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The Art of English Song

Recorded at numerous locations and venues between 1949 and 2004
DECCA 476 5296 [75:33 + 74:27]

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Silent Noon [3:36]; Linden Lea [2:17]
Thomas DUNHILL (1877-1946)

The cloths of heaven [2:07]
Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone); Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Henry PURCELL (c.1658-1595)

Fairest Isle from King Arthur [2:31]
Barbara Bonney (soprano); Academy of Ancient Music/Hogwood
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)

If my complaints could passions move [4:38]
Barbara Bonney (soprano); Jacob Herringman (lute)
John WILBYE (1574-1738)

Of joys and pleasing pains [2:24]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625)

Dainty fine bird [1:44]
The Consort of Musicke/Anthony Rooley

In darkness let me dwell [4:16]
Far from triumphing court [5:07]
Andreas Scholl (countertenor); Edin Karamazov (lute)
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)

Sleep [3:08]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)

Captain’ Stratton’s Fancy [1:54]
Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone); Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Haydn WOOD (1882-1959)

A brown bird singing [2:45]
James MOLLOY (1837-1909)

Love’s old sweet song [4:46]
Felicity Palmer (soprano); John Constable (piano
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)

The sprig of thyme [2:33]
The pretty maid milkin’ her cow [1:17]
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo); Bengt Forsberg (piano)
TRADITIONAL arr. Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

Early one morning [2:57]
The foggy foggy dew [2;27]
Peter Pears (tenor); Benjamin Britten (piano)
George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916)

Loveliest of trees [2:40]
Bredon Hill [4:44]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)

I must go down to the seas again [2:20]
Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone); Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Thomas CAMPION (1567-1620)

Come let us sound [3:02]
Emma Kirkby (soprano); Anthony Rooley (lute)
Thomas MORLEY (c.1557-1602)

It was a lover and his lass [2:24]
Peter Pears (tenor); Julian Bream (lute)
Thomas ARNE (1710-1778)

The soldier tir’d [4:04]
George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)

Let the bright seraphim, from Samson [5:52]
Joan Sutherland (soprano); Harry Dilley (trumpet); Chorus and orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Francesco Molinari-Pradelli

The Vagabond [3:14]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)

O mistress mine [2:11]
Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone); Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Henry PURCELL, arr. Britten

The Blessed Virgin’s expostulation [8:29]
Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano); Roger Vignoles (piano)

I am a poor wayfaring stranger [4:45]
Benjamin BRITTEN trad. arr. (??)

The salley gardens [2:15]
Andreas Scholl (countertenor); Edin Karamazov (lute); Stacey Shames (harp); Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

If music be the food of love [2:07]
Barbara Bonney (soprano); Academy of Ancient Music/Hogwood

The Lincolnshire poacher [2:03]
Peter Pears (tenor); Benjamin Britten (piano)

The Silver Swan [1:17]
The Consort of Musicke/Anthony Rooley
ANON. arr. Britten

The plough boy [2:04]
Peter Pears (tenor); Benjamin Britten (piano)
John ECCLES (1668-1735)

I burn, my brain consumes to ashes [3:44]

I’ll sail upon the dog-star [1:33]
Catherine Bott (soprano); David Roblou (harpsichord); Paula Chateauneuf (lute); Anthony Pleeth (cello)
TRAD. arr.. Craig LEON (b.1952)

My love is like a red, red rose [3:50]
I will give my love an apple [2:35]
Andreas Scholl (counter-tenor); Edin Karamazov (lute); Stacey Shames (harp); Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
George Frideric HANDEL

O had I Jubal’s lyre, from Joshua [2:33]
Janet Baker (mezzo); English Chamber Orchestra/Raymond Leppard
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)

O mistress mine [1:36]
Now sleeps the crimson petal [2:18]
TRAD. arr. Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)

Love is a bable [1:41]
Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone); Malcolm Martineau (piano)
ANON. arr. Hugh ROBERTON (1874-1952)

The fidgety bairn [2:49]
Kathleen Ferrier (contralto); John Newmark (piano)

The stuttering lovers [1:42]
Kathleen Ferrier (contralto); Phyllis Spurr (piano)

Blow the wind southerly [2:22]
Kathleen Ferrier (contralto);
Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)

Blow, blow thou winter wind [1:58]
Robert Tear (tenor); Philip Ledger (piano)

Music for a while [2:51]
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo); Jory Vinikour (harpsichord)

In dreams [2:57]

On the idle hill of summer [3:08]
Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone); Malcolm Martineau (piano)

I loved a lass [3:37]
Andreas Scholl (countertenor); Edin Karamazov (lute); Stacey Shames (harp); Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

Thy hand Belinda ... When I am laid in earth, from Dido and Aeneas [4:46]
Barbara Bonney (soprano); The Academy of Ancient Musicke/Hogwood


No two-CD set could be comprehensive in a subject such as this. But this collection manages to be pretty wide-ranging, with examples of folk-songs, madrigals, lute songs, Victorian ballads as well as many items by major twentieth century composers. Thirteen different solo singers appear, from stars of the past like Ferrier and Pears all the way to big names of today such as Bryn Terfel and Barbara Bonney.

Not only British singers, either; interestingly - and possibly just a little controversially - there are two leading singers featured whose first language is not English, counter-tenor Andreas Scholl and mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter. Both are supreme artists, so there should be no problem; after all, would we baulk were Peter Pears or Ian Bostridge, for example, to be represented in a similar collection of German songs? I would hope not.

However, there are some surprising omissions. Though Benjamin Britten appears as an arranger, where are his own songs? In most people’s books, he is the outstanding English song composer of the mid-twentieth century, and this collection is compromised by his absence. Decca must have examples of some of those songs in its back catalogue, and two or three should surely have featured here.

Having got that carp out of the way, I hasten to say that these CDs are simply packed with wonderful treasures. Blow the wind southerly is Kathleen Ferrier’s most famous legacy, but the other two songs given here show her dramatic gifts and her infectious sense of humour, much in evidence in The stuttering lovers. The American soprano Barbara Bonney turns in some stunning performances; her version of Dowland’s If my complaints is one of the absolute highlights of the issue.

But perhaps the greatest pleasure for me came from a surprising source. It is very easy to scoff at such period items as the two Victorian ballads, Wood’s A brown bird singing and Molloy’s Love’s old sweet song. Felicity Palmer, however, brings the whole of her extraordinary talent to bear on them, and the results are enchanting. John Constable is the perfect accompanist, giving the chorus of Love’s old, sweet song a subtle lilt on which Palmer is able to float her line deliciously.

Talking of accompanists, there are some great exponents on display here. It is sheer joy to hear Benjamin Britten playing his own beautifully conceived piano parts, while Malcolm Martineau responds imaginatively to Bryn Terfel’s dramatic word-painting. Lutenists are well represented too, from the great Julian Bream duetting with Pears to Andreas Scholl’s partner Edin Karamazov.

Mentioning Bryn Terfel above, I am reminded that, though I regard him as one of the very greatest singers to have emerged in recent years, I have sometimes had a problem with his recital singing. The Vaughan Williams songs suffer from a tendency to be too expressive, to respond almost violently to the images of the words and music. In dreams in particular, such a subtle song, falls prey to this. Yet in the Butterworth songs, and, most notably, in an exceptionally lovely version of Quilter’s Now sleeps the crimson petal, he is much more restrained, and his interpretations benefit greatly as a result.

The remarkable counter-tenor Andreas Scholl gives memorable performances of two Dowland lute songs on CD1. I enjoyed much less the rather ‘commercial’ arrangements by Craig Leon of various folk-songs. One of these, The salley gardens has surely given rise to a bizarre boob in the booklet, which credits the arrangement to Britten, whose version is indeed justly celebrated; unfortunately, this isn’t it!

Kiri Te Kanawa isn’t much associated with this kind of repertoire, though she gives a highly accomplished if very characteristic performance of Purcell’s wonderful scena The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation, with Roger Vignoles superb in Britten’s piano realisation of the keyboard accompaniment. Finally, it’s important to mention some delightful madrigal performances by Anthony Rooley and the English Consort of Musicke. The Silver Swan is sung with touching simplicity by an uncredited soprano soloist, supported by viols.

A hugely enjoyable if slightly quirky selection, then. I’d love to think that, in the fullness of time, this might turn out to be merely ‘Volume One’ – this is such a rich vein, and it would be a welcome opportunity to include some of the outstanding artists missing from this set – John Shirley-Quirk and Ian Partridge to mention but two.

Gwyn Parry-Jones


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