Composers, performers, label, venue - this release is pretty
much an entirely Scottish affair, but unlike that country's
scenery it has its flaws. The best poetry, best settings, best
music and best singing happily coincide in the four important
works on the disc: James MacMillan's Three Soutar Settings
- especially the damning, truly shocking final chords of
'The Children' - Edward McGuire's risqué The Web,
here in its premiere recording, Judith Bingham's intriguingly
titled The Shadow Side of Joy Finzi, and Paul Mealor's
three Emily Dickinson poems, Between Eternity and Time.
Irene Drummond does run low on oxygen and falter for a couple
of seconds in the line in Bequest from which Mealor takes
his title, but otherwise sings with ease and feeling, much helped
by the superb writing of these composers and Iain Burnside's
However, though Drummond may be Scottish, her ability to sing
in Scots is far from felicitous. Her r's are routinely untrilled,
her Ls undarkened, and her Ss, vowel qualities and vowel lengths
resoundingly those typical of Sassenachs! Her rendition of MacMillan's
'Scots Song' is as fake-sounding as William Soutar's invented
dialect, and her pronunciation at high speed in John Maxwell
Geddes's setting of Caroline Oliphant's 'The Laird o' Cockpen'
borders on parody, sounding more like plantation-slave African
than Scots. In Lewis Forbes's setting of Hugh MacDiarmid's 'The
Watergaw' there is even a sense that Drummond barely knows the
meaning of the words she is singing - in any case her pronunciations
are once again wayward - 'licht' and 'nicht' are not pronounced
like the German cognates, and 'ye' is not pronounced like the
English town crier's version!
Besides her pronunciation, it has to be said that Drummond's
enunciation is occasionally imperfect, as she garbles a number
of consonants both in Scots and English. She is nonetheless
much more convincing in the non-Scots songs, some of which,
by the bye, appear in this "Contemporary Song from Scotland"
recital only because they were written by a Scottish composer.
Judith Bingham's presence, though very welcome, is not explained
- Drummond and Burnside seem the only Scottish link in her case.
In John McLeod's difficult Three Poems of Irina Ratushinskaya,
Drummond good technique ensures there are no problems, though
the idiosyncratic colouring of her vowels and some consonants
that make her sound slightly foreign at times is fairly noticeable.
As it happens, McLeod's music does not sit particularly well
with Ratushinskaya's texts, which themselves are less than inspired.
Whether that fault lies with Ratushinskaya's originals or David
McDuff's translations, lines like "My eyes are drier than
a fire" and "I will survive into the sadness to name
which is escape" are pretty crummy.
That most celebrated of Scots poets, Robert Burns, is not particularly
honoured by any of the three settings of his works on this disc.
In 'A Red, Red Rose' Drummond sings the frequent, but to Burns
purists annoying, amendment, "O, my luve is like..",
instead of Burns's original - printed in the booklet: "O,
my luve's like..." Also, though labelled as being by Burns,
'Aye Waukin', O' is not his version of the text, but an earlier
folk version that he adapted. It is a great song, though.
Sound quality is good, though there is a fair bit of reverberation,
a shade too much perhaps to be entirely natural for the studio
setting at Crear. The CD booklet is excellent, with full song
texts and fine notes by Edward McGuire on all the music - although
how he arrived at the geylike conclusion that Drummond "hones
the Scots of Maxwell Geddes' settings with a classical accuracy"
is impossible to jalouse.
The recordings of MacMillan, McGuire, Mealor and Bingham are
certainly worth having in any collection of art songs, but the
rest are missable, at least as sung by Drummond.
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