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Paul Corfield GODFREY (b.1950)
Akallabęth and other Tolkien Works
Daeron, Op.45, for flute and piano [6:30]
Tolkien Songs, Op.9:
Strider [1:27]
Song of the Eagle [4:01]
Alive without Breath [1:35]
Drinking Song [1:11]
In Western Lands [3:55]
Roads go ever ever on [3:50]
Shadow-Bride, Op.33 (words by Tolkien) [4:06]
Mysteries of Time, Op.44: The Mystery (words by Ralph Hodgson) [2:32]
Cywydd (words by Gerard Manley Hopkins) [2:32]
Graveyard (words by Allison Reynolds) [3:16]
The Seven Woods of Coole (words by William Butler Yeats) [6:11]
The Queen of Air and Darkness (words by Poul Anderson) [9:59]
Akallabęth, Op.42 [17:09]
Tara McSwiney (soprano), Andrew Henley (tenor), Adam Jondelius (baritone), Nicola Loten (flute), Niamh Ferris (viola), Immanuel Carl Maria Vogt (piano), and Connor Fogel (piano)
rec. Holy Trinity Church, Hereford, 13 November 2015. DDD
Texts available online

First a couple of acknowledgements. Paul Corfield Godfrey is a fellow MusicWeb International reviewer and I yield to none in my love of JRR Tolkien. My copies of his Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are in dire need of replacement after having been so heavily used though I find some of his other works, brought to life by his son Christopher since his death, rather heavy going. When I read English at Oxford, almost 60 years ago, lectures by ‘young Mr Tolkien’ on Old English Language and Literature were de rigeur for first years before prelims.

Tolkien senior was persuaded briefly out of retirement for a term while his successor as Bosworth and Rawlinson Professor was away. He gave a series of lectures on the thesis that the Hengest mentioned in Beowulf and the associated Battle of Finnesburh was none other than the brother of Horsa, with whom he founded the Jutish Kingdom of Kent. The lectures must have been so spell-binding that I can’t find that I made a single note but they were edited and published as a book some years ago. I’m sorry to say that though I enjoyed the book as well as the lectures I find the thesis unconvincing, believing Hengest and Horsa to be no more convincing as historical figures than Woden, from whom other Old English royal families, including Alfred the Great, claimed descent.

If, like me before I received this CD for review, you are not yet conversant with Godfrey’s many compositions and specifically his interest in Tolkien, a good place to start is with his website. I’m not going to repeat the information given there but rather to give some idea of the kind of music on the new CD which is, I believe, his first recording.

Another colleague, Paul Sillitoe, has already reviewed an advance copy of this recording – already available direct from Prima Facie and on general release by the time that you read this review.

The title work Akallabęth, which ends the CD, stands out from the rest by reason of its length, the fact that it’s the only piece for solo piano, its difficulty and its power. The request for a really challenging piece came from James Meaker, but the work was taken up by Connor Fogel who plays it here and is fully able to cope with all its complexities. That’s the stand-out work but there’s nothing there or on the other tracks to offend the susceptibilities of stylistic stick-in-the-muds like myself.

Nor is there anything superficial in any of his settings. By chance Hyperion have just released a 2-for-1 album of the songs of Donald Swann, including one setting of Tolkien and one of Yeats (CDA68172). Although these are by no means insubstantial, as Godfery remarks in his notes, the Tolkien and Yeats settings are altogether lighter than his own songs. At times these reminded me of Vaughan Williams’ settings of Housman’s poetry ( On Wenlock Edge). I shouldn’t be surprised if, with continued listening to these very accomplished performances, well recorded, some of Godfrey’s music becomes as well-loved as the Vaughan Williams.

Poets and composers don’t always provide the best guides to their own works but the notes which accompany this CD are excellent – so full, in fact, that there was no room for the texts. Normally that gets a black mark but they are easily available online – link above.

This was also my first encounter with Prima Facie Records, champions of British Contemporary Music but it has certainly encouraged me to check out some of their other offerings, several of which are available to stream from Naxos Music Library. Alan Rawthorne’s music may not be exactly contemporary but Prima Facie offer the only generally available recordings of his Clarinet Concerto and Oboe Quartet No.1 along with his Cello Sonata and Oboe Concerto on PFCD053 – review – available from Prima Facie Records or to stream from NML here. (The Hyperion recording of his Clarinet Concerto, with concertos by Gordon Jacob and Arnold Cooke, CDA66031, can be downloaded or ordered from the Archive Service at ).

A double discovery, then, and a doubly happy one – of both the composer and the label. I look forward to hearing more from both.

Brian Wilson

Previous review: Stuart Sillitoe



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