The difficult thing
to come to terms with on this CD is
the fact that most of these tracks were
written at a time when Britain was supposed
to be a ‘Land without Music’. Only the
most pedantic of listeners would claim
that the twenty-one part-songs presented
here are anything other than beautiful
and accomplished minor works of art.
Of course, some of
the big boys are here. Edward Elgar
is represented by an excerpt from the
less than well known King Olaf.
Yet, in its guise as a part-song, ‘As
Torrents in Summer’, with a text
by Longfellow it stands alone and deserves
its place on this CD. Many people of
an older generation were brought up
on the ‘Blue’ (and Red, Green etc.)
Fairy Books by the Scots writer and
academic Andrew Lang. Perhaps his words
for ‘My Love Dwelt in a Northern
Land,’ are not quite to the modern
taste, and certainly do not mention
the little people - but in Elgar’s fine
setting they surely melt the heart.
Guido Cavalcanti provides the words
for ‘Go, song of mine;’ the Italian
original was translated by Dante Gabriel
Rossetti. Interestingly, Elgar wrote
this setting when in Careggi, near Florence,
and whilst he was contemplating the
Violin Concerto and the Second
Symphony. Perhaps the ‘Windflower’
is not too far away from him in this
Charles Stanford is
represented by his two excellent works
for unaccompanied choir – Bluebird
and Heraclitus. I have long been
of the opinion that Bluebird
is possibly the most perfect musical
work in British Music. In spite of its
short length it would have to be on
my list of ‘Desert Island Discs.’ Heaven
is never closer than in this masterpiece.
Heraclitus is a lovely setting
of a poem from the Greek poet Callimachus.
Interestingly, the ancient text was
translated by a certain William Cory,
whose best known effort was probably
the Eton Boating Song! Heraclitus
was a great philosopher who first presented
‘Philosophy’ as a system and a discipline.
The song is an elegy upon the philosopher’s
Charles Hubert Hastings
Parry was often ridiculed by musicians
and musicologists in my younger days.
I can recall nasty things being said
about his works being ‘as dry as dust.’
That was in the days when his reputation
rested on hearsay rather than hearing.
We are lucky to possess much of Parry’s
catalogue on CD. I would swap a lot
of popular classical and baroque music
to keep hold of the cycle his of Five
Parry’s greatest part-songs
were written for the Magpie Madrigal
Society founded by a certain Lionel
Benson in 1885. The present CD includes
six songs from a number of works written
for this group. There is a degree of
flawlessness about all these songs that
defies time and prejudice. There is
no way that these part-songs can be
forgotten simply because they are ‘Victorian’
or ‘Museum Pieces.’ Perhaps the finest
part-song here is the setting of Shelley’s
‘Music When Soft Voices Die.’
Of course most church choirs will have
given the first-rate anthem ‘My Soul
there is a Country’ after Evensong
of Mattins. Four other works make up
this selection, including settings of
texts by Robert Bridges, Samuel Daniel
and two anonymous Elizabethan lyrics.
Some of the greatest
surprises on this CD come from the lesser-known
composers. In my day in the organ loft,
Joseph Barnby was regarded as a joke.
Yet his rich setting of Tennyson’s ‘Sweet
and Low’ is surely a valued contribution
to the repertoire. Barnby was a choral
conductor whose main claim to fame is
that he was the first individual to
conduct Wagner’s Parsifal in
Many people get confused
with their Wesleys (not Methodists of
course!). Samuel was the son of Charles,
the great hymn writer. Most people probably
know the voluntary An Air Composed
for Holsworthy Church Bells, and Varied
for the Organ – and not a lot else.
Yet Wesley was more than a composer
– he was a leading light in the nineteenth
century revival of J.S. Bach in Britain.
The ‘O, Sing unto my Roundelay’
was written in 1812 - between The Battles
of Trafalgar and Waterloo!
Charles Wood’s setting
of Shakespeare’s ‘Full Fathom Five’
is far removed from his better-known
Anglican Services and church anthems.
This is a fine madrigal that has interesting
turns of harmony and melodic line. It
is certainly the most ‘modern’ of the
works presented here.
Wagner regarded George
Macfarren as a ‘pompous melancholy Scotsman.’
Yet, whatever the truth of this observation,
it is not in evidence with Macfarren’s
happy setting of ‘When Daisies Pied.’
Walmisley’s ‘Music All Powerful’
is a technically accomplished work that
ought to be better known. It is a good
balance between well-written counterpoint
and restrained harmony. It is also the
longest piece on this disc.
setting of Christina Rossetti’s poem
‘Summer is Gone’ is one of the
most attractive pieces on this CD. There
are definite nods to Fred. Delius here.
The programme notes accurately describe
its mood as wistful.
Arthur Sullivan’s reputation
as a composer has always been complicated
by the fact that he is invariably seen
as one half of G&S! Yet recent years
have enabled the listener to hear a
number of works that have lain hidden
for nearly a century. I can recommend
the Irish Symphony and the Cello
Concerto to anyone who has not heard
music beyond the D’Oly Carte Operas.
‘Echoes,’ with lyrics by Thomas
Moore, is perhaps musically recognizable
as Sullivan’s music – there is almost
a ‘tripping hither,’ if a somewhat restrained
‘trip’, feel to this music. Perhaps
the most famous of all Victorian madrigals
is the sad yet inspiring ‘The Long
Day Closes.’ This is the CDs eponymous
track. The text was by a poet, librettist
and art critic called Henry Chorley
– he was a friend of the composer. As
a meditation on death it is superb.
Forget supposed Victorian sentimentality
– this is profound stuff. And Sullivan’s
setting matches itself to the words
perfectly. The reprise of the opening
melody for "Go to the dreamless
bed/ Where grief reposes/ Thy book of
toil is read/ The long day closes,"
is sheer perfection. And remember that
this was written some three years before
W.S. Gilbert wrote the libretto for
Cox and Box – the first fruits of that
This is a lovely CD
that explores a number of long forgotten
byways and further represents a few
well known and loved examples of British
Canzonetta, under their
director Jeffrey Wynn Davies present
memorable and finely judged performances.
Perhaps a little bit more information
on the composers and their music and
certainly the dates of each piece would
have been useful.
One last word. Do not
through-listen to this CD. Take it in
small pieces. However the six Parry
settings make an excellent group to
engage with at a single sitting.