Naxos brings back this Collins Classics recital from 1998, and its reappearance should be welcomed by fans of English song who missed it the first time around. Roger Quilter (1877-1953) was not so much original as he was a highly skilled "romantic-style" melodist, an especially sensitive hearer and capable translator of English words and inflections to musical form. In other words, he wrote pleasingly melodic, often quite beautiful songs that successfully capture the spirit and meaning of the texts--and importantly, ride easily on the voice. As for his texts, Quilter went for the best--Shakespeare, Burns, Shelley, Tennyson, Herrick--inventing music that happily contrasts with more familiar versions by other composers of poems suchRead more as It was a lover and his lass, O mistress mine, Music when soft voices die, and Go, lovely rose.
Quilter also was keenly adept at creating accompaniments that are intrinsically interesting yet always integral to the song's overall conception. And he was a fine arranger, as he demonstrates in the several folksong settings, including Ye banks and braes and Ca' the yowes, the latter's contemplative spirit and gentle flow making an excellent alternative to Britten's more assertive, declamatory treatment. The songs scored for piano and string quartet are particularly effective and should be heard more often in concert.
Although most of these songs lie comfortably in the middle of the English/lyrical/romantic style--neither self-consciously austere nor excessively emotive--a few lean decidedly toward the melodramatic, namely the closing duet, Love calls through the summer night (poem by Rodney Bennett), The maiden blush (from the song cycle To Julia), and Go, lovely rose. Both of the singers project a sincere fondness for the music that only occasionally spills over into affectation--mostly we hear two first-rate interpreters letting the music flow and the words tell their story.
Tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson is the better of the two, his honey-like tone, fluid legato, and seemingly effortless expressive technique let you just focus on enjoying the songs rather than notice all the details that go into their performance. Soprano Lisa Milne, on the other hand, tends to call attention to herself when her voice becomes forced, squeezed, or even slightly shrieky at louder volume in her upper register. Normally, however, she's very pleasing to listen to and offers an ideal partner to Johnson in the duets. Accompanist Graham Johnson is one of the great masters of his art, and he's in perfect form here. At first, the voices seem too close, but the more you listen, this apparent problem goes away, and although the singers and piano remain very "present" throughout the recording, the sound retains a consistently appealing vibrancy that's easy on the ear while giving the music a real sense of immediacy.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com Read less