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The Long Day Closes - English Romantic Partsongs
Robert Pearsall (1795-1856) Lay a Garland on her Hearse [2:51]; Who shall have my Lady Fair? [1:46]
Joseph Barnby (1838-1896) Sweet and Low [2:43]
Samuel Wesley (1766-1837) O Sing unto my roundelay [3:29]
Thomas F. Walmisley (1783-1866) Music, all powerful [5:48]
George Macfarren (1813-1887) When daisies pied [2:14]
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) Summer is gone [3:20]
Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) Echoes [2:16] The long day closes [4:27]
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) Heraclitus [2:27]; The Blue Bird [3:02]
Charles Wood (1866-1926) Full fathom five [1:28]
Edward Elgar (1857-1934) As torrents in summer [2:19]; My love dwelt in a Northern Land [4:38]; Go, song of mine [4:53]
Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918) My soul, there is a country [3:31]; O love they wrong thee much [2:40]; You gentle nymphs [1:23]; Love is a sickness [1:42]; Music, when soft voices die [2:46]; My delight and thy delight [2:21]
Canzonetta Chamber Choir/Jeffrey Wynn Davies
rec. Manchester University Department of Music, 4-5 February 1995. DDD
SOMM SOMMCD 204 [66:06]


 


The difficult thing to come to terms with on this CD is the fact that most of these tracks were written at a time when Britain was supposed to be a ‘Land without Music’. Only the most pedantic of listeners would claim that the twenty-one part-songs presented here are anything other than beautiful and accomplished minor works of art.

Of course, some of the big boys are here. Edward Elgar is represented by an excerpt from the less than well known King Olaf. Yet, in its guise as a part-song, ‘As Torrents in Summer’, with a text by Longfellow it stands alone and deserves its place on this CD. Many people of an older generation were brought up on the ‘Blue’ (and Red, Green etc.) Fairy Books by the Scots writer and academic Andrew Lang. Perhaps his words for ‘My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land,’ are not quite to the modern taste, and certainly do not mention the little people - but in Elgar’s fine setting they surely melt the heart. Guido Cavalcanti provides the words for ‘Go, song of mine;’ the Italian original was translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Interestingly, Elgar wrote this setting when in Careggi, near Florence, and whilst he was contemplating the Violin Concerto and the Second Symphony. Perhaps the ‘Windflower’ is not too far away from him in this part-song?

Charles Stanford is represented by his two excellent works for unaccompanied choir – Bluebird and Heraclitus. I have long been of the opinion that Bluebird is possibly the most perfect musical work in British Music. In spite of its short length it would have to be on my list of ‘Desert Island Discs.’ Heaven is never closer than in this masterpiece. Heraclitus is a lovely setting of a poem from the Greek poet Callimachus. Interestingly, the ancient text was translated by a certain William Cory, whose best known effort was probably the Eton Boating Song! Heraclitus was a great philosopher who first presented ‘Philosophy’ as a system and a discipline. The song is an elegy upon the philosopher’s death.

Charles Hubert Hastings Parry was often ridiculed by musicians and musicologists in my younger days. I can recall nasty things being said about his works being ‘as dry as dust.’ That was in the days when his reputation rested on hearsay rather than hearing. We are lucky to possess much of Parry’s catalogue on CD. I would swap a lot of popular classical and baroque music to keep hold of the cycle his of Five Symphonies!

Parry’s greatest part-songs were written for the Magpie Madrigal Society founded by a certain Lionel Benson in 1885. The present CD includes six songs from a number of works written for this group. There is a degree of flawlessness about all these songs that defies time and prejudice. There is no way that these part-songs can be forgotten simply because they are ‘Victorian’ or ‘Museum Pieces.’ Perhaps the finest part-song here is the setting of Shelley’s ‘Music When Soft Voices Die.’ Of course most church choirs will have given the first-rate anthem ‘My Soul there is a Country’ after Evensong of Mattins. Four other works make up this selection, including settings of texts by Robert Bridges, Samuel Daniel and two anonymous Elizabethan lyrics.

Some of the greatest surprises on this CD come from the lesser-known composers. In my day in the organ loft, Joseph Barnby was regarded as a joke. Yet his rich setting of Tennyson’s ‘Sweet and Low’ is surely a valued contribution to the repertoire. Barnby was a choral conductor whose main claim to fame is that he was the first individual to conduct Wagner’s Parsifal in Great Britain.

Many people get confused with their Wesleys (not Methodists of course!). Samuel was the son of Charles, the great hymn writer. Most people probably know the voluntary An Air Composed for Holsworthy Church Bells, and Varied for the Organ – and not a lot else. Yet Wesley was more than a composer – he was a leading light in the nineteenth century revival of J.S. Bach in Britain. The ‘O, Sing unto my Roundelay’ was written in 1812 - between The Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo!

Charles Wood’s setting of Shakespeare’s ‘Full Fathom Five’ is far removed from his better-known Anglican Services and church anthems. This is a fine madrigal that has interesting turns of harmony and melodic line. It is certainly the most ‘modern’ of the works presented here.

Wagner regarded George Macfarren as a ‘pompous melancholy Scotsman.’ Yet, whatever the truth of this observation, it is not in evidence with Macfarren’s happy setting of ‘When Daisies Pied.’ Walmisley’s ‘Music All Powerful’ is a technically accomplished work that ought to be better known. It is a good balance between well-written counterpoint and restrained harmony. It is also the longest piece on this disc.

Coleridge-Taylor’s setting of Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Summer is Gone’ is one of the most attractive pieces on this CD. There are definite nods to Fred. Delius here. The programme notes accurately describe its mood as wistful.

Arthur Sullivan’s reputation as a composer has always been complicated by the fact that he is invariably seen as one half of G&S! Yet recent years have enabled the listener to hear a number of works that have lain hidden for nearly a century. I can recommend the Irish Symphony and the Cello Concerto to anyone who has not heard music beyond the D’Oly Carte Operas. ‘Echoes,’ with lyrics by Thomas Moore, is perhaps musically recognizable as Sullivan’s music – there is almost a ‘tripping hither,’ if a somewhat restrained ‘trip’, feel to this music. Perhaps the most famous of all Victorian madrigals is the sad yet inspiring ‘The Long Day Closes.’ This is the CDs eponymous track. The text was by a poet, librettist and art critic called Henry Chorley – he was a friend of the composer. As a meditation on death it is superb. Forget supposed Victorian sentimentality – this is profound stuff. And Sullivan’s setting matches itself to the words perfectly. The reprise of the opening melody for "Go to the dreamless bed/ Where grief reposes/ Thy book of toil is read/ The long day closes," is sheer perfection. And remember that this was written some three years before W.S. Gilbert wrote the libretto for Cox and Box – the first fruits of that partnership.

This is a lovely CD that explores a number of long forgotten byways and further represents a few well known and loved examples of British part-song writing.

Canzonetta, under their director Jeffrey Wynn Davies present memorable and finely judged performances. Perhaps a little bit more information on the composers and their music and certainly the dates of each piece would have been useful.

One last word. Do not through-listen to this CD. Take it in small pieces. However the six Parry settings make an excellent group to engage with at a single sitting.

John France

 

 


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