Songs and piano works by Frederick Septimus Kelly

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Frederick Septimus Kelly
LABELS: ABC Classics
WORKS: Songs and piano works including It is not dawn till you awake; A Dirge; Break, Break, Break; Crossing the Bar; March; The Daffodils; A Cycle of Lyrics; The Gallipoli Sonata; Monographs for piano; The Somme Lament; Piano Sonata in F minor
PERFORMER: Louise Page (soprano), Christina Wilson (mezzo), Andrew Goodwin (tenor), Christopher Latham (violin), Alan Hicks, Tamara-Anna Cislowska, Caroline Almonte (piano)


Frederick Septimus Kelly was 35 when he was killed at the Battle of the Somme. Some of his very last works, including the chastely beautiful Elegy – In memoriam Rupert Brooke, suggest he was just reaching a fully distinctive maturity when he died. Most of the music on these two CDs however is pre-World War I, and while the composer’s talent and sensitivity are evident right from the earliest examples, there remains for me something elusive about Kelly.

Ending the collection with an updated version of the old music-hall song ‘Has anyone here seen Kelly?’ seems strangely apt under the circumstances: is it quite possible, even after nearly 160 minutes of music, to ‘see’ what this composer is about? Kelly must be right at the other end of the introvert-extrovert spectrum from his compatriot Percy Grainger. There are glimpses of a rare sensibility from time to time, as in the slow movement of the unfinished Piano Sonata. Yet it often seems to mask itself behind echoes of the salon Elgar, the Victorian drawing-room ballad or folk-inflected English Brahms. There are some good songs here, notably ‘Weep no more, sad fountains’ and ‘It is not dawn till you awake’, but nothing that to me proclaims another Ivor Gurney, Peter Warlock, or even a Roger Quilter. But this generously-filled, well-recorded set offers plenty of opportunity for exploration. Performances of the chamber and solo piano works are polished, sympathetic and full of conviction. The singing is more variable, but not short of feeling.


Stephen Johnson