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Caneuon Taliesin –Taliesin’s Songbook
Rebecca Evans (soprano), Gareth Brynmor John (baritone), Susan Bullock (soprano), Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano), Elgan Llŷr Thomas (tenor), Natalya Romaniw (soprano), Andrew Matthews-Owen (piano), Catrin Finch (harp)
Rec. 2021, Cardiff, UK
TŶ CERDD TCR031 [71:37]

This CD represents a considerable achievement, and Tŷ Cerdd records in Cardiff deserve great praise for issuing it. They have managed to involve a genuinely starry cast of singers, and the whole enterprise has been ‘curated’ (to use the trendy term) by the pianist Andrew Matthews-Owen, whose playing features on all but two of the twenty-two tracks. So an enormous undertaking for him, and equally importantly, he has assembled a programme that gives an invaluable overview of the rich seam of Welsh song composition over the past century or so.

Some of the composers are well-known figures – William Mathias, Alun Hoddinott, Grace
Williams to start with – but many will be unfamiliar outside of Wales. Among these are the talents of such as Mark Bowden (the youngest composer on the disc) and the remarkable Morfydd Owen, who died in 1918 at the age of twenty-seven. And I note in passing that four of the thirteen composers are women, which is striking in itself.

The performers make an impressive list, for here are some of the most gifted Welsh singers of modern times, Rebecca Evans, Natalya Romaniw and Gareth Brynmor John amongst them. Susan Bullock is here as well, one of the finest of today’s Britain’s operatic sopranos; she was born in Cheshire, but is from a Welsh family, and her brother Dafydd appears as a composer too.

There are some memorable performances; Rebecca Evans begins with Y Mynydd (The Mountain), the first of three Caneuon Natur (Nature Songs), by Dilys Elwyn Edwards, who died in 2012 aged ninety-four. Evans makes a clumsy start, with an ugly swoop up to her first note (surprised they didn’t retake that), but soon makes amends with some magical singing in that famously golden top register of hers. She goes on to sing two of Alun Hoddinott’s Four Welsh Songs, whose unaffected melodiousness is very welcome; splendid though this collection is, there is an awful lot of rather mournful minor key music, and the occasional lighter number certainly lifts the mood!

Elin Manahan Thomas is another high soprano (though completely different vocally from Rebecca Evans), and the remarkable agility of her voice facilitates a stunning performance of Rhian Samuel’s Yr Alarch (The Swan). This setting of a 14th century Welsh poem is unaccompanied, and is, quite frankly, a tour de force – probably the most memorable track on the disc. Manahan Thomas is very gifted, but needs to choose her repertoire carefully; she is nothing like as successful in Grace Williams’s The Loom, beautiful in its simplicity though this number is.

Mark Bowden is, as mentioned above, the youngest of the composers on the CD, and is represented by his three settings of poems by the brilliant poet Gwyneth Lewis. Bowden makes use of the title she gave her collection from which these three are taken, The Soul Candle. The settings are impressive, with the piano accompaniment characterising the songs sharply, and baritone Gareth Brynmor John, with his splendid baritone, able to project both the declamatory and more thoughtful aspects of the poetry and the music.

I won’t go through all the songs, but hopefully I’ve given an impression of the high quality of what we can find on this CD. I was dismayed at first not to find texts and translations in the booklet; but there is (tucked away rather unobtrusively at the very back!) a note telling us that these can be found, along with links to more information about composers and performers, on the Tŷ Cerdd website. Finally, if you’re wondering about the name ‘Taliesin’, he was a legendary bard of the 6th century in Wales, who is said to have travelled around the kingly courts with his poems, songs and ideas. Certainly one of the key figures of Welsh culture – back at a time when the English language had yet to appear – and a well-chosen title for this superb CD.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

Dilys Elwyn EDWARDS (1918-2012)
Caneuon Natur [7:35]
Cloths of Heaven [2:37]
Alun HODDINOTT [1929-2008]
Pedoli, Pedoli [1:12]
Cysga di, fy Mhlentyn Tlws [2:08]
(both from Four Welsh Songs, op. 38 no. 5)
Mediaeval Carol, op. 38 no. 2 [1:55]
Arwel HUGHES [1909-1988]
Nid oes un foment [2:58]
Mae m’ron yn dyner [2:11]
(both from the opera Menna)
Dafydd BULLOCK (b. 1953)
Crib Goch [4:17]
E.T. DAVIES (1878-1969)
Ynys y plant [5:46]
Mark BOWDEN (b.1979)
The Soul Candle [8:06]
Rhian SAMUEL (b. 1944)
Yr Alarch [4:32]
Gareth GLYN (b. 1951)
Hymn to the Virgin [2:47]
Grace WILLIAMS (1906-1877)
The Loom [3:17]
Huw WATKINS (b. 1976)
Eyes look into the well [2:56]
(from Three Auden Songs)
William MATHIAS (1934-1992)
Pan Oeddwn Fachgen [7:09]
Morfydd OWEN (1891-1918)
Slumber Song of the Madonna [2:44]
Gweddi a Pechadur [5:57]
Meirion WILLIAMS [1901-1976)
Gwynfyd [3:15]



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