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Vagabond
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Three Masefield Ballads [7:50]:-
Sea Fever [2:30]
The Bells of San Marie [2:24]
The Vagabond [2:56]
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
Three Shakespeare Songs [6:49]:-
Come Away, Death [3:01]
O Mistress Mine [1:27]
Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind [2:21]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Let us Garlands Bring [15:47]:-
Come Away, Death [3:35]
Who is Sylvia? [1:26]
Fear No More the heat o’the Sun [6:25]
O Mistress Mine [1:51]
It Was a Love and His Lass [2:30]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Three Folk Song Arrangements [8:16]:-
The Salley Gardens [2:17]
The Foggy, Foggy Dew [1:42]
O Waly Waly [4:17]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Songs of Travel [22:24]:-
The Vagabond  [2:57]
Let Beauty Awake [1:40]
The Roadside Fire [2:15]
Youth and Love [3:38]
In Dreams [2:33]
The Infinite Shining Heavens [2:23]
Whither Must I Wander? [3:24]
Bright is the Ring of Words [1:41]
I have Trod the Upward and the Downward Slope [1:53]
Teddy Tahu Rhodes (baritone)
Sharolyn Kimmorley (piano)
rec. 20 August 2002, Eugene Goossens Hall, Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ultimo Centre, Sydney
ABC CLASSICS 476 7175 [61:22]



I confess to having been unimpressed by this disc of English solo song from ABC Classics. Although Rhodes has a pleasant enough voice - quite rich and dark, good enunciation, an easy manner and a nice vibrato, he does not get into the skin of the character of the songs, and the works are consequently not nearly as moving as they could - and should - be. I also find his singing too artificial, as if it lacks genuine emotion and musicality. Listen, for example, to The Bells of San Marie – too ploddingly rhythmical, he does not allow the song to flow, and it lacks freedom. Again, in Quilter’s Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind and in Finzi’s tender Fear No More the heat o’the Sun we encounter the same problem – the work sounds almost automated and rather dull as a result. And, in the latter, although Rhodes gets louder on the third verse at the climax, where is the wildness and the passion? And in the chilling final verse “No exorciser harm thee! Nor no witchcraft charm thee! Ghosts unlaid forbear thee!”, where is any sense of anything ghostly, unearthly or ethereal?
 
Often, Rhodes does not give the songs the air of spaciousness they need - as in Whither Must I Wander? and in Vaughan Williams’s The Vagabond, which comes across as rushed for this very reason, although it is not taken at a particularly fast pace. Furthermore, in a number of cases he does not capture the gossamer lightness and tenderness required - Youth and Love, and although The Infinite Shining Heavens is a little more tender it still needs to be softer still – a sweeter, more velvety voice would be more easily able to pull this off, though. On occasion, a lighter touch is needed. The Roadside Fire is just a little too earth-bound, and Quilter’s O Mistress Mine needs more joy and life and lightness. There is no laughter in the song, and not enough space, as he rushes through it without pause, without allowing it to breathe. Sometimes the rhythms of the songs seem slightly amiss. In some of the Songs of Travel, and there are some rather strange rhythms, too, in the voiceline of Who is Sylvia, which I feel is also a little too rushed.
 
I have other minor, niggling criticisms. I believe I detect some strain in the voice, particularly on the higher notes, and one also gets the impression that sometimes the singer and the accompanist are waiting for each other rather than melding together flawlessly. My main one, however, is the lack of emotion, depth and feeling in the songs. Listen to Quilter’s Come Away, Death, one of the most gorgeous songs written. Firstly, we need more intensity on “come away” and more precision on “laid”, and, more importantly, more grief throughout. This song should sob, yet he sings it without any great feeling of emotion – the words “Oh prepare it” are referring to his shroud, yet he could almost be referring to his dinner. “Corpse where my bones shall be thrown” is completely lacking in any sense of sorrow, and again the words “sad true lover to find my grave”, and particularly “weep”, should be laden with grief, yet it is as if Rhodes hasn’t really read the poem and doesn’t know what it is about. The meaning is not communicated and the words are just words, sung with a general air of sadness but without knowledge, experience and understand of the sorrow that they convey. Other examples - Let Beauty Awake should be radiantly beautiful, yet is a little too prosaic, and there is not enough characterisation in The Foggy, Foggy Dew – no sigh or cry on “sighed" and "cried” nor anguish in “what shall I do?”. One feels that Rhodes must be aware of the fact that he is not fully in character, and he appears occasionally to try to compensate by over-emphasising the more obvious mood-changes, as in Finzi’s O Mistress Mine (“ever wise man’s son doth know” and “Youth’s a stuff will not endure”). Yet again these seem quite contrived and lacking in natural spontaneity.
 
On the whole, I would not recommend this recording. It is a shame, as it is a well-chosen compilation of some exquisitely beautiful songs, and the production is excellent, with good sleeve-notes and full reproduction of poems. Although I found the cover photo of the bare-footed, open-shirted soloist on a prison bed leering in an attempt to look mysterious? attractive? rather unappealing. I was also utterly horrified to discover, amongst the credits, one for his stylist and for “grooming”, as well as a list of which designers his clothes and jewellery came from. This is a recording of wonderful classical songs, for God’s sake, not a teenage fashion magazine! And despite his good, strong voice, Rhodes is not lyrical or expressive enough in these songs - he desperately needs to give more space, pause, and thoughtfulness to the works, and a great deal more intensity. He comes across as far too artificial, dull and pedestrian. My guess would be that he has not fully internalised the words and meanings of the songs. Perhaps - and he would not be the only one! - he has fallen into the trap of thinking that these deceptively simple songs are easy to sing, and does not realise that a good voice just isn’t enough. The artist really needs to completely understand them and have them in his blood to be able to make sense of them. I am not totally convinced by the accompaniment, either, although Kimmorley deals well with the difficulty of many of the piano parts. I hasten to add that the disc is not all bad, however. Some of the songs (The Salley Gardens, for example), Rhodes and Kimmorley perform quite well, but on a disc of this nature the slightest hint of lack of experience or sincerity tends to ruin the whole thing.
 
It would take too long to discuss the relative merits of the numerous, and often excellent, other recordings available. This is certainly not worst disc of English solo song on the market but it would not by any means be among my top choices for any of the songs featured. Rather, I would recommend digging out the Hyperion Ireland double-disc with Maltman singing for the Ireland, without a shade of a doubt gorgeous John Mark Ainsley for the Quilter (Hyperion again), Roderick Williams on Naxos for Finzi, trying the classic Pears for the Britten - or the Naxos Folk Song Arrangements discs with Philip Langridge singing these songs if you’re not a Pears fan - and sticking to good old Tear for the Songs of Travel (Decca), with Roderick Williams on Naxos or Maltman on Hyperion as alternatives.
 
Em Marshall

 


 


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