This is the sixth CD of Carey Blyton’s music since the
saxophone disc ‘The Return of Bulgy Go-Go’ in 1991 (URCD 106) and the
second to be devoted to the composer’s vocal works; the other being
‘The Folk Song Arrangements’ (URCD 131).
As can be seen from the opus numbers these are not entirely
early songs but, for the sake of completeness, the composer has slipped
in two fairly recent miniatures. ‘The Flea’, (1992) is a work of great
profundity and power setting the immortal words "Adam ‘ad 'em"
prefaced by a Beethovenian display for the piano! Indigo Blues (1999)
is a colonial song with a strong political content.
But to start at the beginning.
The CD booklet has a photograph of five young men with
the caption ‘The Beckenham Salon’. This was not an upmarket coiffeur
in South-East London although certainly these gents are beautifully
turned out, but a group of like-minded young artists who in the early
'50s created for opportunities for performance and presentation of their
work. This was under the avuncular eye of Sir Arthur Bliss. One of these
is the poet David Munro whose evocative poems Blyton regularly set at
this time; another is a dapper Carey Blyton himself.
The opus 9 songs ‘Three A.M’., were first performed at
Beckenham Grammar School (where Blyton was educated) in October 1951.
That means that Blyton was at the time a mere stripling of 19. What
is remarkable is that he had only started composing three years earlier
having, I believe, been the music master’s nightmare pupil and hating
the subject. This was before a convalescence from polio that gave him
time to discover his latent musical talent. It’s also interesting that
his style is already in place - an ability to capture the tension, which
is ironically rather laid-back and disguised to underline the meaning
of the words. The urban world is beautifully evoked with a sense of
sleazy decorum and run-down sophistication. Speaking in oxymorons is,
I feel, appropriate also for his second cycle of songs Op. 10. Here
one of Blyton’s own poems ‘Two Stolen Roses’ is paired with Donald Hills’
poem ‘Come Night’. The music’s gentle ease covers the darkness of the
lines "Shut out this light, Wherein hard, bitter life I alone I
I have always thought that Poulenc was an influence on
Blyton’s early style and this is strongly brought home to me in ‘Toi
et Moi’ op. 11 his longest song-cycle up to that point. It comprises
five settings of Paul Geraldy out of a published group of 32. Not all
English composers would tackle French texts, but to do them at aged
20 shows remarkable confidence and skill. The point should be made here
that in music that appears artless there is more often than not a real
consummate skill, and economy of means, not a note wasted, the ‘Art
which conceals Art’. These traits can be found in this wonderful cycle,
coupled with a real sense and understanding of melody. Poulenc surely
was a model for the lively ‘Post scriptum’ movement 3. It is a pity
that the otherwise excellent booklet notes do not translate the texts
as the score does, as the word painting in this song is particularly
The two cycles, which stand out for me, are ‘Moresques’
and ‘Prayers from the Ark’. The former is scored for soprano, flute,
harp and piano and is a setting of three Spanish-inspired poems by the
aforementioned David Munro. Again Blyton was only 20 when it was first
performed in Beckenham. It shows remarkable skill in combining the unusual
combination of instruments particularly in the harp writing which mixes
superbly with the piano. I wonder who taught the composer how to write
so idiomatically for the harp. The performance is by the delightful
‘Scheherazade’, Verona Chard, soprano, Denise Dance, flute, and Fiona
Clifton-Welker, harp. It is particularly apt, with their name, that
in 1995 Blyton should have arranged Rimsky’s early song, the delicious
‘The Rose and the Nightingale’ from his opera ‘Sadko’. They also perform
the less memorable ‘Symphony in Yellow’ with words by Oscar Wilde.
Carey Blyton’s choice of texts is quite distinctly his
own, picked I suspect to suit the soundworld he naturally inhabits.
Very successful from this point of view is ‘Prayers from the Ark’, seven
animal poems by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold (where did the composer find
this poet?) written in 1974 and first performed by Jane Manning. Each
ends with a characteristic ‘A-men’. The last, ‘The Lark’, for example
ambles up to a top F and then floats it. Earlier the bored old Ox sings
it on just two notes.
Carey Blyton’s interest in Elizabethan music and poetry
is characteristic of English composers brought up at this time. The
two short cycles 'The Poetry of Dress’, with words by Herrick, and ‘What
then is Love’, with words by several poets including Shakespeare and
John Donne, are good examples. The setting of ‘A sweet disorder in the
dress’ displays typical Phrygian cadences and some false relations.
Both cycles are worthy but the melodic material is more memorable I
feel in other works on the CD.
The composer pulled off a considerable coup with obtaining
the services of Ian and Jennifer Partridge who are obviously enjoying
themselves hugely. I can remember Ian Partridge floating his beautiful
tenor in the late 60s in early music with ‘The Purcell Consort’, then
with his sister in some memorable Schumann performances; it’s good to
hear him revelling in this repertoire. Praise also is due for the effortlessly
beautiful voice of Beryl Korman who occasionally pinches some of the
top notes but who has immaculate diction and perfect phrasing. Stephen
Roberts is a fine and well-known performer in all areas and is ideal
in 'Toi et Moi’ which lies superbly on his voice.
There are full texts supplied in the 28-page booklet,
curiously with the exception of ‘The Sea-dog’s Song’ where Stephen Roberts’
words are less clear than on the rest of the recording.
I am only sorry that the mysterious Mary Q. Palimpsest
has had to stand down as the writer of the booklet notes and we are
left with tedious old Anon.
See other Blyton