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Come, Let Us Make Love Deathless
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Twelve Humbert Wolfe Songs, H174 (1929) [27:05]
The heart worships (1908) [2:55]
I lay these lilies, H174a (1929, completed by Colin Matthews 2018) [2:44]
Joseph HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)
Annabel Lee, Op. 41b (1905) [9:33]
I came at morn, Op. 13/7 (1907) [1:49]
Homeland, Op. 74/4 (1926) [2:51]
Come, let us make love deathless, Op. 29/1 (1908) [4:35]
Killary, Op. 54/2 (1909) [5:06]
To Dianeme, Op. 24/4 (1913) [2:15]
Golden daffodils, Op. 14/3 (1905) [3:29]
A farewell, Op. 30/5 (1906) [4:12]
Gold, Op. 97/2 (1930) [2:35]
In an almond tree, Op. 97/3 (1930) [2:51]
The requital, Op. 29/5 (1910) [4:05]
James Geer (tenor)
Ronald Woodley (piano)
rec. 2018, Bradshaw Hall, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Texts included

Holst and Holbrooke are not obvious disc-mates and nor is song the first thing with which one would associate them, but their conjunction offers contrasting, if sometimes uneven attractions that will be welcomed by admirers of their more characteristic music.

Given the almost total absence of songs from Holbrooke’s discography, this selection of eleven of them, ranging in compositional date from 1905 to 1930, is of considerable interest. Given too his enthusiasm for Poe it’s not wholly surprising that he set Annabel Lee, though whether a setting not far short of ten minutes that tills the romance-sentiment furrow quite so wholeheartedly is the best introduction to Holbrooke’s art I rather doubt. Perhaps Frank Mullings, who recorded a private 78 of it with orchestral backing in the 1930s and was a notoriously histrionic and dramatic singer, could put it across. Elsewhere one feels the variousness of the composer’s songs, from the fresh-as-cut-grass I Came at Morn, the salon-like Homeland and the wan lyricism of Killary to the passionate Come, Let us Make Love Deathless – the song that lends its name to the title of the CD. If I find Killary an aimless setting I am happier with To Dianeme, a Herrick setting of 1913. A small number of Herrick’s poems proved popular for British composers of the time though Holbrooke’s use of chromaticism – tense and urgent – is at a remove from the rather baroque-leaning embarrassments of some of his contemporaries. If Holbrooke sails close to Balfe in Golden Daffodils, with words probably by the composer under a female pseudonym, he finds verdant romanticism in his setting of Gold, by Ruth Young, a poet born the year before Holbrooke. Uneven though these settings can be, there’s little doubt that these studio premiere recordings get to the heart of them. James Greer’s clear, direct, lyric-conscious tenor is splendidly balanced with Ronald Woodley’s piano. It would be too much to ask for Heddle Nash’s charismatic minstrelsy but Greer proves a thoughtful and clever exponent.

So he does, too, in Holst’s Twelve Humbert Wolfe Songs of 1929. These have been recorded by Philip Langridge and Steuart Bedford and, further back, by Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten. Holst left the ordering to the performers, since he was not committed to the songs as a true cycle in the accepted sense. The ordering here is the one adopted by Britten and Pears (duly followed by Langridge and Bedford) for their 1968 Argo LP and also followed by the composer’s daughter Imogen in her printed edition the following year. This latest recording reinstates Holst’s dynamic markings in the piano part of the powerful, Planets-like final song Betelgeuse.

One of the most salient qualities of this new recording is its directness. Langridge’s almost-honeyed intimacy and tenderness in the second song, Things Lovelier, is superior to both Greer and Pears but Greer and Woodley prove splendid in the urgency and eagerness of The Floral Bandit and in Envoi, a powerful platform for both musicians. Voicings in Journey’s End, with its Housman-like questionings, are fine, though there’s more colour still in the Langridge-Bedford reading. After the cycle comes the calm, youthful early The Heart Worships to words by Alice Mary Buckton (a near-perfect vehicle for Greer’s own youthful and clear lyric vocal qualities) and Epilogue: I lay these lilies, the final Wolfe setting, the final few bars of which were left unwritten by Holst for some reason but have been completed by Colin Matthews.

Notes, biographies and texts are all attractively and extensively presented. Documentation is, indeed, first class as are the ardent performances of Greer and the excellent Woodley

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Paul Corfield Godfrey