> Henry Bishop [JW]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Henry BISHOP (1786-1855)
Lo Hear the gentle lark
Welcome to this place
Should he upbraid
Who is Sylvia?
That time of year
When that I was a little tiny boy
Come live with me and be my love
Hark, hark each Spartan hound
Oh! Never say that I was false of heart
Who is Sylvia (2)
Sing Willow
It was a lover and his lass
Under the greenwood tree
Take oh! Take those lips away
Flower of this purple dye
Now the hungry lions roar
Orpheus with his lute
Come, thou monarch of the vine
Spirits advance

Jeanette Ager, Joseph Cornwell, Simon Davies. Rachel Elliott, Julia Gooding, Simon Grant, Susan Gritton, Helen Groves, Andrew King, Joanne Lunn, Andrew Murgatroyd, William Purefoy, Christopher Robson, Mark Tucker, Roderick Williams
Musicians of the Globe/Philip Pickett
Recorded All Saints, Tooting, London September 1996
DECCA 470 381-2 [67.09]


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Sharp eyes will note that this collection was originally released under the title Shakespeare at Covent Garden. Its reappearance in new imposing livery, complete with Dieu et mon Droit motif, gives a comforting permanence and establishment benediction to Bishop. Not inappropriately then it was Prince Albert who had instigated the composer’s knighthood in 1842. But Bishop’s picaresque career had begun in the early 1800s with some precociously published songs and his desire to become a jockey – a healthy ambition for a British composer – was thwarted by ill health. Rising in eminence he was one of the founders of the Philharmonic Society and worked successively at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden; Drury Lane, Dublin and at Vauxhall Gardens.

His settings of Shakespeare were numerous but contained quixotic and baffling peculiarities. He often set corrupt texts – in which he was, admittedly, hardly unique – but also employed others’ music. In some of the works recorded here, for example, he utilised settings by Ravenscroft, Morley and Arne, scrupulously acknowledging the borrowings, which only, oddly, adds an even greater patina of oddity to the practice. As for the music I can only say that it’s delicious. In the big, resonant but clear acoustic of All Saints Tooting it is singers Susan Gritton and Julia Gooding who bear the main responsibilities and they – so superbly athletic and expressive in baroque and classical music – rise to the challenges posed by the "English Mozart." In Lo! Here the gentle lark Gritton employs tasteful embellishments, doesn’t rush or falter in her runs, flecks her line with the trippingest of trills and is alert to all dynamics. Bishop’s rather retrogressive Mozartian impulse is evident in Should he upbraid with its virtuoso flute runs but I feel his setting puts infelicitous strain on the vocal line, breaking it inaptly and unnecessarily. Susan Gritton valiantly copes. The first part of Who is Sylvia? opens with maestoso conviction and the Consort break out into individual traceries in the faster section; there’s a Madrigalian quality to Bishop’s writing, an awareness of and affection for the earlier glories of the English stage that is at once affecting and charming. It’s obvious limitations in a contemporary context – Beethoven, Schubert – seem beside the point given Bishop’s own populist intent with the settings.

When that I was a little tiny boy is vigorous with whooping horns and the operatic flourishes in It was a lover and his lass disclose Gooding artfully twisting and coiling the line. Pickett’s rustic flute beguiles the ear in Under the greenwood tree – the jog trot accompaniment, piping clarinet, precise articulation, dynamic control of consort and solo line, are all accomplished with real spirit and conviction. Mark Tucker sings out well in Flower of this purple dye, robust but elegant and Now the hungry lions roar begins with a really earthy brass roar. The two leading singers, Gooding and Gritton, join forces in Orpheus with his lute with its plangent central section. The disc ends with more of Bishop’s lyrical impulse – nicely orchestrated, harmonically alive, with a fortepiano appearance and a magnificently dramatic multiple fake ending. The big cast of singers and performers are suitably lively and with an edition prepared by Michael Pilkington from Bishop’s own full conducting score this disc will give you a lot of pleasure.

Jonathan Woolf


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