Songs of Farewell
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The Evening-Watch, Op.43 No.1 [4.59]
Richard Rodney BENNETT (born 1936)
A Good-Night [2.58]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Take him, earth, for cherishing [9.02]
John TAVENER (b.1944)
Funeral Ikos [7.41]
Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
Songs of Farewell, cycle of six songs (1916/18):
a) My soul, there is a country [3.52]
b) I know my soul hath power to know all things [2.04]
c) Never weather-beaten sail [3.22]
d) There is an old belief [4.52]
e) At the round earth’s imagined corners [7.27]
f) Lord, let me know mine end [10.58]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
They are at rest [3.39]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The Turtle Dove [3.18]
Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
The long day closes, arr. Philip Lawson [3.48]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Rest [3.51]
Sir William Henry HARRIS (1883–1973)
Bring us, O Lord God [4.01]
Tenebrae/Nigel Short
rec. rec: 4th November 2010 (track1) and 3rd-5th January 2011 (tracks 2-15) at St. Alban’s Church, Holborn, London, England

The title Songs of Farewell is the name of Sir Hubert Parry’s song-cycle. In fact all the songs on this Signum release come under the heading of Songs of Farewell as they are all connected to death and dying. This maybe obvious to some but nowhere on this release are we really told about this connecting theme; you have to work it out for yourself.

Another thread that links five of the nine English-born composers on the disc is the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London. Parry had a long and influential connection with the RCM being a teacher at the college from its foundation in 1883 and subsequently its director from 1895 until 1918 the year of his death. The composers Holst, Howells, Vaughan Williams and Harris were either pupils or associates of Parry at the RCM.

Parry is the featured composer on the release with his set of six motets titled Songs of Farewell; works composed towards the end of his life. A major figure in the British musical renaissance of the late 19th and early 20th centuries Parry’s music after several decades in the doldrums is undergoing a welcome reassessment. In May this year Parry was the subject of BBC Four’s excellent documentary The Prince and the Composer that was presented by Prince Charles. It would be hard to image that the six motets were not strongly influenced by the great number deaths and terrible casualties caused by the Great War that was raging at the time of composition. He saw at first hand that a number of the RCM pupils and staff who had joined the armed forces had been badly affected. The Songs of Farewell are given controlled performances by Tenebrae and they could hardly be more eloquent. They give an authentic dignity to the moving texts. My favourite of the set My Soul there is a Country is especially affecting. Holst wrote The Evening-Watch subtitled ‘Dialogue between the Body and the Soul’ in 1924. This setting of a Henry Vaughan text is tenderly sung conveying an undercurrent of mystery. A setting of prose by Francis Quarles A Good-Night was composed by Richard Rodney Bennett in 1999. This was Bennett’s contribution to a set of scores written to commemorate the death of Linda McCartney. Sung with warmth this is an agreeable, straightforward song with a prominent bass-line. A master at writing choral works Howells used a fourth-century text for his Take him, earth, for cherishing. Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Howells wrote the memorial anthem in 1963 as a mark of respect. The wide dynamics of Howells’ setting makes a weighty and effective emotional impact. Composed in 1981 John Tavener’s Funeral Ikos is a setting of text from the Greek Orthodox service of The Order for the Burial of Dead Priests. The blend of voices required for Tavener’s homophonic style is remarkable underlining the rapt beauty of the sacred score.

Elgar’s part-song They are at rest also known as Elegy was a commission for Sir Walter Parratt to mark the anniversary of the death of Queen Victoria. For the setting Elgar uses verses from Cardinal Henry Newman’s poem Waiting for the Morning which is given a sensitive rendition with a marked reverential feel. Vaughan Williams is represented by two songs. The first setting The Turtle Dove from 1919 uses one of the folk song arrangements that the composer had himself collected. Tenebrae give a glowing performance impeccably sung with some impressive solo contributions. The song Rest an early score from 1902 sees Vaughan Williams use a Christina Rossetti text. There is a real tenderness to the lovely singing in a setting that has the quality of an Elizabethan madrigal. The earliest work on the disc from 1868 Sir Arthur Sullivan’s part-song The long day closes employs a text by Henry F. Chorley. Melodically memorable Tenebrae give a sensitive and beautifully moulded performance. Bring us, O Lord God is an anthem that Sir William H. Harris composed in 1959. The setting of a poem by John Donne is sung so eloquently conveying a haunting quality.

Stunningly recorded at St. Alban’s church at Holborn the pleasing sound is vividly clear. Nigel Short directs radiant performances, precise and incisive from Tenebrae.

Michael Cookson

Radiant performances, precise and incisive.