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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Rutland BOUGHTON (1878-1960)
Four Songs Op.24 'To my friend, G Herbert Davis': (To Freedom [1:24]; The Dead Christ [5:28]; Fly, Messenger, Fly [1:24]; Standing Beyond Time [3:10])
Five Celtic Love Songs ‘To Kathleen’: (Green Branches [2:02]; The Daughter of the Sun [3:07]; Tragic Lullaby [4:22]; Shule Agrah [2:33]; My Grief [4:34])
Songs of Womanhood Op.33 'To the Awakening Womanhood of Britain': (Prayer to Isis [3:24]; A Woman to her Lover [5:58]; A Song of Giving [2:41]; A Song of Taking [2:11]; Woman's Song of Creation [3:14])
Three Songs Op.39 'To Sarah and Roger Clark': (The Lake of Beauty [4:53]; Child of the Lonely Heart [3:56]; The Triumph of Civilization [1:33])
Symbol Songs 'To Kathleen': (Mother Mary [2:05]; Honeysuckle [2:35]; Blue in the Woods [2:02]; Fierce Love Song [2:16]; The New Madonna [3:41])
Sweet Ass 'To Kathleen and her babies' [1:51]
Louise Mott (mezzo)
Alexander Taylor (piano)
rec. Music Hall of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, 24 April, 1 May 2005
BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY BMS431CD [70.33]

 

Rutland Boughton is better known for his music dramas, such as the Immortal Hour and Bethlehem, than for song, but was nonetheless both a prolific and a skilled song composer. The British Music Society has here compiled a selection of some pleasing examples, sympathetically performed by mezzo-soprano Louise Mott accompanied by Alexander Taylor.

It is important to understand - as Michael Hurd points out in his excellent sleeve notes - that Boughton did not choose his texts for beauty of language, inherent musicality or poetic expression. He set poems for their message (usually political), using texts that expressed particular ideals – often feminist and socialist sentiments. Boughton does not, therefore, offer us further settings of the Shakespeare, Housman, Tennyson, Blake, Rossetti and Hardy poems, but brings us the socialist Edward Carpenter, William Sharp, the suffragette Mary Richardson, and Boughton’s rather feminist partner Christina Walshe.

The disc opens with four songs with texts from Edward Carpenter’s Towards Democracy. Mott’s voice is fairly operatic, which is perfect for the dramatic To Freedom and Fly Messenger, and, although she manages suitable gentleness and poignancy in the later A Song of Taking and Sweet Ass, I do not, however, find her quite delicate enough in the tender The Dead Christ. Five Celtic Lovesongs ensue, with words by Fiona Macleod (William Sharp – whose play Boughton adapted to form the libretto of The Immortal Hour), and then the intense Songs of Womanhood by Christina Walshe. Three further songs from Towards Democracy follow, before the Symbol Songs, setting the poems of Mary Richardson. Amongst these, the upbeat Honeysuckle particularly delighted me – its liveliness and syncopation setting it slightly apart from the other songs, which have a little bit of tendency to sound fairly similar. The disc concludes with a setting of Eleanor Farjeon’s Sweet Ass.

The fact that the texts have been picked for ideological reasons rather than artistic ones stands out. Boughton set himself a hard task by choosing poems that do not lend themselves to music, and are far from easy words to set - the word-setting is consequently a far cry from the natural flow of Finzi, Quilter or Britten. Yet the songs are still original, dramatic, striking and occasionally invested with some of the magic that pervades Immortal Hour (the New Madonna, for example, inhabits a similar world). The fact that I found myself humming some of the songs the day after I’d listened to the disc is, I believe, a good sign!

Louise Mott has a lovely voice, warm and characterful, with excellent enunciation and a good sense of drama, although I found her vibrato a little too excessive on occasions. Alexander Taylor is a sensitive accompanist, although the piano is slightly too prominent – the balance a little too skewed towards the piano and away from the singer.

The BMS have excelled themselves here in a beautiful production. The disc contains some charming songs, well performed and brilliantly presented in a highly professional, attractive layout with full and clear sleeve-notes. Congratulations, BMS!

Em Marshall

see also review by Rob Barnett

 

 



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