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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]

Armstrong Gibbs now joins the pantheon of composers allotted their own collection on Hyperion. The songs stand in the lyric tradition of Michael Head. Gibbs' taste in poetry is reflected in this selection. Masefield, Stevenson, Hardy, Housman, Clifford Bax, Tennyson, Shanks and Watson are all here. He is not quite the lavish ecstatic so stands clear of Gurney, Howells and C. W. Orr. In his case the poignant blade of music honed by words and words intensified by music probes closer to the surface. Even so there are some mightily impressive songs here. Silver is a song of slow dropping sleep while Mistletoe is just as plangently ensorcelled as Silver.

Weaker settings include Hardy's Oxen where there is an unsatisfactory sense of story. The song seems unrounded by comparison with Vaughan Williams’ setting in Hodie. By a bierside was also set by Gurney. Here it is given a grand outing with tolling bells in the piano part and the echoing words sung by Varcoe: ‘It is most grand to die’ are full of the pomp and grandeur later found in William Alwyn's Hydriotaphia.

Although I take issue with Stephen Varcoe's tremulous tendency and vibrato he is an intelligent singer who has clearly lavished thought on the meaning of each song. Varcoe shares the programme with the soprano Geraldine McGreevy, a well known voice on BBC Radio 3. She is clear as a bell for the most part and adds a lusciously fruity tone to Summer Night where she sounds eerily like Janet Baker. She makes an ideal exponent of the summer dew and dripping ecstasy of Take Heed Young Heart.

There are often very inventive piano parts in Gibbs writing as in Ann's Cradle Song at the words ‘leap fox; hoot owl’. The rushing and scampering is imaginatively reflected in Five Eyes at the words ‘Jeckel and Jessup and one-eyed Jill’. McGreevy it is who sings The Flooded Stream with its evocative picture of moonlight and the burbling singing brook. Her voice rises to loveliness for the words: ‘For I have a dream of a springing well’.

Hypocondriacus is in the grand hunted tradition of nightmare rides; think in terms of Schubert’s Erlkönig and Foulds’ The Rider (Varcoe). Contrast this with the plangent and melodious Neglected Moon to words by Arnold Bax’s poet brother, Clifford! McGreevy in Arrogant Poppies is clarion-clear and defiant with a fine ostinato established by Vignoles the whole song brimming with vibrant lively character; definitely a stand-out track. The song ends with some Vaughan Williamsy melismatic vocalise.

In The Fields Are Full Gibbs takes a more sober line than Gurney in his setting of the same words. The Splendour Falls is manly and leonine - gestural and stormy. Danger is a setting bleached with strangeness, alive with galloping bacchic nocturnal fantasy creatures.

If you have a taste for Stanfordian ‘Yo-ho-ho’ then you will warm to the be-capstaned and sou’westered Four Songs of a Mad Sea Captain from 1946. Warlock, Stanford and a host of other turned their hands to this sort of writing. It is not all to formula. Toll the Bell opens frighteningly like the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto. Another bid for sheet music popularity comes in The Ballad of Semmerwater with its coaxing melody.

This is a typically tightly packed collection only 21 seconds short of 80 minutes playing time. There are 36 songs here. Attention to detail is satisfying with all the words printed legibly and complete. The notes are by Michael Hurd who tells us that there are 162 songs in all. A remarkable 38 are to words by Walter de la Mare. There are eleven de la Mare songs here.

The durable and imaginative Hyperion catalogue is Ted Perry’s legacy to the world. I hope that his son and the management of the label will continue the mission he began and which continues to unfold with every issue and reissue. I am hopeful that the label which has been such a clarion call for the world of song, and not just in English, will keep pushing the boundaries. We need collections of the songs by Medtner, C.W. Orr, Michael Head and Bax. The way lies clear.

As for the course of the rehabilitation of Gibbs' own music we can hope, perhaps vainly, for a recording of the as yet unperformed 1947 opera on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and, to complete the cycle of three symphonies, the major 1938 choral symphony Odysseus. The first and third symphonies are still there on Marco Polo.

By the way, this composer's name is Cecil Armstrong Gibbs. However he wanted to be known as Armstrong Gibbs. Good to see that Hyperion have that point well under control. Gibbs was originally destined to join the family business - makers of toothpaste

Rob Barnett

If you are interested in details of the Armstrong Gibbs Society please contact


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