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Robert HUGILL (b. 1955)
Anna Huntley (mezzo)
Rosalind Ventris (viola)
Johnny Herford (baritone)
William Vann (piano)
rec. 2016, Potton Hall, Suffolk

The English composer Robert Hugill has a fairly prominent presence in the music scene. His music journalism can be found at Planet Hugill. It's always worth your rare and precious online time. His profile as a composer is to be found at his own website. MusicWeb International also carried his reviews as a site search will show and we also offer a reviewer profile.

Two CDs of Hugill's music have been reviewed here: The Testament of Dr Cranmer and Passion. While those two discs were occupied by his choral works the present one continues with eighteen of his solo voice songs. These are grouped in single-poet cycles or sets with one isolated song by A E Housman. All are for voice and piano with the viola added in the case of the Rossetti set. The four cycles or sets are variously to words by Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury (2002-12)), Housman, Christina Rossetti and Ivor Gurney.

Hugill's songs stand in the central stream of English song-making rather akin to those of Butterworth, Warlock, Gurney, Howells and Vaughan Williams. Among more modern English language composers, he has more in common with Ian Venables than with Britten. His candid gift for gracious melody is never in doubt and if the songs show a leaning towards mournful beauty and sorrowing ecstasy then that is an aspect of the genre which clearly speaks to Hugill. There is a degree more variety of mood in the Rossetti songs. Even so one would occasionally have wished for a lightly tripping song, even one with a sardonic edge, to accentuate the rhapsodic melancholy. Take Finzi as an example: he always offers a Budmouth Dears or When I set out for Lyonnesse for every At a Lunar Eclipse or I look into my glass. In the case of these movingly concentrated songs the mood is rather homogeneous; a more sustained focus. It's impressively done and there is great beauty here. I was especially pleased with Hugill's way of keeping his music following the rhythm and pattern of the words in the vocal line. Try He would not stay for me (tr.5) as an example. His deadened bell tolling in When summer's end is nighing (tr.8) echoes similarly fresh use of such motifs in other Housman settings.

The singing duties are primarily shouldered by the inward glowing voice of baritone Johnny Herford (related to Henry Herford?) who numbers Butterworth’s Six Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’ in his repertoire. The Rossetti set is sung by mezzo Anna Huntley - six songs out of eighteen. The use of baritone and mezzo imparts a darkened tone to the music-making here or so you would have thought. In fact, Huntley and her songs have more of soprano lightness about them. Her voice reminds me of that of the young Janet Baker. William Vann, a pupil of that other fine accompanist, Malcolm Martineau, is the skilled and sympathetic pianist. He holds the mood secure, often in a slow-stepping modesty that seems to paint countryside contours as eloquently as Gurney's Severn Meadows. The piano also sings as in the Rossetti Two Pursuits (tr.11). The prize-winning and very sensitively engaged violist, Rosalind Ventris completes the picture. She is an equal and provocative presence in the Rossetti songs. Several times the viola and Huntley's voice chime together in a very original way - a keen-bladed shivering concatenation.

The words of the Rowan Williams songs are in the disc's three-fold paper insert. The texts for the others are also accessible courtesy of Navona and can be found there with additional notes.

Recording engineer Andrew Walton of K&A Productions provides an intimate and cocooned sound that aptly cossets these songs.

The disc is accommodated in a cardboard case that has two pockets: one for the disc and one for the six-page paper fold.
Rob Barnett


Winter Journey (2009), for baritone and piano [14:25]
A setting of Winterreise: for Gillian Rose, 9 December 1995, by Rowan Williams (b. 1950)
From The Poems of Rowan Williams (2002)
Johnny Herford (baritone), William Vann (piano)
1. Morning
2. Afternoon
3. Evening

Four Songs to Texts by A. E. Housman (2008), for baritone and piano [12:35]
Settings of poems by A. E. Housman (1859-1936), from More Poems (1936) and Additional Poems (1939)
Johnny Herford (baritone), William Vann (piano)
4. He looked at me - 'He looked at me with eyes I thought / I was not like to find'
5. He would not stay for me - 'He would not stay for me, and who can wonder?'
6. Because I liked you better - 'Because I liked you better / Than suits a man to say'
7. A.J.J. - When he's returned - 'When he's returned I'll tell him . . .'

When summer's end is nighing (2016), for baritone and piano [4:28]
A setting of A.E. Housman's untitled poem XXXIX, from Last Poems (1922)
Johnny Herford (baritone), William Vann (piano)
8. 'When summer's end is nighing / And skies at evening cloud'

Quickening (2001), for mezzo-soprano, viola and piano [18:33]
A song cycle to poems by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
Anna Huntley (mezzo), Rosalind Ventris (viola), William Vann (piano)
9. Song - 'When I am dead, my dearest, / Sing no sad songs for me'
10. Bitter for Sweet - 'Summer is gone with all its roses'
11. Two Pursuits - 'A voice said, "Follow, follow" : and I rose'
12. Remember - 'Remember me when I am gone away'
13. Withering - 'Fade, tender lily, / Fade, O crimson rose'
14. The First Spring Day - 'I wonder if the sap is stirring yet'

Four Songs to Texts by Ivor Gurney (2007), for baritone and piano [14:15]
Settings of poems by Ivor Gurney (1890-1937)
Johnny Herford (baritone), William Vann (piano)
15. Song - 'My heart makes songs on lonely roads'
16. Requiem - 'Pour out your light, O stars . . .'
17. To His Love - 'He's gone and all our plans / are useless indeed'
18. Song and Pain - 'Out of my sorrow have I made these songs'



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