Nicky Spence performs songs by Buxton Orr

Album title:
Nicky Spence (tenor), Jordan Black (clarinet), Nikita Naumov (double bass), Iain Burnside (piano); Members of the Edinburgh Quartet
Catalogue Number:
DCD 34175
BBC Music Magazine
Nicky Spence performs songs by Buxton Orr

Born in Glasgow in 1924, Buxton Orr was a composer who deserves something better than today’s near-total neglect. On this evidence his song-writing skills had an instinctive fluency, relating to Britten’s benchmark example, and spiced with a not-quite-modernist expressive tang that’s strikingly individual at its best.

There’s a certain humour-related downside: either you’ll find Orr’s racy and pacey way with The Ballad of Mr and Mrs Discobbolos as witty
as Edward Lear’s words think they are, or you won’t. In the same way the texts of Charles Causley’s Ten Types of Hospital Visitor won’t appeal to everyone; but there’s no denying the virtuoso deftness of Orr’s settings for voice and solo double-bass (about the most technically difficult medium any composer could opt for).

More memorable than either of these is The Painter’s Mistress, whose music seems to probe into the furthest corners of James Elroy Flecker’s fine poem. The other two works are both in Scots. The texts of Canzona have a conscious sophistication which Orr’s settings, for voice, clarinet and string trio, mirror with rather mixed success.

The best work here is Songs from Childhood, where the music unerringly catches the crisp directness of the various poems; in one of them, Helen Cruickshank’s ‘Shy Geordie’, Orr’s accompaniment underpins the folksong-like melody with a skill and panache to rival anyone’s. And thew performances here are consistently fine; tenor Nicky Spence has a lot of words to get through, does so with nicely pointed fluency, and conjures a pretty decent Scots accent also.

Malcolm Hayes

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