Folk Songs, Vol. 2: Nine English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachian Mountains; Two English Folk Songs for Voice and Violin; A Selection of Collected Folk Songs, Vol. 1
Mary Bevan (soprano), Nicky Spence (tenor) Roderick Williams (baritone), Thomas Gould (violin), William Vann (piano)
Albion ALBCD 043 56:22 mins
This is one of the finest produced song albums that’s come my way. All three singers, recognised artists in their vocal prime, perform their allotted songs with commitment and character. They are given first-rate accompaniment by pianist William Vann and, in the Two English Folk Songs for voice and violin, appropriately ‘rustic’ playing by Thomas Gould – a highlight of this album.
Perhaps unexpectedly, a good number of these songs were not collected in the British Isles, but in the Southern Appalachian Mountains by folksong collectors Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles. Vaughan Williams’s selection of nine starts with a darkly amusing tale of a scheming old wife getting her comeuppance when she attempts to murder her husband.
Altogether, these performances leave little to be desired – except, as John Francis tells us in his engaging booklet notes, Vaughan Williams intended these arrangements not for professionals but for schoolchildren and amateurs. Many of the more self-effacing and ‘tasteful’ settings perhaps need the fresh and rough enthusiasm of committed amateur singers to reveal their charm. As it is, it rather feels as if these folk tunes have had their rough edges smoothed to make them presentable to pre-Second World War middle-class homes. Yet times have changed: one can imagine a modern school choir having even less success in keeping a straight face singing the ‘Farmyard Song’ than did Nicky Spence, who needed Mary Bevan to provide the animal noises!