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Rutland BOUGHTON (1878-1960)
Songs for mezzo and piano: Four Songs Op.24 (1907); Five Celtic Love Songs (1910); Songs of Womanhood Op.33 (1911); Three Songs Op.39 (1914); Symbol Songs (1920); Sweet Ass (1928).
Louise Mott (mezzo); Alexander Taylor (piano)
rec. Music Hall, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, 24 April, 1 May 2005.
World premiere recordings

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 quartet.

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.

Rob Barnett

The British Music Society



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