Songs of Wales - arranged by Brinley Richards
see end of review for track listing
Stuart Burrows (tenor), John Samuel (piano)
rec. late 1980s, date and venue unspecified
TŶ CERDD TCR012 [57.48]
One of the great mysteries of Victorian Britain is how the folksong heritage of England came to be so totally neglected at a time when other nations all over Europe were busily exploring their traditional collections. However during the same period scholars and antiquarians were carefully assembling volumes of Irish and Scottish folksongs; and the Welsh were no slouches in this department either. Brinley Richards (1817-1885) found patronage from the Duke of Newcastle who sponsored him to travel to Paris to study composition with Chopin. In his booklet notes for this issue Gwyn L Williams contends that the influence of the latter can be heard in the piano accompaniments to the collection of Songs of Wales which he published some forty years after Richards had left Wales. The accompaniments are certainly nothing like as elaborate as the harp treatments of many of the same melodies written by John Thomas and published under the title Welsh melodies in 1862. A recording of these by Elinor Bennett urgently demands reissue, although other discs of harp music by Thomas are available.
Stuart Burrows was the great Welsh lyric tenor of his generation, and his reputation well deserves the commemoration provided by this disc. His operatic career included most of the great Mozartean roles, although his voice was never large enough to encompass anything much more strenuous than Lensky in Eugene Onegin. That said, he never ever made an ugly sound, and in this material his liquid and silky tones are displayed to the very best advantage as well as his deft handling of the more nimble songs. These recordings appear to have been made semi-privately, and have been re-mastered for this reissue; but the balance between voice and piano is ideal, and the sound is pleasurably resonant. Burrows’ delivery of the poised (and optional) pianissimo high A in David of the White Rock (track 10) is straight from heaven.
In a note in the booklet Burrows comments that many of the songs had “never been recorded before”. Although the arrangements are plain almost to a fault, there are some delightful touches as in the rippling arpeggios which accompany A gentle maid in sweetness sighed (track 5). In fact not all the tunes included here are traditional, since the Welsh national anthem Land of my Fathers (track 26) was definitely composed as recently as 1856 by James James. Richards was clearly aware of this, since in his published score he relegates the song to an appendix — with additional parts for chorus. Surprisingly he does not adopt the now traditional higher option for the repeat of the final bars, which would leave the ending sounding rather flat, as does the waltz-like accompaniment which Richards supplied. Burrows amends Richards by adding a repeat with raised higher cadence in the now expected manner, which brings the whole recital to a rousing close.
This issue does however fall down in the presentation of this material for a non-Welsh audience by the failure to provide either texts or translations. Many of these songs will be familiar to listeners, often enough in translations learned by heart; but others are much less well known. However an 1879 publication of the complete fourth edition, which added a considerable number of songs to the 1873 edition given here, is available on the invaluable ISMLP website. This provides not only the original Welsh texts but also supplies English translations of greater or lesser accuracy by Sir Walter Scott and others. The 1879 edition included 63 tunes plus a further nine relegated to an appendix; some of these were English songs rather than Welsh ones, such as God bless the Prince of Wales. Others were choral arrangements, but the one impression that remains from an examination of the score is the relative simplicity of the piano accompaniments clearly designed with amateur pianists in mind. John Samuel here provides as much variety in tone and touch as Richards allows.
I have not enumerated here the English titles of the individual songs selected for this recital, but all the expected items are here and plenty of less expected ones as well. Non-Welsh listeners may well prefer more elaborate modern arrangements such as those included in Bryn Terfel’s various collections of Welsh music; but there is a considerable documentary value in presenting these songs in the manner in which they first emerged into prominence in the nineteenth century. One cannot imagine these particular arrangements being better performed.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Toriad y Dydd
Ar hyd yr nos
Erddigan Hun Gwenllian
Pe cawn i hon
Dafydd y Garreg Wen
Rhyfelgyrch Gwŷr Harlech
Difyrwch Gwŷr Dyfi
Yr hen Sibyl neu Winiffreda
Rhyfelgyrch Capden Morgan
Hob y deri dando
Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn
Y ferch o’r Sger
Y ’dewyn pur
Tros y garreg
Ffanni Blodau’r Ffair
Hen Wlad fy Nhadau