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Calen-o: Songs from the North of Ireland
Carolyn Dobbin (mezzo soprano)
Iain Burnside (piano)
rec. 2017(?), St Mary’s Haddington
Full texts included
DELPHIAN DCD34187 [56:22]

This is a finely programmed recital of songs from the North of Ireland – Ulster, if you will – that focuses on four composers born within a period of a half-century. The earliest-born is Charles Wood, long admired for his choral music but here represented by a quintet of songs, none recorded before it would seem, that stretch the whole length of his compositional life. There is a quality of noble restraint in his setting of Thomas Moore’s At the Mid-hour of Night – and Moore was, naturally, something of a foundation stone for Irish composers of this period and beyond. The rich amplitude of his piano harmonies gives great depth to At Sea and whilst one would expect Wood to explore the melancholia enshrined in Christina Rossetti’s Shall I Forget, he also mines the folklore of The Outlaw of Loch Lene and the urgent lamentation of Credhe's Lament for Cail.

Wood’s 1897 collection called Irish Folksongs was dedicated to Stanford, and this was presumably an acknowledgement of his influence and also perhaps a tacit recognition that Wood himself felt emboldened to explore the depth of this repertoire though, generally speaking the examples here are strophic. Hamilton Harty, unlike Wood, chose not to set Moore but he did write some 60 songs, generally using the texts of contemporary Irish poets, so one finds Padraic Colum, Lizzie Twigg (Élis ní Chraobhín) and the expected Yeats. Only two of the Harty songs presented here have been recorded before. As one of the most admired accompanists of his time, and married to an eminent singer, Agnes Nicholls, he was well placed to write a raft of songs to complement his orchestral and other works. He draws on a range of influences in these songs – the Scythe Song in particular shows an adroit awareness of prevailing trends and there are apt rolled chords in A Cradle Song. His The Fiddler of Dooney is expertly jaunty whilst the three Sea Prayers from the Greek Anthology make for a finely contrasting set, the last being vivid, vibrant and joyful.

Howard Ferguson’s Irish Folksongs, of which there are five, are examples of a composer never doing too much with his material. All the accompaniments are deft, though not skeletal, the vocal lines are full of charm – not least I'm from over the Mountain - with the disc’s ‘title track’ being soothing and sweetly done, and the last setting, My Grandfather Died, served with quixotic verve. Joan Trimble, best known perhaps for her appearances with her sister Valerie as a piano duo, contributes three settings, two of which are melancholic and full of expansive sadness contrasting with the central Girl’s Song with its athleticism and brio. Trimble’s romanticism of spirit is somewhat tempered by an admixture of pianistic impressionism.

The church acoustic is just slightly too ample but doesn’t in any way dampen Carolyn Dobbin and Iain Burnside’s spirited and sensitive performances. Her mezzo has quite a strong vibrato, the voice itself turning operatically-inclined in one or two places – as it does in Harty’s Flame in the skies, and not altogether comfortably. But the overwhelming impression here remains one of fine performances of rare songs.

Jonathan Woolf

Joan TRIMBLE (1915-2000)
Green Rain [2:51]
Girl's Song [1:39]
My Grief on the Sea [3:33]
Hamilton HARTY (1879-1941)
A Cradle Song (1907) [2:17]
Scythe Song [1:50]
Flame in the Skies (1908) [2:23]
At Easter (1938) [2:28]
The Fiddler of Dooney [1:58]
The Sea Gypsy [1:42]
The Blue Hills [1:57]
Three Sea Prayers from the Greek Anthology (1909): No. 1, To the Gods of Harbour and Headland [2:23]: No. 2, Saved by Faith [1:35]: No. 3, To Apollo of Leucas [1:56]
Howard FERGUSON (1908-1999)
Irish Folk Songs: No. 1, The Apron of Flowers [2:18]: No. 2, I'm from over the Mountain [1:57]: No. 3, Calen-o [1:53]: No. 4, The Swan [3:01]: No. 5, My Grandfather Died [2:06]
Charles WOOD (1866-1926)
At the Mid-hour of Night (1886) [3:02]
At Sea (pub 1927) [3:24]
Shall I Forget (1887) [2:42]
The Outlaw of Loch Lene (1898) [3:22]
Credhe's Lament for Cail (1897) [3:50]


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