COMPOSERS: etc,Finzi,Grainger,Gurney,Quilter,Stanford,Vaughan Williams,Warlock
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: The English Songbook
PERFORMER: Ian Bostridge (tenor), Julius Drake (piano); Polyphony/Stephen Layton
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56830 2
Given the English poetic tradition and our rich folk-music heritage, it’s surprising the art song didn’t develop in Britain till the late 19th century, when composers such as Stanford, Parry, Delius and German began to set texts, both literary and traditional.
These 24 songs are, according to Bostridge, among ‘the greatest and best-loved in the English tradition’ (which he has extended west to include Stanford’s ‘Old Irish Air’, and two Yeats settings, Dunhill’s ‘The Cloths of Heaven’ and Britten’s ‘The Salley Gardens’) and add up to a recital of infinite lyrical beauty. The English preoccupation with ruralism means there’s a substantial pastoral element: Gurney’s lilting ‘I will go with my father a-ploughing’, Vaughan Williams’s ‘Linden Lea’, from which, incidentally, he earned more than anything else he composed. But there are also narrative songs, thematically if not stylistically medieval, such as Stanford’s mysterious and dramatic setting of Keats’s ‘La belle dame sans merci’ and Delius’s haunting ‘Twilight Fancies’.
Bostridge and his regular collaborator Julius Drake are both at the top of their considerable form. Bostridge’s tone has a sublime beauty; his style is admirably unmannered; and his approach has an intelligence and insight that gives these songs real meaning and validity. Drake’s playing balances expressiveness and delicacy with sensitive support for the voice.