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Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
Songs - Volume 2: Shakespeare, Elizabethan and Jacobean Lyrics
Nathan Vale (tenor), Adrian Farmer (piano)
rec. 2017, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK
NIMBUS NI5969 [77:34]

This disc is the second in a series from Nimbus. I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Volume 3 in which Nathan Vale shared the singing duties with Charlotte de Rothschild who sang on Volume 1 (review) which I hope to audition soon. I was delighted to receive this disc from Anthony Smith of Nimbus as I thought very highly of Nathan Vale’s singing and overall approach. Here, with the sensitive accompaniment of Adrian Farmer, is another successful recital of songs by Shakespeare and arrangements from the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras.

Adrian Farmer is a British pianist and Nimbus’s artistic director. He trained as an accompanist at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester from 1977, following a music degree in Birmingham. Joining Nimbus in 1979, he has been its principal record producer and music director, as well as a board member since 1983. He has worked as a producer with a number of artists, including Shura Cherkassky, Bernard Roberts, Vlado Perlemuter and Vladimir Feltsman. As a pianist, Farmer has toured internationally, and has appeared as accompanist for soprano Charlotte de Rothschild. They have recorded songs by Schubert, Schumann, Faurť and Mathilde de Rothschild. He has also recorded Saint-SaŽns’ piano duos and duets with Martin Jones and Schubert’s piano duets with Nina Walker. There are numerous MusicWeb International reviews of his recordings and I’m looking forward to hearing more of them soon.

Roger Quilter’s life was very much of its time. The accompanying notes have concise extracts from Valerie Langfield’s “Roger Quilter - His Life and Music” (review). John Talbot summarised things very adroitly “This volume, meticulously researched and finely written, is surely definitive. It is one of the most distinguished books of its type to appear in recent years and deserves to be widely read”. “Quilter’s life, on the outside at least, was uneventful, remarkable only to those less privileged: quasi-aristocratic background (his father, William Cuthbert, became a baronet during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897; and the family home is Bawdsey Manor, near Felixstowe in Suffolk), a private income, and a lifestyle which took for granted the presence and attention of domestic servants. On the inside, things were rather different: an artistic temperament raised in a Philistine, landed upper-middle-class environment; constant health problems (and a stammer), a homosexual temperament which courted rejection by his father and over-identification with his mother. He was a kind, generous man rather over-protected by circumstance of birth, perhaps, for his own artistic good.” He composed more than 140 songs, of which the Shakespearean Songs are amongst the most regarded.

The Shakespeare Songs will be familiar to those who love the plays. Surely there can be very few writers whose words are so familiar. I’m unsure how many of these songs were written specifically for productions but they work extremely well as a collection. The first thing that struck me about Nathan Vale is his art of communication and empathy. He’s not so much singing at us but more conveying Shakespeare. Adrian Farmer is a perfect partner. Most listeners will have favourites, perhaps from being in school productions: The Tempest and learning Come unto these yellow Sands. It’s interesting to hear Quilter’s take on the songs from Much ado about nothing which I got to know through Kenneth Branagh’s fine film. It’s illuminating to hear lesser known songs from Cymbeline and particularly When Daffodils Begin to Peer from A Winter’s Tale. Vale’s diction is so clear that there is no need to have recourse to the words and the listener can just let the music float over. This is quintessential English music of a particular, now lost, period. It could surely not have greater advocates. The Elizabethan and Jacobean lyrics are equally successful and I was particularly struck by To Wine and Beauty written by the notorious Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot, who is referred to in Inspector Morse’s Last Bus to Woodstock.

Whilst it was no hardship at all to listen to the disc straight through, I would advocate that playing a batch of four or five songs would be a more appropriate manner to appreciate the richness on tap here. There is an overriding air of moroseness in some of the songs. They seem to be from the pen of a deeply unhappy composer. I should point out that songs from the same play or linked otherwise are on the same track which adds to feeling of flow. One particularly striking pair from Five Jacobean Lyrics are Richard Lovelace’s To Althea from Prison and John Suckling’s The Constant Lover. There’s real fire in Nathan Vale’s rendition of the Prelude in Robert Herrick’s To Julia before a more resigned and tremulous approach in The Bracelet and To daisies. Quilter’s choice of poems is impeccable and I’m sure that I’m not alone in being brought back to studying English literature, a subject like music, that Magdalen College School Oxford was very strong on. The recital ends with a trilogy from Herrick, all different in styles. The somewhat feverish The Night piece is followed by the reflective and quiet passion of Julia’s hair. This is before Quilter’s powerful way with Cherry Ripe which ends this highly affecting disc in some style.

The booklet notes are exemplary with not only the words but also explanatory notes giving a context to the songs together with biographies of the two performers. Nathan Vale studied with Ryland Davies at the Royal College of Music and at the Benjamin Britten International Opera School. He was awarded an Independent Opera Vocal scholarship to the National Opera Studio, where he was further supported by the Elmley Foundation, the ENO, the Nicholas John Trust and The Seary Trust. He is a former winner of the London Handel Singing Competition where he was also awarded the Audience Prize. He continues his studies with David Pollard. He has made several CDs that have been reviewed by MusicWeb International.

This is a very satisfying recital of Quilter’s more well known songs. I can’t imagine them better performed. Lovers of English song and literature should not hesitate to acquire this disc forthwith. I look forward to hearing more from this pairing very soon.

David R Dunsmore

Shakespeare Songs
Three Songs from Twelfth Night: (1905, 1905, 1919) [6:25]
O Mistress Mine - Come Away, Death - Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain
Measure for Measure: Take, O Take Those Lips Away (1921) [1:24]
A Winter's Tale: When Daffodils Begin to Peer (1933) [1:06]
The Merchant of Venice: Tell me Where Is Fancy Bred? (1946) [1:45]
Two Songs from Cymbeline: (1946, 1921) [4:40]: Hark, Hark, the Lark! - Fear No More the Heat of the Sun
Much Ado About Nothing: Sigh No More, Ladies (1933) [1:57]
Two Gentlemen of Verona: Who is Silvia? (1926) [2:14]
Three Songs from As You Like It: (1919,1905,1921) [6:32]: Under the Greenwood Tree - Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind - It was a Lover and his Lass
The Tempest: Come unto These Yellow Sands (1946) [2:17]
Love's Labour's Lost: When Icicles Hang by the Wall (1938) [2:03]

Elizabethan Lyrics
Amaryllis at the fountain (anon) (1914) [1:22]
Morning Song (Thomas Haywood) (1922) [2:14]
Seven Elizabethan Lyrics (1907)
Weep you no more (anon) - My life’s delight (Thomas Campion) - Damask roses (anon) [5:58]
The faithless shepherdess (anon), Brown is my love (anon), By a fountainside (Ben Jonson), Fair house of Joy (anon attr. Tobias Hume) [8:37]

Jacobean Lyrics
Tulips (Robert Herrick) (1947) [2:13]
To Wine and Beauty (Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot) (1913) [1:51]
Go, lovely rose (Edmund Waller) (1922) [2:55]

Five Jacobean Lyrics (1923-1925)
The Jealous Lover (Earl of Rochester) - Why so pale and wan? (John Suckling) - I dare not ask a kiss (Robert Herrick) [4:31]
To Althea, from prison (Richard Lovelace) - The Constant Lover (John Suckling) [4:08]

To Julia (Robert Herrick) (1905)
Prelude - The bracelet - The Maiden blush - To daisies [6:52]
The Night piece - Julia’s hair Interlude - Cherry Ripe [6:32]

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