WORKS: Londonderry Air; Shallow Brown; Brigg Fair
PERFORMER: Monteverdi Choir, English Country Gardiner Orchestra/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 446 657-2 DDD
Despite the whimsical billing of the English Country Gardiner Orchestra, there is no sign of Percy Grainger’s perennial favourite on this disc. Instead we have an earthy collection of songs and dancing ballads, the astonishing variety of which shows what a master Grainger was of such miniatures. Here you will find settings of ‘Brigg Fair’ and the ‘Londonderry Air’ that tug at the heartstrings; a hair-raising depiction of illicit love, brutal punishment and revenge in ‘Father and Daughter’ from the Faroe Islands; and riotously Ivesian versions of ‘Camptown Races’ and ‘What shall we do with a drunken sailor’.
But the real showstopper is another shanty: ‘Shallow Brown’. Imagined as sung by an abandoned woman standing on the quay, admonishing the faithless Shallow Brown as his ship weighs anchor, the surging of the waves (tremolando strings, mandolins, harmonium) and lacerating vocal line freeze the blood.
This disc had been lying around for an unconscionable time before I got to it. You may feel (as I did) that shanties and folk ballads arranged by Grainger are not for you. But I urge you to try it: the performances are terrific, bringing out the rawness, vitality and heartbreak of these traditional songs. Be warned though: the ghosts of Shallow Brown and his jilted lover will return to haunt you.