52,943 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

  Founder: Len Mullenger             Editor in Chief: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  


John R WILLIAMSON (b.1929)
Twelve Housman Songs

The Isle of Portland
As I gird on for fighting
Now hollow fires burn out to black
When I came last to Ludlow
Oh, stay at home my lad, and plough
Delight it is in youth and May
With rue my heart is laden
I wake from dreams and turning
The mill stream
When Adam walked in Eden young
It nods and curtseys
The farms of home

Nigel Shaw (bar)
John R Williamson (piano)
Recorded 5 Sept 1999
DUNELM RECORDS 0133.DR.1299 [19.23]

During the course of a recent Dunelm review I wondered aloud that we should have an album of John R Williamson’s settings of Housman. Little did I know that we already have two such discs, also issued by Dunelm who have shown a strong commitment to this composer’s work and one of which – to complete my ignorance – has already been reviewed on this site by Rob Barnett. Luckily I have made rapid amends and find myself impressed once more.

A number of the lyrics set here are Late Housman and Williamson responds with clarity but also a tensely argued sense of narrative. It’s notable how often a lyric is lit from within in these settings, how for example in The Isle of Portland Williamson colours the phrases stop under pressure and dream you light. Similarly he catches the military strut of As I gird on for fighting with his own brand of off-centre balladry fused with nervous dissonance. The subtle implication of March rhythm is something at which Williamson proves himself comprehensively successful (Now hollow fires burn out to black) and his complex response to the poems can best be exemplified by When I came last to Ludlow in which the piano postlude gives hypnotic space for retrospective reinterpretation of this quizzical setting; it seems to expand and deepen still further. He certainly embraces the pastoral as much as the rapid military, as indeed he does Housman’s mordancies and reveries. Even in such a well-known setting as With rue my heart is laden we find something new is being said – something elliptical, open-ended, strange. One finds with Williamson that both piano and vocal lines inhabit the veins of the lyric, the piano frequently setting up and evoking an initial anticipatory mood that grows more complex when the baritone enters – I think of the other-worldly delicacy of the opening piano paragraph in I wake from dreams and turning. He manages to vest these settings with immediacy and atmosphere from the start. Equally impressive are the vigorous and unremitting The mill stream and the bleak It nods and curtseys.

In view of the short playing time this disc retails at £6. There’s a boxy acoustic and some ancillary problems but you will listen through those to the performances. I shall soon be reviewing the companion disc of Williamson’s Housman songs released by Dunelm – contact them for all details. In the meantime I think you will find much that is complex, personal, reflective and – in the best sense – problematically human in these excellent settings.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.