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Herbert HUGHES (1882-1937)
A Purse of Gold – Irish Songs
Reynardine [1:50]; The Fanaid Grove [3:06]; The Leprechaun [1:40]; When through life unblest we rove [3:09]; Oh, breathe not his name [1:56]; I’m a decent good Irish body [1:06]; She weeps over Rahoon [3:25]; The Magpie’s nest [0:46]; Johnny Doyle [5:29]; Cruckhaun Finn [5:23]; Johnny I hardly knew ye [2:26]; The Garten Mother’s Lullaby [2:37]; You couldn’t stop a lover [0:43]; I will walk with my love [1:47]; She moved thro’ the fair [3:00]; The Bard of Armagh [3:56]; The old turf fire [1:23]; O father, father build me a boat [5:03]; She lived beside the Anner [3:55]; The stuttering lovers [1:36]; I know where I’m goin’ [2:01]; A young maid stood in her father’s garden [3:35]; The Spanish Lady [2:19]; Tigaree torum orum [3:01]

Ailish Tynan (soprano), Iain Burnside (piano)
rec. St Paul’s Church, Deptford, 5-7 March 2007; texts included

Before I heard this record, the name of Herbert Hughes was vaguely familiar from a couple of his Irish folk tune arrangements. I had no idea of the extent or quality of his work in this field. He was a native of Belfast who studied at the Royal College of Music with Charles Wood. Both later became founder members of the Irish Folk Song Society of London. Hughes collected some 1000 folk songs, publishing four books between 1909 and 1936 and these are the main source for the present recording. 

As Iain Burnside’s introduction explains, there are examples here which can be described as arrangements and other which are essentially new compositions, as well as all stages in between. The surprise for me at least was in their variety and in the range of emotion they express. “Cruckhaun Finn”, for instance, is as far from a hack arrangement as it is possible to be. It tells a moving story of an emigrant’s farewell to his beloved, whose landlord wants the former away so that he can pursue the latter. In Hughes’ setting this becomes a miniature drama, full of musical and dramatic surprises. This is followed by two strongly contrasted songs, each creating a world of its own, as the best songs do. Some of the others are mere fragments, lasting barely a minute or two, but even they, or possibly especially they, make their point powerfully and economically. I listened fascinated and beguiled to this wonderful array of words and music. 

I must admit that I enjoyed it much more with the words in front of me, as frequently Ailish Tynan’s words are not entirely clear, especially when she is making a dramatic point. Her tone colour and phrasing are however subtly varied so that the point of each song is clearly established, and I would not want to put anyone off hearing this record because of her diction. Iain Burnside is never content to be a mere accompanist, as have been the pianists when I have heard these songs in the past. He makes sure that the piano part is never less than an equal partner. When this is added to a clear recording there can be no doubt that these songs are given their full due here. Iain Burnside compares the songs to Wolf’s Italian Songbook. This seemed far-fetched when I read it before I heard the record, but by the end it seemed entirely appropriate. Different as their style is, in quality the songs can be compared also with the folk arrangements of Brahms and Britten. I cannot imagine a more welcome present than this for any lover of song.

The very full and helpful notes by Philip Lancaster tell us that Hughes wrote a number of chamber works. I very much hope that some enterprising company, perhaps Dutton or Signum again, will follow the present issue by giving us the chance to hear them.

John Sheppard



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