Collection: The Last Rose of Summer

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Ball,Britten,Colahan,Hughes,Stanford
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Irish Songs
PERFORMER: Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66627 DDD

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I am sure no one is expected to listen to nearly 74 minutes of Irish songs in one sitting but this is a delightful and diverse selection to dip into. It includes arrangements by Stanford (‘The Beautiful City of Sligo’), Hughes (‘I Have a Bonnet trimmed with Blue’) and Stevenson (‘The Meeting of the Waters’). Murray avoids over-sentimentality in ‘Mother Machree’ and ‘Galway Bay’, sustaining an exceptional balance of crystal-clear words combined with her gloriously rich mezzo sound, which carries several phrases, effortlessly supported by one breath.

Murray can also deploy the lower register of her voice to near-speech and be chatty, irreverent and mischievous — as in The Next Market Day’ and ‘The Stolen Heart’ – without distorting the words or the musical line. Graham Johnson is more a partner-pianist than mere accompanist in this team. He plays as if he were experiencing every intake of breath and inflection of vocal sound himself.

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In the unaccompanied ‘The Coulin’ (in Gaelic) and ‘She Moved through the Fair’ Murray creates an extraordinarily plaintive atmosphere. The last four songs are Britten arrangements, including ‘The Last Rose of Summer’. The ambiguity of tonality in these arrangements is disturbing, yet strangely haunting. Elisse McDougall