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A Medley of British Song

The English language has a rich harvest of poetry providing ample inspiration for music, but for some reason the wealth of good song settings by British composers has tended to be unjustly neglected. Interest seems at last to be turning in their direction and a number of CDs have come my way recently which fully demonstrate both the quality and diversity of these settings.


Rutland Boughton - Songs

Louise Mott – mezzo-soprano / Alexander Taylor - piano


British Music Society – BMS431CD

Recorded April/May 2005 – 1 CD – 70.33 minutes


Four Songs Op.24 - Poems by Edward Carpenter

Five Celtic Love Songs – Poems by Fiona Macleod

Songs of Womanhood Op.33 – Poems by Christina Walshe

Three Songs Op.39 – Poems by Edward Carpenter

Symbol Songs – Poems by Mary Richardson

Sweet Ass – Poem by Eleanor Farjeon

With an almost uncanny prescience Boughton entitled his most famous work The Immortal Hour. An opera based on Arthurian legend, it attracted wild acclaim in the 1920's with 216 consecutive performances on the London stage and subsequently almost 1000 performances at various venues, before disappearing almost without trace, immortal for just it's hour. (Hyperion's magnificent recording CDD 22040 remains as a lasting reminder of this captivating romance.)


Boughton's greatest skill lay in his writing for chorus, but his works for solo voice are deserving of exploration, demonstrating the same skill of expressing the deepest meaning of the text in musical terms. This collection includes the seductive group of Five Celtic Love Songs by Fiona Macleod, librettist for The Immortal Hour , and Songs of Womanhood and Symbol Songs to poems by women's lib activists Christina Walshe and Mary Richardson. My favourites are the two sets to the works of Edward Carpenter dating from 1906 and 1914, where Boughton's musical inspiration seems to be at its strongest.


Louse Mott's full, warm toned mezzo is ideal for these songs, and she and her pianist Alexander Taylor make a persuasive case for their re-evaluation.



Timothy Salter – “After the Sun”

Matthew Brook – baritone / Rebecca Kozam – oboe/cor anglais / Timothy Salter - piano


Usk – 1225CDS

Recorded June 2003 – 1 CD – 20 minutes (c. £7)


The accompanying notes describe After the Sun as “a continuous setting of the words of three poets (Henry Vaughan, Rainer Naria Rilke and Edward Lowbury) that reflect in their different ways curiosity about death”. This short work was written 1988 by composer Timothy Salter, scored for the unusual combination of baritone, oboe doubling cor anglais and piano, and receives its first recording here.


The title is drawn from Henry Vaughan's They are all gone into the world of light which opens the piece. The contrast in timbre between the baritone and woodwind evokes an otherworldly dimension, and creates that atmosphere of space and an unknown destiny so beloved of the metaphysical poets


There are just 20 minutes of music to encompass a considerable thread of emotion, accomplished with a sense of unity, and the complete work is a wholly satisfying miniature. The performances are equally first-rate: interesting and rewarding listening.



William Mathias – Songs of William Blake Op 82; Hobed o Hilion

Jeremy Huw Williams - baritone / Welsh Chamber Orchestra cond Anthony Hose



Horn concerto Op 93 – soloist David Pyatt

Intrada for small orchestra

Th reno s for string orchestra


Metronome – MET CD 1066

Recorded April 2003 – 1 CD – 80 minutes


Mathias's Songs of William Blake is a substantial cycle of twelve songs for baritone, celeste, harp, piano and strings. It is a work of contrasts. The opening poem is To Morning and the work closes with Blake's evocation To the Evening Star. In between there are juxtapositons of Infant Joy and Infant Sorrow plus The Lamb and The Tyger together with a selection of other poems.


The sheer diversity of subject matter adds considerably to the interest, and Mathias manages to match the mood of each poem, whilst maintaining an overall unity of expression., Jeremy Huw Williams catches these moods completely. By way of an encore, we have a lively arrangement of the Welsh folksong Hobed o Hilion , originally written by Mathias for Sir Geraint Evans to sing and the Fishguard Music Festival.


There is the added bonus of the cheerful Horn Concerto, superbly played by David Pyatt, and two charming and orchestral pieces, full of Welsh mysticism.

Strings in the Earth and Air

Paul Martyn-West - tenor / Nigel Foster - piano


Dunelm Records – DRD0249

Recorded October 2005 – 1 CD – 69 minutes


Ernest John Moeran - Six Folksongs from Norfolk ; Seven Poems of James Joyce

Peter Warlock – Candlelight nursery jingles; Three Songs; A setting of Bruce Blunt

Geoffrey Stern – Three Wordsworth Songs; Four Songs of James Joyce; A setting of Henry Treece


How interesting to have the opportunity to compare three of our greatest exponents of song in one CD, especially since Moeran and Warlock were friends, and shared a house for some three years – albeit an unproductive time for both of them, interrupted by constant stream of social distraction.


Moeran had an inbuilt appreciation of landscape and tradition – much of his childhood was spent in the relatively wild terrain of the Norfolk coast, and his collection of Norfolk Folksongs certainly have a salty air about them. The James Joyce setting have a calmer mood – perhaps an unconscious search for the simpler life and peaceful retreat he was shortly to find in Kenmare, County Kerry.


The centrepiece of the recording is a group of works from Warlock, who stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries as a songsmith. His collection of nursery songs, Candlelight, are thrown off by him as mere “jingles”, but each is a miniature masterpiece with the imprint of genius. His Three Songs and The Fox are more substantial offerings, but again demonstrate his facility for inventive melody and an ability to get to the heart of the words.


Geffrey Stern is a composer whose work was new to me. His working career was dominated by a lectureship in International Relationships at the LSE and a busy broadcasting schedule in current affairs. Nonetheless, he composed throughout his life when time permitted and the unpublished songs in this collection span a fifty year period from 1953 onward, and at least two were written especially for this premiere recording. They display a charming and timeless lyricism ideally suited to the poems of Wordsworth and Joyce.

Paul Martyn-West and Nigel Foster give a performance that is workmanlike but devoid of animation. Although much of the repertoire is otherwise unavailable, it is impossible to recommend this recording without considerable reservation.


Serena Fenwick

© Peter Grahame Woolf