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The Voice of Isobel Baillie
Isobel Baillie (soprano) with various accompaniments
Full track-listing below
rec. 1941-49

Isobel Baillie (1895-1983), Britain’s much admired concert soprano, is celebrated by Heritage in a series that has also already saluted her great contemporary and colleague, Heddle Nash. If you have the old EMI gatefold double LP [RLS7703], published to tie-in with her autobiography, Never Sing Louder Than Lovely, you will certainly note that this CD is essentially a rerun of the first LP, down to the exact running order with one or two trifling differences. No transfer details are provided but Heritage has certainly sourced an LP or CD and not the original 78s.
The double LP celebrated her career by going back to the unpublished tests she made in 1924 and took her forward fully half a century to a charming 1974 recording. But Heritage has concentrated on the 1940s, and largely wartime, thus omitting some highly persuasive examples of her art from the late 1920s. It is this reason that sees the omission of O Had I Jubal’s Lyre from the Handel sequence.
Baillie’s clear, focused, silvery tone was best experienced in oratorio and song, not the stage, and her repertoire reflected her strengths. Her Purcell was famous, and The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation one of the most famous of all her recordings, though she had a bit of a struggle persuading her record company to let her record it. Gerald Moore was a regular accompanist of hers, on disc and on the recital stage, and there are six examples here, one where Moore is also joined by other instrumental colleagues. What we don’t hear – and we didn’t on that LP either – are the duets on which Moore accompanied Kathleen Ferrier and Baillie, though APR has already released those. It’s always good to hear the short-lived Leslie Heward in Hark! The Echoing Air, with the Hallé sounding bass-heavy. The Arne brace is teasing and charming, and the Bach extracts – from cantatas, and like everything, sung in English - offer balm. In the case of My Heart Ever Faithful, Basil Cameron conducts the City of Birmingham Orchestra and Anthony Pini plays the solo cello line.
The Handel sequence is, in toto, probably the best-known selection. There are three extracts from Messiah, one of which is How Beautiful Are The Feet which is taken from the complete recording Malcolm Sargent directed in September 1946. Note how she strongly accents the second syllable in ‘Gospel’ – a period feature similar to her friend Heddle Nash’s singing ‘were’ for ‘where’ (as in ‘were for me the apple tree do lean, down low in Linden Lea’). Let the Bright Seraphim is another much-loved recording, with the redoubtable trumpeter Arthur Lockwood, conducted by Warwick Braithwaite in Manchester in 1943. It’s hard now to credit the awful problems suffered with alternating electrical current at the time, which meant that recording sessions became something of a lottery. We travel as far forward as February 1949 with From Mighty Kings from Judas Maccabeus with Sargent encouraging some verismo woodwind fillips, and a truly swaggering end to the first side of the 78. Note too that I Know That My Redeemer Liveth is also omitted from the Handel sequence found on the EMI LPs. And whilst Haydn’s On Mighty Pens is here, Weldon conducting in 1946, With Verdure Clad, from a different session, is not. The disc ends with two delightful traditional songs which were part and parcel of her recital repertoire.
Gavin Dixon has written a useful booklet note and recording dates and locations are all present and correct. There are, however, no matrix or original catalogue details. The transfers have somewhat boosted the level of the LP and I find that perfectly acceptable. This close focus on Baillie in the 1940s is a rewarding one.
Jonathan Woolf
Full track-listing
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation [7:51]
Arnold Goldsborough (organ) – Kingsway Hall, London (05/08/41)
Stript of their green [3:30]
Gerald Moore (piano) – Abbey Rd. Studios, London (19/02/42)
Hark! The echoing air (from The Fairy Queen) [2:45]
Halle Orchestra, Leslie Howard (conductor) – Houldsworth Hall, Manchester (04/03/42)
Thomas Arne
O ravishing delight (from The Judgement of Paris) [3:40]
Gerald Moore (piano) – Abbey Rd. Studios, London (21/09/42)
Where the bee sucks [1:57]
Gerald Moore (piano) – Abbey Rd. Studios, London (02/09/43)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Shall Pales be the last…..Flocks in pastures (from Cantata No. 208) [7:17]
John Francis and A. Hedges (flutes), John Moore (cello), Gerald Moore (piano) – Abbey Rd. Studios, London (11/11/42)
My heart ever faithful (from Cantata No. 68) [2:59]
Anthony Pini (cello), City of Birmingham Orchestra, Basil Cameron (conductor) – Civic Hall, Wolverhampton (24/06/41)
Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1750)
O didst thou know?…..As when the dove (from Acis and Galatea) [7:35]
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (21/03/44)
Rejoice greatly (from Messiah) [4:46]
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (21/03/44)
How beautiful are the feet (from Messiah) [3:19]
Huddersfield Town Hall (26/09/46)
If God be for us (from Messiah) [4:32]
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (21/03/44)
Tracks 8-11 with Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent (conductor)
Let the bright Seraphim (from Samson) [7:08]
Arthur Lockwood (trumpet), Halle Orchestra, Warwick Braithwaite (conductor) – Houldsworth Hall, Manchester (18/03/43)
O let eternal hours….. From Mighty Kings (from Judas Maccabaeus) [7:31]
London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent (conductor) – Kingsway Hall, London (14/02/49)
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
On mighty pens (from The Creation) [8:10]
Philharmonia Orchestra, George Weldon (conductor) – Kingsway Hall, London (19/06/46)
Comin’ through the rye [1:41]
Gerald Moore (piano) – Abbey Road Studios (18/06/42)
O whistle an’ I’ll come to you [1:53]
Gerald Moore (piano) – Abbey Road Studios (02/04/43)