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Marion Scott writing about Ivor Gurney

Christian Science Monitor: From "Programs by the English Singers", concert 9 November 1920 with Steuart Wilson, Anthony Bernard and the Philharmonic Quartet, Æolian Hall, London, review published 25 December 1920. On the same day, Scott’s long discussion and analysis (31 inches) of Herbert Howells’s string quartet "In Gloucestershire" also appeared in the newspaper.

By The Christian Science Monitor special music correspondent

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 Æolian Hall have been full of interest and freshness...

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 part of the composer between relative 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 poetical 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 performance on this occasion. The words are drawn from Housman’s "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 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), while "When I was one and twenty" is a good 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.

Marion M Scott

This article appears here with the kind permission of Pamela Blevins



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