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John BRUNNING (b. 1954)
Swansongs. Songs of Remembrance
Sleep [3:28]
When Poppies Fall [3:45]
Father [2;32]
I Live Again [3:09]
Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano)
Daniel Grimwood (piano)
rec. 2018, All Saints Church, East Finchley, London. DDD
Texts included

Swansongs. Songs of Remembrance is a cycle of four songs in which John Brunning says he has sought to address the issue of death “in as positive a way as possible”. I’m not entirely sure when the songs were composed. However, I suspect they were written during 2018 because Elin Manahan Thomas gave their first performance at the North Wales International Music Festival (St Asaph) in September 2018, shortly after the present recording was made. The booklet offers the sung texts but no authors are credited which leads me to conjecture, correctly, I hope, that Brunning has set his own words.

There are four songs though, in fact. The first two, ‘Sleep’ and ‘When Poppies Fall’ are settings of different words to the same music. Brunning tells us in his own notes that ‘Sleep’ is a response to the death of someone to whom he was close. The music is simple and tender. As you might infer from the title, ‘When Poppies Fall’ is linked to the commemoration of the Great War: Brunning was inspired by the traditional ending of the Royal British Legion’s annual Festival of Remembrance when countless poppy petals fall silently from the ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall. The third song memorialises the composer’s father. He died when John Brunning was just six years old but not before, in buying for his son his first gramophone, he had kindled his love of music. The final song is, Brunning says, “arguably the most uplifting” of the set. It conveys “the sentiment of life continuing in some way [after death], no matter how abstract.”

The songs are attractive and have an immediate melodic appeal. Brunning’s songs are sincere in expression though I don’t find that they plumb any great emotional depths. Though the vocal lines are appealing the piano parts take the form of fairly simple accompaniment; they are not really independent and don’t appear to tax Daniel Grimwood in any way. Elin Manahan Thomas sings very well and with commitment.

The playing time is extremely short; I believe the disc is being sold at a reduced price (about half the usual for a well-filled Signum disc).

John Quinn



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