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Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
Complete Folk-Song Arrangements and Complete Part-Songs for Women's Voices

The Arnold Book of Old Songs: English Songs: 'Drink to me only'; 'Over the mountains' and 'My Lady Greensleeves' *
The Arnold Book of Old Songs: Irish Songs: 'Believe me, if all those endearing young charms' and 'Oh! 'tis sweet to think'
The Arnold Book of Old Songs: Scottish Songs: 'Ye banks and braes'; 'Charlie is my darling'; and 'Ca' the yowes to the knowes'
The Arnold Book of Old Songs: French Songs: 'Le pauvre laboureur'*; L'amour de moi'*; and 'Joli mois de mai' *
The Arnold Book of Old Songs: English and Welsh Songs: 'The Jolly Miller'; 'Barbara Allen'; 'Three Poor Mariners'; 'Since first I saw your face'; 'The Ash Grove'
(The Arnold Book of Old Songs - published singly in 1947 and as a set in 1951)
Duets: Four Part-Songs for Women's Voices: 'Come Lady-Day' * (1938); 'The Starlings'* (1938); 'To a Harebell by a Graveside'* (1935); It was a lover and his lass' (1919)
Duets: Three Part-Songs for Women's Voices: 'Where go the boats?'* (1914 rev 1945) ; 'Windy nights' * (1949); and 'Summer Sunset'* (1938)
Six Duets: 'Daisies after rain'* (solo version) (1951); My heart adorn'd with thee'* (1951); 'The Passing Bell'* (1934); 'Blossom-Time' * (1934); Daisies after rain' * (duet version); 'Weep you no more' * (1938)
New Discoveries: 'I gotta robe'(1928); ''Tis St Valentine's day'*; 'What will you do, love?'* (1942)
Three Songs from Love at the Inn: 'Little moth' * (1946); 'Love calls through the summer night' (1940); 'If Love should pass me by.' * (1948)
Irish Song: 'The Rose of Tralee' * (1941)
Amanda Pitt (soprano); Joanne Thomas (mezzo); Philip Langridge (tenor); David Wilson-Johnson (baritone) and David Owen Norris (piano)
* Première recordings
rec. Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton. 14 and 15 February and 31 August and 1 September 2004
NAXOS 8.557495 [77:53]

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"If Elgar was the Edwardian Age's orchestral composer par excellence, then Roger Quilter was its songwriter-laureate" - Trevor Hold.

Roger Quilter composed well in excess of one hundred exquisite and refined songs. A delight to sing and play, these are tuneful but more than that, they elevated the English drawing room ballad to the level of the highest traditions of the European art-song, rivalling, for my money, the melodies of Fauré and the lieder of Schubert and Wolf.

This new album, recorded just last Summer is treasure-trove for the Quilter enthusiast for it includes no less than 21 première recordings.

Many of the selections are arrangements of a variety of songs that Quilter called 'old popular songs' or just 'old songs'. He had a way of representing them without undue fuss or embellishment, the vocal line following, for the most part, the traditional well-loved lines. The piano parts have that inimitable Quilter-esque quality of heightened atmosphere and emotion.

Five of these were published in 1921 but he began working on more for his favourite nephew Arnold Vivian who often sang his songs and whose gentle personality was so much in sympathy with his own. Tragically, during World War II, Arnold was captured in North Africa transported to a German POW camp from which he escaped only to be recaptured and executed. Roger Quilter was devastated; and so The Arnold Book of Songs became his nephew's epitaph.

The Arnold Book of Old Songs is here complete - all 16 of them. One might be tempted to think that such material might tax, but there is variety aplenty to always arrest the ear. That variety comes in rhythm, tempo, mood and atmosphere and in choice of settings for solo singer, two feminine voices, or male and female soloists,.

In the context of the Arnold songs I must mention, first, Rodney Bennett (1890-1948) - the father of Richard Rodney Bennett - who was a talented poet and who collaborated with Quilter in works for the theatre, as well as in his songs. Bennett furnished new texts for some of the traditional Arnold song-settings. One of these was 'The Ash Grove' so that the song resonates that much more tellingly to:-
"…The Ash Grove in beauty I see once again;
The voices of friends that the long years have taken
Oh faintly I hear them, the song and the word,
How much in the heart can so little awaken:
The wind in the leaves and the song of a bird…"

And a lump comes to the throat and the heart is touched by that Quilter accompaniment so deceptively simple but awakening a nostalgia that pierces.

I could cover so many of these 36 songs but this review would become too interminably long so I will restrict myself to just a few. From the Arnold Book first.

The opening song of the album is 'Drink to me only' (to words by Ben Jonson, 1573-1637), sung ardently by David Wilson-Johnson, its haunting accompaniment singing so eloquently and touchingly of a love that is constant and true. That special quality of golden nostalgia pervades so many of these arrangements. Just think of his treatment of the Scottish song 'Ye banks and braes' sung most sympathetically by Amanda Pitt. She rises so well to the rhythmic and tempi challenges of the following arrangement of 'Charlie is my darling' while David Owen Norris has fun with its amusing and rousing march-like piano line, a delicious accompaniment. And the depth of feeling that they convey in that lovely song of regret 'Ca the yowes to the knowes' - one of Arnold's favourite songs. 'The Jolly Miller' is distinguished by an imaginative piano part that wonderfully evokes the movement of the miller's wheel and his tipsiness.

'Barbara Allen' also has a telling piano accompaniment especially when Barbara scorns the dying (for love) Jemmy Grove and David Owen Norris dramatically hammers home the sound of dead-bell.

To the duets for female voices. 'Where go the boats?', one of Quilter's Four Child Songs, is another of those heart-stopping melodies that persist in the mind. This song, to words by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), has all the magical enchantment of childhood and is sung most beautifully by Amanda Pitt and Joanne Thomas, their voices blending beguilingly. I must also mention the ravishing beauty, as communicated by these two ladies, of 'Summer Sunset ' to words by Quilter himself. The pretty duet for women's voices, 'The Starlings', delicate and wistful, is distinguished by its evocative bird-song piano part and its independent soprano line. 'To a Harebell by a Graveside' is another simple but heart-touching melody. I must mention just two more songs for the women's voices: the graceful 'The Passing Bell' with its pretty 'ding-a-dong' refrain; and 'Blossom-Time' with its interesting harmonies and counterpoints in vocal writing.

One of the most unusual songs is 'I gotta robe' written in the style of a negro spiritual and sung with enthusiasm and style by David Wilson-Johnson. The song was originally written for the black American contralto, Marian Anderson.

Philip Langridge (with beautifully clear diction) sings passionately Quilter's sweet arrangement of 'The Rose of Tralee' and another of Quilter's most tender melodies, 'What will you do, love' (…when waves divide us and friends chide us for being fond … In faith abiding I'll still be true …) Here is beguiling simplicity; it just rends the heartstrings. The manuscript is marked 'for Arnold' dated June 1942.

Of course Roger Quilter was very fond of light music and wrote much material for the theatre. This collection includes three songs from the stage. Of these the most memorable is the haunting 'Love Calls through the Summer Night'. It is unashamedly popular but none the worse for that. Valerie Langfield * reckons it recalls Edward German, this may be true of the outer sections but the lovely central refrain is surely pure Ivor Novello (who was very popular at that time). Philip Langridge and Amanda Pitt sing it with commendable unembarrassed élan in the rather florid style of the period. Older readers who remember Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth will remember what I mean.

A memorable collection, sympathetically performed. With over half the songs premiere recordings, this is an album that all Quilter enthusiasts simply must have.

Ian Lace

* Valerie Langfield is the author of Roger Quilter, his life and music (Boydell and Brewer, 2002) ISBN 0 85115 871 4

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