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GURNEY Ludlow and Teme

"Programs by the English Singers" featured Gurney’s Ludlow and Teme, 25 December 1920


LONDON, England - Several musicians of fine gifts and cultivation have recently formed a group under the title of The English Singers and the programs of their four concerts this Autumn at Aeolian Hall have been full of interest and freshness. For the first and third the concert givers relied mainly upon ensemble works and draw upon the little known compositions of Purcell; for the second and fourth the responsibility devolved upon Steuart Wilson, one of the prime movers, as recitalist. He possesses an exceptionally good high tenor voice, and is a first rate and enthusiastic musician.

For the recital on November 9 Mr Wilson had the assistance of Anthony Bernard and the Philharmonic Quartet and gave a number of songs with string quartet accompaniment. The result was so enjoyable that some people expressed surprise that a form of music they termed "an oddity" could be so satisfactory. It is probable that the success of a string quartet accompaniment to songs depends largely upon a discreet adjustment on the past of the composer between relatives pitches and timbres. Strings supporting a soprano or contralto are ineffective because a woman's voice approximates too closely in quality to violin tone, and has most of the accompaniment below it. It neither blends nor contrasts, and moves uneasily upon the top of the score. A man's voice however does better with string quartet, the tenor being best of all. It maintains an easy central position in the score, and contrasts pleasantly with string tone. No chance there that the voice will become confused with either violin, viola or cello and even while it can cover part of the natural compass of each, it is distinct from all.

The compositions which best exemplified this at the recital were "Ludlow and Teme" by Ivor Gurney (who has come rapidly to the fore of late) and "Nod" by Armstrong Gibbs. Of these the former is a big work, and holds promise of larger things still in the future; while "Nod" is a charming and poetic piece of musical imagination.

Gurney's work, written about a year ago, is cast in the form of a song-cycle for tenor, string quartet and pianoforte. It received its first London public performance on this occasion. The words are drawn from Housman's "A Shropshire Lad". Ivor Gurney has been most successful in finding equivalent expression in his music for that peculiar mingling of the folk and lyric styles, which is so characteristic in Housman's verse.

There is a fine, clear, out-of-doors ring about the setting of "When smoke stood up from Ludlow", and one could well imagine the tune upon the lips of any "young yeoman" as he "strode beside his team,"; while the second song "Far in a western brookland" is a pure efflorescence in music of that poetry of "the windless night time" alluded to by Housman, and expressed here by the composer with tender truth and the beauty of melody. "The lads in their hundreds" and "On the idle hill of summer" are equally rich in imaginative qualities: also virile in style (as the words demand), "When I was one and twenty" is as good a little thing in the folk style as one could wish to meet anywhere. The unexpected and fascinating run of the tune delighted the audience. "The Lent Lily" with its beautiful melismatic passages, brought the cycle to a close, and the composer to the platform.

For the rest, the program included a thoughtful and clever song "The Little Green Orchard" by Jane Joseph; an aria from one of J. S. Bach's church cantatas, and some Elizabethan songs by Dowland and Bartlett, with string quartet accompaniment arranged by R.O. Morris.

by Marion M Scott


This article appears here with the kind permission of Pamela Blevins


Marion Scott home page

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