Songs of Innocence Trad. (arr. Benjamin Britten)
I wonder as I wander (1940-41) [4:09] Trad. (arr.
In the mornin’ - Negro Spiritual (1929) [2:11] Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Diaphenia (1929) [1:56] The Owl (1929) [1:27] Witches Song (1929)
[0:43] Chamber Music V (1929) [1:23] The Rainbow (No.2 of Three Two-part Songs) (1932)
[2:21] The Oxen (1967) [2:43] Little Sir William (c.1940) [2:53] Michael Berkeley (b.1948)
Cradle Song (late 1960s rev. 1976-77) [1:41] Peter Warlock (1894-1930)
The bayly berith the bell away (1919) [2:32] William Boyce(1710-1779) (arr.
Tell me, lovely shepherd (1742) (1943) [3:08] Michael Flanders (1922-1975) and Donald SWANN (1923-1994) (arr.
The Slow Train (1963) [3:48] Trad. (arr.
Ca’ the yowes (1951) [3:37] George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) (arr.
Silent Worship(1728) [1:49] Charles Wood (1866-1926)
Who is Silvia (1891) [1:45] Trad. arr. Andrew Plant
Caleno custere me (1984) [2:10] Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Dirge for Fidele (1895) [3:34] Roger Quilter (1877-1953)
Summer Sunset (1938) [1:57] Charles Ives
Slow March [1:37] Benjamin Britten
Tom Bowling (1959) [4:54] John Jeffries
Matthew, Mark, Luke & John from When I was Young (1950) [1:16] Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003) My bed is a boat from From a Child’s
Garden (1968) [3:01] Samuel Barber (1913-1976)
Sure on this shining night No.4 of Four Songs (1938) [2:27] Malcolm WILLIAMSON
Sweet and low No.4 from Six English Lyrics (1966) [2:29]
Andrew Swait (treble); James Bowman
(counter-tenor); Andrew Plant (piano)
rec. 11 August, 8 September 2007, Cheltenham College,
Cheltenham, UK SIGNUM
CLASSICS SIGCD128 [61:48]
my money the most interesting part of this adventurous
collection of songs is the early Britten: there are four ‘unknown’ numbers
dating from 1929 when the composer was barely a teenager.
Yet there is a confidence and a subtlety here that belies
his innocence. I have never heard these pieces before
and am both grateful and delighted to have been introduced
to them. The choice of text suggests that Britten was
already knowledgeable about the deep riches of English
Literature. Diaphenia, written by Constable and
Chettle and The Owl by Tennyson are sung by the
treble, whereas the ‘fantastic’ WitchesSong the Masque
of Dreams by Ben Johnson and James Joyce’s Chamber
Music V is performed by James Bowman. These are great
works that are fully worthy to be in Britten’s catalogue.
later songs further explore this investigation into the ‘unknown
BB. The Rainbow is an attractive ‘duet’ to words
by that poet of smutched innocence, Walter de la Mare.
Perhaps one of the ‘saddest’ of poems in the English
language is Thomas Hardy’s agnostic musing on the ‘kneeling
oxen’ on Christmas Eve. Once again this is set as a duet
for both performers which highlights the sense of loss
of innocence. Yet this is a late Britten song, written
in 1967. Finally there is a lovely setting of Little
Sir William dating from 1940. Other Britten arrangements
include Niles’s I wonder as I wander, Charles
Dibdin’s Tom Bowling and the traditional Ca’ the
do not intend to describe all 25 tracks on this explorative
CD. However, I want to mention what to me were a few
highlights – although I recognise that every one of these
miniatures will be someone’s especial favourites.
the one work on this CD I enjoyed most is the heart-achingly
beautiful rendition of Flanders’s and Swann’s The
Slow Train. For anyone who has lamented the demise
of the railway branch-line this is an ‘essential’ work
of art. Of course, possibly one prefers the original
version – but this recording gives a new slant on this
work that is well worth engaging with.
The ‘colonies’ are
not ignored in this CD. Charles Ives’s fine setting of
the Negro spiritual ‘In the Mornin’ is surely
a minor masterpiece that is a million miles away from
preconceived images of that master’s complex music. Samuel
Barber, Sure on this shining night is hauntingly
beautiful and is possibly one of the great songs written
by an American. Malcolm Williamson contributes a setting
of the traditional Sweet and Low and Robert Louis
Stevenson’s evocation of childhood imagination in My
bed is a boat reveals a composer who is able to combine
craftsmanship with wondrous invention.
back to blighty: look out for Charles Wood’s version
of that well worn text – Who is Silvia. How hard
it must be to write a ‘new’ song that neither nods to,
nor feels intimidated by Schubert!
the vocal texture of a boy-treble and counter-tenor is
an acquired taste – and I am not sure that I have acquired
it. However, if the listener has doubts about the wisdom
or even the necessity of purchasing this CD let them
consider 1) the programme has a number of pieces that
are unavailable elsewhere –including some ‘unknown’ Britten;
2) there is no need to listen to this CD from end to
end. To do so would be to gradually loose concentration
on what are largely well-wrought songs, 3) the programme
notes are extensive and extremely helpful. Which brings
me to 4) -they are beautifully performed. For not a single
moment are any parts of these songs forced or contrived.
There is a beauty about both the voices that almost deifies
description. And, of course, Andrew Plant makes a sensitive
there is nothing sentimental about this CD: this is not
some choir-robed starlet singing popular tear-jerkers – this
is well written and well presented music at its best.
The bottom line is that the title well sums up the entire
project – these are ‘Songs of innocence’.
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