Greensleeves – Folk Music of the British Isles
Armonico Consort/Christopher Monks
rec. St Mark’s Church, Leamington Spa, 19-20 June 2013

This is a lovely disc, containing beautifully sung arrangements of folk songs from various corners of the British Isles. Unless you’re entirely allergic to this sort of repertoire, I suspect you’ll find yourself falling for it.

The atmosphere is set right from the outset with the strangely haunting Lisa Lân, the unfamiliarity (for me) of the Welsh language helping add to the sense of gorgeous mystery to it.  It’s also here where, right from the off, you capture the beautiful effect of the acoustic of St Mark’s Church, Leamington Spa, which surrounds the sound with an air of beauty and resonance that you would more normally expect from a recording of church music.  Stanford seems to have been trying to echo a church sound in his arrangement of The Blue Bird, and if that makes it less immediate then it certainly helps to make it sound very beautiful.

The Banks of my own Lovely Lee sets the melody against a beautifully soft bed of harmony from the chorus, climaxing in a final verse where SATB sing the words together for the first time.  It’s very effective, as is Pearsall’s arrangement of Lay a Garland, which is absolutely spellbinding. Sou Gan is ostensibly a lullaby but it's the least restful lullaby you’ll ever hear, more like a rumbustious drinking song in its rhythm and bounce, and similar bounce affects Now is the Month of Maying (though is it acceptable to include a madrigal on a disc of folk songs, I wonder?).  An Rosen Wyn gives us a different though equally alluring brand of Celticness, as does Vaughan Williams’ lovely Loch Lomond, calm and haunting, with a beautiful, ethereal soprano solo. I’m no lover of those Wraggle Taggle Gipsies, but its convincing lilt, won over even my clenched cynicism.

Of course, you can’t imagine any of these songs being sung spontaneously by a bunch of harvesters in a pub, but then that’s not the point.  The purpose of this disc is, I imagine, to bring these wonderful melodies to a wider audience, and I wish it success in doing so.  The Armonico Consort’s performances are models of skill, and the perfection of their blend married to the exquisiteness of their sound help to seal the deal. Full texts and, where necessary, translations are included.

Simon Thompson

Lisa Lân - Traditional, arr. Geoffrey Webber [2.49]
The Blue Bird - Charles Villiers Stanford [3.59]
The Banks of my own Lovely Lee - Traditional, arr. Geoffrey Webber [5.50]
She Moved Through the Fair - Traditional, arr. Toby Young [3.23]
Lay a Garland - Robert Pearsall [4.38]
Sweet Kitty - Traditional, arr. Geoffrey Webber [3.20]
Suo Gan - Traditional, arr. Toby Young [3.11]
I Love my Love - Traditional, arr. Gustav Holst [4.29]
Dadl Dau - Traditional, arr. Geoffrey Webber [1.20]
Now is the Month of Maying - Thomas Morley [2.07]
An Rosen Wyn - Traditional, arr. Christopher Monks [5.10]
Greensleeves - Traditional, arr. Geoffrey Webber [3.28]
Loch Lomond - Traditional, arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams [3.24]
O Love, 'tis a Calm Starry Night - Traditional, arr. Patrick Hadley [2.59]
Wraggle Taggle Gipsies, O! - Traditional, arr. Geoffrey Webber [2.03]

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