PARADISE ON EARTH
Reginald SPOFFORTH (c.1768 – 1827) Hail! Smiling Morn [1.40] (1)
Anon. (c.1500) England, be glad [1.36] (1)
Samuel WEBBE (1740 – 1816) My pocket’s low and taxes high [3.27](1)
J. Frederick BRIDGE (1844 – 1924) Two Snails [2.48](1)
George MACFARREN (1813 – 1887) Orpheus, with his lute [3.19] (1)
John DOWLAND (1563 – 1626) Time Stands Still [2.49](2)
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848 – 1918) Love Wakes [2.39] (1)
Robert L. PEARSALL (1795 – 1856) There is a paradise on earth [3.13] (1)
Ralph Vaughan WILLIAMS (1872 – 1958) Bushes and Briars [2.41] (1)
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857 – 1934) As torrents in Summer [2.31] (1)
Ralph Vaughan WILLIAMS (1872 – 1958) Linden Lea [2.34] (1)
Thomas MORLEY (1557 – 1602) April is in my mistress face [1.23] (1)
Henry PURCELL (1659 – 1695) Winter [1.53] (1)
William HORSLEY (1774 – 1858) Slow, slow, fresh fount [2.55] (1)
William CORNYSH (c.1470 – 1523) Adieu, adieu, my heartes lust [2.17] (1)
Thomas CAMPION (1567 – 1620) Never weather beaten sail [2.34] (2)
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852 – 1924) Hush, sweet lute [3.18] (1)
Richard FARRANT (c.1530 – 1580) Hide not Thou thy face from us, O Lord [1.36] (2)
A.E. HOUSMAN (1859 – 1936) How clear, how lovely bright [1.35] (3)
Oxford Liedertafel (1); James Bowman (counter-tenor) (2); Dorothy Linell (lute) (2); Colin Dexter (reader) (3)
rec. August 2010, St. Michael and All Angels Church, Oxford
MAPROOM MR0071 [46.59]
Oxford Liedertafel was founded in 2003 and this is their first recording. As the name suggests, they are Oxford-based: an all-male singing group consisting of counter-tenor, two tenors and bass (Stephen Burrows, Ben Alden, Matthew Vine, Duncan Saunderson).
For this, their first recording, they have chosen a programme which wanders widely over the English part-song repertoire. It is in fact a celebration of it with music ranging from the 15th century through to the 20th century. They open with a glee by the 18th century organist, composer and music teacher Reginald Spofforth; in fact Hail! Smiling morn has been described as one of the most popular glees in the repertory, an apt way to open the disc.
This is followed by an anonymous 16th century piece, England, be glad, a patriotic piece (in three parts) which encourages Englishmen to take up arms against the French. Another glee follows, this time by Samuel Webbe. He was organist at the Royal Sardinian Embassy’s Roman Catholic Chapel and author of many glees and catches. My pocket’s low is a rather curious specimen as Webbe segues from his complaints about taxes into a rendition of the National Anthem. Another novelty follows, from a century later, J. Frederick Bridge’s cautionary tale Two Snails in which an English snail refuses to join a French partner in France because they cook snails in batter there! We finish this section on a more serious note, Orpheus, with his lute, by George MacFarren, professor at the Royal Academy and general all-round musical reactionary.
There follows the first of three contributions from counter-tenor James Bowman and lutenist Dorothy Linell. This first is Time stands still by John Dowland, entirely appropriate words given that Bowman’s voice comes over with a beauty and freshness which belies his age.
The composers of the next group of pieces are rather better known and in fact, a couple of the items are downright famous. Parry’s Love Wakes, is from late in his career (1910) and sets words by Sir Walter Scott. Robert L. Pearsall’s There is a Paradise on Earth is a lovely number which give the disc its title. RVW’s Bushes and Briars and Linden Lea need no introduction but may not be as familiar in their part-song guise. As Torrents in Summer in fact comes from Elgar’s oratorio King Olaf but is frequently found, as here, out on its own.
We move back to the 16th century for Morley’s popular madrigal April is in my Mistress face. Purcell’s Winter is in fact taken from his semi-opera The Fairy Queen and is rendered here in an uncredited arrangement for unaccompanied chorus. William Cornysh’s Adieu, adieu my heartes lust completes this group; Cornysh is better known for his sacred pieces and this secular one makes a welcome appearance.
For his second item James Bowman moves to Thomas Campion, Never Weather beaten sail, sung with his familiar attention to both line and text.
Oxford Liedertafel’s final contribution is a Stanford’s haunting part-song, Hush, sweet lute. Bowman finishes the musical contributions with Richard Farrant’s sacred song, Hide not Thou Thy face from us, O Lord though this sounds as though Bowman might have been more comfortable in a slightly lower key.
But this is not the end, the final item is Colin Dexter reading A.E. Housman’s How clear, how lovely bright.
This is an interesting and imaginative programme which will appeal to all lovers of the English part-song. Oxford Liedertafel is a talented and vocally distinctive ensemble, where the individual voices contribute rather than blandly blending. The recording was done in the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Oxford, but though the church acoustic provides something of a distant aura around the voices, the recording is generally quite close. This is admirable in that it enables us to hear the words, which we need to as the disc comes without texts. But the recording clarity has its drawbacks and we can hear every little hesitation and blemish in the performance. This affects counter-tenor Stephen Burrows most. He has a very white, English counter-tenor voice with no vibrato to hide behind; it would have been helpful if his voice could have been placed in a warmer, more flattering acoustic.
James Bowman is recorded differently to the Liedertafel, so that there is a disjoint in acoustic and placing of the voice when he sings. That said, the recording does capture his voice beautifully. I would also have preferred if Dorothy Linell’s lute had been a little more prominent and less retiring.
The disc comes with notes about the performers and some information on the music, though it might have been helpful to provide more information and perhaps texts for the lesser known pieces on the disc.
Making CDs is an expensive and difficult process and it is to Oxford Liedertafel’s credit that this, their first, has come out so well. But there is a significant gap between a creditable recording and a superb one. Unfortunately this disc does not quite make that leap. It lacks the instant attraction of performances that immediately distinguish themselves, that come out and grab you.
Oxford Liedertafel is a talented group of singers and this disc will undoubtedly appeal to all their admirers. Anyone with an interest in English part-song may find that the repertoire here rather appeals. I find myself less than wholehearted in my recommendation mainly because the recorded sound is, to me, less warmly helpful than it could be.
Oxford Liedertafel is a talented group of singers and this disc will undoubtedly appeal to all their admirers.