Moeran: Complete Solo Songs

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COMPOSERS: Moeran
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Complete Solo Songs
PERFORMER: Geraldine McGreevy (soprano), Adrian Thompson (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone), John Talbot (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10596(2)

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Moeran, aka Jack, is a fairly dim figure now, but this half-Irish, unsettled character was one of the outstanding inter-war ‘pastoral’ composers who rejected serialism in favour of folk and early music, and suffered undue neglect for it later.

Symphonic and orchestral pieces such as Wythorne’s Shadow recall Vaughan Williams, but his songs are more reminiscent of smaller-scale contemporaries like John Ireland and Moeran’s friend Peter Warlock.

Some 50 are collected here for the first time, and while soloists Roderick Williams, Geraldine McGreevy, Adrian Thompson and pianist John Talbot uncover no startling masterpieces, they undoubtedly reveal Moeran’s achievement.

The songs comprise an impressive body, light-hued but intense, tinged with a distinctly Celtic melancholy. Two large AE Housman sequences often do bear comparison with Butterworth in their illumination of the verse, especially ‘The Lads in their Hundreds’ and ‘Loveliest of Trees’ – high praise.

But other settings range surprisingly widely, from Jacobeans like Dekker, Shakespeare and Chettle to Yeats, Joyce – some limpidly wistful settings – and, remarkably, Dorothy L Sayers; and they’re all well worth hearing.

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In raucous contrast, Moeran’s drinking habits inspired some pub ballads such as ‘Mrs Dyer, the Baby Farmer’. The male voice ensemble cheerfully hams up versions of ‘Maltworms (Back and side go bare)’ and ‘Can’t You Dance the Polka?’. Michael Scott Rohan