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A Sheaf of Songs from Ireland
Larchet: The Wee Boy in Bed; Wee Hughie; A Stoirin Ban; An Ardglass Boat Song; Padraic the Fiddler; Stanford: A Sheaf of Songs from Leinster, op.140; The Fairy Lough, op.77/2; Arr. Stanford: An Irish Lullaby (abridged) (from "50 Songs of Old Ireland"); Hardebeck: The Song of Glen Dun; A Dandlin' Song; Victory: An Old Woman of the Roads; O'Brien: The Fairy Tree; Nelson: The Little Pets of Mochua; Dirty Work; Arr. Bax: Oh Dear! What can the Matter Be?
Bernadette Greevy (mezzo soprano), Hugh Tinney (pianoforte)
Marco Polo 8.225098 [62' 18]
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Bernadette Greevy first recorded Wee Hughie, A Soft Day (from Stanford's op.140), The Song of Glen Dun and The Fairy Tree on a long-deleted Argo LP (ZRG5459) issued in 1966. It would have been unchivalrous of me to draw attention to the longevity of Ms Greevy's career were it not that absolutely no allowances need be made. I haven't heard the earlier recordings, but I have recently heard her 1965 recording of an aria from Handel's "Rinaldo" and can report that not only is her timbre unimpaired but her emission is freer; a real vocal personality comes across. Add to this crystal-clear diction and we have a model of how these songs should be sung. While reviewing the first volume of Stephen Varcoe's Stanford project I had some hard things to say about his often unsupported tone. Well, I hope he will listen to this disc and reflect that here is a voice with true breath support all the time, and where every note finds its correct position and vibrates freely (I am referring to natural vibrations, not vibrato, of which Ms Greevy uses very little). Above all, here is a technique which has seen the voice through 30-odd years and shows no signs of failing it for a good while yet.

Just a few observations about the Stanford interpretations. Thief of the World and The Bold Unbiddable Child are not, as so often, dashed off as patter songs but really sung. These two have tempted other singers into some rather camp Irish accents, so let it be noted that a native singer limits herself to the most subtle hints of dialect. Recently I was protesting that The Fairy Lough should not be taken too slowly but with Ms Greevy's voice it seems to work.

Something very puzzling happens at the end of An Irish Lullaby. Stanford, by a stroke of genius, set the third verse over a submediant pedal. The effect has to be heard to be believed, but hearers and believers will have to wait yet a-while since this performance stops at the end of the second verse (or is it an editing mistake?). The other drawback is that the engineers have placed the singer too close, with Hugh Tinney's excellent piano playing a long way behind. The Stanford songs suffer especially since voice and piano are often equal partners.

The other songs were new to me. I felt that five from John Larchet were too many since they are all in a moderate tempo, but nonetheless I would like to know more of this composer's work. The Song of Glen Dun is highly attractive and if A Dandlin' Song seems banal at the outset, Ms Greevy makes it treasurable. After Stanford and Bax, Gerald Victory is the best-known name here but I have to say that Padraig Colum's touching poem deserves better treatment. The Fairy Tree is charming, the two Nelson pieces unremarkable (is Dirty Work really supposed to make us laugh?) and the Bax arrangement fiendishly original. I don't see that it has much to do with Ireland but it reminds us that Bax's songs have not had much luck on CD so how about a Bax disc from Ms Greevy?

The record comes with a helpful note in English, French and German, and texts in English which have been rather sloppily reproduced. In conclusion, a plea to Hyperion. If the two Varcoe Stanford CDs are selling at all well, how about planning a third and engaging Bernadette Greevy to sing it?

Christopher Howell



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