Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Sandra Lissenden & Katharine Durran
Mussorgsky The Nursery and other Songs of Childhood;
Songs from the Exotic
with Andrew Sparling (clarinet)

Sandra Lissenden  
Katharine Durran   piano

'The Nursery' MSV CD92039

Fraser-Simson/A. A. Milne
Halfway Down
German/R. Kipling from "The Just So Song Book": When the Cabin Portholes; The First Friend; The Camel's Hump; I Keep Six Honest Serving Men; There was never a Queen like Balkis; Rolling down to Rio
Fraser-Simson At the Zoo; The Christening; The Four Friends; Missing Twice Times

The Nursery

Fraser-Simson Disobedience; The King's Breakfast; Sneezles; Bad Sir Brian; The Emperor's Rhyme
Musgrave/M. Lindsay
A Suite o'Bairnsangs
Fraser-Simson Wind on the Hill; Buckingham Palace; If I were King; Lines and Squares; Market Square

Here is a wholly delightful and unique CD which appears to have been overlooked by Gramophone etc., possibly because on the Songs for Connoisseurs website it has been undersold for being recommended as "The perfect christening present" ?

The songs create a balance between "nonsense and inexorable logic: the magic and claustrophobia of the nursery's enclosed world: the endless imaginary spaces and the omnipresent nanny".

Sandra Lissenden is a winning light soprano, with impeccable technique and quite unusually perfect diction, so that every word comes across easily without any exaggeration - a rare feat. She enters completely into the spirit of these childhood songs, many of which older listeners will know from their own early memories. Vibrato is minimal and controlled; she should be ideal for early music.

The Edward German songs give an opportunity for Katharine Durran to display panache and a degree of virtuosity; the accompaniments for the Fraser-Simpson favourites are more constrained, and the settings never stretch the tessitura unreasonably, as does most contemporary writing for sopranos, with inevitable failure to get the meaning across.

The core of the recital is the undisputed masterpiece by Mussorgsky, recorded by many famous singers, most of their discs sadly deleted; Mussorgsky doesn't hold a secure place in the "top ten"! Sandra Lissenden opts for presenting it in the vernacular for greater immediacy, as did Irmgard Seefried in German. Lissenden and Durran make a very accomplished duo.

I have to declare a strong personal interest in the case of my son, the boy singer Simon Woolf* - the only child ever to have tackled these key songs of childhood on the radio and on record. Sandra Lissenden in her notes for Metier apologises for the loss of the original Russian's "salt and nuance". In the Turnabout LP of Mussorgsky's The Nursery that I produced - one which demands to be reissued on CD - a revised translation was used to assay greater authenticity and remedy that problem.

It is good to have the texts of the Mussorgsky and Musgrave songs included with Metier's CD; the omission of the others doesn't matter one whit! The booklet is lovingly illustrated with evocative photos of the two artists' families and childhoods.

Treasurable - childhood for everyone!

I append the track list of that first of Simon's two recital LPs below, with a link here to hear him sing, and another to reviews and session photos of this 13 yr-old boy recording The Nursery.

* Children's Songs (Simon Woolf & Steuart Bedford)

Mussorgsky - The Nursery: With Nurse; In the Corner; The Beetle; Dolly's Lullaby; Evening Prayer; The cat and the birdcage; The hobby-horse
Kabelevsky - Seven Nursery Rhymes: Old King Cole; If all the seas were one sea;- I saw a ship a-sailing; There was an old woman; For want of a nail the horse-shoe was lost; Five little pigs; The Key of the Kingdom
Prokofiev - Three Children's Songs: Chatterbox; Lollipop; The Little Pigs
Stravinsky The Owl and the Pussycat [Accompanied by Peter Grahame Woolf*]
Prokofiev - The Ugly Duckling
Mussorgsky - A Child's Song; Ragamuffin

Simon Woolf (boy soprano) Steuart Bedford (piano), Dr P Grahame Woolf (piano)*.
Turnabout LP TV 34331S. (1968 n.l.a.)

Songs from the Exotic

Tapestry: Sandra Lissenden (soprano), Andrew Sparling (clarinet)
& Katharine Durran (piano)

Laurence Crane I saw Alexander Balanescu in Safeways
Michael Finnissy A Beuk o' Newcassel Sangs
Aidan Fisher Leviathan
Haflidi Hallgrimsson Syrpa
Sadie Harrison Nani ka itou
Nick Hayes The Basket
Gabriel Jackson French Song
Howard Skempton Colomen
Judith Weir Songs from the Exotic

British Music Library BML 012 [Forties Recording Company 1994, 73 mins]

A valuable project for bringing variety into song recitals with a clarinettist, often brought into service for accommodating the Shepherd on his Rock! (There used to be the Spohr songs with clarinet to vary the diet a little, but they aren't very exciting.)

The three friends who formed Tapestry determined to do more, and they inspired and commissioned new works for what proves here to be a versatile and winning conjunction. Of sixty new pieces they introduced over a ten year period, a selection are included in this splendid CD, programmed and presented with every care.

Nick Hayes' two Basket songs instil themselves into one's affections; the accompaniment to the Eel Basket is as simple as the piano part of the Schubert, but the duo above weave a counterpoint which sets a placid rural scene before confronting the harsh reality for the fish. The other, with bass clarinet, plays on the letters b, a, s, k, e & t. Halligrimson's Icelandic songs lack words and translations; space would better have been devoted to them rather than two whole pages for the interminable Skempton setting of an affecting Mary Webb poem, which gained nothing by being set to music (an endurance test for the singer) and would be better read silently or aloud.

The meat of the programme is in Judith Weir's Songs of the Exotic, adapted for the trio by Michael Finnissy, with C clarinet, Finnissy's own set of Newcastle songs, and two by Sadie Harrison. Judith Weir's sources are Serbian and Hebridean Folk Poems, and an anonymous Renaissance Spanish Song which alone is translated for us; no problem, as Sandra Lissenden's diction is excellent and Weir's scoring is considerate. The seven Beuk o' Newcassel Sangs by Michael Finnissy are intricate and exploit his predeliction for the C clarinet and the microtonal inflections of which it is capable. Full words are given with annotations. Sadie Harrison brings to poignant life the fate of Japanese geishas more than a millennium ago.

I saw Alexander Balanescu in Safeways is a tragic expression of lost opportunities in life; if I were the violinist in question I would want it as the epitaph on my gravestone!

This unique recording achievement does not give up all its secrets on first hearing and you may have different favourites from mine; a CD to return to again and again - it is disappointing that it was overlooked by so many review journals when released


© Peter Grahame Woolf