I heard this record, the name of Herbert Hughes was vaguely
familiar from a couple of his Irish folk tune arrangements.
I had no idea of the extent or quality of his work in this field.
He was a native of Belfast who studied at the Royal College
of Music with Charles Wood. Both later became founder members
of the Irish Folk Song Society of London. Hughes collected some
1000 folk songs, publishing four books between 1909 and 1936
and these are the main source for the present recording.
Iain Burnside’s introduction explains, there are examples here
which can be described as arrangements and other which are essentially
new compositions, as well as all stages in between. The surprise
for me at least was in their variety and in the range of emotion
they express. “Cruckhaun Finn”, for instance, is as far from
a hack arrangement as it is possible to be. It tells a moving
story of an emigrant’s farewell to his beloved, whose landlord
wants the former away so that he can pursue the latter. In Hughes’
setting this becomes a miniature drama, full of musical and
dramatic surprises. This is followed by two strongly contrasted
songs, each creating a world of its own, as the best songs do.
Some of the others are mere fragments, lasting barely a minute
or two, but even they, or possibly especially they, make their
point powerfully and economically. I listened fascinated and
beguiled to this wonderful array of words and music.
must admit that I enjoyed it much more with the words in front
of me, as frequently Ailish Tynan’s words are not entirely clear,
especially when she is making a dramatic point. Her tone colour
and phrasing are however subtly varied so that the point of
each song is clearly established, and I would not want to put
anyone off hearing this record because of her diction. Iain
Burnside is never content to be a mere accompanist, as have
been the pianists when I have heard these songs in the past.
He makes sure that the piano part is never less than an equal
partner. When this is added to a clear recording there can be
no doubt that these songs are given their full due here. Iain
Burnside compares the songs to Wolf’s Italian Songbook.
This seemed far-fetched when I read it before I heard the record,
but by the end it seemed entirely appropriate. Different as
their style is, in quality the songs can be compared also with
the folk arrangements of Brahms and Britten. I cannot imagine
a more welcome present than this for any lover of song.
very full and helpful notes by Philip Lancaster tell us that
Hughes wrote a number of chamber works. I very much hope that
some enterprising company, perhaps Dutton or Signum again, will
follow the present issue by giving us the chance to hear them.