Margaret Ruthven LANG (1867-1972)
Love is Everywhere - Selected Songs, Volume 1
Ojalá (1889) [1:47]
My Lady Jacqueminot (1889) [1:34]
Ghosts (1889) [1:00]
Deserted (1890) [1:49]
'The Jade Flute' (no.1 from: Three Songs, op.6 (1891)) [1:42]
'A Poet Gazes on the Moon' (no.3 from: Three Songs of the East, op.8) [2:53]
'The Sky Ship' (no.3 from: Four Songs, op.9 (1892)) [1:23]
'Betrayed' (no.4 from: Four Songs, op.9 (1892)) [2:32]
Irish Love Song, op.22 (1895) [2:24]
Summer Noon (no.4 from: Six Songs, op.37 (1902)) [1:36]
'Morning' (no.4 from:  Songs for Lovers of Children, op.39) [0:50]
'Evening' (no.5 from:  Songs for Lovers of Children, op.39) [1:26]
'The Sandman' (no.6 from:  Songs for Lovers of Children, op.39) [2:44]
'Love is Everywhere' (no.4 from: Four Songs, op.40 (?1903)) [2:59]
[7 Songs] (from: Nonsense Rhymes and Pictures, op.42 (1905) and More Nonsense Rhymes and Pictures, op.43 (1907)) [10:11]
'A Song of the Spanish Gypsies' (no.2 from: Four Songs, op.50) [1:20]
'Snowflakes' (no.3 from: Four Songs, op.50) [3:16]
'Chimes' (no.2 from: Two Songs, op.54 (1914)) [2:17]
Donald George (tenor)
Lucy Mauro (piano)
rec. Bloch Hall, West Virginia University, USA, 19-20 September 2009. DDD
DELOS DE 3407 [48.26]
When is a double CD not a double CD? Here is the answer: two discs in the jewel case, but one is a 'companion data disc' containing pdf files of scores, texts and some original manuscripts. All well and good, but as Delos kindly allow the 'companion data' to be downloaded free from their website here, and as there are but 48 minutes' worth of Margaret Ruthven Lang's music itself, this is effectively a full-price CD that is half empty.
A second issue that a prospective buyer may wish to consider is the fact that Delos and the performers have broken up Lang's opuses and regrouped them under whimsical headings such as 'Songs for Lovers of Children' or 'Parting Words and Songs' - quite acceptable in a live recital, but surely less so in a recording; Lang presumably had good artistic reasons for grouping the songs as she did. More confusing is the fact that 'Songs for Lovers of Children' was the title of Lang's op.39, a cycle of eight songs, yet only three of which are included in George and Mauro's six!
The listing above is not, therefore, that which appears in the booklet, for which, see this earlier review, which also has its own bonus material - an interesting interview with performers Donald George and Lucy Mauro. Instead, this alternative listing is an attempt to give a more musicological overview of the material in George and Mauro's spare but enjoyable recital. Neither the booklet nor New Grove shed light on the songs; the booklet further omits some opus numbers and all dates. However, an enterprising website devoted to Lang does provide an annotated list of works, and that is the source of much of the additional information given above.
By all accounts Margaret Ruthven Lang was a remarkable figure, not merely for her extreme longevity. This is not the first recording of her music, but it is by far the most substantial and significant to date - certainly the first monograph. And already there is another: Delos's volume 2 has quickly followed (see review). New Grove indicates that all Lang's orchestral music has been lost - she was later very critical of her own scores and destroyed many herself - but apart from her many songs, there seems to be a fair amount of choral music and piano pieces still extant, as well as some significant chamber works.
Lang apparently ceased composing after the First World War, however, which means her music is idiomatically conservative. The songs are highly attractive nonetheless: tuneful, harmonically delicate, nearly all gently contemplative, and indeed sounding more British than American, an impression deepened by Donald George's surprisingly British English-sounding accent and style. Many of Lang's songs have Scottish or Irish elements, and the lovely Irish Love Song op.22 was in fact one of her most successful works, reportedly running to over 120,000 copies when published.
Twenty-five songs in 48 minutes indicates an inclination towards considerable brevity, and indeed there are only two songs over three minutes. Objections might be raised regarding the artistic value of setting Edward Lear's doggerel to music, but Lang carries out that thankless task with panache and wit, including an amusing new 'flight of the bumble-bee' in 'There was an old man in a tree'. Elsewhere the generally American poetry is more deserving, but Lang in any case unfailingly injects her chosen texts with fresh blood.
Donald George has a good voice and even better diction. He sings with great expression, resisting any temptation to turn melodramatic. Lucy Mauro's accompaniment is thoughtfully understated, complementing always rather than bossing. Mauro and George have been performing together as DuoDrama for five years, and this is their debut CD.
Sound quality is impressive. The English-only booklet is slim-line, and as stated above is sometimes short on detail, but there are brief biographies of Lang, George and Mauro and there is more handy data on that companion disc.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Highly attractive songs: tuneful, harmonically delicate, nearly all gently contemplative.