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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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As I Walked Forth: Songs and Tunes of the Isles
ANONYMOUS Breton Dance [3.03]; John Barleycorn [4.42]; How old are you (My Fair Pretty Maid) [0.53]; I’m Seventeen cum Sunday [3.04]; Ally Croaker [3.10]; Ye Jacobites by name [1.54]; Scarborough Fair [4.21]; The Drowned Love [5.29]; Jennies Wedding/Monaghan Jig [3.30]; Shule Agra [5.42]; The Water is Wide [2.25]; The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies [3.23]
From John Playford’s Dancing Master 1651: Lady Catherine Ogle [1.14]; Black and Grey [1.49]; On the Cold Ground [2.21]; Bessie Bell and Mary Grey/T’Ashair Jack Walsh [2.39]; Jennie’s Wedding/Monaghan jig [3.30]; Never Love Thee More [2.11]
Robert JOHNSON (1560-1634) As I walked forth [4.58];
Turlough O’CAROLAN (1670-1738) Hewlett [3.38]; Carolan’s Welcome [4.12];
Quadriga Consort: Elisabeth Kaplan (singer); Angelika Huemer (recorder, bass viol); Karin Silldorff (recorder); Elisabeth Kurz (treble viol); Dominika Teufel (alto viol); Peter Trefflinger (baroque violin); Laurenz Schiffermuller (percussion)
rec. 19-23 July 2004 (venue not given)
ORF EDITION ALTE MUSIK CD 389 [70.03]

 

We often think that the British folk music tradition died out around the time of the First World War. Often we add a hearty ‘thank goodness’ that Vaughan Williams and Cecil Sharp collected songs when they did. In counties like Lincolnshire and Norfolk, with the male population being decimated, the aural song tradition was never the same again. It largely died with the generation heard by RVW and Sharp.

To a certain extent my opening statement still holds much truth. Indeed this CD partially serves as supporting evidence. We are now having to re-invent and ‘soup up’ folk music otherwise only suitable for Radio 2 ‘after dark’, or for the long hair and sandals brigade. The arrangements here will in fact appeal to anyone who enjoys lively music with good and catchy tunes, a distinctive tang and an entirely professional approach to music-making. This CD fits the bill perfectly.

The twenty tunes are from England, Scotland and Ireland but the disc starts, perhaps somewhat curiously, with a memorable melody from Brittany. This serves to remind us of the cultural exchanges between the Celtic peoples.

The English tunes come mostly from the collection of 1651 published in London as ‘John Playford’s Dancing Master’; see also a disc by Lautten Compagney on Berlin Classics 0017842BC. Although this collection does not comprise exclusively English tunes. Shakespeare’s Globe composer Robert Johnson puts in an appearance. He is represented here with a beautiful song which is here entitled ‘As I walked forth’. Just as an aside I must add that its amazing how many folk tunes begin similarly ‘As I rose up one May morning’ for example as in ‘Seventeen Come Sunday’; perhaps you know Peter Warlock’s arrangement for chorus and brass. Then there’s ‘As I was walking down in Stokes Bay’, one of two laments for dead lovers which were popular with Irish folk performers. Other Irish melodies here include those by Turlough O’Carolan, harpist and composer. He only wrote the tunes so the harmonies have to be tastefully realized which is exactly what happens on this recording.

The Scottish influence is strong with ‘Ye Jacobites by Name’ a rare anti-Jacobite piece. Then there’s the famous ‘The Water is wide’, known in England as ‘Waly-Waly’. It was originally published by William McGibbon in Edinburgh in 1762. Do you know Britten’s arrangement?

The music, as I have indicated, appears here in arrangements by Nikolaus Newerkla who contributes a little to the useful and informative booklet notes. He writes - in a quirkily translated way - that "It was essential to capture the mood of these age-old, single-line melodies using the various possibilities of instrumentation for the particular constellation of historical instruments in the ensemble". Mostly he does an excellent job. Only occasionally is he ‘over the top’ as in the famous song which constitutes the disc’s finale, "The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies". In the end though it’s all done in good faith and with terrific fun and energy without slipping into anything distasteful or vulgar, as can easily happen.

Some of the songs have fascinating antecedents. Take track 2, the early 17th Century Scottish ayre known as ‘John Barleycorn’. Barleycorn is a personalized piece of barley grain still used even now by brewers, bread-makers and others. To end up on our table or in our whiskey glass he is brutalized and eventually resurrected for another year. I can’t help but feel as well that the ‘Green Man’ lies there somewhere.

I wonder also what lies behind the instrumental ’Black and Grey’. Do I hear a reference to the popular 16th Century tune ‘The Carmen’s Whistle’? In fact there are many tunes from that period recorded here. I’ve already mentioned Robert Johnson but ‘Cold Auld Ground’ and the modality of ‘Scarborough Fair’ - yes the real ‘Scarborough Fair’, beautifully arranged - date back further than can be traced.

The performances are highly infectious and affecting. One’s initial senses are drawn towards singer Elisabeth Kaplan. Her voice would no doubt be suitable for many pop groups - I was thinking of ‘The Corrs’ especially. Steeleye Span fans - perhaps some of you remember them - will recognize the style. Her voice is flexible, colourful and has a tinge of the untrained about it. Yet of course she is wonderfully in control of all aspects of her instrument and she does what she likes with tuning and diction depending on the song and context.

The instrumentalists are not to be overlooked either. They not only have dances and reels to themselves, where they can and do let their hair down, but they often have linking passages between song verses to break up the natural repetitious nature of the material. Was it Constant Lambert who said "What else can you do with a folk song other than repeat it - louder". What a pity then that he did not hear this generously filled disc, as these players find umpteen imaginative ways of varying accompaniment and harmony. There is some terrific playing throughout. I especially enjoy the recorders’ caroling in duet during some of the Playford dances.

To sum up: what these performers have done is to take ancient melodies so often played po-faced and sung by uninterested school children and give them a new life of energy and passion. In doing so use is made of past techniques and using old instruments so that the songs and melodies live again with vitality.

This is one of those discs which I shall play regularly and indeed look forward to hearing again and playing to others.


Gary Higginson

 

 



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