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Armstrong GIBBS (1889-1960)
The Bells (Walter de la Mare) Op 14 No 2 SV [3'07]
To one who passed whistling through the night ('Margery Agrell') GMG [1'57]
Summer Night ('Margery Agrell') GMG [1'27]
The fields are full (Edward Shanks) SV [1'59]
Take heed, young heart (Walter de la Mare) GMG [2'03]
When I was one-and-twenty (A E Housman) SV [1'42]
The Birch Tree (Georgina Mase) GMG [0'50]
Lullaby (Walter de la Mare) GMG [3'10]
The Sleeping Beauty (Walter de la Mare) GMG [3'00]
The Ballad of Semmerwater (Sir William Watson) SV [4'21]
Tom o' Bedlam (anonymous) SV [1'33]
The Mad Prince (Walter de la Mare) GMG [1'59]
Hypochondriacus (Charles Lamb) SV [1'14]
Neglected Moon! (Clifford Bax) GMG [1'59]
The Rejected Lover (Clifford Bax) SV [1'16]
Arrogant Poppies (Clifford Bax) GMG [1'30]
Sailing Homeward (Arthur Waley) SV [1'50]
The Tiger-Lily (Dorothy Pleydell-Bouverie) GMG [3'08]
The splendour falls (Alfred, Lord Tennyson) SV [3'11]
Titania (Sir Mordaunt Currie) SV [3'50]
Danger (Sir Mordaunt Currie) SV [1'38]
Nightfall (Harry Dawson) GMG [2'56]
Silver (Walter de la Mare) Op 30 No 2 GMG [3'00]
Mistletoe (Walter de la Mare) GMG [2'14]
The Oxen (Thomas Hardy) SV [2'51]
In the Highlands (Robert Louis Stevenson) Op 9 GMG [3'06]
By a Bierside (John Masefield) SV [1'51]
Araby (Walter de la Mare) Op 20 No 2 GMG [2'13]
Ann's Cradle Song (Walter de la Mare), Op 20 No 1 GMG [2'37]
Five Eyes (Walter de la Mare) Op 15 No 2, also Op 9 No 3 GMG [1'10]
The Wanderer (Walter de la Mare) SV [1'52]
The Flooded Stream (Margaret Cropper) GMG [1'45]
Four Songs For A Mad Sea Captain (Bernard Martin) Op 111: Hidden Treasure SV [1'04] Abel Wright SV [0'52]; Toll the Bell SV [1'46]; The Golden Ray SV [1'27];
Geraldine McGreevy (sop) (GMG)
Stephen Varcoe (bar) (SV)
Roger Vignoles (piano)
Rec. 14-16 Mar. 2002 DDD
HYPERION CDA67337 [79.19]


Although this is not the first extended survey of Armstrong Gibbs’ songs on CD (there was an earlier one by baritone Nik Hancock-Child on Marco Polo), this is a typical Hyperion survey, good singers, high production values, and the CD filled to overflowing with three dozen songs. Gibbs’ charming songs – ‘Georgian’ possibly evokes them best – have been widely sung, and two or three at a time they always make audiences sit up.

Recital discs by Felicity Lott (‘Silver’), Janet Baker (‘By a Bierside’ and ‘Love is a Sickness’) and Sarah Walker (‘Five Eyes’ and ‘Silver’) all make the point well. On a 10" 78 from the 1920s (HMV E 462) Anne Thursfield sang ‘Song of Shadows’ not since recorded, with ‘When I was one and Twenty’, also included here.

Three dozen at a sitting make for an indigestible offering, and one is unlikely to play this straight through once one has made an initial exploration. Yet like Hyperion’s other collections of English song this makes a very convenient package and it is an offering often to be returned to. All lovers of English song will want this on their shelves, for it by no means repeats the repertoire on the earlier survey; at a quick glance I make it only twelve songs in common. Probably around twenty of the songs on this CD are world premiere recordings, though not claimed as such by Hyperion.

The usual substantial Hyperion booklet is a reference source in its own right, giving us full texts, but both singers have excellent diction and pretty well every word is heard. Being able to alternate soprano and baritone is also good planning, making for maximum contrast between fairly similar repertoire. All the ‘plums’ are well done – ‘Silver’, ‘By a Bierside’, ‘Five Eyes’, ‘When I was one and Twenty’ and ‘Ann’s Cradle Song’ from the children's play Crossings. Discoveries for me include the two engagingly simple settings of Clifford Bax’s (Arnold’s brother) bitter-sweet lyrics ‘Neglected Moon’ and ‘The Rejected Lover’, a view of Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Oxen’ to challenge John Ireland’s, and a haunting hushed song from 1921 setting sentimental words by Dorothy Pleydell-Bouverie who I had not come across before. This is ‘The Tiger-Lily’, beginning ‘At night in black Gethsemane/Our Lord was praying there./The flowers all bowed their heads and wept,/His grief they fain would share.’ Stephen Varcoe throws off that engagingly vigorous encore ‘Tom O’Bedlam’ with ebullient style, as he does the short Four Songs for a Mad Sea Captain. In the light of Britten’s setting of Tennyson’s ‘The Splendour Falls’ few others can cut the mustard, and personally I can do without Gibbs’, especially when he has such a large catalogue of memorable songs; it is the only song included here I would have replaced.

The poets Gibbs chose vary from those often set, including a sympathetic traversal of his friend Walter de la Mare, to the unknown and amateur featuring two lyrics by his impoverished aristocratic Essex neighbour Sir Mordaunt Currie, which Gibbs gives splendidly lyrical settings, one slow one fast.

Lewis Foreman

see also review by Rob Barnett


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