The Peasant Poet – Songs, Vol. 1: Four Poems of John Clare; Bush Ballads (Second Series); Irishry; Tideways etc
Ailish Tynan (soprano), Katie Bray (mezzo-soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone), Ian Wilson (recorder), Mark Eden (guitar), Christopher Glynn (piano)
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0659 64:02 mins
Stephen Dodgson’s prolific, yet carefully crafted output remained largely under the radar for much of his lifetime. Ready for two anniversaries – ten years since Dodgson’s death in 2013, while 2024 is his centenary – this is the first of a projected three-volume series devoted to the still largely unexplored realm of his songs.
Thanks to collaborations with Julian Bream and John Williams, Dodgson was associated with the guitar. The instrument duly provides the recording’s ear-catching opening with the Four Poems of John Clare. Tenor James Gilchrist is thoroughly convincing in these relatively unsettled songs, the vocal line insistent in the face of Mark Eden’s wonderfully dogged, occasionally teasing guitar.
Elsewhere, pianist Christopher Glynn adroitly elicits the diverse character of each song, emphatic and unruly in Irishry, yet inscrutably supporting soprano Ailish Tynan’s sublimely ethereal ‘Psyche’ from Tideways. Some standalone songs, such as the nursery rhyme ‘Mrs Hen’, are straightforward, but no less charming for that, especially as sung by mezzo Katie Bray. Musical purring and flitting from Ian Wilson on recorder adds a distinctive strand to ‘The Monk and the Cat’.
Roderick Williams is typically captivating in the storytelling of the Bush Ballads, whether the chirpy cautionary tale of ‘Meet me in Botany Bay’, the beautiful elegiac farewell of ‘The Sick Stockrider’ or the elusive hazy vision of ‘Old Harry’. Some of the songs themselves might draw more from the texts, but these approachable, sometimes quirky vignettes could hardly have better advocates.