Most of the songs on this record were composed in the first half of the 20th century, not a few between the two wars. This has been an era surprisingly neglected by singers, yet many English composers produced some of their best vocal works during this period. Recently the combination of voice, clarinet and piano has proved more and more popular with composers, but it would appear that with Holbrooke’s Tame Cat, he must be counted amongst the first of English composers to write for this medium.
The repertoire is British song from 1901 (Bridge) to 1977 (Alan Bush). Fourteen composers are represented with one song, or set, to his or her name. Given that much musical water has passed beneath the bridge in the near-forty years since its initial release, and a lot of British song has appeared on disc, the programming still wears a clever and thoughtful look.
…Contrast comes in the shape of Arthur Bliss' Two Nursery Rhymes, the first occasion on which Thea King lends her support, her clarinet as eloquent as ever, the music being whimsical and witty. The intensity and sustained gravity of Rubbra's setting of Mary Webb's In a Dark Weather is finely conveyed, and it ends with a piano postlude that acts as a perfect summation. Delius' Verlaine setting is one of the best-known of these songs and Sylvia Eaves' heavier delivery contrasts sharply with the first singer of this on disc, the pure, precise Dora Labbette.
…There is the attractive seriousness of Alan Bush's Weaving Song and the pleasures of Gordon Jacob's Three Songs for voice and clarinet sans piano. These take 16th and 17th century pieces and bring much Baroque fun to bear, as well as ripe melody. The allusive, spare accompaniment to Elizabeth Maconchy's Shakespeare setting illustrates a perceptive use of space and is one of the most accomplished of all the songs in the recital.
Eaves has a rather operatically scaled voice and isn't the easiest to follow when it comes to her diction which can be muddy but has a keen ear for melodic rise and fall. Kenny is a resilient accompanist and King brings spirited brio. If you can overlook the LP timing you'll find this a cannily selected programme.
Music Web International – Classical Review
A little music
Two Nursery Rhymes: II. The Dandelion
In Dark Weather
Take, oh take those lips away
Three Folk Songs: I. Johnny has gone for a soldier