George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916)
Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad: Loveliest of trees, When I was one-and-twenty, Look not in my eyes, Think no more, lad, The lads in their hundreds, Is my team ploughing? (1911) [12:33]
Bredon Hill and Other Songs from A Shropshire Lad: Bredon Hill, O fair enough are sky and plain, When the lad for the longing sighs, On the idle hill of summer
With rue my heart is laden, (1912) [14:11]
I will make you brooches [2:11]
I fear thy kisses [1:50]
Requiescat [2:52]
Folk Songs from Sussex: A brisk young sailor courted me, Seventeen come Sunday,
Roving in the dew, The true lover’s farewell, Tarry trousers [8:50]
Folk Songs from Sussex: Yonder stands a lovely creature, A blacksmith courted me,
Sowing the seeds of love, A lawyer he went out one day, Come my own one, The cuckoo [10:28]
Roderick Williams (baritone)
Iain Burnside (piano)
rec. January 2010, Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk
NAXOS 8.572426 [52:05]

Two important additions to the Butterworth song legacy have appeared in recent months; this one and a two disc set by Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow entitled The Complete Butterworth Songbook which also includes that famous brief film footage of the composer dancing. I’ve not had access to that for comparative purposes, but I think it’s important to note its arrival.

Roderick Williams is a busy recitalist, performer and recording artist and has carved out a real niche in songs of his native country, of which this disc is the latest manifestation. His diction is fine, his tone warm, rounded and attractive. In the A Shropshire Lad settings he proves simple, straightforward and effective in When I was one-and-twenty, where Burnside’s parting piano comments are supremely deft. The pianist also catches the portentous roll of Think no more lad though here one might wish Williams had been a touch more dramatic; his singing is fluidly lyric though possibly misses out on the more extrovert potential of the poetry. The singing and playing in The lads in their hundreds are especially attractive too, though here again I do feel that Williams rather misses the wrench of it. Alternative ways of doing things abound; for example Graham Trew has a more boyish voice and his singing enshrines an essential fragility of utterance that lends his performance a more on-the-cusp innocence.

The peal and toll of Bredon Hill are well calibrated. Both When the lad for longing sighs and On the idle hill of summer are tricky to balance but the duo manages well. With rue my heart is laden is well hued but once more it lacks the last ounce of loss; the piano postlude too goes for a staunch resolution, whilst Gerald Moore in 1954, for John Cameron, leaves us with our thoughts held tantalisingly unresolved, and undefined, even bereft.

Stephen Varcoe and Clifford Benson in their two CD War’s Embers album are more yielding and ‘softer’ than Williams and Burnside in Requiescat. In I will make you brooches Williams proves confident and alluring.

In the Sussex songs he manages to vest A blacksmith courted me with a degree of poignancy. A lawyer he went out one day is one of the best of these Sussex settings. One recalls Wilfred Brown’s inimitable interpretation. Seventeen come Sunday is certainly brisk and in Roving in the dew Williams puts on an accent; a little overdone perhaps for everyday listening but this is invariably a tricky question; to overstate and run the risk of putting off repeated listening, or understate and thereby court indifference, especially in strophic songs.

I enjoyed the disc greatly despite my localised reservations. It’s well recorded, and well balanced too.

There have been a number of recordings of this music, or some of it – mostly not including the Sussex folksongs. Amongst the most notable and extensive – this is not meant to be exhaustive and I’ve tended to stay away from single songs by notable artists in recitals – are the following. The last item in the list below is the one that provides me with the greatest weight of response, both of power and introspection, and the greatest burden of loss, and is the one I could least do without.

Bredon Hill in a mixed programme of VW, W Dennis Browne and Somervell - Christopher Maltman, Roger Vignoles [Hyperion CDA67378]

Butterworth/Gurney - Benjamin Luxon, David Willison [Chandos CHAN8831]

Somervell, Butterworth, Peel, Gurney. Butterworth: Six songs from “A Shropshire lad” - Graham Trew, Roger Vignoles [Meridian CDE84185]

War’s Embers; Stephen Varcoe, Clifford Benson (and Michael George, Martyn Hill) [Hyperion CDH55237]

The Complete Butterworth Songbook; Mark Stone, Stephen Barlow [Stone Records 5060192780024]

A Shropshire Lad; Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Graham Johnson with poems read by Alan Bates [Hyperion CDD22044]

John Cameron, Gerald Moore in a recital of British songs by various singers [Dutton CDLX7104]

Jonathan Woolf

I enjoyed this disc greatly despite my localised reservations. It’s well recorded, and well balanced too.