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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Lights Out. Songs by Ivor Gurney, Ernest J Moeran, Sulyen Caradon and Others.
Samuel WESLEY (1766-1837)

Birthday Song 1
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)

If music be the food of love 2
Sulyen CARADON (b 1942)

Clouds 2
The Dancer 2
Dorian dirge 1
Lelant 3
Dawn 4
Margaret’s Song 7
O lovely England 5
E J MOERAN (1895-1950)

Rosefrail 2
Rahoon 2
Loveliest of trees 2
Six Songs of Seumus O’Sullivan 3
Alison EDGAR

Lyonesse 5
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)

Down by the Salley Gardens 6
All night under the moon 6
Severn Meadows 6
Nine of the clock 6
Lights Out 8
Scents
Bright Clouds
Penny whistle
Will you come?
Lights Out

Jeffry WHITTON

Little Vagabond 7
Laura SHUR

The smile 7
Sarah RODGERS

Acacia Tree 7
Ian Partridge (tenor) 6
Georgina Colwell (soprano) 1, 4, 5, 7
Clare Griffel (mezzo) 1, 2, 4, 5
Paul Martyn-West (tenor) 1, 3, 4, 5
Jonathan Wood (baritone) 1, 4, 5, 8
Peter Jacobs – 1, 2, 8 and Nigel Foster – 3, 5, 6, 7 (piano)
Richard Carder (saxophone) 5
Patrick Miles (bass clarinet) 5
Recorded live at St Cyprian’s Church, London 6 May 2003
DUNELM RECORDS DRD0200 [75.08]


This intriguing programme was given at St Cyprian’s Church, Glentworth Street, London on 6 May 2003. It reaches me for review exactly two months later – something of a record. Presented under the auspices of the English Poetry and Song Society and the British Music Information Centre the programme is a pleasing mix of the known and the new, the established and the under performed. The performers are in the main little known but they are without exception acutely sensitive to the word setting whilst two names will obviously stand out and they are Ian Partridge and Peter Jacobs.

A thread running through that evening’s recital was the name of Sulyen Caradon. Born in 1942 and of Cornish extraction the songs here were written over a thirteen-year period and there is also his little but effectively moving threnody for a friend killed in a car crash, Dorian Dirge. He sets Rupert Brooke’s Clouds with real acumen, not rising to the bait of painting the "noiseless tumult" with anything other than discretion. The setting does become increasingly active and the piano part does rise to moments of declamation and drama but the "still-raging seas" are as internalised as they are representative. I liked The Dancer as well with its antique air but not as much as his setting of Lascelles Abercrombie’s Margaret’s Song. Abercrombie was one of the Georgian poets no one set – I only know of one other setting of his poems and that’s Michael Head’s of Elizabeth’s Song – so it’s doubly good to hear Caradon’s. It’s a tricky poem to make work – try reciting the mildly tongue twisting Would now the tall swift mists could lay…- but Caradon gives it a befittingly undulatory rhythm, allowing its meaning to become clear only at the end. The piano postlude is rightly elusive, the setting sensitive and understanding. And Caradon can let his hair down as well – witness de la Mare’s O Lovely England in this setting for SATB, which is Old School with a vengeance.

Of the well known composers Paul Martyn-West contributes Moeran’s Six Songs of Seumus O’Sullivan – less well known actually than they should be. The high point for me was Lullaby, sung with expressive interiority – though I also admired his way with The Poplars where he shows a real ear for poetry and for line. Jonathan Wood essays Gurney’s equally under performed Lights Out, the cycle that gives this disc its title and reference point. Wood is another of the singers whose instincts are deeply musical and whose judgement is admirable – his approach to Penny Whistle, in particular, is excellent especially as it’s hard successfully to convey its atmosphere. It’s unfortunate that his vibrato has so prominent a bleat and that his legato is so compromised by it. Clare Griffel copes well with her three Moeran settings even if she does come under some strain and Georgina Colwell takes on the quartet of Whitton, Shur, Rodgers and Caradon in her solo selection accompanied by Nigel Foster. She has an appropriately edgy boyish tone for Whitton’s Little Vagabond and though she’s taxed by the next Blake setting, The smile by Laura Shur, she successfully conveys its divided self.

Ian Partridge, one of the current Presidents of The English Poetry and Song Society, is on hand to reprise his famous Gurney songs. No, the voice is not as it was twenty years ago - but whose is? The artistry is still spellbindingly there. He is quicker and more emphatic now in Down by the Salley Gardens than he was in his 1980 OUP LP – less the introspective innocent, more the stricken knowingness of an older man. Twenty years ago he sang All night under the moon with an almost pristine simplicity. I enjoyed it then but I prefer him now – now he is more overt and more romantically sweeping. Things are more telling, detail is more sharply etched, experience is more keen, life is more completely lived. Similarly Severn Meadows is rather more nuanced now, and the concert setting adds a further frisson to his elucidation of its pained nostalgia.

The booklet adds a caveat about some ambient noise. It’s there, certainly, and one has to acknowledge the problems of a live concert recorded in a church. Still, I’m used to much worse when doing the rounds of off air and privately recorded programmes and in the circumstances the engineers have done a first rate job. The booklet prints all the texts and gives some biographical detail about performers and some composers – the "other composers" of the title have all been shortlisted in the composers’ competition run by the English Poetry and Song Society and I’d like to have known something, at least, about them.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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