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Silent Noon - English Songs
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)

Three Shakespeare Songs:

Come away, death [2.46]
O mistress mine [1.35]
Blow, blow, thou winter wind [2.29]
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)

Sleep [3.13]
Frederick KEEL (1871-1954)

Three Salt-water Ballads:

I. Port of many ships [2.16]
II. Trade winds [2.13]
III. Mother Carey [1.41]
Dilys ELWYN-EDWARDS (b. 1918)

The cloths of heaven [2.32]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Silent noon [3.35]
Linden lea [2.21]
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)

Now sleeps the crimson petal [2.16]
Weep you no more [2.28]
Go, lovely rose [2.51]
Arthur SOMERVELL (1863-1937)

A Shropshire Lad:

I. Loveliest of trees the cherry now [1.56]
II. When I was one-and-twenty [1.16]
III. There pass the careless people [1.37]
IV. In summer-time on Bredon [3.25]
V. The street sounds to the soldiers’ tread [2.12]
VI. On the idle hill of summer [2.38]
VII. White in the moon the long road lies [3.03]
VIII. Think no more, lad; laugh, be jolly [1.50]
IX. Into my heart an air that kills [1.55]
X. The lads in their hundreds [2.36]
Michael HEAD (1900-1976)

Money, O! [2.14]
The Lord’s prayer [2.11]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

Folksong Arrangements:

The Sally Gardens [2.15]
Oliver Cromwell [0.47]
The foggy, foggy Dew [2.28]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)

Captain Stratton’s Fancy [1.54]
Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)

Love is a Bable [1.41]
Thomas Frederick DUNHILL (1877-1946)

The Cloths of Heaven [2.08]
Karel DROFNATZKI (Charles Villiers STANFORD) (1852-1924)
The Aquiline Snub [2.06]
The Compleat Virtuoso [1.23]
Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Recorded at the Henry Wood Hall, London in July 2003 and July 2004. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00289 474 2192 [74.23]

Although one cannot fail to be impressed by the distinctive and commanding voice of Welshman, Bryn Terfel, it does rather divide opinion. I regularly attend meetings of a recorded music society and whenever a Terfel performance is played the majority of members will be drooling with pleasure although one or two others will make comments about the over-distinctive nature of the voice. At one time I tended to favour the opinions of the latter group holding the view that his voice tended to excessively dominate the proceedings and somehow get in the way of the song. To put it another way when he is singing a setting Vaughan Williams I hear ‘Terfel singing Vaughan Williams’ rather than a ‘Vaughan Williams sung by Terfel’. Time and experience has mellowed my viewpoint. I now accept this magnificent, sturdy and colourful voice for what it is and concentrate on the manifold benefits of this unique talent the quality of which only comes along once in several generations.

It is difficult to find fault with this release Silent Noon which amply demonstrates Terfel’s wide range of vocal colour. The combination of one of the world’s most popular and characterful voices together with an interesting and attractive selection of English songs make for an outstanding recital. This is Terfel’s second disc of this genre, the first being a critically acclaimed, award-winning recording from 1995. The earlier disc is entitled The Vagabond and features songs by Ireland, Vaughan Williams, Butterworth and Finzi (Deutsche Grammophon 445 946-2). The present recital entitled Silent Noon takes its name from the celebrated song of the same name by Vaughan Williams. It also includes settings by Quilter, Gurney, Somervell, Warlock et al. Perhaps the popular success of The Vagabond has given Deutsche Grammophon the confidence to break away from the mainstream by including several songs by lesser known composers: Frederick Keel, Dilys Elwyn-Edwards and Michael Head. On a personal note I would have preferred more settings from my favourite established masters of the English art-song tradition: Warlock, Bridge, Delius, Bantock, especially Gurney and also Elgar who was a less prolific song-setter. Nevertheless this recital which includes several surprises is also delightful and fascinating.

In addition to Terfel’s renowned rich, oaken-hued and sonorous voice, his performances particularly in the genre of opera demonstrate to best advantage the outstanding dramatic power of his voice. The majority of these songs are of a softer, more joyous or poignant nature. Terfel’s vocal strength and characterful performance is expertly displayed in several of the settings namely Keel’s Mother Carey and in Somervell’s The street sounds to the soldiers’ tread and On the idle hill of summer.

Family members remarked on the clarity of Terfel’s diction on this release; an attribute which, together with his almost watertight control, is easy to take for granted. However, no one, Terfel included, is without their idiosyncrasies. I am conscious of the bass-baritone’s tendency to place only a modest emphasis on the pronunciation of his word endings and a habit to sometimes roll his Rs; which some may find irritating. The only other blemish of note for me in this recital is the wobble in Head’s Money, O! which seems to be the song that Terfel is least comfortable with.

The singer’s dynamic range is quite superb. He can float his voice delicately and effortlessly like a seagull on a thermal as in Gurney’s Sleep and Parry’s Love is a bable. Where necessary he can build up with an organic power akin to a volcano erupting. Listen to him in Quilter’s Blow, blow, thou winter wind.

In Britten’s popular folksong arrangement, The foggy, foggy dew Terfel’s presence and personality sparkle through. It is easy to see why he has achieved such remarkable popularity with audiences. My particular favourite songs are those of Gurney’s Sleep, Vaughan Williams’ Silent Noon and Linden Lea together with Quilter’s Now sleep the crimson petal. All convey gentle beauty and poignancy with a consummate sensitivity and expressiveness that sent a shiver down my spine. One could not ask for any more of the piano accompanist Malcolm Martineau who displays a remarkable affinity with the music and seems to breathe as one with Terfel.

Although I have a comprehensive collection of recordings of English songs, relative comparisons with this Terfel recital are difficult as the programmes of each recital vary considerably as does the category of voice. However, for those looking for some alternative recordings to explore I can highly recommend any of the following recitals; that use only a piano or minimal accompaniment:

The English Songbook sung by Ian Bostridge (tenor) accompanied by Julius Drake on EMI 5 56830 2

Songs by Peter Warlock sung by John Mark Ainsley (tenor) accompanied by Roger Vignoles on Hyperion CDA66736

Severn Meadows - Songs by Ivor Gurney sung by Paul Agnew (tenor) accompanied by Julius Drake on Hyperion CDA67243

War’s Embers - Songs by Browne, Butterworth, Farrar, Finzi, Gurney and Kelly sung by Martyn Hill (tenor), Stephen Varcoe (baritone), Michael George (bass) accompanied by Clifford Benson on Hyperion CDD22026

When I was one and twenty - Butterworth and Gurney Songs sung by Benjamin Luxon (baritone) accompanied by David Willison on Chandos CHAN 8831

Roger Quilter - The English Song Series Vol. 5 sung by Lisa Milne (soprano), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor) accompanied by Graham Johnson and The Duke Quartet on Naxos 8.557116

Songs of Travel - Robert Tear songs by Vaughan Williams and Parry sung by Robert Tear (tenor) accompanied by Philip Ledger on Belart 461 493-2

This excellent Terfel recital seems to conclude unsatisfactorily and in rather a flat mood. Ideally the selection of a more up-beat concluding song would have offered a more stirring climax such as Gurney’s Ha’nacker Mill, Parry’s No longer mourn for me or Warlock’s Passing by. The sound quality I found to be first class, well balanced and most naturally recorded. The annotation, which includes full texts, is of a high standard although it is annoying not to have the tracks listed numerically on the rear of the case. Instead you have to take out the booklet and look inside to identify each song.

It is a privilege to hear such a glorious voice in this wonderful repertoire. I look forward to another volume in the future. A quite superb release.

Michael Cookson

see also review by Em Marshall

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