The various genre of British, and particularly English,
song, have done well on CD this year. Sir Thomas Allen has featured
on two issues. The first, what might be called 'parlour' songs, with
the title 'Songs my father taught me' (Hyperion) was widely welcomed.
So too was the reissue of a double disc (Virgin) of the singer in 'French
and English Songs', the latter including the likes of Vaughan Williams'
'House of Life' cycle and 'Linden Lea', as well as works
by Butterworth. The genre of both those issues is significantly different
to that offered on this Regis disc which derives from an earlier Hyperion
issue with some additions. The enclosed leaflet essay, by James Murray,
details how many of these songs were collected by a small group of enthusiasts
in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and had been used
in ballad operas and such like. Apart from the Britten arrangements,
mostly written during World War 2 when he was in the U.S.A., the songs
on the disc have been arranged specifically for James Griffett and Timothy
Walker. One song (tr 16) is of course more Irish than British.
James Griffett was a founder member of 'Pro Cantione
Antiqua' a group specialising in the performance of music from the Renaissance
and Baroque eras. He has a tightly focused tenor voice with a wide range
of expression. His artistry is not of the quality of Tom Allen and one
wouldn't want to listen to this collection end to end. Nonetheless Griffett
brings to his interpretations plenty of character and exemplary diction,
if not always the gentlest of phrasing or smoothness of legato. In tr
14 his mezza voce and head voice singing is commendable, whilst in 'Greensleeves'
(tr 18) the phrases are choppy and he cannot sustain the legato in the
passagio. However, it is easy to be over pedantic and miss the pleasures
that are to be found in enjoyment of the artistry of the singer and
accompanist, as well as of the music and words that many will have deep
in their memory bank.
Robert J Farr