Hold was a consummate song composer. The three cycles here demonstrate
his unerring ear for word placement and for plasticity of phrasing.
The fact that he sets his own words in all three cycles is simply
indicative of a general quality in his writing.
The Image Stays
is the earliest, written in 1974 and first performed by the
two musicians on this disc – both ardent champions of the composer
– in a Radio 3 broadcast in 1979. Indeed Wilson-Johnson and
Owen Norris premiered all three cycles. Hold characterises with
immediacy and he can summon up reflective moods in a trice.
The listless drift of Indifference is a single example
from this earliest cycle but so too is the admonitory chording
of the next song, A Warning. I would guess that At
Fawsley Church is inspired by – and deliberately evokes
- Larkin’s An Arundel Tomb. But then there is the scuttling
and pliant Music Plays and then the last and by far the
longest setting of the poem that gives its name to the cycle.
It’s an air over a ground, a powerful and stalking setting,
perfectly distributed between voice and piano – passionately
Four years later
Hold wrote River Songs which was premiered in 1982 with
these two performers and Sheila Armstrong in another broadcast.
It’s a kind of verse travelogue Here the excellent soprano Amanda
Pitt joins Wilson-Johnson. Things range from impressionistic
treble flicker in Reflections with its rich vocal line,
finely descriptive, to the strolling gait and reflective, evocative
lyricism of Along the River to the wistful Envoy
with which the cycle ends.
Voices from the
Orchard was completed in 1983 and was once again subject
of a broadcast first performance, this time in 1990. It was
written for ‘the two Davids in memory of Henry Williamson (1895-1977)’
and draws on Hold’s childhood memories – though Everychild rather
than specifically autobiographical memories. Is that a roar
of thunder on Dandelion Days? More certainly we feel
the ‘forty winks’ of his grandfather’s sleep – that tick-tocking
is both simple and affecting. The Weekly Visitors is
an especially vibrant, very folk like, probably the most extrovert
single setting in the three cycles. There are dark touches here
as well – Illness provokes unsettled responses - but
the final song Awakening restores equilibrium and optimism
with its generous lyricism.
The composer’s champions
offer the most insightful musicianship imaginable, their long
experience of his music having permeated their responses with
intimate understanding. The songs perhaps remind one a little
of Britten’s though for me they stand at something of a remove.
What infuses them is a Clare-like sensibility, the countryman’s
freedoms that so engrossed and animated Hold; the poetry and
music that result are free of mannerism, of pretence and posturing
remaining at all times direct, subtle, and alive.