Most Grand To Die

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Butterworth; Gurney; Vaughan Williams
ALBUM TITLE: Most grand To Die
WORKS: Butterworth: Bredon Hill and other songs; Six songs for ‘A Shropshire Lad’; Gurney: Four Songs; The Twa Corbies; Sleep; Vaughan Williams: Songs of Travel; Gurney; Vaughan Williams
PERFORMER: James Rutherford (baritone), Eugene Asti (piano)


Yet another recital, like Andrew Kennedy’s The Dark Pastoral or Simon Keenlyside’s Songs of War, centred on WWI – this time rather broadly. Naturally George Butterworth’s Shropshire Lad settings predate the war that would end his life; yet, like Housman’s original poems, they eerily prefigure the cruel nostalgia it left. For Vaughan Williams, marked by his field ambulance service in Flanders, Robert Louis Stevenson’s images of a life-hungry young man roaming on to a desolate, philosophical end also suit the mood of the aftermath well. Still more harrowing are the settings of Vaughan Williams’s pupil Ivor Gurney, left bipolar and institutionalised.

This is fairly familiar material, but leaves plenty of scope for its interpreters. Norwich-born James Rutherford attracted international attention when he won Seattle’s International Wagner Competition, and has since sung Hans Sachs at Bayreuth. A hefty bass-baritone in every sense, he’s inevitably compared with Bryn Terfel, but his voice seems darker and somewhat smoother, less given to pianissimo but still expressive. Gurney’s In Flanders is hauntingly pathetic. Songs of Travel has a notably virile energy, reinforced by veteran accompanist Eugene Asti’s unusually driven reading. Rutherford’s variable Scots accent in Gurney’s bleak version of Twa Corbies is a minor weakness. A very worthwhile recital, therefore, and I look forward to hearing more.


Michael Scott Rohan