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Charles DIBDIN (1745-1814)
The Jubilee (1769) [37:46]
Datchet Mead (1797) [21:10]
Queen Mab (1769) [8:03]
Soraya Mafi (soprano), Heather Shipp (mezzo-soprano), Robert Murray (tenor), Simon Butteriss (baritone)
Stephen Higgins (piano), Matthew Truscott (violin) and John Crockett (violin), Aliye Cornish (viola), Robin Michael (cello), Lisa Beznosiuk (flute), Zoe Shevlin (bassoon)
rec. 2018, Richard Burnett Heritage Collection, Royal Tunbridge Wells
Texts included

The ‘Jubilee’ that the actor David Garrick organised at Stratford-upon-Avon in September 1769 was a three-day Shakespeare festival with a series of songs written by the young Charles Dibdin. On his return to London, Garrick then incorporated the songs into a theatrical performance called, naturally enough, The Jubilee.
Garrick penned the songs, which Dibdin set, to establish Shakespeare as a kind of folk hero. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why Garrick, then the foremost actor on the London stage, never seems to have considered performing one of the plays in his Jubilee appearance. This release presents a chamber version of The Jubilee, in Garrick’s cannily repurposed production at the Drury Lane theatre in London.

The Jubilee is performed with the accompaniment of a piano, played by Stephen Higgins on a Broadwood of 1801. The songs are intact but the spoken dialogue is significantly cut, a pragmatic and I think wise decision given the nature of the genre. Nevertheless the work still lasts 38 minutes and no listener will feel short-changed, surely, when one can imagine so well how the staged performance might have sounded. The leading performer here is Simon Butteriss, a young veteran, if I can put it thus, of patter roles and whose experience as an actor allows him to take numerous parts, employing all manner of voices. Not only is he Dibdin the narrator but he is inter alia the Irishman, various servants, two old women, a musician and a comic souvenir seller – where he nudge-nudges into Eric Idle territory. If there had been a part for a partridge in a pear tree, doubtless Butteriss would have stepped up, and his virtuoso ventriloquism does much to buttress the occasionally lengthy nature of the exchanges.

Dibdin was often denigrated for lack of adventure and for limitations in his harmonic language but his songs, duets, ballads and choruses are lively and sympathetic. Espousing the galant style was in fact a prevailing orthodoxy for an English composer of the 1760s and Dibdin’s music comes across as melodically ingratiating. The Warwickshire Lad and Shakespeare’s Mulberry-Tree are two of the most hummable of numbers and go some way to explaining the success of the Drury Lane performances. Robert Murray sings the last named with ardour. Elsewhere the firm voiced mezzo Heather Sharp and the fine soprano Soraya Mafi prove stylish interpreters.

Nearly three decades later Dibdin composed Datchet Mead, or The Fairy Court, a serenata in which he set his own text. Once again Higgins lends invaluable support, alone at the piano, and the same quartet of singers return. Dibdin’s galant style is much more pronounced here than in The Jubilee which trades more on rusticity and ballad and thus requires a lighter, more demotic tone. There’s a beguilingly Arcadian element to one of the stand-out songs, Shepherd bring the oaten reed, with its rhythmically underlying rhythm, and is finely dispatched by Murray. Butteriss’s contribution evokes high camp.

The final work is Queen Mab, with a text by Isaac Bickerstaffe – again much cut - also written for the Stratford festival and, because of its seriousness of tone, probably programmed to be performed first. Though it’s very short in this performance – eight minutes – Dibdin published it, so its orchestration can be recreated in this chamber recording with string quartet, flute, bassoon and piano. There are two recitatives and two airs extolling Shakespeare and they are finely sung and performed. Shakespeare as ‘sovereign of the human heart’ was well served.

There are full texts in the most attractively designed booklet with its splendid notes by John Cunningham. All these works are making premiere appearances on disc and bring a slice of eighteenth-century theatrical history happily to life.

Jonathan Woolf

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