Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

1. The foggy, foggy dew*
2. Early one morning*
3. The ash grove*
4. The Lincolnshire poacher*
5. Ma bonny lad**
6. I know where I'm going**
7. O Waly, Waly***
8. The keel row**
9. A brisk young widow*
10. Sweet Polly Oliver*
11. The minstrel boy*
12. Come you not from Newcastle*
13. Whittingham Fair*****
14. The Blaydon Races******
15. The cliffs of old Tynemouth******
16. Ca' the yowes*
17. The plough boy*
18. Kitty, my love***
19. The stuttering lovers**
20. I have a bonnet**
21. Drink to me only**
22. My boy Willie**
23. The fidgety bairn****
24. Blow the wind southerly****

Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano)* Kathleen Ferrier** *** **** (contralto), Phyllis Spurr** (piano), Frederick Stone*** (piano, John Newmark**** (piano) Owen Brannigan***** ****** (bass), Orchestra conducted by George Clouston***** or Max Harris******
Rec October 1959, November 1961, Kingsway Hall, London
February 1949, July 1950, December 1951, Decca Studios, West Hampstead
December 1951, BBC Concert Hall, London
June 1952, BBC Concert Hall, London
DECCA 467 782-2 (60.53)
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This collection includes many of the best loved British folk songs, in recordings made between 1949 and 1961. These have been remastered with much success. The quality of sound is generally pleasing and in the more recent examples, sung by Peter Pears with Benjamin Britten, it is a great deal better than that. So the combination of famous folk songs sung by famous performers has an immediate appeal. However, the most recent of these performances is now forty years old, and the style of delivery sometimes seems dated.

The oldest recordings, dating from 1949 to 1952, are by Kathleen Ferrier. Her distinctive voice is captured with full tone and clarity, but her accompanists fare less well, tending to be placed in a kind of aural fog in the middle distance. Also, there are occasional hints of pre-echo in the vocal recording.

The recordings for Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten, on the other hand, offer vintage Kingsway Hall Decca sound, and in these songs the full benefit of Britten's piano accompaniments can be experienced. For these are his own arrangements, sensitively responding to the nature of each song, and as such they are generally closer to the spirit of the basic material than the earlier arrangements performed by Ferrier and Owen Brannigan.

Brannigan has an orchestral accompaniment, well enough performed by a nameless ensemble on a nameless recording date. From the sound quality, the early 1950s would seem a fair bet. Brannigan sings three songs from the north-east, and he goes out of his way to deliver them in an 'authentic' accent, to the extent that his performances seem somewhat mannered. The stilted delivery of Whittingham Fair simply gets in the way of the beautiful contour of the tune. With such a fine voice, he would surely have been better advised to let the music speak for itself more naturally.

And perhaps that is the point at issue in the whole collection. The three singers featured here all have what might be termed 'strong personalities' - their voices are instantly recognisable. As a result, the performances are never dull. But equally they are very much 'interpretations' and not definitive statements.

This collection offers the listener an interesting experience, but stylistically it must now be viewed as something of a period piece. The real beauty of folk songs lies in their very directness and simplicity, in which sense it is Pears and Britten who come closest to the heart of the matter.

Terry Barfoot

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