The English Song Series Vol 20 – George Butterworth

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Butterworth
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: The English Song Series Vol 20 – George Butterworth
PERFORMER: Roderick Williams (baritone), Iain Burnside (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572426

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Just a month after Mark Stone’s Complete Butterworth Songbook (reviewed in July) comes another collection from Roderick Williams, rapidly becoming the voice of this repertoire – and not without reason. 

Williams is a gentler performer than Stone, more urbane and less emphatic, yet the overall impression is stronger, particularly in the AE Housman settings. The expansive opening lines of ‘Loveliest of Trees’ are much more fluently shaped, and without Stone’s over-emphases Williams manages to make ‘Is My Team Ploughing?’ far more eerie and affecting – even the goalkeeper verse which Vaughan Williams wisely dumped.

The heat-shimmering languor of ‘On the Idle Hill of Summer’ is particularly beautifully captured with Burnside’s accompaniment, again more flowing than Stephen Barlow’s. RL Stevenson’s ‘I will make you brooches’ sounds more comparable to Vaughan Williams’s.

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On the other hand, in the plainer Sussex folksong arrangements Williams often sounds overly mannered, especially in assuming coy little ‘voices’ for various mollocking milk-maids etc. His wit and energy often make up for this, in ‘Tarry Trousers’ for example, but Stone’s robustly direct approach is usually preferable.