My True Love Hath My Heart - English Songs
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
O Waly, Waly (1945-6) [3:44]
How sweet the answer (1957) [1:51]
Corpus Christi Carol (1961) [2:42]
Early one morning (1951-59) [2:29]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
King David (1919) [5:15]
Come sing and dance (1927) [3:58]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Her Song (1925) [2:45]
My true love hath my heart (1920) [1:57]
Tryst (1928) [3:24]
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)
Sleep (1914) [3:04]
By a Bierside (1916) [4:21]
Gavotte (1919) [3:37]
Lost Love (1934) [4:00]
Michael HEAD (1900-1975)
Foxgloves (1932) [3:39]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
The First Mercy (1927) [2:51]
Michael HEAD
Cotswold Love (1938) [2:39]
Sir Richard Rodney BENNETT (b. 1936)
A History of the Thé Dansant (1994) [10:33]
Sarah Connolly (mezzo); Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. 1-2 February 2011, All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London
English texts included
CHANDOS CHAN 10691 [63:00]

Chandos downloads may be obtained from the ClassicalShop

This new Chandos disc brings together one of my favourite singers, Sarah Connolly, and one of my favourite musical genres, namely English song. So it’s a promising prospect and, happily, the disc lives up to all my expectations.

As Michael Pilkington puts it in his useful booklet notes, “Herbert Howells takes pride of place in this recording.” Miss Connolly offers a song that is not only one of Howells’ finest compositions but also, I would suggest, one of the finest of all English songs. King David is a masterpiece and Miss Connolly delivers one of the best performances of it that I can recall hearing. She conveys the melancholy of the piece but she also puts across its nobility – after all, this is a king we’re observing. No less admirable as a song is Come sing and dance. This is music of rapt joy, which Connolly sings superbly. The word ‘Alleluia’ recurs frequently in this song and every time it does Howells sets it to wonderful melismatic phrases. In the final stanza the music attains an ecstatic air which, in this performance certainly, puts me in mind of some of the composer’s finest liturgical music. Perhaps less well known is Gavotte. In its homage to an antique instrumental form in the accompaniment Michael Pilkington very perceptively compares this song with Denis Browne’s wonderful song To Gratiana Dancing and Singing. As well as enjoying Sarah Connolly’s singing, this song is one of many opportunities on the disc to savour the excellent pianism of Malcolm Martineau.

There are also two magnificent songs by Howells’ great friend from Gloucester days, Ivor Gurney. Sleep is one of Gurney’s most inspired settings, deeper, I think, than Peter Warlock’s of the same words, excellent though Warlock’s is. I love Connolly’s performance. She’s really eloquent in her delivery and brings to the song – as she does to everything else on the disc – rich, full vocal tone and an impressive clarity of diction; she understands the words and cares about them. The other Gurney song, By a Bierside, is a setting of a 1910 poem by John Masefield. One of several remarkable things about this song is that Gurney wrote it in the trenches during World War One. He set the poem from memory, making only a handful of small errors in his recollection. It’s an imposing song and Miss Connolly invests it with suitable feeling. At first sight - or hearing - the quasi-triumphalist way in which Gurney sets the last few words of the text – “it is most grand to die” – seems at variance with the preceding words and with the way in which Gurney has set them. But what thoughts of mortality were in Gurney’s mind at the time and in the place that he composed this song? Was there irony here; a touch of ‘dulce et decorum est’? Perhaps we get a fuller insight when he concludes the setting by having the singer repeat just the words “most grand” softly over hushed piano chords. Connolly and Martineau catch the poignant mood perfectly.

The songs by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett are interesting on several levels – is this their first recording, I wonder? There are three songs, all to poems by the composer’s sister, Meg Peacocke. She contributes a lively and interesting note in the booklet, telling us that the poems hark back to memories of her parents and also stem from her own fascination with the 1920s. The poems are clever and her brother has set them most attractively. The second song, entitled ‘Slow Foxtrot’, includes the line “elegant, à la mode”, and that phrase actually describes very precisely the music to which Bennett has set the poem. The last of the three songs, ‘Tango’, has a wonderful twist to it. In the final stanza we realise that the preceding four verses have been the memories of one half of an elderly couple, recalling the days of youth when they were young and carefree, revelling in the pleasures of dancing. It’s a most touching end to this mini-cycle. Sarah Connolly gives a beguiling performance of Bennett’s songs.

She’s equally successful in the Britten items – including three of his folksong arrangements – and the pieces by Michael Head, Ireland and Warlock are all well chosen and performed with great intelligence and musicianship by both artists.

This is an outstanding recital of English song. Dip into any selection of the contents and you’ll be richly entertained but listening from the very start of the programme right through to the end is an especially delightful experience.

John Quinn

An outstanding recital of English song.