Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
The Songs of Roger Quilter - Volume 3
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano)
Nathan Vale (tenor)
Adrian Farmer (piano)
rec. 2018/19, Wyastone Leys, UK
NIMBUS NI5983 [64:37]
This disc is the third in a series from Nimbus of the songs arranged by Roger Quilter. Many of these will be familiar to those who, like me, were taught traditional songs at primary school and who listened to the BBC “Singing Together” with the redoubtable William Appleby.
Volume 1, sung by Charlotte de Rothschild was reviewed by Ian Lace who was not fully convinced; this produced a response from Adrian Farmer and Charlotte de Rothschild. Marc Rochester also had reservations about a full CD of Quilter’s songs sung by de Rothschild. Volume 2, features songs sung by tenor, Nathan Vale. This garnered favourable comment elsewhere but has not, as yet, been reviewed by MusicWeb International. It would undoubtedly be interesting to hear.
On the present disc, the songs date from when Quilter was in his late twenties: 1905 right through to 1947, when he was seventy, only a few years before his death. We also have songs from both a soprano and tenor and they interchange throughout the disc. This is most effective and contributes a variety, alluded to as missing in part, in reviews of Volume 1. As is the case with many collections, I would advocate playing a few at a time rather than the whole disc.
The distinguished composer Trevor Hold neatly summed things up: "If Elgar was the Edwardian Age's orchestral composer par excellence, then Roger Quilter was its songwriter-laureate." The underlying impression from this disc is the wealth in Quilter's songs covering most of his years of composition. It includes “Three Pastoral Songs”, Op. 22 of 1920 and eleven songs from “The Arnold Book of Old Songs”, 1921 to 1947. In 1942 Quilter began composing arrangements of folk songs to send to a favourite nephew and godson, Arnold Guy Vivian, who was serving in the military during World War II. A year later Vivian was listed as missing in action and had in fact been captured in North Africa. He was transported to a German POW camp from which he escaped only to be recaptured and executed without trial, rather like the “50” in “The Great Escape”. The folk song settings, intended as a gift, instead became a published memorial. Vivian’s death had a very severe effect on Quilter’s mental well-being, sadly reminiscent of composer Herbert Howells after his son’s death. These songs have previously been recorded on Naxos and reviewed favourably.
There are some very familiar songs in this collection and I’m delighted that there are good notes by Valerie Langfield, author of “Roger Quilter - His Life and Music”, Boydell Press. She points out that the songs on this disc span more than fifty years and show Quilter in all his moods - light, exuberant, ephemeral, narrative, pensive, but always melodic. Few composers, especially songsmiths, can claim to have written works that have remained in print since they were first published more than a hundred years ago. Roger Quilter is one such, though the number of his songs still in print is regrettably small. It is also excellent that the words to the songs are printed here alongside biographies of the three artists. The first eleven songs are shared between the soprano and tenor and make for a very English experience. The songs float and are ideal for the warm sunny day during which I auditioned this record.
Ben Jonson’s “Drink to me only with thine eyes” opens “The Arnold Book of Old Songs”. I warm to Nathan Vale’s approach with sympathetic and melodic accompaniment by Adrian Farmer. “My lady’s garden” was unfamiliar but I found it captivating. It was written by Rodney Bennett (1890-1948), whom Ian Lace advised was the father of Richard Rodney Bennett, and was a talented poet who collaborated with Quilter in works for the theatre as well as in his songs. Bennett furnished new texts for some of the traditional Arnold song-settings. A very familiar one of these is “The Ash Grove” which is very evocative and is affectionately sung by the soprano. As in the first half, the songs, recorded at separate times, are sung between Vale and de Rothschild. "My Lady Greensleeves" is charming. Its words are attributed to an Irish poet named John Irvine (1903-1964) who was born in Belfast and who published several collections of poems. He edited “The Flowering Branch”, An Anthology of Irish Poetry Past and Present. It was fascinating to hear this very well-known song with these words, finely sung by Vale. Not to be outdone, de Rothschild gives a very spirited rendition of “Over the mountains”. It’s also good to hear the stirring “Barbara Allen” and Robert Burn’s “Ca the Yowes”, the latter sung very richly by Vale who some will prefer to a tenor like Peter Pears.
Many of these songs are in the musical DNA of a certain generation of music-lovers and evoke a world that Quilter must have hoped would return after the war. They undoubtedly strike a chord at present. The whole collection is a rich treasury and very well put together. I found it entrancing. Four songs end the joint recital including Bennett’s “The cradle in Bethlehem” which was transcribed for choir as late as 1949. Charlotte de Rothschild has previously recorded this, for “Christmas Lullabies”, with Danielle Perrett (harp), a collection reviewed very favourably by Colin Clarke and Gary Higginson in 2013 (Nimbus). The inspired “I Arise from Dreams of Thee”, with words by Shelley from “The Indian Serenade”, is very poignant and apt to end this collection with an air of pervasive sadness:
“The Nightingale's complaint,
It dies upon her heart; —
As I must on thine,
Oh, belovèd as thou art!”
I found this CD very satisfying and would commend it to all lovers of English folk music. The singing and piano playing are all of a piece and very well recorded and engineered. This inspires me to hope to explore the first two CDs in this series and also Roger Quilter.
David R Dunsmore
Three Pastoral Songs, Op. 22 (Campbell) (1920) [7:05]
I Will Go With My Father A-ploughing [2:06]
Cherry Valley [2:50]
I Wish and I Wish [2:09]
In The Bud of The Morning-O, Op. 25, No. 6 (Stephens) (1926) [1:24]
Music and Moonlight (Shelley) [2:22]
The Time of Roses, Op. 24, No. 5 (Hood) [1:46]
In The Highlands, Op. 26, No. 1 (Stevenson) [3:27]
Love's Philosophy, Op. 3 No. 1 (Shelley) [1:35]
A Song at Parting (C. Rossetti) [2:22]
The Jocund Dance, Op. 18, No. 3 (Blake) [1:57]
Now Sleeps The Crimson Petal, Op. 3, No. 2 (Tennyson) [2:30]
From “The Arnold Book of Old Songs (1921-1947) [28:05]
Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes (Jonson) [2:22]
My Lady's Garden (Bennett) [3:25]
Charlie Is My Darling (Anon.) [1:36]
Ye Banks and Braes (Burns) [3:08]
Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms (Moore) [2:18]
My Lady Greensleeves (Irvine) [2:40]
Over The Mountains (From Percy’s Reliques) [2:12]
Barbara Allen (Trad.) [3:50]
Ca' the Yowes (Burns) [2:24]
The Jolly Miller (Anon.) [1:58]
The Ash Grove (Bennett) [2:12]
The cradle in Bethlehem (1945) (Bennett) [2:45]
One Word Is Too Often Profaned (1946) (Shelley) [1:30]
June (1905) (Nora Hopper) [2:25]
I Arise from Dreams of Thee (1928) (Shelley) [5:14]