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English Orchestral Songs

Christopher Maltman (baritone), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins (conductor)
Archive Service
Recording details: August 1998
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: March 1999
Total duration: 70 minutes 27 seconds
The Archive service is for CDs which have been deleted and where the musical content is not otherwise available.

(If a CD is scheduled for re-issue within the next 3-4 months, the message 'To be reissued on …' will replace the 'Buy Archive CD' button.)

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It will be remembered that Christopher Maltman won the Lieder Prize at last year's Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He has since become widely known and admired for his rich baritone voice and stylish singing in a wide variety of musical styles. (He sang the part of Reggie Fairfax in our recording of The Geisha issued in January.)

Most of the songs on this CD are first recordings. Indeed we think one or two of them are first performances, having been specially edited by Jeremy Dibble from the original manuscripts. The Gurney songs have, of course, been recorded many times before with their original piano accompaniment but never in these orchestral arrangements by Gerald Finzi and Herbert Howells.


'Maltman captures the almost unbearably poignant feeling of these [Gurney] songs' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Singing of distinction and a programme of remarkable strength. Hyperion is on to a winner here' (Yorkshire Post)
The importance of the orchestral song as a distinctive genre was established towards the end of the nineteenth century: Wagner’s Wesendonk Lieder were undoubtedly a significant precedent, but it was in the songs of Wolf, Strauss and particularly Mahler that the genre began to develop a notable momentum. Having the orchestra as the accompanimental medium (rather than the piano) presented numerous possibilities: the immense palette of instrumental timbres had the potential to characterize a musical gesture, to intensify realistic effect, to clarify structure and to heighten that inherent sense of polyphony between voice and accompaniment (so quintessential to the late nineteenth-century organic ideology of Austro-German music). Indeed, the orchestra, as supreme agent of contrapuntal thinking, did much to accentuate the symphonic dimension of lieder composition and, in the case of Wolf, Mahler and Strauss, connected the concept of song directly with the techniques essayed in Wagner’s music dramas. This association was advanced even further in longer, through-composed songs and in the more rarefied genre of the scena.

British composers, who were guided principally by the stylistic paradigm of German lieder, were similarly enthusiastic about the medium of the orchestral song at the turn of the century. Advancement of the repertoire was to some extent aided by the nature of the orchestral concert programme which more often than not liked to include a vocal item as an interlude between larger instrumental works; moreover, the orchestral dimension of the songs was effectively stimulated by the desire of many concert societies and festivals to have the orchestra accompany the singer. Indeed, the Philharmonic Society espoused a policy whereby songs were only permitted to be performed if accompanied by orchestra, though this was not always rigorously enforced. Nevertheless, this course of action brought into being numerous orchestrations of songs originally composed for voice and piano as well as a fine repertoire of original compositions for solo voice and orchestra, many of which have now fallen into neglect. Today, for example, we are familiar with but a handful of works: Elgar’s cycle Sea Pictures, Op 37 (1899), has remained justifiably popular, as have Stanford’s bracing Songs of the Sea (1904) and Songs of the Fleet (1910), and Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs (1911); Hamilton Harty’s splendidly expansive Ode to a Nightingale (1907) also receives the occasional airing, as do the orchestrations of Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge and Butterworth’s Love blows as the wind blows. Yet this belies a wealth of attractive pieces by Parry, Stanford, Mackenzie, Elgar (how many people are familiar with his songs of Opp 48, 59 or 60?), Somervell, Bax, Farrar, Dunhill, Howells, Bridge, Ethel Smyth, Norman O’Neill, Coleridge-Taylor and Landon Ronald which are rarely, if ever, performed.

Parry orchestrated only a small number of the many songs he composed for voice and piano. While studying under Pierson in Stuttgart during the summer of 1867 he scored his setting of Thomas Hood’s Autumn, (written while he was still a schoolboy at Eton) as an exercise in instrumentation, but it was not until the 1890s that he showed an interest in orchestral arrangements. The first was an orchestration made in 1891 of Fill me boy, as deep a draught (the second of the Three Odes of Anacreon published in 1880) for Plunket Greene who sang it in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, on 10 March 1892, while Agnes Nicholls was the recipient of an arrangement of Walter Scott’s Where shall the lover rest (from English Lyrics Set I), scored in 1899 for a special concert of Parry’s music at Richmond’s Star and Garter Hotel on 27 April. That same year, Granville Bantock invited Parry to conduct a programme of his own works at The Tower, New Brighton, the venue of many pioneering and enterprising concerts that Bantock generously organized in support of English music. For the concert, held on 9 July, Parry interspersed the orchestral items with two vocal pieces: the Dream of King Saul from his Birmingham oratorio of 1894, and a new song, The North Wind for bass and orchestra which he had only finished scoring a week before. The singer on this occasion was Ivor Llewellyn Foster, a former RCM student who sang for twenty-seven consecutive seasons in Boosey’s London Ballad Concerts and would soon create the part of Don Pedro in Stanford’s opera Much ado about nothing at Covent Garden in 1901. At least one further performance of the song took place at a concert on 18 February 1903 (given by the English Ladies Orchestral Society), but it fell into neglect thereafter. The unpublished score has been edited for this premiere recording by Jeremy Dibble.

Parry took the title of his song from the third line of W E Henley’s poem ‘Fresh from his fastnesses’, then-recently published as part of Rhymes and Rhythms in 1898. Henley, described by his close friend Robert Louis Stevenson (who acknowledged Henley as the inspiration behind Long John Silver in Treasure Island) as ‘boisterous and piratic’, was a strong and vigorous personality. Through his editorships of the Magazine of Art (later the New Observer) and the New Review he influenced many of his contemporaries with his particular brand of moral activism and did much to promote the literary work of Henry James, H G Wells, Hardy, Kipling, Yeats and, of course, Stevenson. During the 1890s and 1900s, his poetry was widely appreciated and enjoyed a vogue among composers, among them Butterworth, Delius, Gurney, Hart, O’Neill, Quilter and Francis George Scott. The North Wind is a muscular, flamboyant song, depicting the hunt as a metaphor of life’s energy and vitality in its swirling string figurations and lively dotted rhythms. A more lyrical central section, in the flattened mediant (B flat), focuses on the sea, ‘Time’s right-hand man’, as a metaphor of indefatigable nature. This material emerges triumphantly in the postlude, but not before Parry’s tonal reprise restores us to the turbulent rhythms of the first part, building inexorably to Henley’s activist declaration that ‘Life is worth living’ from first breath to last.

Stanford produced many orchestral songs. With the exception of the Songs of the Sea and the Songs of the Fleet, which were originally conceived for voice and orchestra (and chorus), all of Stanford’s songs with orchestral accompaniment were arrangements of works initially conceived for piano. In these orchestrations, however, there is little if any hint of the transfer from one medium to the other. Stanford was a brilliant orchestrator and understood with consummate skill how to give his arrangements for orchestra a real sense of autonomy and distinctiveness (a fact borne out by the fertile orchestrations of his Service in B flat, Op 10).

The source of Prince Madoc’s Farewell was a poem from Felicia Hemans’s Welsh Melodies of 1832 which relates the story of Madog ab Owain Gwynedd, the twelfth-century prince and explorer who was reputed to have left Wales in search of new lands to the west. It has been suggested that Madog sailed with his brother Rhiryd and landed at what is now Mobile Bay in 1169. After returning to Wales he sailed away once more in 1171 and did not see his country again. The connections with Madog and the New World caught the imagination of the public at the end of the eighteenth century, particularly through John Williams’s published account of the story in 1790 and Robert Southey’s extensive poem ‘Madoc’ of 1805 which were almost certainly important influences in the production of Hemans’s poem. Stanford’s song, with its broad span and stirring harmonies, demonstrates the composer’s delight in popular, lyrical melody, whether in the form of folksong, traditional song or original composition. Such songs were also popular as vehicles of patriotic enthusiasm, a sentiment Stanford, with his own brand of Irish and British patriotism, understood and to which he responded avidly. Completed in August 1893, it was written for and dedicated to Harry Plunket Greene who sang it at a London Symphony Concert at St James’s Hall on 8 November 1893 under the baton of George Henschel.

The Fairy Lough is the second of six settings of poems from Moira O’Neill’s Songs of the Glens of Antrim (1900) published by Stanford as An Irish Idyll in Six Miniatures in 1901. Though her poetry is little known today and generally criticized for its quaintness, O’Neill (the nom de plume of Agnes Nesta Skrine) was highly thought of in her day for her Hiberno-English verse by Irish critics such as Ernest Boyd and Stephen Gwynn. Plunket Greene, who sang The Fairy Lough at Bechstein Hall in March 1903 (with the composer accompanying), considered it one of Stanford’s most characteristic songs and gave it special attention in his book The Interpretation of Song (published in 1912). The orchestration of the song, which included a small revision of the ending, was made on 12 September 1909. Whether the orchestral version ever received a performance is unclear, and this recording may indeed be its first hearing.

One of the most distinctive elements of The Fairy Lough, a picture of a magical, yet elusive place high in the hills, is the initial progression from the tonic to a first inversion of the flat mediant (in lieu of the dominant). This harmonic shift establishes a precedent for further flat-wise movement which can be felt immediately in the first climactic flowering in bar 3 on the flattened seventh, but the trend continues in each verse (for example, ‘Float roun’ the one green island On the fairy lough asleep’) and even influences the dark hues of the enchanting plagal cadence at the end of each verse. Deftly scored for double woodwind (no oboes), horns, harp and muted strings, Stanford evidently wished to enhance the atmospheric character of the song, and its slightly lower tessitura in D flat (rather than the original D) gives the accompaniment a greater richness and sonority. Moreover, the single arpeggiated idea heard at the opening, motivically integral to the piece as a whole, is given increased focus by the recurrent timbre of the clarinet. Other features, notably the delightful woodwind filigree, harp harmonics, and the contrast of full strings with solo string quartet, all exhibit Stanford’s truly pointillistic skills in the art of instrumentation.

Stanford’s Songs of Faith, Op 97, his equivalent of Brahms’s Vier Ernste Gesänge, were completed on 19 December 1906. In setting the first three songs he looked, as he had done on so many occasions, to the poetry of Tennyson, and for the last three, to Walt Whitman. The subjects of faith, of infinity and the afterlife inevitably provoked Stanford into the creation of his grandest, most heroic music in which he explored a realm of deeper questioning, whether in Tennyson’s desire to believe (and yet not being able to) or Whitman’s Darwinist atheism. The three Whitman songs, Darest thou know, O Soul, Tears and Joy, shipmate, joy! (from ‘Leaves of Grass’), were revisited a few years later. In 1913 Stanford reworked and moulded together the first and third songs into Song of the Soul, Op 97b, a work for chorus and orchestra (subtitled ‘Choral Song’) which was offered to Professor Horatio Parker at Yale University. Whether the work was ever performed is uncertain, but it was never published. However, when Stanford was invited by Carl Stoeckel, the president of the American Music Festival at Norfolk, Connecticut, to travel to America to premiere his Second Piano Concerto, Op 126, in June 1915 with Harold Bauer and the New York Symphony Orchestra, he also took the opportunity (recognizing the American connection) to score two of the Whitman songs of Op 97 for large orchestra. In the event Stanford heard neither his songs nor the concerto (nor was he able to continue on to Boston to conduct his Seventh Symphony and to Yale for an honorary degree voted to him in 1903), for his passage to America on 15 May had been booked on the ill-fated Lusitania. When the great liner was torpedoed off the Old Head of Kinsale without warning on 7 May, Stanford was advised to cancel his visit on account of the considerable risk to all British and American shipping crossing the Atlantic. In the event the Concerto was given its first British performance in Bournemouth on 7 December 1916 (with Benno Moiseiwitch), but the Whitman songs were shelved and appear to have been unperformed and forgotten in their orchestral garb.

Stanford had already been attracted to the pathos of Whitman’s verse early in his career with his fine Elegiac Ode (1884), a setting of President Lincoln’s burial hymn from ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’, and by the time he came to compose his Songs of Faith in 1906, many of his contemporaries and pupils had embraced Whitman as a major source of inspiration, notably Coleridge-Taylor, Charles Wood, Delius, Holst and Vaughan Williams. ‘Darest thou now O soul’ was set by Charles Wood as early as 1891, but the text became much better known in Vaughan Williams’s Toward the Unknown Region (1905/6) which made an impact on the public at its first performance at the Leeds Festival in 1907. Stanford had by then composed his own setting of the text, called To the Soul (track 4) in the form of an expansive lyrical essay in which Whitman’s verse is fashioned into a mystical drama of flexible melody and theatrical gestures. By contrast Tears (track 5), a miniature scena deploying declamatory techniques and arioso, is a much more solemn cry from the heart, where man is pictured alone in a dark, desolate, stormy world, disfigured and distraught. The orchestral versions of both songs, exemplary in their control of the large forces, are exhilarating in their resourcefulness, sonority and vivid effect and do much to bring out the symphonic dimension of these through-composed masterpieces.

Chieftain of Tyrconnell was one of numerous arrangements Stanford made of Irish folk melodies. The song was published as part of Irish Songs and Ballads in 1893 in collaboration with his Dublin boyhood friend, Alfred Perceval Graves, who provided the words. The song was scored for Harry Plunket Greene as a New Year’s gift on 31 December 1892, and first performed along with two other Irish airs, Sweet Isle and Patrick Sarsfield (also from Irish Songs and Ballads) at an orchestral concert of the Cambridge University Musical Society on 25 October 1893. The melody arranged by Stanford is the air ‘A Woman’s Lament’ which most likely refers to the symbolism of Ireland as a woman bewailing her fate. To this Graves added the tale of Hugh Rua O’Donnell (known as Hugh the Red), born in 1572 and son of Sir Hugh O’Donnell, chief of Tyrconnell, County Donegal. At an early age O’Donnell became renowned as a future great chieftain and consequently was the source of much concern to the ruling authorities. After being kidnapped by Sir John Perrott, Irish Lord Deputy, and imprisoned in Dublin Castle in 1587, O’Donnell made two attempts at escape, the second of which succeeded in 1591. In 1598 he fought with O’Neill at the Battle of Yellow Ford near Armagh where the English were heavily defeated. Much dismayed, Elizabeth I sent Robert Deveraux, Earl of Essex, and Sir Conyers Clifford to Ireland to put down the rebellion. Acting on information from the traitorous Brian McMahon, O’Neill and his Spanish allies were severely beaten at the Battle of Kinsale on 3 January 1602, after which it was decided by the Irish chiefs that O’Donnell should travel immediately to Spain to seek help from King Philip. While in Spain, O’Donnell learned of the fate of the O’Sullivans at Dunboy Castle and other disasters but could do nothing to assist his homeland. More tragic still, he fell ill in the Spanish town of Simancas and died on 10 September 1602, aged twenty-nine. Meanwhile Philip II, learning of O’Donnell’s death and the fate of his countrymen, cast aside any thought of sending a Spanish army to Ireland.

In their different ways Parry and Stanford exerted profound influences on Ivor Gurney and Herbert Howells. Gurney and Howells grew up in Parry’s home city of Gloucester, were articled pupils of Herbert Brewer at the cathedral and felt a deep affinity with England’s Tudor past in both musical and literary terms. In 1911 Gurney was awarded an Open Scholarship to study with Stanford at the Royal College of Music and Howells followed him a year later. At the RCM Gurney had a somewhat uneasy relationship with his irascible teacher who at once recognized a tremendous gift in the excitable Gloucester youth, but at the same time found him undisciplined and unteachable. Howells, on the other hand, Stanford considered his ‘son in music’ and, writing to the Carnegie Trust after the acceptance of his pupil’s Piano Quartet for publication, declared that Howells was ‘one of the most striking and brilliant brains [he had] ever come across’. At the RCM the two were the closest of friends and occasionally shared lessons with their revered master. While at the College Gurney composed his Five Elizabethan Songs which were written during the first half of 1912. For someone so young the collection is astonishingly fluent, technically assured, and, most of all, extraordinarily sensitive to the nuance of the language. For Gurney these songs were an expression of his spiritual relationship with that rich cultural edifice of sixteenth-century England so vital to the rekindling of a national musical consciousness. Both Gurney and Howells had sensed this consciousness with Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis which they heard together at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival in 1910. Howells was ready to imbibe the modal and polyphonic idiom of Vaughan Williams’s rapidly developing style, but Gurney’s instincts were principally those of the late nineteenth century where German lieder, filtered through the English Lyrics of Parry, were the defining imperatives. This can be felt not only in the harmonic idiom of Gurney’s songs but also in the disposition of part-writing, the spacing of chords, and the love of multiple appoggiaturas, all enclosed within fundamentally diatonic parameters. It seems no accident that Finzi, who felt a powerful affinity with Parry, should have been equally attracted by Gurney’s music, and it was in fact one of the Elizabethan Songs, Sleep (heard in York while studying with Edward Bairstow), that left a lasting impression. Assisted by Howard Ferguson, Finzi did much to publicize Gurney, sorting through large amounts of manuscript material (which he later did for Parry also) in the mid 1930s and managed to see two volumes of songs into print in 1938 and a third in 1952. Finzi’s orchestrations of four of the Five Elizabethan Songs, written for the Newbury String Players and Sophie Wyss, date from 1943. They were also heard on the final night of the 1947 Gloucester Festival sung by Elsie Suddaby accompanied by the Jacques String Orchestra.

Finzi’s arrangements are presented in a different order from Gurney’s original publication (in 1920). Under the greenwood tree, placed first (rather than third), is a sprightly piece, infused with snippets of delicate counterpoint and archaisms. Particularly delicious are the subtle modifications to the strophic design, notably the repetition of ‘Here shall he see No enemy’ which recurs in the second verse up a semitone before effortlessly dissolving into a cadential statement in the major mode. Gurney’s postlude, with its succession of suspensions and capricious ending in the minor (anticipating the final song), are also a delightful wordless commentary on Shakespeare’s text. Orpheus, which Gurney loved, is an inspired miniature. The limpid line of semiquavers and ‘strummed’ pizzicato is especially apt in the string arrangement as are the passages of three-part counterpoint so redolent of Parry and Elgar. Wonderful in its keyboard form, the accompaniment to Sleep acquires an added pathos and intensity in its string scoring, both in the felicitous touches of the solo viola and the rich sonorities achieved by judicious doublings. Spring bm, a setting of Thomas Nashe’s light-hearted lyric, survives in Gurney’s orchestration for two flutes, two clarinets, two bassoons and harp (a scoring that was apparently intended for the whole set though the other songs have not survived in this form). The published piano accompaniment, which is demanding and rather less idiomatic than its counterparts, suggests that it was very much a transcription of the original instrumental conception. Finzi’s string arrangement likewise is able to bring definition and clarity to Gurney’s rather uncongenial piano part, and many of the gestures—the full, multi-stopped tutti chords, octave doublings, syncopations and even the exquisite ‘comment’ for solo violin in the dying bars—are enhanced by the imaginative scoring.

Although Gurney was initially rejected for military service, he persisted and eventually joined up in 1915, serving in the 2/5th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment in France. It was to be the way with so many past and present RCM students—Butterworth, Benjamin, Dyson, Moeran, Douglas Fox, Vaughan Williams among many others—for whom Parry and Stanford worried day by day as the war dragged on. Writing to Howells in April 1917, Parry could not contain his concern for the safety and well-being of his pupils, and particularly for Gurney:

Stanford sent me your letter about Gurney. I fully share in your anxieties. The thought of so many very gifted boys being in danger, such as Gurney and Fox and Benjamin and even Vaughan Williams, is always present with me. This is what horrible senseless war means—and we can do nothing. To put our views, that such beings are capable of doing the world unique services, before the military authorities would surely appear to them absurd. I suppose there are thousands of others in other walks of life who are in the same case with us. Gurney’s case I feel to be quite a special martyrdom. His mind is so full of thoughts and feeling far removed from crude barbarities that it seems almost monstrous. But war is monstrous and we have to take it as far as we can from the collective point of view. There is no consolation to be got out of that, but only something of the spirit which surprises those in the thick of it. I had a letter from Gurney yesterday full of Tolstoi and poetry and longings for the old beloved life, and a sight of the Cotswolds. It is cruel!

From the trenches earlier that same year Gurney sent over to Howells manuscripts of two songs, By a bierside and In Flanders. The poem ‘In Flanders’, seen by Gurney in the 5th Gloucester Gazette in 1915, was by his old Gloucestershire friend and comrade, F W Harvey, also of the same battalion. During the Somme offensive Harvey was captured on 17 August and was imprisoned in a series of German concentration camps for the rest of the war. When Harvey was reported missing, Gurney fretted for his friend until news came that he was safe. In Flanders bears the date and location of its completion: ‘Crucifix Corner, Thiepval; finished 11 January 1917.’ As its first line declares (‘I’m homesick for my hills again’), the song is a cry from the heart, longing for home and (to quote Parry’s words to Howells) ‘a sight of the Cotswolds.’ ‘I can now see that the very spirit of my county is quick in the song’, he wrote to Marion Scott in March 1917; ‘Gloster itself shines and speaks in it. It is as if, on the long night work, some kind spirit of home visited me, when I think of it. And the end of the song is exactly like the ‘high blue blade’ fading away to distant Bredon just above Evesham—’ The style of the song is ­characterized by a confident, lyrical diatonicism owing much to both Parry and Elgar. Typical of Gurney, the central section is marked by a considerable degree of tonal dissolution which is resolved with immense and apposite skill. The final section of the song (‘Where the land is low’) commences in the mediant (G major) and we soon become aware that the process is recapitulatory with the restatement of familiar material from the first part (‘To see above the Severn plain’). This restatement, away from the tonic, subsequently allows Gurney’s abrupt change of gear at the climax to be all the more powerful and textually apposite.

In a much modified form—Gurney was in the habit of committing to memory those poems he selected which he often remembered incorrectly—By a bierside was a setting of John Masefield’s ‘The Chief Centurions’ which the composer completed in August 1916, weeks after the disastrous Somme offensive began. Gurney had some bold vision of ‘the dead and lovely body of some young Greek hero’ over whose body a poet-priest was preaching an oration. ‘At last’, he told Marion Scott in September 1916, ‘I begin to fulfil some part of my desire—to see and tell the ultimate truth of things, and especially of the primal things.’ In keeping with the grand image, Gurney conceived the song as a declamatory, through-composed structure in which brief moments of lyricism (as at the beginning) are subordinate to passages of rapidly changing emotion and delivery, approaching the manner of an oration. Indeed Gurney’s composition, with its dramatic, intensely passionate vocal and instrumental interplay, is more suggestive of a miniature scena than of a song.

By force of circumstance Gurney had no access to a piano at the Front, a predicament which seems to have encouraged him to think more orchestrally about his accompaniments which differ markedly from the overt improvisatory style of his later songs. In his letters to Marion Scott and Howells, Gurney had been much exercised by this question, particularly with regard to By a bierside. It is perhaps no surprise therefore that, when Howells took both In Flanders and By a bierside to Stanford and Charles Wood in early 1917 (they were both hugely impressed), the suggestion was made for Howells to score them for an RCM Orchestral Concert at the end of the spring term. Both songs were orchestrated with a baritone, Frederick Fuller, in mind (even though Gurney had originally intended By a bierside for a contralto). In Flanders, composed in E major, was transposed down a semitone (and published in that key) and scored highly imaginatively for double woodwind (excluding oboes), three horns, harp, strings and solo string quartet, an instrumental scheme that drew experience from Howells’s own Five Songs, Op 10, given at the RCM on 25 February 1916 (scored for flute, clarinet, strings and string quartet). One wonders also whether Howells’s crystalline orchestration was not itself indebted heavily to the fastidious and transparent technique of his teacher, as one sees in A Fairy Lough. The forces for By a bierside are somewhat larger, the added brass being required for the major climax towards the end of the song. The version we hear in this orchestration, while recognizably the work published in 1980 for voice and piano, possesses numerous differences in terms of melodic, rhythmic, harmonic and phraseological detail. Clear differences are striking – the vocal climax (‘to die’) given a full half-bar entirely without orchestra, the inner voice for brass that ascends through the orchestra thereafter (most probably Howells’s own work), and the placing of the last vocal statement (‘most grand’) – but there are many other subtle variants. The two songs were performed under Stanford’s baton on 23 March 1917: ‘Taylor sang two of Gurney’s songs, orchestrated by Howells superbly’, Parry confided to his diary. By the time the songs received their next performance on 1 July 1919 as part of three festival concerts in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the opening of the new RCM buildings, Parry was dead, Stanford was close to retirement, Howells was on the cusp of fame, and Gurney, wounded, shell-shocked and gassed at Passchendale in 1917, was attempting to put his life back together by resuming his studies at the RCM with Vaughan Williams. All alas would be in vain as he descended inexorably into insanity.

Finzi’s, Let us garlands bring, Op 18, comprises settings of five Shakespearean songs and bears the inscription ‘For Ralph Vaughan Williams on his birthday Oct. 12th 1942’. Performed first in the version for baritone and piano by Robert Irwin and Howard Ferguson on that day at a National Gallery lunchtime concert, the collection’s string arrangement followed in quick succession on 18 October, again with Irwin and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Clarence Raybould. Most of the songs were recent creations, composed between 1938 and 1942, but the emotional centre of the collection, Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, was written in 1929.

Feste’s second song in Twelfth Night, Come away, come away death, is a powerful lament where Finzi’s attention to salient words—the falling seventh to ‘death’, and the tantalizingly protracted melisma on ‘weep’ are but two fine examples—is exemplary, as is the freedom of the phraseology. There is also a lugubrious intensity in Finzi’s choice deployment of ‘jarring’ dissonance which is skilfully integrated with melodious, yet at times angular vocal lines. Who is Silvia?, from Two Gentlemen of Verona, is a charming ditty in ternary form. For the first three lines of each verse Finzi opts for transparent simplicity in his use of periodic (two-bar) phrases, but in the last two lines (which are effectively fused) this regularity is deftly subverted. Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, from Cymbeline, a meditation on the passing of time, on growing old and the dissipation of life’s fears in death, the great leveller, inspired Finzi to one of his most profound creations. The song, a sophisticated and controlled essay in sustained vocal writing, using the simplest of rhythmic and harmonic means, has a pathos (notably in the final, ethereal stanza) which rivals Dies natalis and the best of his Hardy songs. The remaining two songs of the collection, O Mistress Mine (Twelfth Night) and It was a lover and his lass (As you like it) provide lighter relief. The ‘troubadourish’ (to use Finzi’s own description) O Mistress Mine has a poise made all the more enchanting by the distinctive ‘thrummed’ guitar-like accompaniment and two-part quasi-Baroque dialogue of the upper strings (derived from the same texture in ‘The Rapture’ of Dies natalis). It was a lover and his lass is characterized by a syncopated accompaniment pattern (so much beloved of the composer) which lends the song an invigorating sense of well-being and happiness. Only briefly does a grey cloud appear in the third verse, when, for a moment only, there is a sense of regret (‘How that life was but a flower in springtime’). But this is soon dispelled by the jubilation of the last verse replete with ecstatic coda.

Hyperion Records Ltd

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