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Roger QUILTER (1877-1953) Songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano)
Adrian Farmer (piano)
rec. 2014, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth NIMBUS NI5930 [63:32]
This is a good representative selection of Quilter’s songs beautifully sung by Charlotte de Rothschild, who is intelligently partnered by Adrian Farmer. The diction is exemplary, the melodic lines fluently delivered, the phrasing elegant and the pitching never faltering for a moment. Tempi make good sense and each song is presented with an obvious awareness of its musical as well as its emotional character, the texts cared for every bit as much as the notes. Coordination and balance between singer and pianist is immaculate and the recording clear and suitably warm.
Why, then, do I find it so tiresome to listen through all 28 in one sitting? Is it that Quilter’s musical style lacks sufficient interest for this one-hour programme to have enough variety, or is it that Charlotte de Rothschild adds so little to the various songs that, after a while, they all begin to sound the same? In short, what’s wrong; is it the music, or the performance?
Undoubtedly Roger Quilter has a very distinctive musical voice. He is one of those composers whose music, even if you have never heard the particular song before, is immediately recognisable, often from a single harmonic progression or melodic contour. You could just as easily say this about Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Grieg, Elgar, Hindemith, indeed any composer whose music has passed through the filter of the passing years to remain in the repertory today. But perhaps Quilter’s voice is too limited, too narrow in its inflexions, and once the initial novelty has worn off, it all begins to sound rather samey. Yet, I feel this is to undermine one of the finest of that school of English song composers which existed in the immediate post-Cecil Sharp days. Figures like George Butterworth, Arthur Somervell, John Ireland, Ivor Gurney, Peter Warlock and Michael Head, all of whom certainly had their own distinct voices, but not all of whom maintained the same consistency of quality which you find in Quilter.
Taking each of the songs in isolation, I find nothing in these performances which disturbs or upsets. De Rothschild has a strong empathy with the idiom, she captures the essence of each song text beautifully and has one of those voices which you can enjoy for its own sake, without being too concerned about how it is carrying the musical detail. And I would imagine any singer would find in Adrian Farmer the ideal accompanist, always there, always supportive, always totally in sympathy with the demands of the vocal line. Taken individually, these are all very fine performances indeed.
It is the cumulative effect of a voice which deals more in dynamic subtlety and discreet nuance working through 28 different musical microcosms which creates that sense of unease in me. Every song is approached with the same self-contained refinement, never once allowing any kind of demonstrative gesture or emotional posturing to creep through to inflate one song above another. Perhaps, what I miss is the overarching sense of a journey which is what can transform a CD of miniatures from a succession of brief engagements into a prolonged and meaningful relationship. In short, if you were to muddle up the playing order, I am not sure you would notice; and that makes, ultimately for a featureless listening experience.
And there is one other thing. Quilter’s songs have a powerful sense of the masculine about them – even if Quilter’s musical masculinity is more of the caring, loving, caressing kind. So many of these songs seem geared to the male voice, even when the words themselves are essentially gender-neutral. This collection includes several – “Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day”, “April”, “Song of the Blackbird” – which are clearly written from a female perspective, but beyond these Quilter seems to imply in his musical settings that narrative songs – “Autumn Eve”, “Passing Dream”, “Wind from the South” – are narrated through the eyes of a male. Whether this was Quilter’s intention or not, they sound rather less convincing when voiced by a soprano.
It is difficult to justify reservations about this recording simply because the songs are sung by a soprano, but the fact is Charlotte de Rothschild fails to convince me that this is the right voice for these songs, or that Quilter’s musical language is so subtle that demonstrative displays of dynamic and expression are completely inappropriate. Marc Rochester
St Valentine’s Day (Shakespeare, Hamlet, Ophelia) [2.08]
How Should I Your True Love Know? (from “Four Shakespeare Songs” Op. 33) [2.18]
Daisies After Rain (Judith Bickle) [1.01]
“Songs” Op. 14:
Autumn Evening (Arthur Maquarie) [3.35]
April (William Watson) [1.01]
A Last Year’s Rose (W.E. Henley) [2.44]
Song of the Blackbird (W.E. Henley) [1.12]
“Three Songs”, Op.15
Cuckoo Song (Alfred Williams) [2:43]
“Two Shakespeare Songs”, Op.32
Orpheus with His Lute (Shakespeare, Henry VIII) [2.16]
Music (Shelley) [2.17]
Slumber Song (Clifford Mills) [2.06]
“Songs” Op. 25:
An Old Carol (Anon.) [2.24]
Arab Love Song (Shelley) [1.39]
The Fuchsia Tree (Manx Ballad) [1.29]
Song of the Stream (Alfred Williams) [3.28]
Music, When Soft Voices Die (Shelley) [2.11]
“Songs of Sorrow” Op. 10:
A Coronal (Ernest Dowson) [3.27]
Passing Dreams (Ernest Dowson) [2.13]
A Land of Silence (Ernest Dowson) [3.06]
In Spring (Ernest Dowson) [3.08]
“Three Songs of William Blake” Op. 20:
Dream Valley [2.20
The Wild Flower’s Song [2.29]
“Two September Songs”:
Through the Sunny Garden (Mary Coleridge) [2.18]
The Valley and the Hill (Mary Coleridge) [1.24]
Wind from the South (John Irvine) [2.19]
April Love (Roger Quilter) [1.56]