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Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
1) It was a lover and his lass ab
2) Take, O take those lips away a
3) O mistress mine a
4) How should I your true love know b
5) Orpheus with his lute a
6) Hark! Hark! the Lark a
7) Ca’ the yowes to the knows b
8) Charlie is my darling b
9) Ye banks and braes b
10) I arise from dreams of thee a
11) Music when soft voices die b
12) Love’s philosophy a
13) Spring is at the door b
14) Passing dreams a
15) Autumn evening b
16) An old carola
Three Pastoral Songs: bd
17) I will go with my father a ploughing
18) Cherry valley
19) I wish and I wish
20) Go lovely rose a
21) A last year’s rose b
22) Amaryllis at the fountain b
23) I dare not a ask a kiss a
24) Now sleeps the crimson petal b
To Julia (eight songs): ac
25) Prelude
26) The bracelet
27) The maiden blush
28) To daisies
29) The night piece
30) Julia’s hair
31) Interlude
32) Cherry ripe
33) Love calls through the summer night ab
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor) a
Lisa Milne (soprano) b
Graham Johnson (piano)
The Duke Quartet: c Louisa Fuller d; Rick Koster (violins); John Metcalf (viola); Ivan McCready d (cello)
Recorded 29-30 September and 1 October 1977 at All Saint’s Church, East Finchley, London. DDD
First issued on Collins Classics in 1998
The English Song Series Vol.5
NAXOS 8.557116 [72:19]

Roger Quilter was certainly no modernist. Almost exclusively remembered for his songs which were deeply imbued with the spirit of English pastoralism that was flourishing in the late Victorian and Edwardian period. The late-romanticism in England that Quilter surrounded himself with, together with the resurgence and establishment of English Art-Song was assisted by a new vitality in English literature and a renewed interest in the English folk-song, its landscape and heritage.

The exceptional available verse from poets such as A.E. Housman, W.B. Yeats, John Masefield, Robert Graves, Edward Shanks et al all seemed so relevant in view of the great tensions in the country around the time of the Great War. Quilter was not the only composer captivated by and sensitive to the mood of the time as displayed by his contemporaries notably: Ivor Gurney, Arthur Somervell, E.J. Moeran, Frank Bridge, Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth and Peter Warlock.

Roger Cuthbert Quilter was born in 1877, in Brighton on the south coast of England into an extremely wealthy and influential family. Finding that Eton public school was not conducive to a man of his sensitivity Quilter circumvented the traditional route to Oxbridge and proceeded to attend music college in Frankfurt, Germany. Music academies were not as well established or as advanced in England as they were in some parts of Europe. Consequently several of Quilter’s English contemporaries trod the same musical study route to Frankfurt, namely Cyril Scott, Percy Grainger, Norman O’Neil and Balfour Gardiner, who collectively became known as the ‘Frankfurt Group‘.

Quilter composed in several genres but is almost entirely remembered for his writing for the voice with piano accompaniment. With regard to his songs Quilter has been described as being a outstanding craftsman with a sparkling quality. The art-songs themselves are always lyrical and practical too, never over-elaborated with any hint of complex structures, consequently they have remained extremely popular with singers and audiences alike. The involved accompaniment to a Quilter song is always sensitively incorporated with the vocal-line; a style which was not always typical of the songs of his contemporaries. Quilter’s songs are unashamedly romantic, often with an atmosphere of reflection and melancholy that is all too common in English music from this period but maybe is founded in Quilter’s own often troubled personality.

From the beginning to around the middle of the 20th Century, when mental illness impeded his ability to write, Quilter was arguably the leading English song composer of his generation. He was most careful about his word setting, extremely conscious about the balance between the requirements and technical limitations of performers and it is generally accepted by performers that to perform a Quilter song is a delightful and rewarding experience. However there are some detractors who comment adversely about the relative simplicity and lack of depth and vision about his songs. Perhaps the impression of simplicity blended with a compositional conciseness and lack of complexity is the mark of Quilter’s true genius. If one is looking for the arcane and the recondite or challenging and intellectual stimulation, clearly a Quilter song is not the place to look. It is best to fully accept that his songs are consistently rewarding, giving immeasurable pleasure to performer and listener alike. One thing for certain is that Quilter’s songs have stood the test of time and this Naxos release bears testament to his art.

The material contained in this Naxos release in their English song series has been previously issued by Collins Classics, a few years ago back in 1998 and it is good to have these works back in the catalogue again; especially at super budget price. The songs here are performed by the tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson and the soprano Lisa Milne with the performances shared fairly evenly between the two in all but a couple of duets. The majority of the songs have the singers accompanied by pianist Graham Johnson only. However the piano accompaniment is augmented in the Three Pastoral Songs with a violin and cello and in the cycle of eight songs To Julia, by the members of the Duke Quartet.

The programme commences with a duet in It was a lover and his lass where Lisa Milne and Anthony Rolfe Johnson combine their soprano and tenor voices sublimely, offering the listener a taste of the pleasures to come. Anthony Rolfe Johnson consistently excels in these warm lyrical settings with perhaps the songs O mistress mine and Go lovely rose being the finest examples of the experienced tenor’s admirable control and wide range of expression.

Talented soprano Lisa Milne goes from strength to strength and seems especially at home with the intimacy and challenge of a song recital programme. Personally I feel the soprano’s voice is at her purest in the upper registers and especially when pressed by the demands of the song. The soprano’s lovely phrasing and clarity of articulation is displayed to fine effect in How should I your true love know and her light and pleasing vibrato seems especially well suited to the songs Ca’ the yowes to the knows and Autumn Evening. The Quilter recital ends as it began with a fine duet, Love calls through the summer night which concludes the proceedings with a climax of intense emotion and vigour.

How could any song recital improve on the sensitive accompaniment of pianist Graham Johnson who as usual gives a sterling performances in repertoire that seems to the manor born. The sound quality is soft edged which seems to assist in creating the atmosphere of a chamber recital.

There are two recordings which exclusively contain Quilter songs that any listener might consider as alternatives or in addition to this Naxos release. On Hyperion CDA 66878 with the tenor John Mark Ainsley with Malcolm Martineau on piano and on Chandos CHAN 8782 with the baritone Benjamin Luxon accompanied by David Willison on piano. Not surprisingly both discs contain some duplication of songs and are very fine recordings too; especially I feel the Hyperion release with John Mark Ainsley.

These performances of Quilter’s intimate and cultivated songs are most accomplished, sounding spontaneous and expressive with a real sense of intense communication. There are strong claims for this pleasurable Naxos release.

Michael Cookson


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