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250 Years of English Song – An Anthology of English Song: 1530-1709
Norma Burrowes (soprano); Wendy Eathorne (soprano); Charles Brett (counter-tenor); Neil Jenkins (tenor); Philip Langridge (tenor); Benjamin Luxon (baritone); Robert Lloyd (bass-baritone); Anthony Rooley (lute); Harold Lester (harpsichord); Colin Tilney (harpsichord); Catherine Mackintosh (violin); Polly Waterfield (violin); Ian Gammie (violin); Trevor Jones (violin); Jane Ryan (bass viol); Adam Skeaping (viola da gamba); Medici String Quartet
rec. October – November 1976, St John’s Smith Square; St George the Martyr, Queen’s Square; Decca Studio 4, Tollington Park, London. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.2309 [74:39 + 78:39]

Experience Classicsonline

CD 1 Richard EDWARDS (1522-1566) When griping griefs
John DANYEL (1565-1626) Why Canst Thou Not; Keep Grief Within
ANON. When Daphne from fair Phoebus did fly
William BYRD (1540-1623)Fair Britain Isle; Out of the Orient Cristal Skies
ANON. I smile to see how you devise
Richard FARRANT (d. 1581)Ah, alas, you salt-sea gods
ANON. (arr Francis Cutting) How should I your true love know
John DOWLAND (1563-1626) If that a sinner’s sighs; Come away, sweet love; Go nightly cares
Francis PILKINGTON (d. 1638) Now peep, bo-peep
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625) Ah dear heart
Thomas CAMPIAN (1567-1620) Fire, fire; Out of my soul’s depths
John WILSON (1595-1674) In the merry month of May
Henry LAWES (1596-1662) ’Tis but a frowne; Wert thou yet fairer
John HILTON (1599-1657) A Hymn to God the father
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) A thousand several ways; O solitude; In chloris
CD 2

Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) This poet sings; With sick and famished eyes; Let the dreadful engines
John ECCLES (1668-1735) Belinda's pretty pleasing form; The jolly breeze
George MONRO (d. 1731) My Goddess Celia
Richard LEVERIDGE (?1670-1758) The Sailor’s farewell
ANON. The Maid’s twitcher
Henry CAREY (?1687-1743) Flocks are sporting; A New Year’s Ode
Thomas STOKES The Stocking Cantata
Thomas ARNE (1714-1766) O Ravishing Delight
Thomas CHILCOT (1707-1766) On a day
Samuel HOWARD (?1710-1782) Why heaves my fond bosom
William BOYCE (1711-1779) Rural beauty; Rail no more ye learned asses
Henry BURGESS (c. 1738-1765) The Rose
Michael ARNE (1741-1786) The lass with the delicate air
Charles DIBDIN (1745-1814) The lass that loved a sailor
James HOOK (1746-1827) Noon
Stephen STORACE (1762-1796) The Lullaby


Richard Itter has every right to survey his fields of achievement with pleasure … and we can join him. He launched the Lyrita label as a cottage industry in the late 1950s. While its focus on British music both restricted and in some sectors amplified its standing the label was never more than a very significant independent. Its ascent and consolidation among the illustrious heights came to a full stop a couple of years after the arrival of the CD in 1983. Itter, who retained personal control, was sceptical about the new medium and would not commit to it until a decade or so later … and then only spasmodically. This vacuum, oddly enough, extended the life of the LP. It fuelled and fanned a market in ‘pre-owned’ Lyrita vinyl to absurd prices. It also had other companies - notably Chandos - move in to re-record repertoire Lyrita had made its own and to record new material which previously was very much Lyrita heartland.

Itter and Lyrita have now been well served in entrusting the label’s legacy to Wyastone Estate. Mr Itter’s decision has resulted in a breathtaking reissue programme. This has in large part been accomplished from early 2007 to the present day. The result is that almost the whole of their analogue and later digital treasury are now available on CD. The analogue tapes, including the mono sessions of the 1950s and 1960s, are all there in resplendent transfers with only a few stragglers awaited. There seem to be no plans for new sessions although rumours do occasionally circulate.

The present set of recordings was not a Lyrita original. To the best of my knowledge it was never issued. The sessions appear to have taken place as part of a British Council-funded scheme to produce a series of recordings surveying British song from its earliest days to the 1970s. For whatever reason this Decca-engineered project never got past the era reflected in this anthology.

There will be stylistic shocks along the way. After all, performance practice in this repertoire has moved on – several times – over the last three decades. That said this is admirable and tasteful singing – not so tasteful that it lacks charm, fear, seduction, even a cheeky leer. There are one or two technical blemishes but this is down to physical damage to the tape stock. Listen to the rough start of Byrd's Out of the Orient Skies. This is a song in which, incidentally, one can hear foreshadowings of Herbert Howells' King David. All the songs are sung with light-imbued clarion tone. Going by these results no pains or expense were spared in this Decca-coordinated endeavour. The songs are of a piece, being in the case of the first disc predominantly of a grave or  melancholic beauty. The second disc spreads the range. Purcell's floridly rhetorical settings appear with surprisingly modern sounding instrumental accompaniment. This is not guaranteed to beguile Lyrita’s usual audience. However those who hanker after a golden age of British singing, before hints of the contrived and the precious began to invade, will want this set.

Rob Barnett


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