for £12 postage paid World-wide.
Landscapes: Ynys Môn, for high voice (tenor) and piano, op.87 (1975)
Two Songs from Glamorgan, for tenor and piano (1990) [4:30]
The Silver Hound, for tenor and piano, op.121 (1985) [11:10]
*'One Must Always Have Love', for soprano and piano,
op.152 no.3 (1994) [8:20]
*#+Towy Landscape op.190, for soprano, baritone and piano duet (2006)
Six Welsh Folksongs, for high voice (tenor) and piano (trad. arr.
Hoddinott) (1982) [11:48]
Nicky Spence (tenor); *Claire Booth (soprano); #Jeremy Huw Williams
(baritone); Andrew Matthews-Owen (piano); +Michael Pollock (piano
rec. Yehudi Menuhin School, 14, 29 October 2009, 18 February 2010.
BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY BMS437CD [60:07]
This alluring CD brings together in first recordings a diverse
collection of Welsh composer Alun Hoddinott's songs for
voice and piano. Not all of Hoddinott's music makes for
the easiest of listening, and that is broadly true of the songs.
For those new to his music, the best point of entry into this
CD is at the end, with his genial arrangement of Six Welsh Folksongs.
These are rather like Britten's folksongs: nostalgic,
tuneful, straightforward. Not really pure Hoddinott, of course,
but an unassuming appetiser. The Two Songs from Glamorgan are
similarly approachable, albeit more darkly ambiguous in tone.
Britten's, in fact, is a name that comes to mind in several
places throughout this programme, particularly in a number of
'declamatory' passages. Without any implication
of derivativeness, those who enjoy Britten's songs should
very much appreciate Hoddinott, although the listener should
be prepared for a certain degree of mild atonality in places.
Both sets of folksong arrangements are sung by the very impressive
Nicky Spence, who does in fact have the lion's share
of this disc. Already it may be worth noting that, though Spence
has an expressive, theatrically appealing voice - indeed, he
manages to make Landscapes sound like Shakespeare at The Globe
- it is hard to imagine anyone sounding less Welsh, with his
immaculate Received Pronunciation vowels. Indeed, he comes from
Scotland! Baritone Jeremy Huw Williams is certainly Welsh, but
his contribution here is limited. Claire Booth, as fine as her
own performances are, is English. Given the quintessential Welshness
of the subject matter of most of these songs, it would have
made a fitting coup de maître for them to have been
heard with a native Welsh lilt. This would have been an ideal
opportunity, indeed, to publish a few art songs in Welsh, a
language certainly more closely linked historically to Anglesey
(Ynys Môn) and the rural Carmarthenshire of Grongar Hill than
English. Hoddinott's works often have a bilingual aspect,
and although he was not a Welsh speaker, his wife was - the
Six Folksongs are her translations - and he was naturally sympathetic
to Welsh bilingualism.
The texts for the five Landscapes are by Welsh writer Emyr Humphreys,
who published them in 1976 as a set of ten poems, which he subtitled
"A Sequence of Songs" - and they do indeed seem especially
well-suited to Hoddinott's vivid but sympathetic treatment.
Humphreys still lives on Anglesey, now well into his nineties.
He was once described by R. S. Thomas as "the supreme interpreter
of Welsh life in English". The ruminative, weather-beaten,
modernist-with-a-smile style and tone of Landscapes reappear
in The Silver Hound, settings of Ursula Vaughan-Williams's
specially-written texts that consider, at journey's end,
"seven ages" of man - baby, Schoolboy, Soldier, Lover,
Statesman, Old Man, corpse.
Claire Booth's soprano brings some vocal contrast to
the well-balanced programme in 'One Must Always Have
Love', Hoddinott's filigree, almost ecstatic setting
of four love poems by Christina Rossetti, Dickinson, Yeats and
Alice Bliss, who commissioned the work. Booth handles the high
tessitura with great aplomb. She is back in Towy Landscapes,
in which Hoddinott immortalises John Dyer's Grongar Hill,
a poem that in its turn immortalises the scenic landscapes of
the Towy Valley in Carmarthenshire - though both the hill and
the poem are in themselves substantially unremarkable. This
work, though widely held to be Hoddinott's finest song
cycle, is the most modernistic of the programme, and perhaps
best considered last, after Hoddinott's progressive musical
ideas here have been contextualised by the other works.
On the other hand, it must be said that the combination of soprano
and baritone is not entirely satisfactory - the question "why
baritone?" looms repeatedly, at least during Jeremy
Huw Williams's relatively unconvincing account. Towy
Landscapes was commissioned by pianist Andrew Matthews-Owen,
asking for the work to be written for himself and his three
co-performers here. For Hoddinott the last lines, "Calmly
regardless hastening to the sea, As I thro' life shall
reach Eternity", proved poignantly prophetic - this was
his penultimate vocal work and death was sadly not far off.
Both Booth and especially Spence display great sensitivity and
communicativeness in their interpretations, as does their stalwart
pianist Matthews-Owen. He does not always have a huge amount
to do - for one thing, Hoddinott was not a pianist (his thirteen
Sonatas, however, though short, suggest otherwise), and
for clarity's sake, his keeps his writing generally straightforward.
Nevertheless, Matthews-Owen is always technically au fait and
reliably expressive, and his responsiveness towards Spence in
particular is exemplary.
The booklet contains full song texts and an interesting, detailed
essay by Geraint Lewis, albeit printed in unnecessarily dense
type and heading off tangentially to discuss Hoddinott's
still-neglected operas. The atmospheric picture on the front
cover, like it or not, is John Piper's 'Grongar
Hill'. Sound and general technical quality are high.
Matthews-Owen's pedal action is sometimes quite obvious,
but otherwise there are no noises off, except in 'O Gentle
Dove' where Spence can clearly be heard flicking the
pages of his score over.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
see also reviews by Hubert
France and Mark