Various: The Three Ravens (Elizabethan folksongs)

LABELS: Vanguard
WORKS: The Three Ravens (Elizabethan folksongs)
PERFORMER: Various singers & instrumentalists
CATALOGUE NO: 08 5064 71 ADD mono/stereo (1954-67)


Alfred Deller, first among countertenors, was also the first to record pre-Classical masterpieces for the delight of a style-starved public. Whatever one may think of his voice, it had style in abundance and was certainly unique. His resounding legacy will surprise with its ‘tender virility’ many who still pursue the bland, non-vibrato (historically wobbly) early-music bandwagon.

Deller’s art buds anew in these ten CDs, which evoke an era when his voice was at its peak. Six discs give us composers he loved: Bach and Handel (the Mad Scene from Orlando is gripping); William Byrd — try the exquisite elegy Ye sacred Muses on the death of Tallis; and Couperin’s Lecons de Tenebres in which Wilfred Brown, tenor, blends so perfectly.

Monteverdi is represented by the madrigal version of the Lamento d’Arianna and a spirited performance otllballa delle ingrate. Its powerful continue section includes Denis Vaughan (harpsichord), Julian Bream (lute), Desmond Dupre (gamba) and Francis Baines (chamber bass). There had to be Purcell! Wasn’t it ‘Music for a while’ that first made Deller famous?

Two odes and two verse anthems allow us to hear him with his countertenor son, Mark, and other members of his delightfully unruly consort. Perhaps track 21 is the high spot, when he sings ‘Here the Deities approve’ with wonderfully refined lyricism.

The Tallis disc is a winner, the authentic original pitch adding a fillip to the moving Lamentations, while five hymns complete with plainchant verses hark back to the musicological discoveries of the 1950s.


‘The Holly and the Ivy’ and ‘The Two Ravens’ show his deft way with folksong and such, while ‘Madrigal Masterpieces’ and ‘Countertenor Duets’ reveal a subtle understanding of the art of the miniature. This is a set not to be missed. Denis Stevens