Notes and Editorial Reviews
C. W. ORR
The Complete Songbook
Mark Stone (bar); Simon Lepper (pn)
STONE RECORDS 5060192780192, 5060192780123 (2 CDs: 122:49
Text and Translation)
I love discoveries—or rather, I love really good discoveries. Charles Wilfred Orr (1892-1976) was an English composer who wrote songs almost exclusively, and whose songs seem to have disappeared entirely from our world. There is a YouTube video of Philip Langridge
singing four of the
songs of Orr, and a few more of his songs turn up on an Anthony Rolfe-Johnson Hyperion disc. But that is about all there was until Mark Stone’s two-disc survey of Orr’s complete output in this genre—a total of 40 songs.
As with his disc of Butterworth songs reviewed elsewhere in this issue, Stone displays an attractive lyric baritone voice. It gets a bit throaty and thin sometimes when pushed, but these songs don’t require very much pushing. There are times when he does provide real power and heft, such as the climax of
Since thou, O fondest and truest
. He clearly loves this material, and sings it with concentration, with specificity of inflection and phrasing, and an innately musical sense of phrase-shaping. Simon Lepper is equally effective with the piano writing, which is often much more complex than merely supportive accompaniment. There is real color in his playing of, for example,
Plucking the Rushes.
Orr had an interesting life, which is well described in the accompanying notes. His first interest in music was sparked by German Lieder, and particularly the singing of Elena Gerhardt, and he was most enthusiastic about the songs of Hugo Wolf. That love was embellished by his discovery of the music of Delius, and his friendship with that composer and his colleague Philip Heseltine (who composed under the pseudonym Peter Warlock). The latter supported and encouraged Orr until 1930, when he died, most likely by his own hand. The loss of that support, followed by the outbreak of World War II, caused a hiatus in Orr’s composing from 1939 to 1952.
His story is a sad one in many ways, but the neglect that his music has suffered is truly surprising. These songs are varied, engaging, imaginative, inspired, and very moving. The influence of Wolf and Delius is clearly felt, and I hear some Vaughan Williams as well, but by no means are these second-rate copies of anyone. Orr’s is a distinctive voice to which I believe anyone who admires those other composers will respond. He obviously loved the poetry of A. E. Housman; he set 15 of the
poems, as well as many others.
When I was One-and-Twenty
Soldier From the Wars Returning
are particularly moving. These are songs that draw the listener in, the chromatic nature of much of the writing adds to their expressiveness.
Mark Stone has done a real service in unearthing these, and recording them at such a high level. Stone Records is his own label (more and more artists are turning to this approach), and he provides thorough, well-written, and informative notes and complete texts. The recorded sound here is more focused than on the Butterworth disc, and is, in fact, quite fine. Someone should tell Stone that he doesn’t help the consumer by creating 13-digit catalog numbers. There cannot be a reason for that strong enough to outweigh its ability to befuddle. But if that is the worst thing I can say about these two discs, things are pretty good! I urge you to widen your world of English vocal music and share in my discovery of C. W. Orr.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Works on This Recording
Is My Team Ploughing by C.W. Orr
Mark Stone (Baritone),
Simon Lepper (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
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