Come, Let Us Make Love Deathless
Holst: Twelve Humbert Wolfe Songs; The Heart Worships; Epilogue; Holbrooke: Annabel Lee; I Came at Morn; Homeland; Come, Let Us Make Love Deathless; Killary etc
James Geer (tenor), Ronald Woodley (piano)
EM Records EMR CD 060 75:26 mins
Holst’s Humbert Wolfe Songs – by turns quirky, visionary and playful – have been much admired since their remarkable first complete recording by Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten. Yet Pears and especially Britten seemed most at home with the more reflective songs, such as ‘The Dream-City’, and far less with Holst’s response to Wolfe’s meditation on mortality, ‘Envoi’. Which is where this new recording by tenor James Geer and Ronald Woodley triumphs: by avoiding fussy rhetoric and allowing Holst’s setting to speak serenely on its own terms, they find the music’s effortless nobility, even if they cannot make its fortississimoending sound other than bombastic. The rest of the cycle, though, is beautifully and straight-forwardly presented – and scrupulously prepared: having checked the original manuscripts, they perform the otherworldly ‘Betelgeuse’ with its correct dynamics. They also include the first recording of ‘Epilogue’, originally written to conclude the collection but rejected by the composer, who never completed the final bars (provided here by Colin Matthews).
The other novelty is a selection of 11 songs by Joseph Holbrooke, a near contemporary of Holst’s only now emerging from relative obscurity. The son of a music hall pianist, many of Holbrooke’s songs have a populist tinge – the booklet note identifies ‘a certain kitsch or camp thread through the fabric of his essentially High Romantic style’. Yet James Geer’s straightforward yet sympathetic accounts avoid any risk of ‘camp’, and the music is intriguing, inventive and rather charming, recalling Brazil’s Villa-Lobos as it blends high art with populist sentiment.