The Art of Roland Hayes – Six Centuries of Song
Full track listing at end of review
Roland Hayes (tenor)
Reginald Boardman (piano)
rec. 1953-54.
PREISER 93462 [59:29 + 73:32]

This is an admirable salute to the marvellous Roland Hayes. The recordings with the attentive pianist Reginald Boardman derive from Vanguard and Heritage LP productions in the years 1953 and 1954, by which time the tenor was in his mid-sixties. It’s idle to pretend that his best years weren’t long behind him. Think back – or listen to - the pre-war recordings, not least the acoustic Vocalions he made in London, to encounter the singer in his youthful prime and at the peak of his vocal prowess.

Nevertheless these LPs sought to capture a chronological survey of his repertoire on disc that had never been done before in the bifurcated art song/spirituals element of his music-making. Thus we have a repertoire ranging from Machaut to Wolf via Monteverdi, Handel, Schubert, folk song and much else besides. The long spirituals sequence reprises many of his greatest achievements on disc but also expands on them substantially.

His light lyric tenor is put to the service of the music with great warmth and communicative presence. There’s wit in his singing of La tambourin in the arrangement by Julien Tiersot. If the under-throb of his vibrato intrudes in the Caccini, and if he essays a species of ‘head croon’ it’s so inimitably done as to silence criticism. Yes, Mein Freund möcht sich wohl mehren is vitiated by a warm frailty, and the Bach is too reverently done with the croon still in evidence, but his Schubert Der Musensohn is engagingly done, and the parlando he makes of Debussy’s Le faune no less so, in his own way. Of the spirituals on the first disc I’d direct you particularly to three. Firstly to the conversational intensity of Ezekiel saw de wheel, secondly to the unaccompanied intensity of O Mary don´t you weep and finally to the spellbinding, wrenching and also unaccompanied Po’ pilgrim.

The second disc reflects the first quite well; the repertoire choices are similar in intent. Have you seen but a whyte lily grow is charming, but shaky. The voice is heavier in Dowland, and his Greensleeves is unaccompanied. Vi ricordo o bosch´ ombrosi from Monteverdi’s Orfeo was unusual repertoire for the time, whilst his Du bist die Ruh is like the rest of his Schubert, rather soft grained. Villa-Lobos harmonized the traditional African chant Xango – a rarity, once again. But when we get to the spirituals and work songs proper we feel Hayes’s narrative gifts spreading wide. Listen to the intense Lit’l Boy as well as to the unaccompanied songs to hear how a singer such as he can go straight to the solar plexus. He has the command of an Old Testament prophet in He never said a mumberlin’ word. And though he had long ceded popular status to Robeson in this repertoire, it was Hayes and singers like him who had earlier established the genre on records and in concert halls. He was a pioneer.

The transfers are unproblematic and there are concise notes. This survey of the older Hayes embodies a wide corpus of his repertoirial enthusiasms. At his best, even with the voice worn, he has powerful communicative insights to offer.

Jonathan Woolf

Track listing:
CD 1
Guillaume de MACHAUT (ca. 1300-1377)
Douce dame jolie [01:32]
L´amour de moi arr. by Julien Tiersot [2:28]
Le tambourin arr. by Julien Tiersot [1:22]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Maledetto sia l´aspetto [1:31]
Giulio CACCINI (1550-1618)
Amarilli [3:19]
Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736)
Alma del core [3:00]
Alone I live arranged Cooper W Pearce [2:45]
Mein Freund möcht sich wohl mehren [1:33]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Die rechte Stimmung [1:58]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Bist Du bei mir [3:03]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Der Jüngling an der Quelle [1:16]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sehnsucht [1:49]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die Liebe hat gelogen [2:44]
Der Musensohn [2:37]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Absence [4:58]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Le faune [1:34]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Song of Salomon [2:13]
Pity a po´boy [2:44]
O le´ me shine [1:58]
Too late! [1:54]
Ezekiel saw de wheel [2:12]
O Mary don´t you weep [2:17]
Good news [2:02]
Every time I feel the spirit [1:38]
Po´ pilgrim [2:59]
As one people [1:52]
CD 2
Have you seen but a whyte lily grow [2:20]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
Come again, Sweet Love [2:53]
Greensleeves [2:27]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Orfeo: Vi ricordo o bosch´ ombrosi [1:45]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Tamerlano: Figlia mia, non pianger no [2:45]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Warnung [1:59]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Wonne der Wehmut [2:47]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Du bist die Ruh [3:53]
Wohin? [1:55]
Nacht und Träume [3:09]
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
Auch kleine Dinge [2:02]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Beau soir [2:10]
Micheu Banjo [1:31]
Poeme Persiano de "Rubaiyat" [2:23]
To people who have gardens [2:11]
Somebody´s knockin´ at yo´ door [2:04]
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child [2:24]
My God is so high [1:52]
Lord, how come me here? [2:02]
Po´ me! [1:58]
How long ´fo de sun go down? [1:38]
Day is gone [1:14]
Git up Chillin, go roun´ de wall [1:21]
Xango (traditional African chant, harmonized by Heitor Villa-Lobos) [1:53]
Lit´l girl, li´tl girl? Yes mam! [1:05]
Roun´ about de mountain [2:15]
Lit´l Boy (Christ in the temple) [4:09]
He never said a mumberlin´ word [3:18]
Were you there [4:23]
Plenty good room [1:56]
Swing low, sweet chariot [3:36]