COMPOSERS: Barber,Butterworth,Horder,Ireland,Moeran,Orr & Lennox Berkeley
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Shropshire Lad
WORKS: Settings by Barber, Butterworth, Horder, Ireland, Moeran, Orr & Lennox Berkeley
PERFORMER: Alan Bates (reader), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66471/2 DDD
The juxtaposition, in this complete recording, of spoken and sung versions of the 63 Housman poems that make up A Shropshire Lad helps us to see what it was about the poet’s work which obsessed English composers earlier this century. It reveals limitations as well as strengths: Housman’s fastidiously controlled language drew many lovely settings, but it was always in danger of encouraging a polite lyricism. Only a few composers dug deeper to uncover the concealed ironies and achieve great songs.
Butterworth’s cycles supply nine of the settings used, and in often breathtakingly expressive performances by Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Graham Johnson create an ideal with their folksong-like simplicity and poignant harmonic undertow. Items from Ireland‘The Land of Lost Content’ provide a searching counterpoint to Housman’s words, the ‘Lent Lily’ floating with an aching regret and ‘Goal and Wicket’ marching forward with bitter determination.
I have mild reservations about the absence of songs by Peel and Somervell. Alternative versions of a few of the most used poems would also have been welcome – there are at least 35 settings of ‘Loveliest of Trees’. But there is much to relish, and Alan Bates, if occasionally stilted in vocal cadence, achieves elsewhere a fine combination of the simple and the searching. Anthony Payne