Stanford's songs are the jewels of this collection. "Grandeur" is a little masterpiece, with Bernadette Greevy wringing out all its tragic irony.
This is another album in Marco Polo's enterprising "Irish Composer Series." I remember, with great affection, reviewing in Fanfare 20:4 Romantic Ireland, a program of orchestral works that included Victory's magnificent miniature tone poems under the collective title of Three Irish Pictures, and Larchet's magical Nocturne for Orchestra: By the Waters of the Moon. This present CD is an enchanting collection of 20 songs including five from Larchet and eight by Stanford. To explain the title: A sheaf is a bundle, especially a bundle of corn, cut and tied withRead more string. But the Irish use English differently, and the word, to them, has a more personal association. A mother's sheaf of songs would be the songs that she sang, made her own, and were associated with her.
The Larchet songs that open the program have strong maternal associations. The Wee Boy in Bed has a lovely melody that is a tender recollection of the singer's "granny wi' her wrinkled hands cardin' the wool . . ."; while Wee Hughie ("An' him not four") is a mother's pride mixed with sorrow as her child trips off to school for the first time; "An the more his feet went forrit, Still his head turned back. . . . God help him he was cryin', An maybe so was I." Padraic the Fiddler is another piece of sentimental Irish whimsy. It tells of Padraic who plays his fiddle to "the birdeens way up in the cherry tree" completely oblivious of the sighing of the maiden who always watches him. Larchet has the gift of directness and honesty; all his songs here are gently witty and poignant, and their melodies memorable.
Dublin-born mezzo-soprano Bernadette Greevy has a natural love and empathy for all the songs in this collection, which she sings most expressively and sensitively. At first one might quibble that her darkly dramatic tones are more suited to the operatic stage than for these often fragile little pieces, but the ear soon becomes accustomed to her voice and I, for one, was persuaded. Hugh Tinney provides quietly unassuming yet compelling accompaniments.
Stanford's songs are the jewels of this collection. Grandeur is a little masterpiece; Greevy wrings out all the tragic irony of the poor, hardworking Irishwoman, ignored in life, who now lies in unaccustomed grandeur in her coffin; when she was alive ". . . no-one missed her face. . . . But today they throng the place." In complete contrast Stanford's scolding, rollicking tune berates The Bold Unbiddable Child ". . . upsetting the Widow Foy's pail . . . pulling the massacrée dog by the tail. . . ." Then we have the hushed beauty of A Soft Day when "the hills wear a shroud of silver cloud." But Stanford, in London, must have felt the homesickness of Irish Skies keenly: "I dream I see the Wicklow Hills, By the evening sun light kissed. . . . I woke to see the London streets, The somber sky above. ..."
The other better-known composer, Arnold Bax, is represented by just one song, a quirky, wittily astringent arrangement of Oh Dear! What Can the Matter Be? that really shows up the duplicity of Johnny who has lingered too long at the fair.
Carl Hardebeck's two strongly melodic songs contrast the tenderness of forlorn love in The Song of Glen Dun with breezy nursery song A Dandin Song. The piano part of Gerald Victory's An Old Woman of the Roads underlines the harsh reality of the Irish poor as Greevy sings more softly of the old woman's dream: "Oh, to have a little house. . . ." Vincent O'Brien's The Fairy Tree is a mix of childish joy and darker figures as the Thorn tree is associated with fairy dancing, Cromwell's cruelty, and Christ's crucifixion. Greevy and Tinney relish the macabre comedy that is Dirty Work by Havelock Nelson. It is about a woman whose strange recipe for tea delights her guests: "It's grand stuff, it's grand stuff we'll have another cup .. .," but "now they're in the churchyard that lies below the town."
A lovely collection that becomes more and more enjoyable on repeated hearings.