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Robin MILFORD (1903–1959)
Piano Music and Songs

My Ladys Pleasure for piano: Pastorale [2:35]; Gavotte [1:50]; Jig [1:51]
Four Hardy Songs: No. 2 - The Colour [2:10]; No. 4 – Tolerance [2:25]
Cradle Song (Blake) [3:11]
Daybreak (Donne) [1:52]
Reputation Square for piano: Matthews and Welchs [2:11]; Reputation Square [2:17]; Georges, and the New Wells Hornpipe [1:36]; Trim the French [2:37]; Jack in his Trousers [1:38]; Jupiter in the Clouds [3:16]
Four Bridges Songs: No. 1 - So Sweet Love Seemed [2:36]; No. 2 – Elegy [3:56]; No. 4 - Love on my Heart [2:24]
Four Seasonable Songs: No. 2 - Summer. Pleasure It Is [0:49]; No. 4 - Winter. This Endris Night [2:03]
Prelude, Air and Finale (on a well-known mordent) for piano [10:43]
Swan Songs: No. 1 Song of St Mary the Virgin [4:08]; No. 2 The Song of Simeon [1:28]; No. 3 Idleness [1:40]; No 4. Christmas Day [2:23]; No. 5 In Cornwall [2:32]; No. 6 Expectans expectavi [1:43]; No. 7 The Holy Tide [2:40]; No. 8 The Glance [2:25]; No. 9 Sleep [2:31]
Jenifer's Jingle for piano [3:05]
Days and Moments: II Autumn – No. 4 An Epitaph [1:44]
Phillida Bannister (alto); Raphael Terroni (piano)
rec. West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, 3-4 January 2005; Potton Hall Studio, Westleton, Suffolk, 18 January 2006. DDD
first recordings
TOCCATA TOCC0009 [78:29]

Experience Classicsonline


Robin Milford profile by Martin Anderson

All we have heard to date suggests that Milford was a miniaturist touched by a gentle muse. Try the Hyperion collection. When we hear his symphony, violin concerto and oratorio A Prophet in the Land we may well learn differently.

Broadly speaking these songs and piano solos signal an affinity with Finzi and Warlock, Holst and Balfour Gardiner. Indeed the three movement My Lady's Pleasure is redolent of Gardiner’s solo piano music; Holst as well; remember Keith Swallow's recordings on the old Abbey LP LPB736? In the case of the Gavotte, there are echoes of the music of Milford’s friend, Finzi. There's a little Scottish twist in the Jig but otherwise this is English yeoman countryside music – sensitive yet bluff.

Making further links with Finzi, we hear two of the Four Hardy Songs. Phillida Bannister has a strong voice and cut-glass enunciation of words. The latter is welcome but the powerhouse of her ringing alto is not ideally suited to The Colour which was once recorded with even more success by Ian Partridge. Tolerance lacks the poignancy it might have had but this is attributable to the setting rather than the performance. There is a bluffness about it which seems at odds with the words. The Blake Cradle Song opens with a wonderful restful rocking figure for the piano – played with attentive and thoughtful advocacy throughout by Raphael Terroni. There is a marvellously sustained note from Bannister on the last word of Tolerance, 'weep'. Donne's Daybreak is a steadily placid setting made very special by the final serenely decorative touch from the piano.

The six movement Reputation Square for solo piano is a sequence of hornpipes carrying the pleasing patina of Purcellian antiquity but also with a dusting of Garth and the other lost figures of the 18th century revived and re-edited by Finzi. The twentieth century hardly obtrudes at all.

Phillida Bannister returns for three of Milford's Four Bridges Songs. There is the lissom line of So Sweet Love Seemed a song also included on the Hyperion sequence, "Finzi and Friends". Elegy and Love on My Heart with its rivulet chunter is well up there with the best of the 20th century romantic lyricists. There's no trace here of preciously dainty antiquity. Staying in the same territory we hear two of the Four Seasonable Songs. Summer is bound to recall Warlock's setting of the words Pleasure It Is but remains rewarding for its intrinsic delights.

Prelude, Air and Finale flies free of the bounds that leave the Reputation Square suite rather shackled to mannered eighteenth century models. Even if the Prelude occasional chatters like Holst's Toccata on Newburn Lads it is a much freer piece of piano writing - tonal and folk-influenced but bright-eyed - almost Howells but more direct-speaking. The Air is delicate without being dainty and seems to speak of finely nuanced emotions played out amid a country evening. The finale is a darker and more melancholic conceit which suggests a symphonic depth not yet encountered in these short pieces and songs.

The nine Swan Songs are, with the other song cycle In Tenebris, late works. The Swan Songs were written after the death of Milford's little son in a road accident and after Milford's nervous breakdown. His own suicide was not far distant. The darker realms of these songs seems to be a development of the finale of the Prelude, Air and Finale. They have the plangency and sombre beauty of Finzi’s Hardy settings. The Glance (a setting of Herbert) lightens the mood transiently with a nicely calculated rocking figure typical of ostinatos established by Milford for earlier songs.

Jennifer's Jingle starts with a 'Green ways' figure typical of Patrick Hadley but soon returns to a typical chiming Milfordian folk-dance figure. The recital ends with a setting of the archetypal Here Lies a Most Beautiful Lady which I first encountered in Gurney's setting.

The notes are by Peter Hunter who is the leading authority on Milford. I hope that he is working on a book to complement or even replace the Ian Copley study produced a couple of decades ago by the late lamented Thames Publishing. Toccata put not a foot wrong in their presentation which is legible, encyclopaedic in content and thoughtful including the full texts of the songs. These qualities speak of values sometimes thought long lost. The notes are as usual translated into German and French.

Let me repeat my plea for the orchestral works to be recorded including the Symphony, the Violin Concerto and The Darkling Thrush for violin and small orchestra.

Meantime this is a most handsomely performed, recorded and presented collection representing the lyric pastel-shaded English pastoralism with which Milford's scores are imbued. His was a gentle muse yet one strongly rooted in the countryside and in words, their age-old history, meaning and nuance.

Rob Barnett


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