Sir Arthur SOMERVELL (1863-1937)
Maud: (I hate the dreadful hollow; A voice by the Cedar Tree; She came to the Village Church; O let the solid ground; Birds in the High Hall-garden; Go not, happy day; I have led her home; Come into the garden, Maud; The fault was mine; Dead, long dead; O that ’twere possible; My life has crept so long)
Sir William STERNDALE BENNETT (1815-1875)
Six Songs: (Musing on the roaring ocean; May-dew; Forget-me-not; To Chloe; The Past; Gentle Zephyr)
Three Songs from Op. 35: (Indian Love; Winter’s Gone; Dawn gentle Flower)
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Five Early Songs: (The Valley of Silence; When the Dew is Falling; By the Grey Stone; The Bride's Song; When there is Peace)
Three Rondeaux: (Roses; A Rondel of Rest; Her Scuttle Hatt)
Alfred TENNYSON (1809-1892)
Maud (The Monodrama)
Stephen Roberts (baritone), Terence Allbright (piano), Gabriel Woolf (reader)
rec. details not supplied. DDD
PRELUDE RECORDS CDPR2552 [77.10 + 60.59]

I must confess to having been disappointed by this two-disc set – a shame, given the lovely programme it bears of Somervell’s Maud and songs by William Sterndale Bennett and Herbert Howells. The problem is the entire disc lacks professionalism. The sound is boomy, overly reverberant and woolly. The suitably dramatic opening is therefore completely muffled. I cannot find mention anywhere on the disc or in the notes of the recording location and can only come to the conclusion that it was recorded in someone’s living room on poor recording equipment. The disc is poorly presented – with a confusing layout of notes and important details - such as timings, and the aforementioned recording location! - omitted.

The performers also failed to impress. Baritone Stephen Roberts is better in the more dramatic works, but his performances of these pieces strike one as over the top and too sensationalist – lacking in genuine understanding and emotion. The words are very unclear – a combination of his enunciation and the sound issues. I found his voice - which sometimes seems to strain - lacking in finesse and too histrionic; his vibrato too excessive for English solo song. The lighter songs require far more sensitivity and delicacy than Roberts brings – for example, Go not happy day, or Come into the Garden, Maud are too heavy, not light or lilting enough – they don’t skip, don’t flow. Herbert Howells’s Valley of Silence is a truly beautiful song – yet the performance here is deficient in subtlety and tenderness – the fine nuances are lost – and even the piano accompaniment comes across as rather pedestrian. Pianist Terence Allbright appears, like Roberts, to be more comfortable when it comes to the louder, more dramatic music, and neither seems able to bring the gossamer delicacy that is requisite for a number of these songs.

The second disc of the set contains Tennyson’s Maud monodrama read by Gabriel Woolf. This is much better, both in terms of the recorded sound and excellent performance from Woolf.

Em Marshall

This failed to impress.