This is a welcome
reissue of a disc that was previously available at full price
It was a good idea
to couple vocal music by these two composers. Meurig Bowen points
out in an excellent booklet note that the two composers met
in 1906 and though Grieg died not long afterwards, in the relatively
short time between their meeting and Grieg’s death “a remarkable
friendship and artistic affinity was struck up”. Taking the
linkage one step further, this release intelligently juxtaposes
a good deal of music by both composers that has its roots in
Psalms are not, perhaps, as well known as they might be,
at least not outside Scandinavia – I can’t recall hearing them
before. These are, in fact, his last completed compositions
and are based on old Norwegian church melodies. They make an
interesting set, the more so when they are as well sung as here.
David Wilson-Johnson contributes excellent solos and Stephen
Layton directs fine, committed performances. These pieces make
an admirable foil for the secular Grainger settings. I have
known – and loved – Grieg’s Ave, maris stella for years.
It’s a little jewel but it’s not an easy piece to sing – as
I’ve found out. Polyphony make it sound easy, however, in a
rapt performance. I fully agree with Meurig Bowen’s suggestion
that the piece is reminiscent of Bruckner’s Latin motets.
Works by Grainger
occupy the lion’s share of the disc and one thing that’s striking
is that although all the pieces are short – the longest lasts
only just over four minutes – they display a wide musical range.
Many of them are arrangements, rather than original compositions,
and very skilful and sympathetic they are. The three Sea-Chanty
(sic) settings (tracks 2 – 4) are scored for male voices
alone. As Meurig Bowen comments they “benefit from a ravishing
sense of spatial sonority”. David Wilson-Johnson is a splendid
soloist in all three pieces – and Paul Agnew is equally good
in Dollar and a half a day. The three pieces are
I also enjoyed several
of the folksong arrangements, particularly the lovely Near
Woodstock Town and the sprightly The Gypsy's Wedding
Day. The latter was one of a number of folksongs that Grainger
collected on expeditions to Lincolnshire in 1905 and 1906. His
most celebrated ‘catch’ from these trips was, of course, Brigg
Fair. In this performance the plangent tenor solo is splendidly
taken by James Gilchrist.
Not all Grainger’s
folksong settings were of English songs. There are a couple
here from Sweden, including a wordless setting, Dalvisa.
Scotland is represented, tellingly, by a fine setting of
Burns’s Ye banks and braes and by Mo nighean dubh.
The title of this song translates as ‘My dark-haired maiden’.
It’s aptly described in the notes as tender and nostalgic. I
loved the exquisite, touching performance that Layton and his
choir deliver. The concluding piece, which gives the album its
title, is one of the original compositions. It’s a gorgeous
piece. It’s sung ravishingly with another fine solo, taken this
time by Andrew Carwood.
In all honesty there
isn’t a performance on the whole disc that is less than first
class. Tuning, balance, clarity and diction are all excellent
and Layton and his singers serve both composers admirably. The
recording is very good indeed, allowing just the right amount
of resonance but never sacrificing clarity for atmosphere. With
excellent notes and full texts, the presentation is up to the
usual high standards of the Hyperion stable.
I thoroughly enjoyed
this disc and I hope that many other collectors will derive
equal pleasure from it.