3)
If thou would'st ease thine heart (Thomas Lovell Beddoes) (EL Vol.3)
To Althea, from prison (Richard Lovelace) (EL Vol.3)
Why so pale and wan, fond lover (Sir John Suckling) (EL Vol.3)
Weep you no more: sad fountains (Anon.) (EL Vol.4)
Proud Maisie (Sir Walter Scott) (EL Vol.5)
Lay a garland on my hearse (Beaumont & Fletcher) (EL Vol.5)
A Welsh lullaby (Edmund O. Jones) (EL Vol.5)
When comes my Gwen (Edmund O. Jones) (EL Vol.6)
And yet I love her till I die (Anon.) (EL Vol.6)
Love is bable (Anon.) (EL Vol.6)
Under the greenwood tree (William Shakespeare) (EL Vol.6)
On a time, the amorous Silvy (Anon.) (EL Vol.7)
Ye little birds that sit and sing (Thomas Heywood) (EL Vol.7)
O never say that I was false of heart: Sonnet CIX (William Shakespeare) (EL Vol.7)
Sleep (Julian Strugis) (EL Vol.7)
Nightfall in winter (Langdon Elwyn Mitchell) (EL Vol.8)
Dirge in woods (George Meredith) (EL Vol.8)
Grapes (Julian Sturgis) (EL Vol.8)
Armida's garden (Mary Coleridge) (EL Vol.9)
Dream pedlary (Thomas Lovell Beddoes) (EL Vol.12)
Jeremy Huw Williams (baritone), Paula Fan (piano)
Rec. 10-12 January 2018, Jeff Haskell Recording Studio, University of Arizona
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.