Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Shakespeare in Song
Matthew HARRIS (b. 1956)

From 'Shakespeare Songs' [14:15]
Hark! hark! the lark. Adagio (Book I No. 1) [1:22]
Tell me where is fancy bred. Allegretto (Book II No. 2) [1:43]
I shall no more to sea. Largo (Book V No. 1)* [1:19]
When that I was and a little tiny boy. Moderato (Book V No. 4)* [2:33]
It was a lover and his lass. Gently (Book III No. 1) [2:17]
O mistress mine! Adagietto (Book III No. 4) [2:22]
Robert Comeaux tenor solo
When daffodils begin to peer. Lilting, with a beat (Book IV No. 3)* [2:16]
Caroline Markham alto solo
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)

Songs of Ariel from Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' [11:24]
Come unto these yellow sands (Ariel's Song). Molto tranquillo [1:32]
Carol Platt - Laura Inman - Cassandra Ewer soprano solo
Full fathom five. Très calme [3:25]
Jacob W. Herbert baritone solo
Before you can say, 'Come,' and 'Go'. Allegro molto [0:56]
You are three men of sin. Allegro - Adagio - Allegro [4:06]
Janet Carlsen Campbell alto solo
Where the bee sucks, there suck I. Allegretto grazioso [1:09]
Steven SAMETZ (b. 1954)

premiere recording
When he shall die [4:03]
Jaakko MÄNTYJÄRVI (b. 1963)

Four Shakespeare Songs [11:19]
Come away, come away, death. Andante moderato [3:25]
Lullaby. Andante con moto [2:45]
Double, double toil and trouble. Allegro non troppo ma feroce - Meno mosso [2:43]
Full fathom five. Grave [2:14]
Nils LINDBERG (b. 1933)

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? [2:26]
from O, Mistress mine: A Garland of Elizabethan Poetry
Dominick ARGENTO (b. 1927)

Sonnet No. LXIV [3:20]
premiere recording - In memoriam 9/11/01
Alan MURRAY (1890-1952)

premiere recording
O mistress mine! [1:23]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Three Shakespeare Songs

Full fathom five. Andante misterioso [3:09]
The cloud-capp'd towers. Lento [2:31]
Over hill, over dale. Allegro vivace [0:54]
Phoenix Bach Choir/Charles Bruffy
Rec: Camelback Bible Church, Paradise Valley, Arizona, USA 23, 26 May 2003
premiere recordings*
CHANDOS CHSA 5031 [55:52]


Shakespeare has inspired much music, and it's heartwarming that this recording features many new settings by living composers. The genre is alive and well! Chandos is well known for its championship of British composers and performers. The Phoenix Bach Choir are the first American choir to record for them, thus linking Chandos with the vibrant American choral scene. The Phoenix Bach Choir was originally founded, in 1958, by amateurs who sang for sheer pleasure. These roots in community performance go deep for enthusiasm still seems to guide this choir, even though its members now are accomplished professionals. The conductor, Charles Bruffy, has extensive connections in American choral circles. He worked for some years with Robert Shaw, whose Chorale also had grassroots beginnings but went on to win international acclaim.

Of all Shakespeare's works, the Tempest has captured the imagination of composers and musicians because its texts lends itself so readily to song. Moreover, the play itself, with its romance and supernatural whimsy, tragedy and mystique inspires a range of musical adaptations. Sibelius had such ambitious ideas for his version that he never quite completed it, but fortunately left some very beautiful music, recently recorded in a complete version by BIS. Frank Martin wrote a three act opera based on the play in 1952-55 for voices and small orchestra. This was a combination he loved, for it gave a transparency of sound that enhanced the subtlety of the voice part.

Here, the Phoenix Choir give us Martin's Ariel Songs, from 1950, five songs for a capella mixed choir – no orchestra at all, the voices alone providing exquisite patterns of sound. Unaccompanied singing of music of this complexity requires deft precision and agility. The tonal colour in Come unto these yellow sands blends and reshapes – synaesthetes, who see visual colour in music, would be in raptures. Out of this the watchdog's bark "bow wow" rises almost like descant. Martin's version of Full fathom five is graphic. The undulations of the female voices evoke an image of seaweed swaying in the depths, while the mens' voices follow a more direct rhythm, lovely backed by the women singing in half tones. On the words "sea change" the music itself undergoes a change "into something rich and strange". The "ding dong" refrain is understated, for the fascination in this song is the polychromatic undulations. In contrast, "You are three men of sin" brings all the voices together for dramatic effect. The part singing here is very tight, even the silences precise. The choir intones "Remember, remember" while the alto takes up the melody. The voices execute with accuracy the quick tempo changes in the sprightly Where the bee sucks.

To my delight, Jaako Mäntyjärvi's Full fathom five was completely different – grave, solemn and mysterious. The deepest voices intone "Hark" as if coming from the depths, and the bells sound as if from a distance. An original take on the verse, and effective. The choral tradition in Finland has deep roots. Sibelius, Kajanus and others wrote much for the genre. Mäntyjärvi is composer in residence for the well known Tapiola choir, so he understands performance issues. The composer gives a deliciously dramatic setting to one of the few singable texts in Macbeth. The choir seems to enjoy the mischief in Double, double, toil and trouble – it's camp sinister, great fun to sing.

The American composer, Matthew Harris, has written five books of Shakespeare songs, covering texts from a range of plays, even The Merchant of Venice. Tell me where is fancy bred has connotations of medieval masque but is light-hearted. Amusingly, it provides the choir with a few more opportunities for "ding dong". The very melodic It was a lover and his lass is the kind of song that sticks in the memory. The chorus "A hey, ho and a hey nonny no" has real bounce: and I find myself singing it quite unconsciously Hark! Hark! The Lark is a lyrical charmer but the pop music influenced O mistress mine! and When daffodils begin to peer didn't appeal to me. Perhaps for the same reason, I didn't relate to the big band sound of Nils Lindberg's Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day. Nonetheless, if they become hits, it might hook a new audience for Shakespeare and for art song.

More of a challenge is Dominick Argento's Sonnet No. LXIV. In the aftermath of 9/11, a friend sent the composer a copy of the sonnet. Its painfully apt reference to "sometime lofty towers I see down-razed...... Ruin hath taught me how to ruminate" spurred the composer to set the sonnet in a suitably sombre mood. No need for chromatic pyrotechnics here, but plain ensemble singing. This, and the reverential Stephen Sametz setting of When he shall die may not be elaborate part-songs, but how different they are to the traditional sounding O mistress mine of Alan Murray, written before 1952.

The choir has a chance to indulge wholeheartedly in ding dongs in Vaughan Williams Full fathom five. The bells start even before the song, and carry on throughout. Only with the "sea change" does the song develop into something unusual, emphasized by a repeated "strange" and then the bells come back. In comparison, even "the bells that ring on Bredon" seem silent. After the 9/11 connotations of Sonnet No. LXIV, The Cloud capp'd towers take on a colouring neither Shakespeare nor Vaughan Williams could ever have envisaged. It may not be in the music, but our minds, haunted by tragedy, cannot but twinge somehow at the mention of "Cloud capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces ... shall dissolve ... leave not a rack behind".

This recording is clear and open sounding, produced in hybrid SACD. The singing is enthusiastic, full of vigour. The selling point will be the Frank Martin Ariel Songs, although there are at least three versions around, one of which is by The Sixteen and Harry Christophers. However, The Phoenix Choir has a bracing freshness which is quite charming – and this is the only readily available recording of Harris's It was a lover and his lass. You don't want to miss that even if "a hey and a ho and a hey nonny no" spins around your head for days and drives you to distraction.

Anne Ozorio

Return to Index