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All Through the Night- Traditional Welsh Songs for Tenor and Harp
Huw Rhys-Evans (tenor)
Ieuan Jones (harp)
rec. 1991, Academy of Live and Recorded Arts, England CLAUDIO CR4114-2 [63:55]
Back in 2000 Bryn Terfel recorded a disc of traditional Welsh songs for DG, presented in sensitive orchestral arrangements and delivered with what we might describe as characteristic Terfel flair. With that single disc, he opened the eyes of the international record-collecting community to some of the golden treasures of the repertory, often overlooked by singers outside Wales because of their Welsh language texts (Welsh is a language which does not readily give up its magic in translation). Terfel effectively put the Welsh language and the Welsh song repertory slap bang into the centre of the international stage.
Those of us who have lived and worked in Wales have long known the wonders of the Welsh song repertory, but it still remains something of a niche market so far as record companies outside Wales have been concerned. Here we have a disc which by all the laws of natural justice should have become a big hit when it was first recorded almost three decades ago, yet has remained in an obscure backwater, unremarked upon or even noticed by the outside world.
By resurrecting the disc and releasing it also as an audio Blu-ray (this review works only with the original CD version), the Sussex-based Claudio Records label possibly hopes to make more of a splash on the market. They certainly deserve to, for this is a wonderful disc; truly ardderchog as Welsh speakers would put it.
Huw Rhys-Evans has gone a long way since this recording was made, but the delicious purity and clarity of his voice as it was in 1991, its flawless pitching, its delectable diction and its impeccable technical control is something rare and wonderful, and timeless. From his first entry in the famous Ar hyd y nos which lends its title (in translation) to the whole disc, it is clear that we are in the presence of some astonishingly beguiling singing. His delivery of Tra bo dau is simply gorgeous, while the incredible purity of his tone keeps us breathlessly spellbound throughout the 2:40 of unaccompanied singing which we have in Hiraeth. Every song is presented with the same magical poise and almost caressing sense of line, and whether or not the words mean anything to you, few would be unenchanted by Rhys-Evans’s singing. Certainly one would neither need nor want the distraction of the sung texts and their translations to savour to the full magic of these 17 songs, and while the pretty hideous booklet which comes with the CD offers nothing of any value other than some rather dated biographies of the two performers, anyone seeking full texts and translations can access them via the Claudio Records website.
Ieuan Jones is the ever-sensitive and alert harpist, following the ebb and flow of Rhys-Evans’s singing with an almost uncanny perceptiveness. And if Jones seems particularly committed to these enchanting arrangements – simple yet absorbing – that is because they all seem to have been made by him (although I apologise if they were not – the booklet is vague on the issue of authorship). There are three tracks given over to harp solos – Merch Megan, Llwyn Onn (the well-known “Ash Grove”) and Dafydd y Garreg Wen - and while these tend to have something of the faded atmosphere of the parlour song about them, one can at least enjoy some fine, decorative harp playing here.
You do not need to be Welsh, to understand Welsh or even to know anything about Wales to recognise in this enchanting disc a rare example of magical and compelling music-making using the simplest but most enchanting of materials.
Ar hyd y nos (All through the night)
Bugeil'or gwenith gwyn (Watching the white wheat)
Wrth Fynd Hefo/Dacw' nghariad/Lisa lan/Paid a deud (Going to Tywyn/Behold my beloved/Fair Lisa/Never tell)
Merch Megan (Megan's daughter) – harp solo
Tra bo dau (While there are two)
Hiraeth (Yearning) - tenor solo
Y deryn pur (The pure bird)
Seven songs on poems in the Cywydd metre by Dafydd ap Gwilym & others;
- Y nos (The Night)
- Y gwlith (The Dew)
- Miwsig (Music)
- Elen (Ellen)
- Dau Filgi (Two Greyhounds)
- Claddu’r BArdd o GAriad (The Burial of the Lovesick Bard)
- Hirateh am yr Haf (Yearning for the Summer)
Llwyn Onn (The Ash Grove) - harp solo
Gyrru'r y chen (Driving the oxen)
Dafydd y garreg wen (David of the white rock) - harp solo
Cyfri'r geifr (Counting the goats)
Mae'nghariad i'n Fenws/Tros y garreg (My beloved is Venus/Over the rock)
Nos galan (New year's eve)