Stanford: Songs, Vol. 2

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Songs, Vol. 2
PERFORMER: Stephen Varcoe (baritone), Clifford Benson (piano)
This second volume of Stanford’s large and staggeringly varied corpus of songs includes material that will be familiar to many, for the Songs of the Sea, or at least some of them, were lustily sung in my day by many a school choir. (I hope, probably in vain, that they still are.) Certainly Stephen Varcoe relishes the more windswept of them, though he responds sensitively to the melancholy of ‘Outward Bound’, the second in the set, and to the Brahmsian poignancy of ‘Homeward Bound’, the fourth. Indeed, throughout this recital, which includes Stanford’s only settings of Shakespeare, the powerful three Clown’s Songs from Twelfth Night (‘Come away, death’ is particularly affecting in its grave nobility), as well as the bagpipe-evoking ‘The Pibroch’, the two Songs of Faith to texts by Whitman and the seven-song sequence A Fire of Turf, to sweetly nostalgic words by Winifred Letts, he maintains in each and every bar the high standards of the previous release. His lightness of tone suits this music well, while at the piano Clifford Benson provides positive yet always poetic support, coping well with the torrents of notes in, for instance, the opening song, the Heine setting ‘Tragödie’, while elsewhere touching in deftly the gentlest of accompaniments. Stephen Pettitt