The Shadow Side: Contemporary Song from Scotland
James MACMILLAN (b.1959)
Three Soutar Settings [15:14]
Edward MCGUIRE (b.1948)
The Web: Five Love Songs [14:25]
John MCLEOD (b.1934)
Three Poems of Irina Ratushinskaya [8:17]
John Maxwell GEDDES (b.1941)
Aye Waukin, O! [arrangement] [3:39]
The Laird o' Cockpen [arrangement] [2:21]
Two Arrangements [6:01]
Judith BINGHAM (b.1952)
The Shadow Side of Joy Finzi [7:23]
Lewis FORBES (b.1987)
Two Songs [from: Songs - Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect] [5:21]
Paul MEALOR (b.1975)
Between Eternity and Time [9:37]
Roderick WILLIAMS (b.1965)
A Red, Red Rose [arrangement] [62:40]
Irene Drummond (soprano)
Iain Burnside (piano)
rec. Crear, Argyll, Scotland, 16-18 November 2010. DDD
DELPHIAN DCD34099 [69:04]

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 marvellous musicianship.

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.

Collected reviews and contact at

These recordings of MacMillan, McGuire, Mealor and Bingham are certainly worth having but the rest are missable.