Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918) Twelve sets of English Lyrics - Volume 1
Susan Gritton (soprano) James Gilchrist (tenor) Roderick Williams (baritone) Andrew West (piano)
rec. Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton, 13-15 April 2015
Full texts included. SOMM SOMMCD257 [71.00]
Parry’s twelve sets of English Lyrics were written between about 1874 and 1918. Jeremy Dibble, Parry scholar and the composer’s biographer, enthuses in the liner-note, that – “The sheer variety and themes of Parry’s songs reveal a man not only of considerable technique but one fully aware of life’s rich emotional tapestries and turbulences.”. This is amply borne out by the content of this first volume in what is a promising new SOMM series of three CDs to be issued at six-monthly intervals.
It would be too tedious to cover every single one of the 31 titles included on this disc so I will restrict my comments to a representative few and on the way advance an opinion on the merits of each of the three singers.
Susan Gritton - whose insights are reflected in her booklet essay - opens the programme with the happy sunny My true love hath my heart – “I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss…” The accompaniment, so too the song line, has an agreeable sincerity innocence and charm. This is followed by the very clever word-play in the song Good night in which Miss Gritton doesn’t do full justice to all of Shelley’s frequently used two words ‘good night’ which are often tongue-in-cheek and saucy. It is interesting to compare Parry’s simpler but to my mind more emotionally convincing Willow, willow, willow, from Shakespeare’s Othello, with Verdi’s operatic setting.
It has to be said that the baritone Roderick Williams impressed me most. He sang in Mark Elder’s new recording of Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony and his performance was greeted very warmly (review). In all his songs here his enunciation is crystal clear; he enters into the spirit of each song performing with intelligence and sensitivity to content and line and adding instinctive, imaginative nuance. He acts out each song with colour and conviction. For Why so pale and wan, he is sarcastic and impatient with the hopelessly lovesick young lover “Prithee why so pale … so mute ...” and when he loses all sympathy for the woman – “The devil take her!” In To Lucaster on going to the wars, Williams is tenderly solicitous - “Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind” but soon his ardour cools as he prefers the challenges of battle and “… with a stronger faith embrace a sword, a horse, a shield.” He shows a more naughty side singing delightfully in dialect On a time the amorousSilvy, a song about what might be inferred as an adulterous tryst as Silvy cheekily instructs her shepherd lover to “… kiss me once and then God be with you / For now the morning draweth near.”
James Gilchrist's breathing is often audible. Was he recorded too close to the microphone? His experience - and possibly his preferences - show in his memorable rendering, in German, of the four songs that wind up this collection, all from Shakespeare’s sonnets. His enunciation is crisp and his rendering supple to the texts. The songs often have the feeling of a quality Schubert pastiche. The lighter ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’ is a joyous but ardent romp. I must commend another Shakespeare sonnet setting but sung by Gilchrist in English – If thou survive my well-contented day – for its lyricism and its melodic line plus a lovely flowing, rippling accompaniment.
Andrew West’s accompaniments, as Parry’s with word-setting, are non-intrusive but subtly illuminate the texts.
A promising start to an invaluable new English song series.
Ian Lace Track-listing – Song Titles
1 My true love hath my heart (SG)
2 Good Night (SG)
3 Where shall the lover rest (SG)
4 Willow Song (SG)
5 O Mistress Mine (JG)
6 Take, O take those lips away (JG)
7 No longer mourn for me (JG)
8 Blow, blow thou winter wind (JG)
9 When icicles hang by the wall (JG)
10 To Lucasta on going to the wars (RW)
11 To Althea from prison (RW)
12 Why so pale and wan (RW)
13 Weep you no more (JG)
14 Of all the torments (RW)
15 Lay a garland on my hearse (SG)
16 Why art thou slow (RW)
17 On a time the amorous Silvy (RW)
18 Follow a shadow (RW)
19 Ye little birds that sit and sing (RW)
20 O never say that I was false of heart (RW)
21 Julia (RW)
22 One silent night of late (SG)
23 To blossoms (SG)
24 Rosaline (JG)
25 Crabbed age and youth (SG)
26 Under the greenwood tree (RW)
27 Sonnet 32: If thou survive my well-contended day (JG)
28 Sonnet 29: When in disgrace (JG)
29 Sonnet 87: Farewell, thou art too dear (JG)
30 Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee (JG)
31 Sonnet 30: When to the sessions (JG)
Tracks 28 to 31 are sung in German