Tame Cat and Other Songs by British Composers
Sylvia Eaves (soprano)
Courtney Kenny (piano)
Thea King (clarinet)
rec. June 1982, New Concert Hall, New Broadcasting House, Manchester
CAMEO CLASSICS CC9128 [46:43]
This vocal recital was first issued on Cameo LP with the catalogue number GOCLP9020 and subsequently reissued on Cameo CD CC9020. Its second CD appearance comes with a new catalogue number and new livery under the Lyrita aegis. Given its provenance you must expect the LP timing of just shy of 47-minutes.
The repertoire is British song from 1901 (Bridge) to 1977 (Alan Bush). Fourteen composers are represented with one song, or set, to his or her name. Given that much musical water has passed beneath the bridge in the near-forty years since its initial release, and a lot of British song has appeared on disc, the programming still wears a clever and thoughtful look.
There is a single song from Holst’s Twelve Humbert Wolfe settings and the Iberian-lilting A Fan Song from Eugene Goossens’ opera Don Juan de Maņara. Contrast comes in the shape of Arthur Bliss’ Two Nursery Rhymes, the first occasion on which Thea King lends her support, her clarinet as eloquent as ever, the music being whimsical and witty. The intensity and sustained gravity of Rubbra’s setting of Mary Webb’s In a Dark Weather is finely conveyed, and it ends with a piano postlude that acts as a perfect summation. Delius’ Verlaine setting is one of the best-known of these songs and Sylvia Eaves’ heavier delivery contrasts sharply with the first singer of this on disc, the pure, precise Dora Labbette.
Bridge’s Edwardian Berceuse is the most expansive song, of which parts exist for an orchestrally accompanied version. Arnold Cooke chose to set three of Blake’s Songs of Innocence in which he shows once again his powers of concision and characterisation and where King’s clarinet brings rewarding colour, not least in the dancing Renaissance-hued The Echoing Green. Holbrooke’s Tame Cat is one of the very earliest settings in which a British composer called on a clarinet to provide another voice. It’s a compact setting, only two minutes, of an Ezra Pound poem, a case of one iconoclast setting the words of another. Britten’s Fish in the Unruffled Lakes is one of his Six Auden settings of 1937 and has been increasingly performed over the last decade or so. There is the attractive seriousness of Alan Bush’s Weaving Song and the pleasures of Gordon Jacob’s Three Songs for voice and clarinet sans piano. These take 16th and 17th century pieces and bring much Baroque fun to bear, as well as ripe melody. The allusive, spare accompaniment to Elizabeth Maconchy’s Shakespeare setting illustrates a perceptive use of space and is one of the most accomplished of all the songs in the recital. Howells’ Flood comes from his contribution to The Joyce Book of 1929 and the recital ends with John McCabe’s Three Folk Songs of 1963. The first is rather melancholic, teasing out the true meaning of the text, whilst the second far more markedly folkloric. In the final setting of John Peel, the singer is at war with the clarinet; the former declaims the folk texts whilst the latter insists on a nautical hornpipe. There’s no real rapprochement and that’s McCabe’s point.
There are no biographies in the booklet which contains brief, pertinent detail about the works concerned and full texts, though the Delius setting is untranslated into English (you can easily find it online if required). Sylvia Eaves sang in the chorus at Glyndebourne in 1968-69 and then a minor Mozart role in 1970 and was heard on the BBC from the 1960s to 1980 in a variety of music, mostly lighter. She sang Victorian parlour songs, ballads and quite a bit of G & S, though she paid an excursion to the pleasure gardens for Thomas Arne in 1978, gave at least one recital with Alan Bush in 1978 and Schumann, with Geoffrey Parsons, in 1980. After that I suspect she taught. In her 80s she was one of a number of people who lost a significant amount of money when taken in by a con-woman.
Courtney Kenny studied at the Royal College of Music and was active at Glyndebourne – perhaps he met Eaves there – as well as being associated with New Sadler's Wells Opera in London, where he was the Head of Music. Later he became Director of the Wexford Festival of Grand Opera. I needn’t write anything about Thea King.
Eaves has a rather operatically scaled voice and isn’t the easiest to follow when it comes to her diction which can be muddy but has a keen ear for melodic rise and fall. Kenny is a resilient accompanist and King brings spirited brio. If you can overlook the LP timing you’ll find this a cannily selected programme.
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Twelve Humbert Wolfe settings, Op. 48 No. 4, A Little Music (1929) [2:05]
Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962)
Don Juan de Maņara Op. 54, The Fan Song (arr. soprano and piano) (1936) [2:07]
Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
Two Nursery Rhymes for Soprano and Clarinet (1920): No. 1, The Ragwort [1:37]: No. 2, The Dandelion [1:31]
Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
In Dark Weather, Op. 33 (1932) [2:48]
Frederik DELIUS (1862-1934)
Avant que tu ne t'en ailles, RT V / 31 (1932) [2:52]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Berceuse, H. 9 (1901) [3:56]
Arnold COOKE (1906-2005)
Three Songs of Innocence for soprano, clarinet and piano (1957): No. 1, Piping Down the Valleys Wild
[2:06]: No. 2, The Shepherd [1:53]: No. 3, The Echoing Green [2:27]
Joseph HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)
Six Socialist Songs for voice and piano, Op. 77 (1923) No. 5, The Tame Cat [2:08]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Fish in the Unruffled Lakes - Six Auden settings (1937) [2:25]
Alan BUSH (1900-1995)
A Woman's Life, Op. 87: No. 2, Weaving Song (1977) [3:47]
Gordon JACOB (1895-1984)
Three Songs for soprano and clarinet (1931); No. 1, Of All the Birds That I Do Know [1:38]: No. 2, Flow My Tears [2:22]: No. 3, Ho, Who Comes Here? [1:12]
Elizabeth MACONCHY (1907-1994)
Four Shakespeare Songs (1965): No. 3, Take, Oh Take Those Lips Away [2:08]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Flood from The Joyce Book (1929) [1:38]
John McCABE (1939-2015)
Three Folk Songs for high-voice, clarinet and piano (1963): No. 1, Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier [2:58]:
No. 2, Hush-a-ba, Birdie, Croon, Croon [1:23]: No. 3, John Peel [1:30]