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Roger QUILTER (1877-1953) The Complete Quilter Songbook - Volume 3
Mark Stone (baritone), Stephen Barlow (piano)
rec. 2007, Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex
English texts included STONE RECORDS 5060192780956 [77:16]
In December 2007, the site reviewed a double CD (Sony) of “The Complete Quilter Songbook Vol. 1”. This was to have been the first of two such sets to cover Roger Quilter’s 140 songs. “Volume 2” has never appeared, as far as I can see. That’s a real shame as it was very highly regarded. However, the good news is that Stone Records are issuing four Quilter song CDs by Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow. The first two have attracted very favourable reviews in the recorded music press. Having recently reviewed Volumes 2 and 3 (review) of Nimbus’s own Quilter collection, I was delighted to receive this Stone disc recorded in 2007. In a nutshell, this is a sheer joy from start to finish. It’s like being in the room with Mark Stone and his powerful but sensitive voice and apt accompaniment by Stephen Barlow. The recording is perfect for this music As for the booklet, it is an exemplar of what’s required: good background notes and the lyrics to the songs with annotation on each.
In the site’s 2007 review Quilter is pointed out as essentially a miniaturist. Art songs were, by some distance, the most significant part of his creative output. I mentioned earlier that the best words brought out the best music in him You might say the same of discerning composers like Gerald Finzi or Ivor Gurney. I have an affinity for the world of English song although it’s not usually part of my listening habits. However, my first primary school and then Magdalen College School had a strong music tradition introducing me to “Singing Together” on the BBC Home Service. That’s where many of these songs became familiar and they are lovely to revisit.
This volume has the subtitle “Breaking free from the parental shackles” and the notes are useful. There is acknowledgement to Leslie East and Valerie Langfield, author of “Roger Quilter. His life and music”, published by Boydell & Brewer and reviewed in 2002 by John Talbot. I think it will be on my “Birthday/Christmas” present list as I’m beginning to be drawn to this composer and want to know more about him and discover other recordings.
It may be useful to put these works into context and for this purpose I am drawing on the invaluable liner-notes. Quilter had lived the first 34 years of his life in the shadow of his father’s disapproval of his choice of career and his general character Both of these were anathema to Sir Cuthbert, whose other sons had been captains of industry and of the military. When he died in 1911, Quilter’s life changed dramatically. He inherited a substantial fortune, which gave him the freedom to live as he saw fit, without fear of paternal reproach. His mother, who had also found Sir Cuthbert’s presence somewhat hard to bear, had hoped for a closer relationship with her son after Sir Cuthbert’s death. Quilter had other ideas, and naturally felt the need to set up home on his own. He managed to pacify her by choosing a house that was only half a mile from the Quilter London residence. During his father’s final months, in the summer of 1911, he was asked to write the music for a children’s play entitled Where the rainbow ends. At the time, he was depressed and considering taking a break from composition to go to Switzerland for his health. In the end, he wrote a considerable amount of music for the play, which was a huge success. It continued to run at Christmas in London every year, save two, until 1959 – it even rivalled J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. The first season of 69 performances ended on 29 January 1912, and Quilter’s fame as a popular composer was well and truly established.
Quilter began to enjoy his new-found liberty and, no doubt encouraged by the success of Where the rainbow ends, travelled around Europe. His new circle of friends was centred around the extravagant American painter Florence Koehler, and included a number of homosexuals. Although not an exclusively gay set, they shared a common artistic sensibility. He continued to compose, at his own leisurely pace, and generally seemed to be enjoying a period of lively contentment. This was all to change with the outbreak of the First World War.
Quilter stayed in England, where he had been called up for service in April 1916 and then again, a year later. On both occasions, it was concluded that he was not fit enough for active service. Unable to concentrate on music, for a while he took some routine writing work in the War Office. This made him feel ill and by November 1916 he had to give it up. He penned a handful of songs and some short piano pieces, but there was to be little else until the war was over. The strain of the conflict had taken its toll on his health. His behaviour at times was unconventional by the mores of the time. Thus, the war passed for Quilter. He escaped the air raids whenever he could and visited friends and family, but the bitter reality was brought home to him by the loss of those close to him. In spite of his medical exemption from service, which confirmed his ill-health, he did help when he could, providing financial assistance to friends in need and arranging benefit concerts. By the end of the war his finances were severely stretched and his income was less than half its pre-war level. Professionally, this was an unsettling time, when composition was attempted for short periods, but any sustained creative effort – often a challenge for Quilter – was made impossible.
This collection of songs confirms the positive aspects of Quilter’s talents. He might not be the greatest English songsmith but he provides extremely satisfying arrangements. Favourites here are “Drink to me only with thine eyes”; there is apparently a version of this by Johnny Cash which sounds intriguing. The arrangement of John Irvine’s “My lady Greensleeves” appealed when I heard Nathan Vale (Nimbus) sing this and Mark Strong is very good here too with a deeper tone. The two Irish songs from The Arnold Book are interesting, including “Believe me, if all those endearing young charms”. The three Scottish songs are old favourites and surely some will want to sing along in “Ye banks and braes”, “Charlie is my darling” and Robert Burns, my grandfather’s favourite, “Ca’the yowes to the knowes”. These are followed by a Rodney Bennett (Richard Rodney Bennett’s father) setting “Freedom”. This is inspiring and is notable for its similarity to Eric Coates’ “Dambusters” theme from the wonderful film of 1955. Bennett wrote lyrics for the film under pen-name Roydon Barrie. Rodney Bennett also provides two songs from “Love at the Inn” and I was much taken with “Love calls through the summer night”. This is sung with real understanding and quality; it’s sad the work never took off. “The Sunday Times” called it a very charming musical comedy; I think the music is higher than that. Also, there’s the carol “The cradle in Bethlehem” which was written for the young parents of “St Mary’s Hospital” where a recently departed Uncle (music-lover) of mine finished qualification as a doctor in the early 1950s with his friend Sir Roger Bannister. It certainly deserves to be in Christmas collections. One discovery is the French song “ Vous et moi” discovered in the manuscript of his 1904, Laurence Binyon (famous for “They shall grow not old”) setting “The Song”. Stone is equally proficient in the German songs of Mirza Schaffy. I won’t go further on commenting on every song but rest assured they are all worthy of the attention of lovers of English song. That said, the splendid Welsh song “The Ash grove” makes a fine dénouement.
Usually, in this kind of collection, I suggest that one should sample a few songs at the time. Here, I feel that the singer and pianist have thought carefully about the contents in this collection and the order of the songs; it seems to me ideal to set aside eighty minutes, a comfortable chair, possibly a drink and just soak up this life-affirming music. This disc will certainly be returning to my stereo very soon. I hope that I may have the opportunity to hear the previous volumes and look forward to the next and final volume with enthusiasm and anticipation. David R Dunsmore
Contents The Arnold Book of Old Songs - English
Drink to me only with thine eyes [2:25]
Over the mountains [1:57]
My Lady Greensleeves [3:26]
The jolly miller [2:28]
Barbara Allen [4:00]
Three poor mariners [1:25]
Since first I saw your face [1:53] What will you do, love? [2:00] Wind from the south [2:50] The Arnold Book of Old Songs - Irish
Believe me, if all those endearing young charms [2:14]
Oh! ’tis sweet to think [1:52] The rose of Tralee [2:32] The walled-in garden [1:57] I got a robe [1:47] Slumber song [2:01] The Arnold Book of Old Songs - Scottish
Ye banks and braes [2:31]
Charlie is my darling [1:30]
Ca’ the yowes to the knowes [3:24] Freedom [2:45] Songs from “Love at the Inn”
If love should pass me by [1:36]
Love calls through the summer night [5:16] The cradle in Bethlehem [2:51] The Arnold Book of Old Songs - French
The man behind the plough [3:08]
My lady’s garden [3:59]
Pretty month of May [1:26] Vous et moi [2:11] Mond, du bist glücklicher als ich [1:44] Four Songs of Mirza Schaffy
Neig’ schöne Knospe dich zu mir [2:04]
Und was die Sonne glüht [1:14]
Ich fühle deinen Odem [2:04]
Die helle Sonne leuchtet [1:37] Daisies after rain [1:15] The Arnold Book of Old songs - Welsh
The Ash Grove [2:07]