Early One Morning - Part songs and folk songs
Louis Halsey Singers, Elizabethan Singers/Louis Halsey
rec. 1965-1977, London. ADD
Full track-list at end of review
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 2077 [78:41 + 61:22]
A few weeks ago I received a new CD of Delius and John Ireland part-songs (SOMMCD 0119), a review of which is in the pipeline. In doing so my researches revealed that these Louis Halsey Singers’ recordings were available once again on this Eloquence 2 CD set. It was, reissued very recently, in 2012. I used it to compare Somm’s Paul Spicer Singers’ performances.
I treasured these 1968 Louis Halsey readings of the Delius and Elgar choral songs which were included on a Decca Argo LP which I regrettably lost in one of my countless house moves around the UK. I have to admit though that I never heard the remaining items on this set. They were originally released on two other Decca Argo albums.
Anybody doubting the sheer technical brilliance and beauty of English song, as compared to the output of German or French composers of lieder or chansons need look no further than here for ample evidence.
Perhaps the most familiar of these works are those by Elgar. They are beautifully and movingly expressed by the Louis Halsey Singers. The earliest song in this collection is My love dwelt in a Northern land from 1890 and is one of Elgar’s loveliest melodies. Another lyrical beauty is As torrents in Summer from Elgar’s 1896 cantata, King Olaf. “Dishevelled and in tears, go song of mine, to break the hardness of the heart of man”, thus go the opening lines of Cavalcanti’s poem so movingly set as Go song of mine with that wonderful ecstatic climax at the words “…His soul, being purified To seek its maker at the heavenly shrine.” We hear all Elgar’s Four Part Songs Op. 53. There is exuberance and defiance against adversity in O wild West Wind! - “If winter comes - can Spring be far behind?” Tennyson’s words for There is sweet music are tenderly set for a dreamlike idyllic landscape - “ Music that brings sweet sleep down from blissful skies…”. Deep in my soul -“ that tender secret dwells” this mysterious little song is rather enigmatically dedicated to one of Elgar’s female friends, Mrs Julia Worthington. Owls is even more enigmatic with some extraordinary lyrics like “What is that?...Nothing:…All that can be, is said. What is it?...Nothing.”, is an epitaph for the Elgar family pet white rabbit. The two Op. 71 songs are also included: The Shower with its telling repeated phrase “my eyes could weep”, commemorated a trip Elgar took with his wife to Totteridge to enjoy larks singing and water lilies emerging. The joyful The Fountain followed a trip to Mill Hill with Alice Stuart Wortley ending more pensively with the words “…The music of her tears.”
Parry’s lovely, gentle strains of ‘My soul there is a country’, open the first of his Songs of Farewell. This moves in pace and complexity from the relatively simple to sophisticated intricacy in its overlaying parts. All six motets impress strongly, through the warmly lyrical ‘Never weatherbeaten sail’, with its five-voice parts augmented by a mezzo-soprano is notable. In the remaining three motets Parry adds one extra voice-part. Nor should we forget the sombre beauty of the large-scale ‘Lord let me know mine end’ in which verses from Psalm 39 are set for double chorus. The Louis Halsey Singers rise, with aplomb, to the technical challenges of this closing motet with its shifting vocal textures and patterns.
The six part songs of Stanford begin in beauteous mournfulness for Heraclitus, the words expressing one’s grief at the news of the death of a friend: “They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead”. In contrast there are the cheery, sunny Sweet love for me and Shall we go dance. My love’s an arbutus is an affecting four-part arrangement of an old Irish melody. Touching too, is Chillingham in which the poet Mary Coleridge expresses nostalgia for her homeland’s hills and valleys overlooking the sea.
The sixteen folk song arrangements by leading British composers, all skilled in the genre, impress strongly. All are sung with sensitivity and great enthusiasm Of the sixteen I will mention just a few. Balfour Gardiner’s witty, pert arrangement of A fair Maid has the young maiden besting her all too-ardent suitor. The four Gustav Holst arrangements are especially memorable: the men’s hummed droning bass line grounding the ladies’ upper vocal contours and then vice versa in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; the bucolic comedy of Adam Buckham O with the Elizabethan Singers and soloist enjoying its broad dialect; plus Holst’s affecting I love my love, a most poignant meeting of two lovers in Bedlam. Vaughan Williams’ three arrangements include his jolly carol Wassail Song lift the spirits, while his idiosyncratic version of Bushes and Briars is most moving. The bass, Owen Brannigan, featured with the choir here, suggested to Malcolm Williamson that he should set the four Northumbrian songs. Brannigan’s deep dependable tone promises steadfastness for the rural community in Bonny at Morn and he is heard solo in Soul Cake - “good food to make us merry.” Finally I would mention that Ian Partridge is the expressive tenor soloist in Percy Grainger’s well-loved Brigg Fair.
The two CDs have good notes by Louis Halsey, for the Parry and Stanford items, and by Diana McVeagh for the songs of Delius and Elgar. As usual Eloquence’s bargain CDs do not stretch to the inclusion of the lyrics of any of these 45 songs.
A highly desirable double CD set. The music-making is technically very competent and beautifully expressive.
Technically very competent and beautifully expressive.
Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
Songs of Farewell (1915-18): ‘My soul, there is a country’ [3:44]
‘I know my soul hath power’ [2:39]
‘Never weatherbeaten sail’ [3:01]
‘There is an old belief’ [4:07]
All the round earth’s imagined corners’ [7:50]
‘Lord, let me know mine end’ [10:38]
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Heraclitus (1910 - arr. 1918) [2:17]
Sweet love for me (1892) [2:36]
My love’s an arbutus (1882) [2:10]
Veneta (1910) [2:25]
Chillingham (1910) [1:52]
Shall we go dance (1892?) [1:02]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
As Torrents in Summer (1896) [2:04]
My love dwelt in a Northern land (1890) [3:59]
Go song of mine (1909) [4:33]
O wild west wind (1907) [3:28]
The Shower (1914) [2:29]
Love’s Tempest (1914) [2:44]
Owls (1907) [2:35]
The Fountain (1914) [3:04]
There is sweet music (1907) [3:58]
Deep in my soul (1907) [4:12]
Louis Halsey Singers/Louis Halsey
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
On Craig Ddu (1907) [3:33]
To be sung of a summer night on the water (1917) [3:41]
The splendour falls on castle walls (1923) [3:08]
Midsummer Song (1908) [1:52]
Louis Halsey Singers/Louis Halsey
Captain Bover (arr. Williamson) [1:43]
A fair maid (arr. Gardner) [2:14]
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (arr. Holst) [2:28]
I sowed the seeds of love (arr. Holst) [2:42]
Wassail Song (arr. Vaughan Williams) [2:34]
Bushes and Briars (coll. Sharp, arr. Britten) [3:06]
O Waly, Waly (arr. Stone) [3:42]
Dance to your Daddy (arr. Whittaker) [1:38]
Bobby Shaftoe (arr. Williamson) [0:59]
Adam Buckham O! (arr. Holst) [1:47]
I love my Love (arr. Holst) [4:21]
The Sailor and Young Nancy (arr. Moeran) [2:48]
Our Captain calls all hands (arr. Gardner) [1:57]
Bonny at Morn (arr. Williamson) [3:22]
Soul Cake * (bass solo) (arr. Williamson) [1:40]
Down among the dead men (arr. Vaughan Williams) [1:52]
Owen Brannigan* (bass); Wilfred Parry (piano)
Elizabethan Singers/Louis Halsey