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CD: Crotchet

The Dark Pastoral - Songs and Poetry from World War One
William Denis BROWNE (1888-1915)
To Gratiana [4:06]; Had I the Heaven's embroidered cloths [2:28]; Dream Tryst [3:47]; Diaphenia [2:23]; The Isle of Lost Dreams [3:58]
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)
By a Bierside [4:35]; Severn Meadows [2:23]; In Flanders [3:07]; Even Such is Time [2:55]; On Wenlock Edge [2:48]; The Ghost [3:33]; Tarentella [3:16]
Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962)
Threshold [2:21]; A winter-night Idyll [1:33]; A Woodland Dell [1:27]; Seascape [1:28]; Gentle Lady [1:46]; Dear Heart [1:37]; O cool is the Valley [0:59]; All day I hear the noise of waters [1:29]; I hear an army [1:29]; When thou art Dead [3:39];
Spoken verse
William Denis BROWNE (1888-1915)
To Rupert Brooke [2:18]
Rupert Chawner BROOKE (1887-1915)
Safety [1:03]; Kindliness [2:08]
Edward THOMAS (1878-1917)
Lights out [1:16]
Charlotte Mary MEW (1869-1928)
May 1915, June 1915 [1:36]
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937) To His Love [0:47]; Watching Music [4:51]
Alfred Edward HOUSEMAN (1859-1936)
Bredon Hill [1:28]
Edmund Charles BLUNDEN (1896-1974)
The Midnight Skaters [1:02]
James Augustine Aloysius JOYCE (1882-1941)
Love came to us [0:29]
Thomas HARDY (1840-1928)
The Darkling Thrush [1:30]
Vera Mary BRITTAIN (1893-1970)
Perhaps [1:02]
Andrew Kennedy (tenor) Julius Drake (piano) Simon Russell Beale (narrator)
rec. 29 October-1 November 2007, (20 October 2007 Simon Russell Beale); St. Silas the Martyr, St. Silas Place, Kentish Town, London, England. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

You might remember War’s Embers, Hyperion’s two-disc survey of songs that coalesced around the First World War. This Altara disc, bearing the title The Dark Pastoral, covers, in a single disc, some of the same sort of ground though in a more compressed way and adds spoken verse recited by Simon Russell Beale. Thus the focus is subtly different at least inasmuch as we here concentrate on three composers – W. Dennis Browne, probably with Butterworth the most talented of the dead British composers of the war, Gurney who is now a well known property, and Goossens, whose songs at least are not.
It’s right to start with one of the greatest art songs in the language, Browne’s To Gratiana. I admit here that long familiarity with Martyn Hill’s recording has made it difficult for me objectively to judge other performances but one must try. I enjoyed Andrew Kennedy’s way with it but feel honour bound to note the strain in the upper part of the voice and the lack of Hill’s lyric legato - as well as Kennedy’s tendency to underline certain words and colour vowel sounds obtrusively and thus breaking up the line somewhat. Dream Tryst is a more rugged, fluctuating Browne setting adeptly negotiated and Julius Drake comes into his own here with the lovely lapping piano writing. Browne’s Diaphenia is an interesting setting, being reflective and not attempting the quicksilver of the Whittaker version so beloved of English tenors – well, it used to be.
The Gurney songs offer familiar settings. Kennedy sees Severn Meadows rather darkly, melancholically – withdrawn and blanched. In Flanders is again rather lacking in ardency and there’s a strident climax. On the basis of their performances here the Kennedy-Drake pairing offer a subdued, interior Gurney whose fleeting, visionary joys have been knocked out of him.
Collectors will welcome the Goossens songs because of their rarity and competence. Threshold is rightly stern whilst A winter-night Idyll employs its subtle impressionism with great precision, and takes the voice high. After this the voluptuous, urgent fulsome Seascape offers a different kind of contrast. O cool is the Valley wears Francophile plumage and there’s a terse, compact setting of I hear an army to expand still further the range of Goossens’s settings. This is valuable work, expertly done.
Beale’s readings are warm, intimate and perhaps over-conversational now and again, though this is very much a matter of taste.
There are full English texts of all songs and poems, which have been appropriately and expertly selected for their tensions and juxtapositions – Browne and Brooke for instance, who were great friends, Goossens’s seabird in the lovely All day I hear the noise of waters nestling next to Hardy’s The Darkling Thrush. Clever.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Michael Cookson



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