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Great British Tenors

Gavin Dixon’s brief but interesting notes to this disc define the distinctive qualities of the British tenor as being “firm yet elegant tone, emphasis on text and on clarity of diction”. That is probably a good starting point although the voices of the twenty tenors included here differ greatly in the individual character of their voices. There is a big surprise for anyone who thinks of British tenors of the earlier part of the last century as being weedy or undramatic. Walter Hyde, Frank Mullings, Tudor Davies and Walter Widdop in particular had large but well controlled — perhaps less so in the case of Mullings — voices. Widdop for instance makes much of “Yes! Let me like a soldier fall” which can sound simply ridiculous in the hands of the kind of light-voiced singers who too often attempt it. Hyde’s Wagner could rival most Siegmunds of the period apart from Melchior and Mullings is dramatic almost to a fault in “On with the motley”.

Most of the tenors represented here have lighter voices but like almost the whole group the main characteristic is their ability to enunciate and make use of the words. Only the two Schubert songs sung by Peter Pears are not in English and it would perhaps have been better to have chosen examples of his very individual way of singing in his native language. The earlier singers included also have a very individual way with language, although in their case a manner reminiscent of actors and politicians of that period may put some listeners off. It is worth persevering, however, as this style makes the most of English songs of this period, and it should be remembered that Gervase Elwes was a close friend of Roger Quilter, two of whose songs are included here.

The choice of music included is imaginative, including operatic extracts in translation and songs by Warlock, Coleridge-Taylor and Liza Lehmann. The re-mastering is convincing and the notes are good . All in all this is worth having even if you already have earlier collections of British singers of this period issued by Dutton and others. If you do not have those discs this is even more worth having as an introduction to styles of singing that regrettably now seem to be largely lost. These days, too many singers seem to rely on surtitles for audiences to understand what is being sung.

John Sheppard

Contents (tenor and recording date listed first)
Ben Davies (1913) - Maude Valerie WHITE (1855-1937) To Mary [2:35]
John Coates (1928) - Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) The Knotting Song [3:10]
Gervase Elwes (1916-17) - Roger QUILTER (1877-1953) Love’s Philosophy [1:25] O mistress mine [1:40]
Walter Hyde (1921) - Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Winter storms have waned – Die Walküre [3:29]
Frank Mullings (1927) - Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919) On with the motley – I Pagliacci [3:26]
John McCormack (1927) - Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Who is Sylvia? [2:23]
Joseph Hislop (1930) - Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948) A heart as pure a gold – Frederica [2:24]
Parry Jones (1930) - Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Then shall the righteous – Elijah [2:53]
Parry Jones (1934) - Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930) As ever I saw [1:35]
Herbert Eisdell (1928) - Liza LEHMANN (1862-1918) Ah! Moon of my delight – In a Paradise Garden [3:58]
Tudor Davies (1926) - Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912) Onaway! Awake, beloved! – Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast [4:01]
Walter Widdop (1926) - Vincent WALLACE (1812-1865) Yes! Let me like a soldier fall – Maritana [2:56]
Derek Oldham (1931) - Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948) Patiently smiling – The Land of Smiles [2:45]
Heddle Nash ( 1952) - Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Vagabond – Songs of Travel [3:19]
James Johnston (1950) - Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1978) Song of the Road – Hugh the Drover [4:00]
Henry Wendon (1942) - Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912) Eleanore Op 37 No 6 [3:15]
Webster Booth (1938) - Georges BIZET (1838-1875) Flower Song – Carmen [4:05]
Webster Booth (1941) - Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900) Take a pair of sparkling eyes – The Gondoliers [2:48]
Peter Pears (1950) - Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Im Frühling D882 [4:56] Auf der Brück D853 [3:29]
David Lloyd (1943) - Sir Edward GERMAN (1862-1936) The English Rose – Merrie England [2:34]
Walter Midgley (1951) - Jules MASSENET (1842-1912) As I closed my eyes – Manon [3:25]
Richard Lewis (1960) - TRAD. arr Arne DØRUMSGAARD (1921-2006) The foggy foggy dew [3:10] The briery bush [2:12]



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