Carey BLYTON (1932-2002) Lyrics from the Chinese
Ian Partridge (tenor)
The Britten Sinfonia/Nicholas Cleobury
Jennifer Partridge (piano)
rec. 1999-2000, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Aldeburgh. UPBEAT CLASSICS URCD179 [53:10]
My admiration and enthusiasm for the lissom melodic music of Carey Blyton flowed from a chance acquaintance: a Guildford concert I attended as a law student at the College of Law back in 1977-78. It was given by the Guildford Philharmonic conducted by Vernon Handley. The programme included Blyton's Lachrymae for tenor and strings. I do not recall what else was on but Blyton's name was completely unknown to me at the time. However by the end of the concert the Blyton work had lodged with me quite unshakably. Years later I corresponded with Mr Blyton and he very kindly sent me cassettes of his music. In this way I came to hear the opera The Girl from Nogami, his many songs, including The Songs from the Chinese, and a handful of orchestral pieces (The Hobbit overture; Cinque Ports Suite, On Holiday Suite) most of these (except The Girl from Nogami) now recorded on CD. These were valuable not only for the obvious reason that I came to know and enjoy a wide span of his music but also because the recordings featured the tenor who pioneered so many of the songs on this disc,
Jack Irons (1936-2005).
The present CD sets out Carey Blyton's songs written over half a century. These include two major song-cycles with orchestra, each speckled with purely orchestral movements. Add to these three cycles for tenor and piano and several individual songs. The voice is always a tenor - who in this case is that blessed force of nature, Ian Partridge. His gift for purity of enunciation and miraculous breath control are bywords, so much so that on occasion he has led me to explore music I would not otherwise have touched. He will be well known for his 1975 recording of Finzi'sIntimations of Immortality and his broadcasts of Finzi's largely non-Hardy song-cycles. Would that a recording existed of Partridge in Dies Natalis - one of those marriages of composer and artist made in heaven but which have never materialised. It is well past time one of the record labels sat up and took notice of Partridge's contribution to British twentieth century song and rescued all those radio tapes. The early Blyton songs are on Upbeat URCD160; indeed The Poetry of Dress cycle is also on that disc (review ~ review). Upbeat also recorded his folk-song arrangements with Soo-Bee Lee (soprano) and the same Canadian baritone, Robert Ivan Foster, who championed the songs of Michael Head with that composer on an Onslo LP in the early 1960s.
Blyton's music is succinct and the settings represented here are individually quite short: 34 tracks taking up only 54 minutes. Even the orchestral interludes are brief. The style however brims with generous yet controlled lyrical invention. Tonality is the order of the day in scores that nestle comfortably within the English song tradition as comfortably as those of Geoffrey Bush (do try his Summer Serenade), Michael Head, Robin Milford, Mary Plumstead and Pamela Harrison. His choice of verse to set includes Blake, Daniel, Shelley and Herrick.
There's litheness about Blyton's music and his way with words is very appealing. You can hear this instantly in the Lyrics From The Chinese. The gentle and touching Prelude for String Orchestra and the central Interlude for solo quartet are most beautifully limned in by the Britten Sinfonia. These qualities carry over into the Aubade. Blyton's writing is fragile and Finzian at this point and also in the Nocturne. The chilly Song at Evening has more of Warlock about it. The Drinking Song, Sacrificial Song and the sinister Song against the Duke Seuen might almost be by Geoffrey Bush. These songs are remarkable for the worlds they create in such a small time-frame. Concluding the "…lude" symmetry the cycle ends with the gentle breath of the Postlude for String Orchestra. Blyton does not resort to orientalisms. These songs are a good fit with the Chinese songs written by various British composers including Arthur Oldham, Reginald Redman (by repute), Constant Lambert and Arthur Bliss.
Lachrymae - In Memoriam John Dowland was written after the Chinese Lyrics. It too intersperses songs with purely orchestral movements - some very short. The Prelude plays for just 0:42. There are four Interludes and a Postlude. Again the settings are for tenor and string orchestra. Not everything is sighing Englishry: the on-its-toes ballad The Open Door is a case in point; it's not quite My Pretty Bess (RVW Tudor Portraits) but in that vicinity. Blyton is more deliberate than either Britten or Geoffrey Bush in his setting of O rose thou art sick! His approach is more forcefully deliberate and a very appealing sable darkness arches over the whole cycle.
After two song-cycles for voice and string orchestra come thirteen songs for voice and piano. The pianist is the tenor's sister who has recorded and broadcast with him for many years. Jennifer matches Ian step for step. That's clear from the sorrowing and slow-stepping setting of Elsa Corbluth's Dirge for St Patrick's Night. Its skeletal, mesmerising and awed quality echoes the tragedy of a daughter killed in a fire in a women's hostel in Kilburn in 1980. The Lyrics from the East are again handled with what we now recognise as Blyton's signature meld of reserve and lyric ease. Blyton even allows himself the merest wisp of orientalism in the slight twist given to the word-setting in Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough. The same words are presented in Omar Khayyam but there's none of Bantock's equally valid sultry romanticism in this. The Lyrics end abruptly with the setting of Puty Fish.
Of the Two Pensive Songs, Two Stolen Roses has a Quilter- and Scott-like balladry. These songs are early Blyton. The second song matches well with Warlock's poignant My Own Country. Speaking of Warlock, the kindred 1956 song-cycle The Poetry of Dress groups two Herrick songs with a nicely matching setting of anonymous verse. The songs are easy-flowing and rich in pastel emotions. There's pomposity and puncturing wit in The Flea and in the G&S parody that is Indigo Blues. It's a reflection of Blyton's zany measure that the score of this song records that it was written in "Hardh Pawncore, 1899". So ends a disc that moves from approaches to the sublime to the broadest humour.
The words are given in the very readable booklet except - for some reason - in the case of the last seven songs on the disc. It's not a major demerit as the words are easy to hear.
Composer and MWI reviewer Gary Higginson was one of Blyton's pupils. His appreciation of the composer and his Blyton CD reviews including the latest Shoal of Fishes CD from Sleeveless can be found elsewhere on this site. They offer valuable insights.
West Sussex-based Upbeat is run by Liz Biddle who was Blyton's agent and record producer for many years and who assures me that she misses him still.
Admiration for this tuneful and poetry-centred vocal music can only be increased by hearing this disc. Lovers of English song must have this strong Blyton cross-section. Certainly the song-cycles here should be part of their active listening experience.
Contents Lyrics From The Chinese, Op. 16 (1953-58):
1 Prelude for String Orchestra [1:40]
2 Aubade [2:48]
3 Drinking Song [0:35]
4 Song against the Duke Seuen [1:11]
5 Song at Evening [4:06]
6 Interlude for Solo String Quartet [1:41]
7 Flower Song [1:23]
8 Sacrificial Song [0:40]
9 Nocturne [2:28]
10 Postlude for String Orchestra [1:46]
Lachrymae - In Memoriam John Dowland, Op. 23 (1956-60)
11 Prelude [0:45]
12 Madrigal [1:49]
13 Interlude 1 [0:35]
14 The Moon [1:34]
15 Interlude II [0:52]
16 The Open Door [1:13]
17 Interlude III [0:58]
18 The Sick Rose [1:47]
19 Interlude IV [0:54]
20 Sonnet [2:16]
21 Postlude [1:48]
22 Dirge For St Patrick's Night, Op. 110 (2000) [4:30]
Lyrics From The East, Op. 109 (2000)
23 The Blast of Love [0:42]
24 Paradise [1:09]
25 Evening [1:02]
26 Night [1:39]
27 Puty-Fish [0:36]
Two Pensive Songs, Op. 10 (1951)
28 Two Stolen Roses [1:59]
29 Come, Night [2:44]
The Poetry Of Dress, Op. 25 (1956)
30 Whenas in Silks my Julia Goes [0:40]
31 A Sweet Disorder in the Dress [2:24]
32 My Love in Her Attire [0:43]
33 The Flea, Op. 100 1/2 (1992) [1:02]
34 Indigo Blues (A Colonial Song) Op. 103 1/2 [1:01]