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'
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?