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Songs of War
Simon Keenlyside (baritone)
Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. 14-17 February 2011, Potton Hall, Suffolk, England
Full sung texts provided
Full track list below review
SONY CLASSICAL 88697944242 [73:15]

Experience Classicsonline



 
This Sony release entitled ‘Songs of War’ comprises twenty-nine songs. Simon Keenlyside has predominantly chosen works by English composers and just over half the songs are settings of text by A.E. Housman. I found the title of this collection rather misleading as inspection revealed that the songs are certainly not all settings of texts concerned with war. Adding to the ‘war song’ impression the CD cover contains a sepia photograph of a British officer in the trenches writing a letter home. All but one of the composers lived through the Great War (World War 1) and had been affected by its death and destruction in varying degrees; that doesn’t make all these compositions war songs. A number of the songs have overt war content such as An Incident, The Street Sounds To The Soldiers’ Tread, Beat! Beat! Drums! and Dirge For Two Veterans. Keenlyside explains that songs such as Sea Fever and The Vagabond are included because they “reflect something of the restlessness of so many old soldiers once conflicts are over.” Other songs such as O Fair Enough Are Sky And Plain and In Flanders clearly represent the sense of nostalgic yearning that a soldier posted overseas might feel for his homeland. A number of the composers included here - John Ireland, Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth, Arthur Somervell and Ivor Gurney - had attended the Royal College of Music at the time of Parry and Stanford. The RCM had been greatly affected by the terrible consequences of the Great War and all who went there knew fellow students, masters, friends and family members who had fought and were injured or died in the conflict. In fact Vaughan Williams, Gurney and Butterworth had all served in the Great War themselves with Butterworth sadly losing his life.
 
There is not a dud track on the whole release and one of my favourite songs John Ireland’s Sea Fever, a setting of John Masefield opens the release. I also greatly enjoyed Keenlyside’s expressive rendition of the Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad, popular texts from the poet A.E. Housman that have been set by various composers over the years. The Housman settings Loveliest Of Trees and Is My Team Ploughing? are given especially fine performances, so touching and sensitive in a direct way. Frederick William Harvey’s poem In Flanders was actually put to music by Ivor Gurney whilst he was serving in the Flanders trenches. Commencing with the words “I'm homesick for my hills again - My hills again!” the setting so poignantly reflects Gurney’s intense longing to be back in his beloved Cotswolds. It is most captivatingly interpreted. Gratitude is in order to pianist Malcolm Martineau for providing sensitive accompaniment throughout.
 
This splendid release doesn’t just include what can be described as English ‘art songs’. There are Walt Whitman settings by two non-English composers Beat! Beat! Drums! and Dirge For Two Veterans from the German/American Kurt Weill and An Incident from Ned Rorem, an American. In this collection Keenlyside has resisted the temptation to include English songs from the trio of English composers who perished in the Great War namely W. Dennis Browne; Ernest Farrar and Frederick Kelly - Australian by birth but English by adoption, being educated at Eton and Oxford.
 
I’m an admirer of the marvellous singing and acting of the talented Simon Keenlyside. The last time I heard him in performance was in May 2011 singing the title role in Phyllida Lloyd’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. In ‘Songs of War’ his lyric baritone is sturdy and often dramatic affording a wide range of colours. One senses how much he loves the intimacy of performing these evocative works. As much as I have enjoyed Keenlyside’s interpretations in this type of repertoire I cannot look further than the magnificent baritone voice of Benjamin Luxon. I have several treasured discs of Luxon singing English ‘art songs’ by Vaughan Williams, Gurney, Ireland, Butterworth et al and remain captivated by the depth of expression that the baritone’s voice so confidently conveys. Luxon is eminently suited to this repertoire and displays impressive diction with a deep perception that contains just the right balance of character and empathy. I strongly recommend Luxon with pianist David Willison performing a collection of George Butterworth and Ivor Gurney songs from 1989 at Snape Maltings, Suffolk on Chandos CHAN 8831, a disc of Vaughan Williams songs with Willison from 1986 also at Snape Maltings on Chandos CHAN 8475 and performing a selection of John Ireland songs with pianist Alan Rowlands from 1972/78 at St John’s Smith Square, London on Lyrita SRCD.2261.
 
Simon Keenlyside is on excellent form for Sony with the present collection. Recorded at Potton Hall in Suffolk the sound is of high quality. Sony is to be congratulated for providing full song texts in the booklet.
 
Michael Cookson


Track listing

John IRELAND (1879-1962)
1. Sea Fever [2:19]
Sir Arthur SOMERVELL (1863-1937)
2. Into My Heart An Air That Kills [1:31]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
3. Youth And Love [3:16]
4. The Infinite Shining Heavens [2:14]
George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916)
Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad (1911):
5. Loveliest Of Trees [2:28]
6. When I Was One - And - Twenty [1:22]
7. Look Not In My Eyes [1:59]
8. Think No More, Lad [1:27]
9. The Lads In Their Hundreds [2:15]
10. Is My Team Ploughing? [3:17]
Sir Arthur SOMERVELL (1863-1937)
11. There Pass The Careless People [1:11]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
12. The Night [1:57]
Sir Arthur SOMERVELL (1863-1937)
13. White In The Moon [2:46]
George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916)
14. Bredon Hill [4:20]
15. O Fair Enough Are Sky And Plain [2:28]
16. When The Lad For Longing Sighs [1:40]
17. On The Idle Hill Of Summer [2:58]
18. With Rue My Heart Is Laden [1:38]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
19. The Vagabond [1:48]
TRADITIONAL arranged John IRELAND (1879-1962)
20. The Three Ravens [3:23]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
21. Fear No More The Heat O’ The Sun [5:02]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
22. Thy Hand In Mine [2:54]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
23. The Vagabond [3:12]
Ned ROREM (b. 1923)
24. An Incident [1:56]
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)
25. When Death To Either Shall Come [1:20]
26. In Flanders [2:50]
Sir Arthur SOMERVELL (1863-1937)
27. The Street Sounds To The Soldiers’ Tread [2:05]
Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
28. Beat! Beat! Drums! [3:18]
29. Dirge For Two Veterans [4:11]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 


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