This delightful disc - a kind of potted history of mid-20th Century English
Song - is focused through the mediurn of Hubert Foss whose editorial post
at Oxford University Press Music Department brought him into contact with
Warlock, Walton, Ireland, Vaughan Williams, Howells and many others who all
confessed a great debt to his discerning advocacy. Yet the recording's principal
raison d'être - the performance of a selection of Foss's own songs
- is amply justified in the sheer quality of the music.
Interspersed with eight of his songs are better known pieces by those composers
to whorn he acted as a kind of musical midwife, as well as fascinating personal
reminiscences by Diana Sparkes (Foss's youngest daughter) of their personalities
- which range frorn the excesses of the Warlock menage at Eynsford (it was
not an orderly house..but on the other hand it was acutely, sometimes insanely,
alive.) to the elegy by Howells on Foss's death.
There is no need for rne to comment on the songs by his friends - all well-known
and exquisitely sung by the tenor Gordon Pullin (especially in the richly
moving Britten 'The Trees they grow so high' - (Somerset), which is followed
by Foss's own setting (Hertfordshire) which however loses nothing in comparison.
Throughout, Pullin's lyric tenor, Macdonald's sensitive accornpaniment, and
the clarity of the recording do real justice to the songs of Hubert Foss
which reveal a cornposer, deeply associated with the larger canon of English
song, of independence and of individuality. The opening Byron 'She walks
in Beauty' (published 1949), demonstrates its allegiance - recalling not
only the best of Parry, but also the rnellifluous accents of Sullivan. I
was captivated, and with each of his songs my delight increased - the
'Mayerl-like' accompaniment to Housman's 'The New Mistress' (published 1925)
whose second verse shows Foss as a fine melodist. There are so many facets,
and in the final setting of Coleridge he returns to the quasi-salon atmosphere
of the 1920s.
And, with a give-away gesture of sheer enthusiasm Mrs Sparkes includes a
final 'bon-bon' - nothing to do with English music - but sends us away singing
'Auprès de ma blonde' - the singer drifting quietly off into the middle
distance. I just had to go back and play the whole thing again.
(The disc was intended to accornpany the fascinating souvenir book 'An
Extraordinary Performance', published to celebrate the 75th anniversary of
OUP's music departrnent - written by Duncan Hinnells - which prospered under
Foss's guidance. This title might well also descibe the recital. I do hope
that sorne enterprising publisher will publish these songs in a volume.)