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“A Shropshire Lad” Three Song Cycles to Poems by A E Housman

Vaughan Williams – On Wenlock Edge

Gurney – The Western Playland ; Ludlow and Teme

Adrian Thompson – tenor / Stephen Varcoe - baritone Iain Burnside – piano / The Delme Quartet  

Hyperion : Helios – CDH55187 October 1989 –60 mins


“The land of lost content” is the phrase from Housman's poems which sticks in my mind and seems to sum up his gold-tinted vision of rural England . For men suffering the hardship of the trenches in the Great War the appeal of such an idyll is evident, and the straightforwardness of the meter made these poems universally attractive to song writers with the result that there are many fine settings to choose from.


Those of Vaughan Williams and Gurney make interesting companions. Vaughan Williams, who was an authority on and a dedicated collector of folk songs, reacts purely to the emotion of the narrative, whereas the more highly strung Gurney gives us melodies with a real hint of folk tune. Houseman's imagery may have lost some of its gloss with the passage of time, but the music remains as fresh as ever.


Latterly these cycles seem to have come to be regarded as baritone territory, and it is certainly arguable that the more earthy sound of a deeper voice is appropriate to the bucolic sentiments expressed. A lighter voice, however, provides a different insight, and I was pleased to find a substantial share allocated on this recording to the tenor Adrian Thompson. Both singers are excellent, and the accompaniment provided by Iain Burnside and the Delme Quartet is judged to perfection.


A welcome return to the catalogue on a budget label.


Serena Fenwick

© Peter Grahame Woolf