Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916)
The British Music Collection

Six Songs from 'A Shropshire Lad' (1911)
Bredon Hill and other songs (1912)
A Shropshire Lad (1912)
Two English Idylls (1911)
The Banks of Green Willow (1913)
Benjamin Luxon /David Willison (songs)
Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields/Neville Marriner
rec. 1975 (orchestral); 1976 (songs)
DECCA 468-802-2 [56.08]
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Butterworth, dedicatee of Vaughan Williams' London Symphony, was cut down by a sniper's bullet during the Somme only three weeks after being awarded the Military Cross. His output of music was of high quality but small quantity and brief individual duration. The shortage of Butterworth recordings in the Universal archives presents a small problem for this series.

The songs are all settings of that archetype of doomed pastoralism and passing time - A. E. Housman. Butterworth's treatment of each is imaginative and of an altogether different order of creativity to the Arthur Somervell versions. While they are touched with folksiness and Brahmsian caste (listen to Bredon Hill). Butterworth took risks too. To end the Six Songs with the downbeat dramatic gesture of Is My Team Ploughing shows a special courage which comes off supremely well with Luxon's 'Never ask me whose'. Luxon surprised me here. I had heard some of his later recordings and feared an ululating vibrato. In fact he is steady and direct. This makes his songs a force to be reckoned with. His vocal tone is manly, leonine, open to quiet singing as well as ringing fortissimo. I have had to reassess my views of these songs as a result of hearing Luxon and the admirable Willison (not Willinson, please Decca). I urge you to hear these wonderful interpretations - try On the Idle Hill of Summer - this is the stuff of which goose pimpled frissons are made.

Marriner is not always up to speed in British music. His 1990s Philips collection (also with ASMIF) of November Woods, Enter Spring, April-England was slack and though extremely well recorded, lacked tension or exuberance. Marriner and his accustomed orchestra (presumably significantly augmented) give good accounts of these four standards which are up to the achievement of Boult in his Lyrita LP collection (coupled with Howells) and the unfairly ignored Neville Dilkes on EMI. The recordings are juicy, strong, close-up without undue glamour, spectacular in portrayal of layers of texture, deliciously bringing out the harp and woodwind. Decca failed to band the two Idylls separately; a decision I find irritating. There has been much talk in the past about 'If Butterworth had lived he would have ...'. He died brutally and tragically at the age of 31. His orchestral music and songs (and a recently discovered large-scale suite for string quartet - please record this soon) are part of the well stocked treasury of Englishry. These interpretations do high justice to that treasury and, in the case of the songs, Luxon and Willison bid fair to be the reference point for all other recordings.

Rob Barnett

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