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Alun HODDINOTT (1929-2008)
Landscapes (Ynys Mon), Op.87 (1975) [13.44]
Two Songs from Glamorgan (1990) [4.25]
The Silver Hound, Op.121 (1985) [11.11]
One must always have love, Op.152/3 (1994) [8.20]
Towy Landscape, Op.190 (2006) [10.36]
Six Welsh Folksongs (1982) [11.53]
Claire Booth (soprano), Nicky Spence (tenor), Jeremy Huw Williams (baritone), Andrew Matthews-Owen (piano), Michael Pollock (piano)
rec. Menuhin Hall, Yehudi Menuhin School, Cobham, Surrey, 2009/10
NAXOS 8.571360 [60.19]

This is a reissue of a release from the British Music Society issued on their own label in 2011 and has already been the subject of no fewer than four reviews on this site, each of which described the music at considerable length. At the time of its original release it appears to have been the sole representative of Hoddinott’s songs in the catalogue, although there had been an earlier disc on the Sáin label sung entirely by Jeremy Huw Williams (SCD2318). This is still shown as available on the company’s own website although it is not listed on Arkivmusic. The latter release duplicated the Six Welsh folksongs and Two songs from Glamorgan from this issue, but otherwise focused on Hoddinott’s settings in the Welsh language. Since the folksong arrangements were given in transpositions for lower voice, those who are interested in Hoddinott’s song output will clearly want to have both discs. Apart from these, there remain other works for solo voice by Hoddinott which were recorded on discs subsidised by the Welsh Arts Council in the 1970s but which have never been released on CD at all.

Among those LP releases there was a recording of Hoddinott’s orchestral work Landscapes, Op.86, given by the New Philharmonia Orchestra under Hans-Hubert Schönzeler. This was inspired by a poem by T H Parry-Williams; but the song-cycle which immediately succeeded it, and sported the same title, was based on poems by Emyr Humphreys who had also been responsible for the text for Hoddinott’s earlier Roman Dream. The latter was recorded on LP at the time of its premičre by no less a singer than Dame Margaret Price, but again was never reissued on CD. In his comprehensive booklet notes (reproduced from the original BMS issue) Geraint Lewis refers to the orchestral work in passing, but I cannot detect any musical material in common between that and the song cycle.

On the subject of works by Hoddinott which were recorded at the time of their premičres but have never seen the light of day on CD, one should certainly mention his operas The Beach of Falesŕ, The Magician and The Rajah’s Diamond, all of which were recorded for television but have never been subsequently released in any format. There are also a considerable number of BBC broadcast recordings of all the symphonies and many other orchestral works, which I understand the Welsh music archive label Tŷ Cerdd are considering for belated release. This might help to boost the composer’s somewhat meagre representation in the current catalogues, although many of the performances can be found on the internet for those who wish to explore further.

Earlier reviews on this site have discussed the music itself at considerable length and I see no reason to duplicate these descriptions here. The vocal line in Landscapes takes the form of a heightened lyrical recitative declamation of Emyr Humphrey’s expressive poetry. It is odd to note that the cycle as originally published was described as “a song cycle for Irish voice and piano” since the initial performances were given by the Welsh tenor Stuart Burrows and there seems to be no very evident Irish connection. Stuart Burrows was also responsible for the first performance of the Two songs of Glamorgan, settings of two very beautiful folksongs. Incidentally the text in the booklet omits the word “me” from the second line of the last verse. The connected series of songs which form the cycle The silver hound return us to Hoddinott’s style of declamatory setting, to very chilling effect in the final two songs of the cycle. The high soprano line of the cycle One must always have love, frequently circling around a single note, is also effective even when sometimes the sense of the words is obscured despite Claire Booth’s best efforts. Most dramatic of all is the setting of Towy Landscape for two voices and piano duet, although here one at times wishes that Hoddinott would allow more time for the text to expand – for example during the contemplation of mortality that ends the penultimate verse. One also notes, in the context of a series of song settings, Hoddinott’s clear reluctance to allow for instrumental postludes to bring any individual song or cycle to a rounded conclusion. Nearly all the items here end either with the sustained voice or a series of brief final chords where one would really welcome a reflection from the accompanist. The final Welsh folksong settings are compared by Geraint Lewis in his booklet notes to those of Britten — a resemblance very striking in Ap Shenkin, track 24. It is a pity that he feels the need to comment that “there are surprisingly few first-class arrangements of Welsh folksongs by Welsh composers” when one considers the very many superb choral settings in existence. All the singers here do the composer proud, as do the accompanists. The recording is immediate and clear.

Last year I gathered a fair collection of brickbats in consequence of a couple of reviews on the Seen and Heard section of this site (review ~ review) when I noted the sparse representation of Hoddinott in the current catalogues when compared with his contemporary William Mathias, especially in view of the considerable number of recordings sponsored by the Welsh Arts Council during the composer’s lifetime. In their television broadcast of this year’s St David’s Day Concert in Cardiff given by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Welsh broadcaster S4C even abridged the full performance of Hoddinott’s popular Investiture Dances to a single movement. In those reviews I had attempted to analyse the reasons why the music of Mathias — overshadowed by Hoddinott during their lifetimes — was proving to be more durable in the long term. Various fans of the composer accused me of personal malice for my attempts – accusations which I hope I was able to refute, although it did not stop one correspondent asking that I should refrain from further reviews of the composer’s music. I hope therefore that I can be believed when I enthusiastically recommend this release, which frequently displays Hoddinott’s vocal writing at its best. In the published score of The Beach of Falesŕ, when compared to the first performances in Cardiff, the composer had on occasion written passages for the voice which evidently caused such strain on the singers that they had to be adjusted — the same considerations arose in the first performances of some of his choral music — but the writing here is more considerate and certainly all the singers sound totally at ease with the music. In one of the reviews of the original issue Byzantion lamented the fact that with the exception of Jeremy Huw Williams none of the singers were Welsh. This concern need not be taken all that seriously since all the texts here are in English or sung in English translation. Naxos as usual provide these texts in full in the booklet together with the extensive notes on the music by Geraint Lewis which appeared with the original release.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

Previous reviews (BMS release): Byzantion, John France, Mark Sealey and Hubert Culot



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