Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950)
Complete Solo Folksong Arrangements: Six Folksongs from Norfolk; The North Sea Ground; High Germany; The Sailor and Young Nancy; The Little Milkmaid; The Jolly Carter; Parson and Clerk; Gaol Song; Six Suffolk Folksongs; Songs (7) from County Kerry
Adrian Thompson (tenor); Marcus Farnsworth (baritone); John Talbot (piano)
Members of the Weybridge Male Voice Choir/Christine Best
rec. Menuhin Hall, Yehudi Menuhin School, Stoke díAbernon, Cobham, Surrey, 20, 27 May and 6 October 2010. DDD
Full contents list at end review

My usual declaration of interest: I am a life member of the British Music Society and am currently editor of the Societyís newsletter.

Moeran did not write a great deal and what he did write has in large part been recorded. Only recently have we had the delight of hearing his ĎComplete solo songsí on Chandos CHAN 10596(2) (review review). The present project shares Adrian Thompson (tenor) and John Talbot (piano) with those Chandos songs. John Talbotís contribution to the Moeran renaissance has been benevolent both as an instigator and as a pianist with the skills and empathy to search out the sensitive and sometimes ebullient soul of this music. Take the fragile and elusive beauty of The Dawning of the Day which he limns in with the unerring strength that lies in restraint as much as heroic assertion. Thompson meets Talbot in splendour of approach. Everything feels just right.

I confess that unadulterated folksongs do not in general hold my attention. These however are done with the irresistible life-enhancing vitality that Moeran gave to his own concert works. This, in general, fends off the worst excesses of pretty milkmaids and the other vapid apparatus of the genre. The songs are varied: poetic settings are mixed in with rough and rolling ballads in the manner of Finziís Budmouth Dears, Irelandís Great Things and Sea Fever, Stanford (Songs of the Sea and Songs of the Fleet) and Warlock (Captain Strattonís Fancy) such as A Seamanís Life and The North Sea Ground. Even so there is time for a most effective and triumphant moment of pensive reflection just at the end of this last song. I wondered from Talbotís way with the utterly fascinating and intensely original asymmetrical rhythmic underpinning of High Germany whether I was in for more of the same Ė no such thing. This is a gloriously shaped song which deserves a concert status of its own. A handful of the songs do suffer from the enervation that goes with an oh-so-precious compositional style. Itís the sort of thing that certainly afflicts The Little Milkmaid, Parson and Clerk and The Tinkerís Daughter. For good or ill I always associated this prissy prancing with Peter Pears. Some Warlock songs are not immune from this phenomenon and when it is coupled with nonsense Ďfaddadiddlesí and the like despair is just one step away. Others will be fortunate in not having this as an obstacle to enjoyment. The members of the Weybridge Male Voice Choir finely take the chorus in The Sailor and Young Nancy, The Jolly Carter and The Gaol Song. John Talbot once again infuses a brightness and glinting dazzle which is more than compensation for the occasional wince provoked by the words in three or four of the songs. Marcus Farnsworth rather nicely darkens his voice for Blackberry Fold, the second of the Six Suffolk Folksongs. Farnsworth Ė the baritone who takes seventeen of the 26 songs - has a fine voice and is well in style carrying off his role with aplomb. Thompson despite a strain in his voice is very affecting in slow sunset warmth of The Isle of Cloy. He takes all seven Songs from County Kerry. These are in the same superior league as the Six Norfolk Songs. Piano parts in all 26 songs are invariably inventive and satisfying but these Kerry and Norfolk sets are excellent in both vocal and piano lines. The Murder of Father Hanratty can be counted in the same company as the subject-related Housman song Farewell to barn and stack and tree from the cycle Ludlow Town.

The 24 page English-only booklet is superbly done. Thereís an essay on E.J. Moeran and Folksong by Roy Palmer of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Thereís also a substantial piece by another Moeran authority, Ian Maxwell on his edition of The North Sea Ground. The sung words are not reproduced but the diction of the two singers is such that every word can be heard. In any event you can download the words in pdf format from the BMS site.

The recording was released on the sixtieth anniversary of Moeranís death on 1 December 1950.

An essential companion to the Moeran songs on Chandos.

Rob Barnett

Everything feels just right. An essential companion to the Moeran songs on Chandos and by no means inferior in quality of invention or execution. Your Moeran collection is incomplete without this disc.

Full contents list

Six Folksongs from Norfolk
1 Down by the Riverside
2 The Bold Richard
3 Lonely Waters
4 The Pressgang
5 The Shooting of His Dear
6 The Oxford Sporting Blade

7 The North Sea Ground
8 High Germany
9 The Sailor and Young Nancy
10 The Little Milkmaid
11 The Jolly Carter
12 Parson and Clerk
13 Gaol Song

Six Suffolk Folksongs
14 Nutting Time
15 Blackberry Fold
16 Cupidís Garden
17 Father and Daughter
18 The Isle of Cloy
19 A Seamanís Life

Songs from County Kerry
20 The Dawning of the Day
21 My Love Passed Me By
22 The Murder of Father Hanratty
23 The Roving Dingle Boy
24 The Lost Lover
25 The Tinkerís Daughter
26 Kitty, I am in Love with You