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Tracey Chadwell’s Song Book
Elizabeth MACONCHY (1907 – 1994)

Sun, Moon and Stars (1978)
Three Songs (1985)
Nicola LE FANU (b. 1947)

I am Bread (1987)
A Penny for a Song (1981)
Gillian WHITEHEAD (b. 1941)

Awa Herea (1993)
Lyell CRESSWELL (b. 1944)

Words for Music (1989)
David LUMSDAINE (b. 1931)

A Norfolk Songbook (1992)a
Douglas LILBURN (1915 – 2001)

Three Songs
David FARQUHAR (b. 1928)

Six Songs of Women (1957)
John JOUBERT (b. 1927)

The Turning Wheel Op.95 (1979)
Richard Rodney BENNETT (b. 1936)

A Garland for Marjory Fleming (1969)
Tracey Chadwell (soprano); John Turner (recorders)a; Pamela Lidiard (piano)
Recorded: BBC, 1989 (Joubert, Bennett), 1990 (Maconchy, Le Fanu) and 1995 (Whitehead, Cresswell, Lumsdaine, Lilburn, Farquhar)
BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY BMS CD 420/421 CD [67:38 + 72:54]

 

Be warned: this is no mere collection of isolated songs brought together in some sort of musical hotchpotch. What we have here is an impressive survey of contemporary British songs with many sizeable cycles by distinguished composers. I say ‘British … in fact two of these composers come from New Zealand whereas another is Australian, now living in Norfolk. The stylistic range is wide and richly varied, and the pieces reflect Tracey Chadwell’s wide-ranging interest. Indeed, in her all too brief solo career (cut tragically short by cancer in January 1996), she devoted much time and talent to promoting contemporary songs. That much is certainly evident from this cross-section of her BBC recordings. Some may also remember that she sang the soprano part in the only modern recording of Alan Rawsthorne’s Second Symphony, on Lyrita SRCD 291.

Douglas Lilburn’s three songs and David Farquhar’s Six Songs of Women may be somewhat more traditional in idiom but are nevertheless very fine. I particularly enjoyed Farquhar’s lovely cycle. Gillian Whitehead’s attractive cycle Awa Herea is another beautiful rarity and one of the finest works by this composer, who – incidentally – studied with Peter Maxwell Davies. More of her music is available on a New Zealand disc which is nearly impossible to find, and which I have never been able to hear. Bennett’s cycle A Garland for Marjory Fleming may be (with the exception of the songs by Lilburn and Farquhar) one of the earliest pieces in this collection, and it is another most welcome addition to the catalogue. It is expertly written and perfectly suits Tracey Chadwell’s warmly lyrical tone. Elizabeth Maconchy wrote Three Songs "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" in 1985 for Chadwell who had previously sung her Sun, Moon and Stars, a substantial song cycle on words by Traherne. Some of these Traherne poems had been set earlier by Finzi in his beautiful Dies Natalis. Maconchy’s daughter Nicola Le Fanu also composed two pieces for Chadwell: the extended song I am Bread and the longer cycle A Penny for a Song. These are both very fine and very accessible as well. I found the cycle particularly beautiful. In his A Norfolk Songbook for soprano and recorders, David Lumsdaine sets his own poems in a highly imaginative way. This is yet another fine addition to Lumsdaine’s rather limited discography and a worthwhile addition to the repertoire. So is John Joubert’s large-scale song-cycle The Turning Wheel Op.95. Unlike all the other songs in this collection, Lyell Cresswell’s Words for Music is for unaccompanied voice, quite a tour de force, and again well worth having.

All in all, this is not only a fitting tribute to Tracey Chadwell’s artistry but also a wonderful anthology of fine songs written in the second half of the 20th century, all of them displaying a richly varied expressive and stylistic range and all superbly written. Just two remarks: there are 27 tracks in the first disc, and Poem 8 and Poem 9 in Lumsdaine’s piece are sung in reverse order. I also would have appreciated a little more information about the performed works. None of this should deter anyone from listening to this superb, most welcome (and generously filled) release which I warmly recommend.

Hubert Culot



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