The baritone, Mark Stone, has made several
forays into the English song repertoire on CD and, latterly, his
recordings have begun to appear on his own label. I’ve already
enjoyed his mixed recital of songs, entitled ‘English Love’ (review
and an earlier Quilter collection (review
With this latest disc he offers what is probably the most comprehensive
and complete survey on disc of the songs of George Butterworth.
Although not specifically stated in the booklet, I learned from
the label’s website
that the disc includes the first-ever recording of the piano version
of the collection of four songs, Love Blows as the Wind Blows
Also receiving first recordings here are eight of the eleven Folk
Songs from Sussex – and we’re told there are presently no other
available recordings of the remaining three songs – and another
recorded première is accorded to Haste on, my joys!
is of especial interest to Butterworth admirers for the song was
thought to be lost and a copy only turned up as recently as 2001.
So for enterprise and comprehensiveness this collection scores
very highly and, generally speaking, it gets high marks for execution
It’s pointless to speculate how significant a composer George
Butterworth might have become had he not been one of the millions
of young men slaughtered in the carnage that was the trench warfare
of World War I. To compound the tragedy, in August 1915, when
his regiment was ordered to France, he destroyed most of his earlier
compositions because he thought they were unworthy. One such was
the aforementioned Bridges setting, Haste on, my joys!
Quite by chance a copy, not in Butterworth’s hand, was discovered
by a researcher at the English Folk Dance and Song Society less
than a decade ago and it’s good that it has been recorded now.
It’s a romantic setting, in 6/8 time, I think. Whilst it’s not
as distinctive a song as we find in the famous Housman collection
that precedes it on the disc, it’s still well worth hearing and
I’m glad it’s come to light at last.
Butterworth was an avid collector of folksongs, gathering some
three hundred between 1906 and 1913. However, he only arranged
- between 1907 and 1909 - the eleven recorded here, five of which
he collected around the town of Billingshurst. I don’t mean in
any way to disparage the arrangements when I say that they’re
pretty straightforward. By that I mean that Butterworth presents
the songs with a fairly unadorned piano part and allows the basic
melodies, which are memorable in their own right, to come through
and to speak for themselves. In this I think he showed good judgement
and taste, avoiding the temptation to gild the lily into which
Britten for one was wont to fall.
The collection of four songs entitled Love Blows as the Wind
was originally written with string quartet accompaniment
and Butterworth subsequently orchestrated three of them – omitting
the third song for some reason. In that guise I’ve come across
them in Robert Tear’s recording with Vernon Handley (review
but this version, with piano accompaniment, was new to me and
is interesting, not just because the songs themselves are good
but because it’s thought that the piano arrangement may be by
Butterworth is best known for his Housman songs – all of which
are included here – and for the orchestral rhapsody, A Shropshire
, which uses a melody from ‘Loveliest of Trees’, the first
song of Six Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’
. These wonderful
songs and the five collected under the title Bredon Hill and
, seem to me to represent Butterworth at his greatest.
Not only is the melodic inspiration consistently fine and the
piano accompaniments full of interest and colour but also his
acute response to and identification with the texts place these
songs on a higher plain of accomplishment than anything else on
In general Mark Stone is an engaging and good advocate for all
these songs. He clearly loves them and identifies with them –
and he contributes useful booklet notes also. His voice is round,
firm and mostly falls pleasingly on the ear and the text is delivered
clearly. The one reservation I have is that sometimes the notes,
especially sustained notes, don’t always sound to be hit and sustained
right in the centre. Perhaps this is the result of too pronounced
a desire to be expressive? I certainly thought he was trying a
little too hard in ‘Loveliest of Trees’, though, happily, he relaxes
more in the rest of that cycle. Perhaps it’s the way he produces
some vowels? Whatever the reason, sometimes the delivery, and
ones pleasure in it, is slightly marred – I thought I detected
some slightly inaccurate pitching at the start of ‘When the Lad
for Longing Sighs’, the second song in Bredon Hill
I’m surprised that wasn’t re-taken.
That said, there’s much to enjoy in Stone’s performances. In ‘Is
My Team Ploughing’ (Six Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’
he manages the two distinct voices – those of the wistful dead
lad and the robust survivor – very well and all the folksong settings
come across very well. I also admired his sensitivity in the Oscar
Wilde setting, Requiescat
, a song that Butterworth composed
within two months of the death of his own mother.
Throughout the recital Stephen Barlow is a perceptive and supportive
partner, contributing strongly to the success of the enterprise.
The well-documented production includes a short film of Butterworth
engaging in folk dancing in 1912. You can access that by inserting
the CD into your computer.
Overall, this is a valuable and well-produced survey of Butterworth’s
songs, which all devotees of English songs should investigate.