First of all let me
declare my interest as editor of the
British Music Society newsletter and
a life member of the Society.
Released on 1 September
2005, this world première recording,
sponsored by the Boughton Trust, features
a recital of twenty-three solo songs
by two award-winning young artists.
Louise Mott brings a warm, stable voice
informed by intelligent engagement with
the words. Alexander Taylor projects
the sometimes surprisingly Brahmsian
piano parts with considerable strength
and lively imagination.
Boughton the song composer.
It’s yet another unexpected facet. We
know that his accomplishments include
composer for the voice but he is known
for his work on larger operatic canvasses.
His Faery Song from The Immortal
Hour (you may recall Osian Ellis's
Decca recording in which he sings and
plays the accompanying harp) is a major
exception and has a delicate intimacy.
His operas The Immortal Hour and
Bethlehem (both recorded by Hyperion)
represent him at his most fey and otherworldly.
For a more turbulent and passionate
approach we can hope that funds will
be found for recording his revelatory
1924 opera The Queen of Cornwall
- a magical music-drama setting
Thomas Hardy's potent language around
the Tristan and Isolde legend. Then
there is the ‘Elgarian’ Boughton in
the Third Symphony and the Celtic Magician
in the Second Symphony (Hyperion and
BBC Radio Classics). His string
quartets and flute and oboe concertos
on Hyperion show another economical
and yet more lyrical side. And so to
these songs ...
The London premiere
of the Four Songs (1906-7) to
words by Edward Carpenter (1844-1929)
was given by Astra Desmond in 1923.
This is music that protests, broods
and declaims. A leonine Brahmsian muscularity
distinguishes the more demonstrative
songs such as To Freedom and
the flag-waving Fly, Messenger, Fly.
The final Standing Beyond Time recalls
the graver songs in Bantock's contemporaneous
Sapphic Poems (recorded with
orchestra by Hyperion). Boughton was
a confident composer to end the cycle
on such a downbeat.
The Three Songs
Op. 39 also set Carpenter's poems.
The Lake of Beauty is a very
fine song of soliloquised introspection.
It feels like a grand slowly blooming
invocation even if momentarily suggesting
music theatre rather than the recital
hall. Similarly successful is the softly
chiming Child of the Lonely Heart.
There is a Caledonian skirl in The
Triumph of Civilisation - another
poverty protest song as the heartless
street witnesses a starving woman bent
and haggard shivering in the wind. The
mood of that poem seems at odds with
that of the other two; even so, musically
speaking, this cycle works much better
than any of the others.
The Symbol Songs
(1920) set poems by Mary Richardson
(1889-1961) who is remembered for having
slashed Velazquez's 'Rokeby Venus' at
the National Gallery as a protest for
women's rights. She was Boughton's third
wife. After the lilting Honeysuckle
comes the quasi-expressionist delicacy
of Blue in the Woods. A Fierce
Love Song has all the qualities
you might expect from the title and
the braw aggression of the piece again
features the same sort of Scottish skirl
we heard in The Triumph of Civilization.
The melody of the New Madonna carries
the imprint of The Faery Song with
a momentary chapel shadow of 'Bring
it to the Lord in Prayer': the Lordly
Ones meet Moody and Sankey evangelism.
Christina Walshe (1888-1959)
was Boughton's second wife; actually
they never married. Her poems are set
in the Songs of Womanhood. Three
of the five songs are overtly protest
vehicles for women's rights - take A
Woman to Her Lover where the poles
of a relationship between man and woman
are described: plaything, cipher and
drudge are rejected and comrade, friend
and mate declared the ideal. With the
exception of A Song of Taking these
poems did not draw the musical best
from the composer although their grave
seriousness is unshakeable and eminent.
Boughton the composer
of the dove-down Celtic Twilight is
instantly recognisable in the Five
Celtic Love Songs. These set poems
by Fiona MacLeod (actually William Sharp
(1855-1905)) whose verse engaged Boughton
in The Immortal Hour and elsewhere.
The declamatory tone heard in Fly
Messenger Fly surfaces again in
Daughter of the Sun. Shule
Agrah has a flighty troubadour buoyancy.
The final song is My Grief. Again
Boughton ends on a severe downbeat.
It would also be good to hear these
in the version for voices and string
Last on the disc is
a setting of a poem by Eleanor Farjeon.
Sweet Ass is a mother's prayer
for her baby carried on the ass - imploring
the donkey to carry the baby gently
and not to 'break his slumbers'.
The BMS have again
done handsomely by Boughton. The recording
produced by John Talbot and engineered
by Paul Arden-Taylor (the team responsible
for the recent highly praised BMS release
of piano music by Patrick Piggott played
by Malcolm Binns (BMS430CD)) is sonorous
and vividly detailed. The words of each
of the twenty-three songs are printed
in full. The notes are by the Boughton
authority Michael Hurd.
All credit to the BMS
for yet again casting light on a neglected
corner of the repertoire and for doing
this professionally and with attention
to scholarly detail.
British Music Society