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Frederick Hymen COWEN (1852-1935)
Sweet Evenings Come and Go, Love
Elisabetta Paglia (mezzo soprano)
Christopher Howell (piano)
rec. 24 March 2015, Studio of Griffa and Figli s.r.l. Milan, Italy
Full texts included

A previous reviewer of this disc, John France, has gone into great detail regarding Cowen’s life and indeed Cowen-on-disc, so I feel, sneakily, that this absolves me of the responsibility to reprise some of this valuable information. A click of the hyperlink will tell you all you need to know.

Cowen’s songs cleave to the conventional side of balladry and later still a kind of drawing room elegance, buttoned up a trifle, expressively speaking, but thoroughly polished. Christopher Howell suggests that he occupies a position post-Sullivan but also functions as precursor to someone like Quilter. Which is to say not at all like Parry, whose songs were written after Cowen’s in the main – and Parry’s songs are significantly more complex than Cowen’s – and not siting Cowen as a precursor for Vaughan Williams or, say, Ireland, a role Howell reserves for Parry and Stanford themselves.

Cowen’s songs aren’t cycles and are seldom sets. Almost all the songs in this disc come from albums issued by publisher J.W. Williams in 1892. Cowen set a variety of poets, ranging from the now forgotten, such George Whyte-Melville and Bryan Waller Procter, who wrote under the name Barry Cornwall and whose poetry Cowen clearly admired, Longfellow, Christina Rossetti, George Eliot and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

These settings have their own kind of grace and generosity. He has pronounced lyric gifts – his settings are much ‘easier’ to follow than Parry’s songs or even his choral settings – and their compactness ensures expressive compression. There’s a stoic gentleness to Love Me If I Live in its hope for a safe passage as much as there is simple – but not simplistic – charm in The Land of Violets. It’s good to hear the dynamics of Longfellow’s Thy Remembrance varied so well in this performance whilst in the suitably exultant A Bride Song, a poem by Rossetti, the more extrovert elements of Cowen’s settings can be heard. He locates the gravity of George Eliot’s Lonely. Sometimes his cylinders cease firing: Laugh Not, Nor Weep, a Cornwall setting, is rather pallid and unsatisfying. Reaching for a conventional Spinnerliedchen piano accompaniment for C.J.Rowe’s Spinning is no bad thing, even though it’s necessarily conventional.

Few singers these days include Cowen in recital or on disc. I’m not sure how many of these songs are making their first appearance on record, if any. There certainly was a minivogue for Cowen in the earlier years of recording. The great Tetrazzini sang My Swallows, which s not included in this disc. But Agnes Nicholls, Hamilton Harty’s wife, the great John Coates and even Clara Butt all sang At the Mid Hour of Night. Very unusually the old timers are slower than Elisabetta Paglia and Christopher Howell, who sound somewhat sleek in comparison with those singers of the past. I miss the open-hearted emotionalism of Nicholls in particular, and her – and Harty’s – knowing, stylistically apt rubati. I certainly wouldn’t suggest Paglia imitates Butt’s The Promise of Lifeand naturally she doesn’t.

The Paglia-Howell partnership is highly effective. Neither is troubled technically; Paglia’s diction is pretty good in what is not her native tongue, and Sheva’s recorded sound is warmer than it usually is. The texts are printed in full and Howell’s notes are full of pertinent observations and historical detail.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: John France
Track listing
1. Love me if I live (Barry Cornwall, pseudonym of Bryan Waller Proctor) (1892) [2:03]
2. Is my lover on the sea? (Barry Cornwall, pseudonym of Bryan Waller Proctor) (1892) [2:20]
3. The Evening Star (Barry Cornwall, pseudonym of Bryan Waller Proctor) (1892) [2:52]
4. The Stars (Barry Cornwall, pseudonym of Bryan Waller Proctor) (1892) [3:15]
5. The Land of Violets (Barry Cornwall, pseudonym of Bryan Waller Proctor) (1892) [1:23]
6. The First Farewell (Owen Meredith, pseudonym of Robert Bulwer Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton) (1892) [2:48]
7. Thoughts at Sunrise (Owen Meredith, pseudonym of Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton) (1892) [2:09]
8. Thy Remembrance (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) (1892) [2:03]
9. Snow-Flakes (Mary Mapes Dodge) (1892) [2:18]
10. Nightfall (George Whyte-Melville) (1892) [3:28]
11. Ask nothing more (Algernon Charles Swinburne) (1892) [1:53]
12. He and She (Christina Rossetti) (1892) [1:31]
13. A Bride Song (Christina Rossetti) (1892) [3:48]
14. Sweet Evenings come and go, love (George Eliot, pseudonym of Mary Ann Cross) (1892) [2:54]
15. A Past Springtime (George Eliot, pseudonym of Mary Ann Cross) (1892) [2:04]
16. Lonely (George Eliot, pseudonym of Mary Ann Cross) (1892) [4:00]
17. Day is dying (George Eliot, pseudonym of Mary Ann Cross) (1892) [3:36]
18. Truant Wings (Harold Boulton) (1891) [2:31]
19. To a flower (Barry Cornwall, pseudonym of Bryan Waller Proctor) (1892) [2:44]
20. Cradle Song (Barry Cornwall, pseudonym of Bryan Waller Proctor) (1892) [3:26]
21. Laugh not, nor weep (Barry Cornwall, pseudonym of Bryan Waller Proctor) (1892) [2:45]
22. Far Away (Barry Cornwall, pseudonym of Bryan Waller Proctor) (1892) [1:29]
23. A Song of Morning (Sarah Doudney) (1892) [3:56]
24. Dost thou love me? (Elizabeth Barrett Browning) (1892) [3:35]
25. Spinning (Charles James Rowe) (1872) [4:42]
26. At the mid hour of night (Thomas Moore) (1892) [2:39]
27. The Prisoner (Clifton Bingham) (1892) [1:49]
28. The Promise of Life (Clifton Bingham) (1893) [5:02]



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