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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano)
Adrian Farmer (piano)
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Wales, United Kingdom, 2014
NIMBUS NI5930 [63.32]

This is an interesting collection with some songs that are not usually recorded. Alas I cannot welcome it unreservedly. As Valerie Langfield, author of Roger Quilter – His Life and Music points out in her notes to this CD, so many of Quilter’s songs were composed for the male voice and so many CDs are correspondingly male orientated. Examples include Benjamin Luxon and David Willison on a 1989 Chandos recording (CHAN8782) or John Mark Ainsley and Malcolm Martineau on Hyperion’s 1996 recording (CDA66878). A much more satisfying variety can be achieved with a mix of male and female voices. This was the case with Lisa Milne and Anthony Rolfe Johnson with Graham Johnson on Collins Classics (1997; reissued on Naxos) or Sir Thomas Allen and Dame Janet Baker with Stephen Hough on the 2003 edited EMI Classics Quilter Compendium. This new album with female voice only is a somewhat unusual venture.

One of the difficulties I have with this album is the often fatally slow tempi that tend to drain the life from these exquisite songs. Two examples: Music, When Soft Voices Die as sung by de Rothschild tarries for 2.11 whereas Ainsley’s reading is just 1.26. Autumn Evening dawdles over 3.35 compared to Ainsley’s 2.50. These slow tempi may be expressive but the excessive longueurs can ruin the song’s shape. On the credit side, Ms de Rothschild’s timbre is appealing, fresh and youthful-sounding.

Adrian Farmer’s accompaniments — setting aside the question of tempi — are fluent and engaging and as evocative as Quilter might have wished. Adrian was trained as an accompanist at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester but often works behind the scenes as a record producer and as the creative focus for Nimbus.

In passing I could not resist comparing Quilter’s settings of the Dowson verses (Songs of Sorrow) with those of Frederick Delius. Try Passing Dreams, so well known for the line “They are not long, the days of wine and roses,” and In Spring for “… But the spring of the soul … cometh no more for you or for me …”. Impressive though the Quilter settings are I much prefer the greater intensity Delius brings to the sentiments of Dowson’s verses.

Not entirely convincing.

Ian Lace

Comment received
"Ian's thoughtful review needs no comment from me, but I would like to
add the following factual observation. In addition to the songs he
references that have a 'female' text, two of the most significant sets
of songs - the 4 'Songs of Sorrow', and the 3 'Blake Songs' - were in
fact premièred by women. The 'Songs of Sorrow', by Edith Miller (with
Quilter at the piano) on 16 November 1907 at Bechstein Hall, and the
'Blake' Songs by Muriel Foster on 14 December 1917 at the Wigmore Hall.
From which one might reasonably infer that gender stereo-typing,
however lightly applied in Quilter's case, is a risky business.
Reference Valerie Langfield's essential book 'Roger Quilter. His Life
and Music'. Boydell Press 2002.
Adrian Farmer

Contents List
St Valentine’s Day (Shakespeare, Hamlet, Ophelia) (1917/19) [2.08]
How Should I Your True Love Know? ('Four Shakespeare Songs' Op. 33) (1933) [2.18]
Daisies After Rain (Judith Bickle) (1951) [1.01]
Songs Op. 14 (1910):
Autumn Evening (Arthur Maquarie) [3.35];
April (William Watson) [1.01];
A Last Year’s Rose (W.E. Henley) [2.44];
Song of the Blackbird (W.E. Henley) [1.12]
Cuckoo Song – from Three Songs Op. 15 (1913/14) (Alfred Williams)
Orpheus with His Lute (Shakespeare, Henry VIII) Two Shakespeare Songs Op. 32 (1938) [2.16]
Music (Shelley) (1947) [2.17]
Slumber Song (Clifford Mills from Where the Rainbow Ends) (1911) [2.06]
Songs Op. 25:
An Old Carol (Anon.) (1927) [2.24]
Arab Love Song (Shelley) (1927) [1.39]
The Fuchsia Tree (Manx Ballad) (1923) [1.29]
Song of the Stream (Alfred Williams) (1921) [3.28]
Music, When Soft Voices Die (Shelley) (1926) [2.11]
Songs of Sorrow Op. 10 (1921):
A Coronal (Ernest Dowson) [3.27]
Passing Dreams (Ernest Dowson) [2.13]
A Land of Silence (Ernest Dowson) [3.06]
In Spring (Ernest Dowson) [3.08]
Three Songs of William Blake Op. 20 (1916/17):
Dream Valley [2.20
The Wild Flower’s Song [2.29]
Daybreak [2.09]
Two September Songs (1916):
Through the Sunny Garden (Mary Coleridge) [2.18]
The Valley and the Hill (Mary Coleridge) [1.24]
Wind from the South (John Irvine) (1936) [2.19]
April Love (Roger Quilter) publ. 1952 [1.56]

I write on a factual matter in response to your review of Quilter Songs performed by Charlotte de Rothschild and myself. Your reviewer took strong objection to our general approach to tempo, asserting that we adopt speeds that are too slow, and thereby rob the songs of their essential shape. To assert that a performer has wilfully ignored or misunderstood the composer’s requirements is a wounding accusation. We were anxious to reassure ourselves that in recording these wonderful songs we had been faithful to Quilter’s instructions. The general reader will not be aware that Quilter was fastidious in the presentation of his published scores; his markings are precise in all aspects of phrasing, dynamics, rubato and tempo. We came to rely on them as being both supportive and illuminating.

Regarding tempi, of the twenty-eight songs included in our recital only three have no metronome mark - St Valentine’s Day (unpublished in his life), Slumber Song, and Daisies after Rain. Presumably your reviewer did not having access to these now elusive scores, and has made his comment based on comparison and preference alone. Close examination confirms that only three of our performances differ by more than two metronome marks from Quilter’s suggestions. I will supply the metronome marks if the reviewer would like to see them. Mr Lace may prefer to hear these songs at faster tempos, and other performers may feel more comfortable taking less time to present the texts, but it is incorrect, and itself misleading, to say we have misrepresented Quilter in the matter of speed. We would be obliged if you will amend the review, and, if you wish, publish this commentary.

My own experience, now thirty-five years as Nimbus Music Director and record producer, has convinced me that the only absolute obligation of performers is to study the scores they play with enormous care. We should all abhor the adulation accorded to musicians who impress while ignoring their scores. It is not enough to bundle listeners to the cliff edge with promises of excitement and passion; they deserve no less than a complete journey, understanding and savouring each step along the way. This usually takes more, rather than less, time.

With thanks for Musicweb-international’s on-going, dedicated support for classical music.

Adrian Farmer & Charlotte de Rothschild



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