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Tony Noakes

Tony NOAKES (b. 1935)

Piano (Helen Burke) (1998)
The Cat Heard the Cat-Bird (John Ciardi) (1979)
Lullaby 1 (Anne Smith) (1998)
Lullaby 2 (Thomas Dekker) (1998)
Phenomenal Woman (Maya Angelou) (2002)
Old Man (Madeleine Dann) (1988)
Parting (Madeleine Dann) (1988)
Over the Coffin (Hardy) (2001)
The Ruined Maid (Hardy) (2001)
Fare Well (De la Mare) (1982)
Shepherd Boy (Louie Horne) (1986)
Autumn Fun (Louie Horne) (1994-5)
April Joy (Louie Horne) (1994)
Dance to My Piping (Louie Horne) (1992)
Balow (anon. 16th century) (1974)
At Grez-sur-Loing (Norman Cusack) (2002)
Muse Frustrated (Bridget Hodgkin) (2002)
The Nightingale and the Glow-worm (Cowper) (1999)
The Bargain (Sidney) (1998)
Testament of Youth: A Song Cycle (Vera Brittain, Roland Leighton, William Noel Hodgson) (1986-9)
Epitaph (Lady Catherine Dyer) (1983)
Phillida Bannister, contralto
Richard Black, piano
Recorded at Andrew Giller's Studio, Raveningham, Norfolk.
Stewart Orr Sound Services SOSS CD 339 [75.31]

This disc provided my first encounter with the music of London born, but now Australian resident composer Tony Noakes. What I found was an enjoyably diverse collection, setting many different (and different kinds of) poets, in finely crafted songs, totally in keeping with the knowledge that Noakes is an architect by profession, and was also a pupil of Alan Bush (a composer now rightly gaining real recognition, after an extended period of unjustifiable neglect based on his political views rather than his music), Hugh Wood and Jeremy Dale-Roberts. The last song disc I remember finding quite as stimulating as this was the Naxos Farley/Rorem, although I should acknowledge that Noakes' muse is perhaps not quite as consistently excellent as the great American's.
Having already mentioned Rorem as a frame of reference, it is interesting to note that Noakes sang in the Quaker Festival Choir and has also composed a Quaker Requiem. Some of the most delightful pieces here (all of which are sung to great effect by contralto Phillida Bannister) turn out to be brief settings of the previously unknown to this listener, Quaker poet Louis Horne. The composer responds sympathetically and effectively to lines like "The music like thistledown drifting," "Leaflets shyly reach to bless" and "With swallows skimming the river's brightness.". The joy in creation evident here seeps from the music and words alike. Not far behind, has to be the Delius tribute At Grez-sur-Loing, to words by Norman E. Cusack:- "Where a century ago, he rowed, Telling his girl he liked it here" and "He set it all to music.", almost Finzi-like in its depth and distillation of feeling. Tony Noakes has also set some Hardy, a poet who, I feel, almost belongs to Finzi, but such is the strength of the texts, it would take something dreadful to ruin them. Happily, the current composer does himself and Hardy real justice - the choice of Over the Coffin and The Ruined Maid provides the perfect tragic/comic(?) contrast.
Other highlights include two settings of Paul Eluard, in both original French and English translations (the latter by Noakes' wife Beverley) and the carol Balow (text anonymous). I felt that the Maya Angelou I could have lived without but that is more a comment on the text than the setting and, on the whole, this is a highly worthwhile disc. It must be added that the disc, from Stewart Orr Sound Services is a CD-R, albeit a very well presented one, and the cover is about as dull as you get, even in the classical world. However, there is a full set of texts in the booklet and the music is very well performed and recorded. I have to say that this is a pretty desirable disc, especially for English song buffs, even Hardy/Finzi bores, myself included.

Neil Horner


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