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Track(s) taken from CDA67124

Tom Leminn

First line:
As I was crossing Tanner's Hill
author of text

Stephen Varcoe (baritone), Clifford Benson (piano)
Recording details: October 1999
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: June 2000
Total duration: 2 minutes 49 seconds


'Beautifully performed with excellent notes, this recording will convince even the sceptical of the true worth of these songs … a most sensitive performance' (Gramophone)

'Maintains in each and every bar the high standards of the previous release' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This collection, along with its predecessor has changed my life. Without any question, it contains some magnificent songs, settings that would grace any company under the sun … voice and piano are in true partnership. I can only salute with deepest admiration Stephen Varcoe's sterling baritone, so utterly sympathetic to Stanford's every note, so undemonstratively secure, so responsive to word and musical line' (International Record Review)

'Immediately appealing. Stephen Varcoe is the perfect singer for this repertoire. A treasure of a disc' (Fanfare, USA)
1893 saw the production of two songs by Stanford to texts by the Cornish author, poet and parodist, A T Quiller-Couch (or ‘Q’ as he was better known). A Carol (‘Fling out your windows wide’) was published by Cassell and appeared in Poems and Ballads by Q in 1896, while a second song, Tom Leminn (dated 20 August 1893), written in a Cornish dialect, remained unpublished. Tom Leminn tells of a young man who during his journeying meets the languishing ghost of Tom Leminn who, though dead, sees his chance to marry the owner of the local inn, Moll Treloare, a widow nine times over (who by implication has exhausted the eligible male population of the locality). Tom Leminn’s suit is, however, of no interest to Moll, who now assumes a character more like Lorelei. ‘To ghosts I cannot condescend’, she declares, and instead marries the young (and somewhat fretful) traveller ‘by strength of will’, leaving the ghost ‘long a-languishing’. Perhaps the true irony is that the song is after all not about Tom Leminn but the voracious appetite of the widow!

Tom Leminn is a comical, entertaining ballad with a sinister, more disturbing edge. A pseudo-folksong, replete with simple tune and refrain, it anticipates (as an important precedent) the musical tenor and satire of Stanford’s opera Shamus O’Brien composed three years later. The song’s transparent simplicity is, however, distorted by unexpected chromaticisms, unpredictable phrase-lengths and sudden changes of tonal direction (note especially the oblique approach to D major in the final verse) which does much to enhance the air of irony. Take, for example, the initial ambiguity of the piano’s opening gesture, suggesting F major before it turns, more ominously, to D minor, a tonal dualism further developed in the third verse (‘The fair widow she sat within’), which sets out in F but cadences ultimately in D minor as before. As for the final verse, Stanford uses the modal change to D major to convey notions of married bliss (note the phraseological augmentation at ‘ordained for human comfort’) and, latterly, a sense of urgency as the hapless young fellow fails to extricate himself, leaving us to ponder the ironic outcome in the final refrain in the minor.

from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2000

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