Alun HODDINOTT (1929–2008)
Landscapes (Ynys Môn) Op.87 (1975)* [13:44]
Two Songs from Glamorgan (1990)** [4:30]
The Silver Hound Op.121 (1985)*** [11:10]
One Must Always Have Love Op.152 No.3 (1994)**** [8:20]
Towy Landscape Op.190 (2006)***** [10:36]
Six Welsh Folksongs (1982)****** [11:48]
Claire Booth (soprano)****,*****; Nicky Spence (tenor)*,**,***; Jeremy Huw Williams (baritone)*****; Andrew Matthews-Owen (piano)*,**,***,****,*****,******); Michael Pollock (piano)*****
rec. 14, 29 October 2009 and 18 February 2010 Menuhin Hall, Yehudi Menuhin School, Cobham, Surrey DDD
This is a collection of half a dozen sets of songs by Welsh composer, Alun Hoddinott, who dominated that country's musical scene for half a century. Three singers - Claire Booth (soprano), Nicky Spence (tenor), and Jeremy Huw Williams (baritone) - share the hour's worth of singing accompanied by the piano of Andrew Matthews-Owen (primo) and that of Michael Pollock (secundo) in Towy Landscape, the most substantial single piece at over ten and a half minutes [tr.20].
This CD gathers all those of Hoddinott's songs which were not withdrawn for soprano, tenor, and baritone together with the aforementioned Towy Landscape, the composer's last vocal work. Thus, the collection makes a good introduction or summation of his work in the genre. There is no comparable collection - precious few of Hoddinott's songs at all - in the current catalogue. The quality and interpretative sensitivity and subtlety of the soloists here is more than high enough to make this CD, for all that, one to be recommended.
The scene is set with the gently evocative Landscapes (Ynys Môn) to words by Emyr Humphreys. These are the first such set of Hoddinott's in his surviving canon and coincides with his first opera. They represent a nice translation to the smaller scale of the calibre of vocal writing of which Hoddinott was so capable. He's able to judge and exploit the ways in which the voice can articulate purely verbal ideas, sensations and contrasts - but in music. For all their ability to conjure up the island of Anglesey, though, they are the least purely original with tinges of several mid-century British songwriters.
The two sets of two and six 'folk' songs were each written for specific occasions and performers. They are usually sung in English translation, those of Geraint Lewis and Hoddinott's wife, Rhiannon, respectively. The composer's 'treatment' of them is more prominent than are our expectations of conventional modal and pastoral origins. Enjoyable all the same. The Silver Hound is a set of eight short songs to words by Ursula Vaughan Williams looking at seven possible ages of a person as they travel through life. By this stage, Hoddinott's evident sense of the profound is well conveyed by - in this case - Nicky Spence.
One aspect of this CD is the sequencing. Variety and contrast are afforded, for example, by the inclusion, next, of the striking One Must Always Have Love the first set with soprano. From 1994, this is noticeably more mature. Hoddinott's power to write truly reflective music to the words of four 19th and 20th century poets is striking. Claire Booth's attachment to One Must Always Have Love shows that these are songs of import and consequence. When one recalls that Hoddinott at this time was also setting Donne, Herbert and Blake in orchestral works, their seriousness is not surprising. They repay careful repeated listening.
The real gem of the CD, though, remains the searching and at times almost transcendental Towy Landscape; the words are from John Dyer's (1699-1757) Grongar Hill in a setting for soprano and baritone and piano duet. Although the theme is ostensibly pastoral landscape, the symbolism and inference which one would expect from a contemporary of Alexander Pope are evident. And expertly articulated by the four performers.
The booklet, set in rather too close type, has good background information with much reference to contemporary events and all the texts as well as biographies of the singers and pianists. In the end, it's on their strengths and subtlety of interpretation and (technical) execution that the success of this CD rests. Hoddinott would surely have been proud. Nothing revolutionary or ground-breaking. But honest and worthy aims of composer and performers expertly and carefully seen through with real feeling.
Mark Sealey
The only collection of all Hoddinott's solo vocal music for piano currently available. Technically expert. Interpretatively convincing. A little treat.