Songs by Michael Head and Friends Michael HEAD (1900-1976)
1. Sweet chance [2.02]; 2. O to be in England [3.44]; 3.
Fox Gloves [2.25]; 4. Green Rain [3.18]; 5. A piper [1.29];
6. A green cornfield [2.17] David BEDNALL (b. 1979)
7. England [4.10]; 8. First sight of her and after [3.33] Michael HEAD
9. Ships of Arkady [3.37]; 10. Beloved [1.51]; 11. A blackbird
singing [2.35]; 12. Nocturne [4.13] Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
13. King David [4.40] Michael HEAD
14. Dear delight [3.03]; 15. You shall not go a-Maying
[3.19]; 16. Love’s lament for comely grace [3.11]; 17.
Love me not [3.19]; 18. O let no star [2.30]; 19. The twins
[2.18]; 20. A summer idyll [2.30]; 21. Slumber song of
the Madonna [2.47]; 22. When sweet Ann sings [2.44] Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)
23. Down by the Salley Gardens [2.55]; 24. Sleep [3.16]
Rowntree (tenor); David Bednall (piano)
rec. Wells Cathedral School, 20-21 October 2004. DDD LAMMAS LAMM179D [71.55]
Head belongs to that breed of English composer much loved
by singers at Eisteddfodau, featuring perhaps in the odd
recital here and there, but who is otherwise largely forgotten.
The reason is a mystery; perhaps it is because despite his
propensity for putting music to words (over 120 songs) unlike
John Ireland with Sea Fever or George Butterworth
with his song-cycle A Shropshire Lad, Head never had
a ‘hit’ song. In fact, I’d never before come across an album
devoted almost entirely to his songs. In that regard, both
tenor Richard Rowntree and his accompanist David Bednall
are to be commended for their initiative.
choice of songs on this disc is interesting too. Except for Ships
of Arkady (also spelt Arcady) the songs are new
to me. I am more accustomed to the likes of Money O!, Sweethearts
and Wives and Limehouse Reach which I have sung
at singing competitions. I am not, by any stretch of the
imagination a Michael Head expert.
Head creates a certain ambience with his songs is undeniable.
This is noticeable in his chromatic settings of Seamus O’Sullivan’s The
Piper and Francis Ledwidge’s Nocturne. The former
has an accompaniment reminiscent of twinkling and lilting
feet skipping to the beat of a piper when ‘all the world
went gay, went gay for half an hour in the streets today’ while
the latter is a sigh of celestial proportions set over a
bed of earthbound chords.
Bednall himself has inserted a couple of his own compositions
in this album including Walter de la Mare’s patriotic England which
was not completed until the day it was recorded. His style
evokes echoes of other composers especially his Vaughan Williams’-
inspired setting of Thomas Hardy’s First sight of her
and after. Rowntree’s interpretation of England,
incidentally, is one of the best in this album.
impressive is Ivor Gurney’s Sleep, mainly because
Rowntree allows his voice to float through the words creating
wisps of pure sound as in a dream sequence. His high notes
sound mature too. Which is not the case at all times. The
final notes in Love not me for comely grace are unconvincing
and at times his voice sounds gravelly and tired especially
in You shall not go a-Maying. Plus, here and there,
Rowntree’s voice is drowned by the accompaniment. This is
particularly evident in the first few songs.
voice is sweet and uncomplicated. But it is a small voice,
principally more treble than bass, which is better suited
to singing in vaulted churches. It is not full-bodied yet,
but perhaps in time it will be. His diction needs tweaking
lyrics to all the songs are well set out in the cover notes
but, inexplicably, the words of O let no star and The
twins are missing. Much as I enjoy hearing a disc of
Michael Head’s music it is slightly over-killing the medium
to expect anyone with no particular interest in British Art
songs to sit through more than an hour of his music sung
by the same singer throughout. It would have made more sense
to have employed a different registered voice - a baritone
and/or a soprano - to share in this feast of Head’s music.
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