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Lyrita New Recording
Sarah Beth Briggs
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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Songs of a Wayfarer; When Lights go rolling round
the sky; Hope the Hornblower; Sea Fever; Marigold; Five
Poems by Thomas Hardy; Three Songs; We’ll
to the Woods no more
Two Songs; Songs Sacred & Profane; Five
XVIth Century Songs; Blow out you Bugles; If
there were Dreams to sell; I have twelve Oxen; Spring
Sorrow; The Bells of San Marie; The Journey;
The merry month of May; Vagabond; When
I am dead my dearest; Santa Chiara; Great
Things; If we must part; Tutto e sciolto
Songs for Tenor: The Heart’s desire; The
sacred flame; Remember; Hawthorne Time; The
East Riding; Love is a sickness full of woes; The
Land of Lost Content; Two Songs
Songs for Contralto: The three Ravens; Bed
in Summer; Mother & Child; Earth’s Call; Three
Arthur Symons Songs; What art thou thinking of?; Three
Thomas Hardy Songs
Luxon (baritone) (CD1; CD2); John Mitchinson (tenor) (CD3);
Alfreda Hodgson (contralto) (CD3); Alan Rowlands
rec. Smith Square, London August 1972, July 1973, November
1973 (CD1; CD2); August 1978 (CD3). ADD
Full song texts in English only
SRCD.2261 [3 CDs: 61:26 + 58:08 + 64:10]
Lyrita set is the sequel to their chamber music box issued
in June 2007 and the pathfinder to the piano music (Parkin)
box due out in September 2007.
box is double width - necessitated by the three CDs and in
this case by two booklets. One sets out the concise preface
by Geoffrey Bush, Musical Adviser to the John Ireland Trust
and the much more extensive song essay is provided by William
Mann. The other provides the full texts to the 79 songs.
By the way there are eighty tracks; the disparity is explained
by the fact that the third of the Housman sequence We'll
To the Woods No More is a piano solo with its Ireland-typical
title, Spring Will Not Wait.
Parkin might well have seemed the lynchpin for the whole
Lyrita-Ireland project but in this case the pianist is Alan
Rowlands whose mono cycle of the Ireland piano music on Lyrita
RCS discs will be reissued in a CD set in 2008.
artistry as a songwriter has never been presented with such
mastery. Rowlands is attentive and idiomatic at every turn.
He sensitively colours, accentuates and intensifies. Listen
to his unassertive advocacy in the last of the Hardy Poems, Dear,
Think Not that they will forget you.
had heard only one of the original LPs and was delighted
with the singing of Benjamin Luxon whose voice was in good
heart at the time of the sessions. Thankfully he was free
of the insecure vibrato that later afflicted him. Just as
well - as two of the three CDs are allocated to him. On this
point we are assured that all the songs are sung by the voice
for which they were written apart from the most famous, Sea
Fever, which was originally for tenor. Ireland
later professed a strong preference for it to be taken by
a baritone and so Luxon has it here.
songs date from the 1910s to the late 1930s. Their range
is wide indeed. There are darkly ruminative ones such as The
One Hope (to words by D.G. Rossetti). Then again there
are magnificently ringing ballads such as When Lights
Go rolling Round the Sky and Sea Fever. Hope
the Hornblower, to words by Newbolt, is bound to wake
recollections of Ireland's teacher Stanford in The Songs
of the Sea. Indeed it has that sort of redolence … and
that is by no means the end.
Fever is superbly done with such recreative
power that one can visualise the scenes conjured and live
the experience. The songwriter's
art and the song-singer’s art is here at its highest tilt.
Housman is heard first in the subdued subtle cycle We'll
to the Woods No More. The second song In Boyhood has
a typically morose and irresistible sway. Interestingly Ireland
ended that cycle with a piece for piano alone under the title
of another Housman poem Spring will not wait. It is
in Ireland’s typically elusive, wanderingly ambivalent tonal
Arthur Symons song The Tryst is a counterpart to all
those hooded-eye mélodies from Duparc and Fauré.
come the cycle Songs Sacred and Profane of which Hymn
for a Child relates the story of the child Christ in
the temple. It is in a simple sing-song which is lent savour
by the unconventional piano part. Of greater complexity is
the mournful love song My Fair, again to words by
Alice Meynell. The only song from this cycle to achieve any
solo celebrity is the much set The Salley Gardens.
Ireland's typically gentle muse demands much in the way of
high quiet notes from the singer and Luxon meets the challenge
in triumph head-on. Yet more variety comes with the recruiting-song
swing of The Soldier’s Return. In The final song The
Scapegoat the goat capers cheerfully - a strangely satirical
Sixteenth Century Songs take us into verse favoured
by Warlock and Gurney. Ireland finds a troubadour vein
in the honeyed All in a Garden Green - a setting
of Thomas Howell.
Out You Bugles to words by
Rupert Brooke carries a message difficult to grasp now:
youth enriched by death. The message might have
had some solace during and after the Great War but we now
either reject those words or are bound to feel discomfort.
have twelve Oxen with its twee
refrain ‘Sawest not you mine Oxen, you little pretty boy?’ recalls
Britten who was briefly an Ireland pupil.
Bells of San Marie (setting
words by Masefield), with its ballad rocking swing, is
another palpable hit. It is though gentle without the flash
and clamour of When Lights Go Rolling Round the Sky.
Rossetti's When I am Dead My Dearest is mournfully
remorseful and its reticent refrain registers with sentimental
force: “And if thou wilt, remember / and if thou wilt, forget.”
Chiara - another Arthur Symons setting - is a grand ballad, noble and roundedly
victorious. It prepares the ground for a masterly song, Great
Things which is imaginatively spun and twisted by Luxon
and Rowlands. Listen to how Luxon characterises the words “A
figure flits like one a-wing /Out from the nearest tree.”
the 1930s various composers were invited to contribute a
single Joyce setting to a luxury publication entitled The
Joyce Book. Tutto e sciolto was Ireland's offering
in which his artistry is there in concentrated form. Others
are by Moeran, Bax and C.W. Orr.
final disc has two groups of songs - one each for tenor and
for alto. In John Mitchinson the fault avoided by Luxon is
courted. Mitchinson, at this stage in his singing career,
had too much unsteadiness in his vocal production. For anything
at all intense or sustained an annoying beat intrudes. Unusual
for Lyrita to err in these things although there is another
famous instance with John Carol Case in Finzi’s Shakespeare
Songs. Intrinsically Mitchinson’s voice is attractive and
his intelligence imbues the words with meaning but that beat!
His voice has the same essential nasality that we also hear
in Robert Tear but it takes on a 'Neddy Seagoon' persona
when pressed high. Still he makes a good job on the words “O
tarnish late on Wenlock Edge” in Hawthorne Time where
the vibrato seems to be in transient remission. It's a fine
song but does not match the Gurney setting.
most famous cycle is the Housman sequence The Land of
Lost Content. Mitchinson manages better in the quick
songs Goal and Wicket and The encounter. There
is a delightful honeyed caress and kindness in the song Epilogue with
its words “You smile upon your friend today”.
there are problems with Mitchinson they do not apply to Alfreda
Hodgson whose pure voice is nothing short of wonderful; fully
the match for Luxon.
confronts a wild wood of meaning in Harold Monro's poem Earth's
Call. Of the Three Arthur Symons Songs the most
memorable is The Rat with its words “Pain Gnaws at
the Heart like a Rat.”
turns the lachrymose sentimentality of Mother and Child -
a Rossetti cycle - into sheer gold, touching time after time
with her evident sincerity. Her technical command is splendid
leaving the singer to concentrate on the tricky sentimentality
of the words. The sickly nature of these childhood Rossetti
settings return in the isolated song What are thou thinking
of with the child challenging the mother as to whether
she would be as glad as he is to go to heaven now.
return to stronger poetry in the Three Poems by Thomas
Hardy. It is difficult to hear Summer Schemes without
thinking of Finzi's setting – still, this one grows on you. Weathers is
the final song in the trilogy and the final one on the disc
and set: “And rooks in families homeward go .... And so do
a while since I have heard Hyperion’s 2CD set but it would
have had stiff competition from this one and I am assuming
that the Lyrita set includes more songs.
artistry as a songwriter has never been presented with such
Reviews of other Lyrita releases of John Ireland
Tritons/The Forgotten Rite
conducts Bridge and Ireland
Ireland Trust website
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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