Quilter: Songs

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COMPOSERS: Quilter
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Songs
PERFORMER: Lisa Milne (soprano), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano); Duke Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557116 Reissue (1997)
A sense of transience and of sepia-tinted intimations of mortality hang over this, the fifth volume of Naxos’s delectable fostering of the Collins English Song Series. Roger Quilter, with his fin de siècle languor, is indulged and reinvigorated in equal measure by these seductive performances by two generations of singers: the young Lisa Milne, and the older, ever wiser Anthony Rolfe Johnson.

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They meet in Quilter’s original duet version of ‘It was a lover and his lass’, with Rolfe Johnson providing fertile ground for Milne’s garlands of melody, and with Graham Johnson unifying the two. As the piano in Quilter often goes to the very heart of the matter, it is Johnson rather than Rolfe Johnson who is the true avian spirit of ‘Hark! Hark! the lark’, and he’s also the prime mover in Quilter’s three Shelley settings.

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Milne is at her most beguiling in Quilter’s gentle domestication of British and Irish folksong, where both she and the composer give word and phrase time to breathe and live to the full. Members of the Duke Quartet join her for his Three Pastoral Songs, and provide a chiaroscuro of mood for Rolfe Johnson’s spirited performance of To Julia, the wonderful Herrick cycle. Hilary Finch