A North Country Lass – A Selection of Sixteen Folk Music Songs
Henry VIII (1491-1547)
Pastime with Good Company
Robert BURNS (1759-1796)
My Love is Like a Red Red Rose
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
Fine Knacks for Ladies
The Bold Grenadier, All Around My Hat, Once I had a Sweetheart, Blow the Wind Southerly, He Moved Through the Fair, Suo Gan, The Raggle Taggle Gypsies, The Cuckoo, The Collier Lad, A North Country Lass, Dance to Your Daddy, Over the Hills and Far Away, On Ilkley Moor Baht’at
Lesley Garrett (soprano)
Crouch End Festival Chorus/David Temple
The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra/Paul Bateman
rec. Smecky Music Studios, Prague, Czech Republic, 2012
CD booklet with notes and song texts in English

The press release for Lesley Garrett’s fourteenth solo album, A North Country Lass, states that she is “Britain’s Best Loved Soprano”. This may well be the case but I think she is now something a little different: Lesley Garrett is a real media personality, regularly appearing in popular television shows on BBC, ITV and Sky Arts. She has also successfully managed a so-called “cross-over”, receiving critical acclaim and enjoying success with her roles in such musicals as The Sound of Music and Carousel.
With A North Country Lass, Ms Garrett reveals yet another musical facet of her flexible approach to singing and her special touch when it comes to pleasing audiences. In her own words, she “grew up with folk music and then grew into an opera singer”. Presumably with this album she is not only returning to her roots but also giving a fresh make-over to folk music, which, as she puts it, “is in all of us, it is the country’s unconscious musical heart-beat”.
There is much to enjoy in this recording. Garrett’s voice is fresh, clear and it has not lost its youthful appeal. She has perfect enunciation and a secure, accomplished technique, which are patent throughout. Her delight in singing these songs is noticeable. The interpretation of each piece is colourful and vivid, taking care with the detail and effectively expressing the meaning of the lyrics. I loved her sense of humour in All around my Hat and especially in The Collier Lad - performed in a funny, sassy style, which makes listening very entertaining.
Ms Garrett’s tone is pure and generally very warm. She remains true to each song, meaning that she does not try to transform them into something they are not. Their simplicity and innocence are respected and it is these qualities which, in the end, are those that make these songs beautiful and charming. Perhaps, because I am very fond of opera, my favourite pieces were He moved through the Fair and A North Country Lass, the latter giving the album its title.
A North Country Lass is a satisfying recital that to me was almost unknown. I was born and grew up in Portugal; so, my folk music roots are naturally very different, which may well be why I perceived these songs as slightly exotic and certainly fascinating. I must say however that the overly worked orchestrations, presumably, to make the songs more appealing to modern audiences, did not completely convince me. The beauty of folk music lies mostly in its simplicity. The orchestrations were at times a little too elaborate, spoiling the appeal and the charm. This is certainly the case in Blow the Wind Southerly, overly dramatic at times, suggesting a complexity that is out of place, and Dance to your Daddy, with a completely new middle section composed especially for this recording. This, to me, appeared totally unnecessary. Finally, Fine Knacks for Ladies, composed by John Dowland, to be sung to a lute, would certainly be more attractive if performed as its creator originally intended. Having said all that, not all the songs “suffer” from over-the-top arrangements. Indeed, the majority are orchestrated in a manner that respects the original music and serves the voice. Henry VIII’s Pastime with Good Company is an excellent example, as is the title song, A North Country Lass.
The musicians of The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, led by celebrated conductor, composer and pianist Paul Bateman, are exceptional throughout. The Crouch End Festival Chorus is energetic and enthusiastic, effectively adding vivacity and humour to some of the pieces, notably in All around my Hat.
The CD comes in an attractive packaging with beautifully evocative photographs of northern, misty landscapes. Some of the artist’s photos would have benefited from a little less retouching, though. The texts of the songs are all included, as well as a grateful note by the singer, thanking all the people who, in one way or other, contributed to the completion of the album.
Overall, A North Country Lass is an entertaining, charming recital of folk music; an interesting initiative, put together with great care and exceptionally well performed. Lesley Garrett is in fine form throughout. The CD may not be to everybody’s taste but I am sure her many fans will be delighted with the album and rightfully so!
Margarida Mota-Bull
(Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at http://www.flowingprose.com/)

I am sure that Lesley Garrett’s many fans will be delighted with the album and rightfully so!