Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

English Song

War's Embers Songs by Composers who perished or suffered in World War I


Browne – Arabia ; Diaphenia; Epitaph on Salathiel Pavy; To Gratiana dancing and singing

Butterworth - Requiescat

Farrar – The wanderer's song; Silent noon; The roadside fire; Brittany; Come you, Mary; Who would shepherd pipes

Finzi – Only a man harrowing clods

Gurney – The twa corbies; Black Sitchel; Blaweary; The fiddler of Dooney; Goodnight to the meadow; The ship; The boat is chafing; Cathleen ni Houlihan; Edward, Edward; The night of Trafalgar; Thou didst delight my eyes; To violets; Last hours

Kelly – Shall I compare thee?

Michael George, Martyn Hill, Stephen Varcoe, Clifford Benson


Helios CDH55237 [1987 – 78 mins]

In Michael Hurd's impassioned introduction he denounces unnecessary devastation and waste of life robbing the world of talents it could ill afford to lose. In particular WW1 cut short the work of a little group of English composers whose work is celebrated by this CD.


The collection seems to be not so much a representative selection as an attempt to redress the balance in their recorded legacy. Thus Butterworth and Finzi, whose songs are widely known, are allowed just a single song apiece, whilst we have a generous assortment from Gurney and Farrar, and the virtually unknown Browne and Kelly at least get a hearing.


It has to be remembered that these were all very young men taking their early and tentative steps in the art of song and music, and whose choice of poetry reflects the romantic idylls of youth. The collection is persuasively presented, and serves as a starting point to dream and speculate on the direction maturity would have led them.


No doubt many listeners will be hearing these songs for the first time and will find their own favourites amongst them. Ivor Gurney impresses me as the most developed of the talents, and both Edward, Edward and Thou didst delight my eyes demonstrate his facility very strongly. W Denis Browne also emerges as a composer of considerable stature. His four songs included here were his last works, only published after his death, and underline his loss.


All three singers give sympathetic performances, and Clifford Benson lavishes care on the details of the piano accompaniments. A CD that is sure to interest and please, and a worthy memorial to these foreshortened talents.


Havergal Brian

The Soul of Steel - settings of Blake, Shakespeare and other English poets

Brian Rayner Cook – baritone / Roger Vignoles – piano

When Icicles Hang by the Wall; Take, O Take Those Lips Away; Sorrow Song; The Message; Farewell; Care-Charmer Sleep; Since Love is Dead; The Soul of Steel; Why Dost Thou Wound and Break My Heart? On Parting; Lady Ellayne; Renunciation; Love is a Merry Game; Piping Down the Valleys Wild; The Chimney Sweeper; The Land of Dreams; The Defiled Sanctuary
Legend for violin and piano Stephen Levine / Peter Lawson


Toccata Classics – TOCC 0005 [Recorded 1981-82 – 57 mins]


Havergal Brian is a composer almost at the other end of the spectrum – living to the age of 96 and turning out a sizeable opus of mainly orchestral works, including 32 symphonies. A solitary man, little touched by contemporary musical trends, who embarked upon a path of originality – one might almost say perversity as the more difficulty he encountered in getting his works performed the more he expanded the resources required to levels way beyond those likely to be at the disposal of a newcomer.


But in the years prior to the composition of his massive First “Gothic” Symphony , he produced a number of small scale works, amongst which his songs take pride of place and here we have a good representative selection. Two groups are of particular interest: his settings of the long forgotten contemporary poet Temple Keble (nom de plume of Wilhelmina Mary Ayrston) which are so evocative of the 1920's, and – kept to last on this recording – four fine Blake * settings, where the strength of Brian's music perfectly compliments the words.


The recording could not be better – fine performances from Brian Rayner Cook and Roger Vignoles with the recognisably bright acoustics of the Wigmore Hall – highly recommended.


As a bonus item there is the short Legend for violin and piano, which with minimal resources displays something of essence of his Gothic Symphony and is a good lead-in to Brian's symphonies in general. The performance is atmospheric and first rate.


Serena Fenwick


* They make an Interesting comparison with the settings by William Mathias

© Peter Grahame Woolf