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Alec Roth
songs for voice & guitar

Mark Padmore with Morgan Szymanski (guitar)

Signum sigcd332

A superb disc of music by a prolific and successful composer [L] who has eschewed the passing modernisms of our days.

My lute & I are nine settings of Thomas Wyatt, in the vein of the ever popular Elizabethan lute songs (there is also one to John Donne's Autumnal.) I wonder whether Alec Roth's lute songs could be played with lute too?

Also there are some English folk song settings, and a slightly more innovative group of Night Songs to words by his collaborator Vikram Seth, those with suggestions of classical Indian music.

But the disc is highly desirable for the singing of Mark Padmore, superb in expressivity and perfect diction, in the suppportive acoustic of St Alban the Martyr, Holborn; recorded partly at night, the session photos by by engineer Andrew Mellor suggest.

The notes and words are in good black-on-white print (increasingly rare !) and this is a disc which deserves widest distribution and take up on radio programmes.
I deplore however the cover, which relegates Alec Roth to the smallest print !

Peter Grahame Woolf


See also Songs in Time of War

Roth - Songs in Time of War  - Chinese Gardens

Mark Padmore - tenor
Philippe Honore - violin
Alison Nicholls - harp
Morgan Szymanski - guitar

Signum Classics  – SIGCD124 Recorded October/November 2007 [62 minutes]


Songs in Time of War Thoughts while Travelling at Night; Grieving for the Young Prince; The Visitor; A Fine Lady; Dreaming of Li Bai; Moonlit Night; An Autumn Meditation; The Old Cypress Tree at the Temple of Zhu-ge Liang; Spring Scene in Time of War; To Wei Ba, who has Lived Away from the Court; Ballad of the Army Carts; Thoughts while Travelling at Night

Chinese Gardens The Tarrying Garden; The Master-of-Nets Garden; The Gentle Waves Pavilion; The Humble Administrator’s Garden

Guitar Solos Canción de la Luna; Danza de la Luna


The writings of an 8th century Chinese nobleman interpreted as English poetry by an Indian writer and set to music by a composer of German/Irish descent involves a considerable meeting of cultures, and imparts a sense of timelessness to Songs in Time of War.     


An ensemble of tenor, violin, harp and guitar is unusual and the settings are highly original: the voice always leads, but it does so firmly as part of the ensemble and its instrumental quality is emphasised, at times adopting the nature of ‘cello, at others used percussively.    The narrative solos have something of the declamatory style and tension of Britten’s Choruses in Rape of Lucretia, and Mark Padmore’s near perfect clarity of diction presents them to perfection.


The Chinese origins of the piece surface most obviously in the instrumental setting of 8th song The Old Cypress Tree at the Temple of Zhu-ge Liang, and the cycle is well varied, coming to an  enigmatic conclusion “drifting … between earth and sky”.


A couple of guitar solos, Song and Dance of the Moon, lead into the next group of songs entitled Chinese Gardens, andset for voice and guitar.  Vikram Seth found inspiration for these poems in visits to the famous Ming Dynasty gardens in Suzhoe. 


They reflect the elegance and symmetry of a formalised garden, and an atmosphere of peace in which the falling of a petal or a fish nudging a lily pad assumes its own significance.   Both singer and guitarist catch the mood completely.  


A most rewarding CD which reveals a little more with each listening.


 Serena Fenwick


Background: Alec Roth has been Founder and Artistic Director of the Royal Festival Hall Gamelan Programme; Music Director of the Baylis Programme, English National Opera; Composer in Association, Opera North; and Lecturer in Music, University of Edinburgh. His collaborations with the Indian writer Vikram Seth include the song cycles Romantic Residues (Bury St Edmunds Festival commission 2003) and Earth and Sky for children's chorus, a BBC commission for the Proms 2000 season. [PGW]