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Sir Arthur SOMERVELL (1863-1937)
Maud (1898-9) [35.07]
A Shropshire Lad (1904-05) [21.05]
Roderick Williams (baritone)
Susie Allan (piano)
rec. 2019, Menuhin Hall, Yehudi Menuhin School, UK

Sir Arthur Somervell was born in England’s Lake District into a well-to-do family of leather merchants, famous for their ‘K’ (K for the local town of Kendal) Shoes. He was educated at Uppingham School, in Rutland, England’s smallest county and at Kings College, Cambridge. He took composition lessons from Charles Villiers Stanford and later with Parry after studies in Berlin and London. For many years he was Chief Inspector of H.M. Schools and Training Colleges. Jeremy Dibble, contributing the excellent informed notes to this invaluable SOMM CD, observes that ‘… his musical education must have been immersed in the German Lieder tradition of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. Indeed, as a composer of song cycles, Somervell justifiably earned the soubriquet ‘the English Schumann’.  

Many readers of the vintage of this reviewer (I am approaching my mid-80s) may well remember, as children, when the world seemed so much more innocent then, listening to uncles or aunts singing ‘Come into the Garden, Maud’ with an upright piano accompaniment. Often too, the strains of this song, in a more straightforward and less erudite setting, could be heard on the radio in family or forces favourites programmes. Much later, Tennyson’s Maud, for me, became indelibly associated with the extraordinary violent outburst in the third, Rondo, movement of Elgar’s Second Symphony, ‘Dead long dead.. And the wheels go over my head, And my bones are shaken with pain, For into a shallow grave they are thrust…). This scenario becomes No. 11, ‘Dead, long dead’ in Somervell’s as Maud’s distraught lover is caught up in a nightmare.  

The track listing at the foot of this review will give an impression of the progress of Maud’s ill-fated romance, her father’s business ruin, her brother’s intervention in the romance between Maud and the narrator and the tragic aftermath.  All this is high melodrama, of course, yet Roderick Williams, in very fine form, never condescends and delivers these songs in sympathetic stoicism, colouring his voice to suit the events of this emotional rollercoaster. His realisation of the Housman poems is equally sensitive and quietly convincing.

As a relief from all the dark forbidding melodrama of Maud, comes Somervell’s rollicking, breezy, bouncy A Kingdom by the Sea.

Somervell’s settings of Housman’s A Shropshire Lad are somewhat different from the six wondrously scored by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The ten Somerville settings seem more restrained. Loveliest of Trees (the RVW setting meltingly beautiful) is gently nostalgic and In Summertime on Bredon is powerful indeed with the piano part so very telling, intimating church bass bells tolling heavily and gloomily. Somerville bestows a colourful and inventive piano accompaniment for so many of these songs. Susie Allen seizes every opportunity to realise meaning both open and possibly alluded. Her empathy with the spirit and atmosphere of these songs is positively outstanding throughout the whole of this CD. The collection is rounded off with the inclusion of Somervell’s enchanting Shepherd’s Cradle Song

This is another invaluable SOMM addition to the discography of English song.

Ian Lace

Previous review: John Quinn

1)  I –   I hate the dreadful hollow [1.44]
2)  II – A voice by the cedar tree [3.59]
3)  III -She came to a village church [1.24]
4)  IV – O let the solid ground [1.08] 
5)  V -   Birds in the high Hall garden [2.40]
6)  VI - Maud has a garden [1.43]
7)  VII – Go not, happy day [1.35]
8)  VIII – I have led her home [2.35]
9)  IX   - Come in to the garden, Maud [3.28]
10) X   - The fault was mine [3.40]
11) X   - Dead, long dead (4.08)
12) XII – O that ’twere possible [1.45]
13) XIII – My life has crept so long [5.12]

14) A kingdom by the Sea [3.36]  

A Shropshire Lad 
1)  I    Loveliest of Trees [1.52]
2)  II When I was one-and-twenty [1.09]
3)  III There pass the careless people [1.25]
4)  IV In summertime on Bredon [3.11]
5)  V The street sounds to the soldiers’ tread [2.00]
6)  VI On the idle hill of summer [2.25]
7)  VII White in the moon the long road lies [2.55]
8) VIII Think no more, lad, be jolly [1.43]
9)  IX Into my heart an air that kills [1.37]
10) X The lads in their hundreds [2.45]

11) Shepherd’s Cradle Song [2.35]

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