I Love My Love - A Folk Song Collection
The English Singers, Glasgow Orpheus Choir, Fleet Street Choir, Conchita Supervia, Steuart Wilson, Frederick Ranalow, Leon Goossens, Adrian Boult, Malcolm Sargent, Hugh Roberton
ALBION RECORDS ALBCD032 [74:22]
Albion Records - a wing of the Vaughan Williams Society - have a shining track record in its RVW coverage. They continue to satisfy the composer's enthusiastic constituency and beyond. Albion does not shrink from the most abstruse corners of the heritage and this disc finds them delving among vintage discs of folksongs and folk-related material. Only 13 of the 25 tracks are VW arrangements. The remainder are arrangements by other British composers; there's one which is the handiwork of Fritz Kreisler. All were commercially issued during a 25-year period from 1919. The mono sound has been cleanly, kindly and professionally refurbished by Peter Reynolds. A very few of the tracks have resisted complete renovation - there is only so much that can be done. The original material comes from the collections of either David Mitchell or Stephen Connock.
Not all of it is unfamiliar but plenty of it is. The tracks mix choir alone, voice solo and piano, one operatic extract, two orchestral pieces and one for oboe and piano.
No rustic accents are adopted; perhaps a touch of farmer's smock in Norman Stone's singing of Brigg Fair but that's about it. Instead the singers sing in the high culture style of their day with tightly focused attention to enunciation. For the most part they steer clear of the reefs of cut-glass affected voice production. Instead they exemplify a nice and intimate balance between toasty warmth and clarity. That's especially true of the ten RVW song arrangements taken by the sturdily forward English Singers on Roycroft 78s from the USA. Their robust delivery does not preclude a touching subtlety which is heard to best effect in the final song in this sequence: Wassail Song. Its final fade is taken superbly by the ensemble's tenor.
It's very good to have them although they are not without blemish: a trace of wow at the end of Ca' The Yowes and some recalcitrant surface noise. These ten do, after all, date from 1928.
It’s nice to have two Glasgow Orpheus tracks; one a classic Bantock song - one that he also deployed as a melody in his Hebridean Symphony. It's not the first time that Albion have opened the door to Bantock. His own Pilgrim's Progress choruses were included with RVW archive recordings on ALBCD023/024.
The Glasgow Orpheus are simply glorious in depth of burnished tone and I wonder who their magnificent solo contralto was - completely unmatronly in tone. The only criticism I have is that it ends in a rather precipitate descent into silence when a little more subdued surface noise would have helped. This elite choir remains humbling in its mastery. It was the right decision to end the disc with their glowing The Turtle Dove.
Resonantly oaken Frederick Ranalow in Admiral Benbow does sound old-fashioned. Spanish charmer and international star of the time Conchita Supervia makes real hay out of O No, John! and does so knowingly and with not a trace of Hispanic accent. Ivor Newton, doyen of accompanists, provides her with a sparkling and witty accompaniment.
Holst's I Love My Love from T B Lawrence's Fleet Street Choir stands very high in this disc's line-up. The Choir's micrometer-fine mastery of sound welling up and fading down is heart-melting; equally the sopranos' descanted 'I love my love', 'My love loves me' and 'I know my love'.
There are two touching songs from an anonymous North Midlands School girls' choir (does anyone know which?) I will give my love an apple is very well done indeed.
The extract from RVW's Hugh The Drover drizzles an early morning haze over the scene. The Sargent-directed abridged acoustic recording (once on a Pearl LP GEM128) is a familiar one. It's good to hear this extract from an abridgement but not surprisingly it sounds fairly primitive.
Leon Goossens' oboe calls out with limber legato and quiet integrity in Londonderry Air.
A few of these tracks may make you wince. Try Steuart Wilson's The Crocodile with its nonsense "falalidee" chorus. It's just too marmite for today's tastes but a museum artefact of the times (1929). Wilson is accompanied by a very young Gerald Moore. Wilson is also the singer in The Keys of Canterbury which almost caricatures the genre. I do wonder if Stephen Sondheim was inspired by this for his Beadle Bamford songs (Sweet Polly Plunket and Tower of Bray) in Sweeney Todd.
I loved the bubbling bonhomie of Ethel Smyth's Two Interlinked French Melodies (from the 1925 opera Entente Cordiale - perhaps one for Retrospect Opera's long-list). The recording comes up like sticky-fresh gloss paint. Delightful. I see that the same sessions also included Boult directing the same anonymous orchestra in Smyth's Minuet from Fête Galante. How long, I wonder, before someone takes up Smyth's magnum opus, the Symphony - The Prison.
The version of A Shropshire Lad we hear on this disc is the British Symphony Orchestra recording from 1920 - only four years after the composer's death in the trenches. As Stephen Connock points out, it is the fourth of Boult's recordings of this leafily touching master-piece. Parts of it are taken at a quicker pace than we may be used to from later versions, typically Boult's last from the late 1970s on Lyrita. Albion's is educational and sounds fairly good despite its almost one hundred year vintage and a measure of scuffing surface noise. That said, as a piece of music, it flourishes when heard in the very best sound. There are plenty of good versions including the Boult above but don't forget the radiant stereo from Barbirolli.
The booklet runs to 32 pages (English only) which includes all the sung words. There are 14 pages of notes (by Stephen Connock) addressing the genre as well as being specific to the repertoire. Discographical details of each track are given and they seem meticulous allowing for one instance of repeated words in the track-list. Albion are no slouches when it comes to documentation and this matches the delights and revelations to be heard here.
1-10 Folk song arrangements by Ralph Vaughan Williams (Turtle Dove; Just as the Tide; Down in yon forest; Acre of Land; Farmer's Son; Ca' the Yowes; Dark-Eyed Sailor; It's of a Lawyer; We've Been a While a'Wandering; Wassail Song) [21:28]
The English Singers (Nellie Carson; Flora Mann; Lillian Berger; Norman Notey; Norman Stone; Cuthbert Kelly)
11 The Keys of Canterbury (arr. Cecil Sharp) [2:35]
12 Rio Grande (arr. Steuart Wilson) [3:14]
13 The Crocodile (arr. Lucy Broadwood) [3:22]
Steuart Wilson (ten); Gerald Moore (piano)
14 Admiral Benbow (arr. Cecil Sharp) [2:02]
Frederick Ranalow (bar); Frederick Kiddle? (piano)
15 O No, John! (arr. Cecil Sharp) [2:26]
Conchita Supervia (mezzo); Ivor Newton (piano)
16 Sea Sorrow (Marjory Kennedy-Fraser, arr. Granville Bantock) [3:56]
Glasgow Orpheus Choir/Hugh Roberton
17 I Love my Love (arr. Gustav Holst) [4:23]
Fleet Street Choir/T B Lawrence
18 The Crystal Spring (arr. Cecil Sharp) [2:22]
19 I will give my love an apple (arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams) [1:28]
Girls (11-13) from secondary modern school North Midlands
20 Tuesday Morning (arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams) from the opening scene of Act I of Hugh the Drover [4:04]
Mary - Mary Lewis (soprano); Constable - William Anderson (baritone); John the Butcher - Frederick Collier (baritone); Ballad-Seller - Trevor Jones (tenor); British National Opera Company/Malcolm Sargent
21 Londonderry Air (arr. Fritz Kreisler) [3:36]
Leon Goossens (oboe) Clarence Raybould (piano)
22 Brigg Fair (arr. Percy Grainger) [2:20]
Norman Stone (tenor); Oriana Madrigal Society/G Kennedy Scott
23 Two Interlinked French Folk Melodies (Ethel Smyth) [4:27]
Light Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Boult
24 A Shropshire Lad (George Butterworth) [7:54]
British Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Boult
25 The Turtle Dove (arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams) [3:31]
Glasgow Orpheus Choir/Hugh Roberton