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We are the Burning Fire: Songs from a Small Planet
Henry Bennett  (treble) The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral Oxford conducted by Stephen Darlington
METRONOME MET CD 1040 (68:38)


Howard Goodall, best known as the composer of such TV themes as Blackadder and Mr. Bean, originally set out to adapt and record a collection of lullabies culled from around the world. But realising that this would mean excluding many pieces he felt demanded attention, he chose instead to simply compile an assortment of general world folk songs.

To start things off, the Bulgarian 'Polegnala e Todora' is operatic and hymn-like and features both children's and adult choir, supported ably by undulating piano in a rather nice arrangement. This is followed by very English voices singing a typically Spanish piece, 'A La Nanita Nana', a rather odd combination that reminded me of a theatrical show performance.

There's a suite of three African songs; 'Tina Singu' from Lesotho, rhythmic and jolly, the South African 'Asikhatali', that gets a little lost in the mix and 'Allundré Allundé', an East African number that's rather more serious and dramatic.

'Blow the Wind Southerly' from Scotland begins with an incessant weather forecast that lasts close to two minutes and becomes rather irritating to say the least. What follows could almost have been lifted straight out of Braveheart, at least until the very English boy treble solo by Henry Bennett intrudes.

Seagull calls open Iceland's 'Bium Bium Bamba', but this time it's a brief device and the track soon transforms into something rather like a sprightly, nursery rhyme. Unfortunately though it's fairly mundane and forgettable.

'Röslein Röslein' is a typically dour, melancholic German piece, whose most notable element is its lyrics by the poet Goethe, who also wrote the classic 'Faust'. By contrast 'Waly, Waly' from England is a pleasant enough traditional English folk song, although Goodall has added quite a bit of new music to supplement the original. As one might imagine the treble solo works to best advantage here.

Two Italian lullabies feature in 'Pecché non Duorme?' from Naples and 'Dormi, Dormi' from Calabria. Both are slightly operatic (again with that treble solo) but I found my attention wavering. Perhaps it was simply a case of the lullabies doing their work too well!

Brazil's 'Tutú Marambá' is light, frothy and lively without really being very distinctive, while the Polish 'Rosla Kalina' is unequivocally sorrowful but not particularly affecting. However, the pleasant French song 'Adieu, la Belle' is one of the better songs included here, although it is still a long way behind what is without question my own personal favourite, 'Kou jou-no-tsuki' from Japan. This fine piece is a truly atmospheric and imposing song and will win many repeat plays in the future I'm sure.

Finally two songs from Eire conclude the proceedings. It's hard not to like the pleasing 'The Lark in the Clear Air', which has the same enigmatic charm that is found in so much of the music from Ireland. 'She Moved Through the Fair' on the other hand is a telling, doomladen, again distinctly Irish folk song and while it's hard to dismiss, it does become a little wearing to sit through.

Although the performances by The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral Oxford conducted by Stephen Darlington are fine, one of the artistic decisions I would have to question is the use of treble solo on so many of the pieces. At times it does provide an interesting contrast to the original ethnic flavour, but too often detracts from the inherent distinctiveness of the songs themselves.

Sadly, after promising much, I found this collection to be somewhat disappointing. For me, apart from 'Kou jou-no-tsuki', there's not really any other song here that merits serious attention. Obviously that is a subjective opinion and one that is almost inevitable because of the diverse range of musical influences on offer. Even so, I would have thought a more dynamic collection could have been assembled. Perhaps it's just a case of what appeals to Howard Goodall doesn't quite have the same attraction for me.

Mark Hockley


Mark Hockley

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