Notes and Editorial Reviews
Themed recitals, and so themed CDs, are not that uncommon but Charlotte de Rothschild has made something of a speciality of them and toured the world with them. Her ‘Family Connections’ recital used songs from her own family’s Livre d’Or dating back to the 1820s. Her ‘Woman’s Lot’ recital includes song accompanied by the harpsichord. Just recently she has also toured a ‘Making History’ recital in which Danielle Perrett, herself well known as an international recitalist and a regular on CD, was her platform partner. She included something of mine in a recital which accompanied the Joan Miró exhibition in America.
What a wonderful pairing they make showing an extraordinary sense of understanding and of ensemble. The close recording would have exposed any anomalies on that score, and there are very few among the twenty-one mostly little known songs many of which should be much better known. Lovers of British music will be particularly pleased to discover more Armstrong Gibbs and Michael Head let alone Harold Samuel and also Herbert Brewer who is usually associated with church music. Some names will be totally new, for example John Larchet. What about harpist Nancy Calthorpe? So we owe Charlotte and Danielle much in making these pieces available.
In case you think that all of these pieces were written originally for voice and harp it’s worth remembering that quite often piano parts can be easily adapted or played as written on the harp if they do not demand too many pedal changes. Nevertheless the most idiomatic songs will clearly be audible: for example Danielle Perrett’s own, lovely arrangement of
A Garten Mother’s Lullaby.
The disc successfully mixes arrangements of traditional melodies like the one mentioned above and those by Calthorpe and Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser with ‘Art’ songs. However although the cover presents the delicious painting (Titania and her fairies) by Edward Hughes (d.1914), a pre-Raphaelite, there are recorded just two settings of Shakespeare from ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’. These are by Julius Harrison and Cecil Armstrong Gibbs. The former repeats its opening lines but ends not at a full stop in the text but at a comma, leaving you somewhat in the air.
What about some of the highlights? Its good that all texts are not only available but also not microscopic as can often be the case. A wide range of poets are represented. The two songs by John Larchet are entrancing. He was Dublin-born and set texts by his countryman Padric Gregory partially using Irish words and phrases. These songs include the rich and darkly toned ‘fiddle’ of Marianne Olyver. Where there are Fairies of course, there are to be found the Irish or at least Irish folklore and poets. Charles Villiers Stanford, Irish to the bone, sets a poem by Moira O’Neill,
The Fairy Lough, with its haunting refrain ‘Loch-a reema’. Even through and through Englishman Michael Head captures the Celtic mood perfectly in his well known unaccompanied setting of
The Singer with words by Bronnie Taylor. Hamilton Harty’s
A Lullaby is one of the most evocative songs on the disc with its more chromatic harmonies. It sets a poem by singer and poet Cahal O’Byrne.
The song which is the centrepiece of the disc is also the longest, Stanford’s
La belle dame sans merci, a poem by Keats, so beloved of the Pre-Raphaelites who were pretty much Stanford’s contemporaries. Its opening is simple and the setting basically strophic. It develops dramatically up to the words
La belle dame… and then slips back to how it began. It is movingly characterised by de Rothschild.
I took quite a shine to Harold Samuel’s floaty and escapist
The Fairy Boat. He was a pianist and famous as an early Bach specialist. The date August 1918 and the place Hastings indicate an attempt to put aside the terror and violence of that year. We wallow, just for a moment, in a dreamland where there are ‘Fairies at the bottom of the garden’. The latter is the title of the witty song by Liza Lehmann - herself a professional singer - setting a famous poem by Rose Fyleman.
My only adverse criticism is that I would have liked, for the sake of variety, another unaccompanied song, and/or a harp solo. However the beautifully presented booklet has all of the texts, not that you will need them as Charlotte de Rothschild’s diction is immaculate but there are some Irish words to get the mind around. There are the usual performer biographies and an accompanying essay on the overall theme of the CD. There’s very little on the individual pieces or the composers but then these charming miniatures really speak for themselves.
-- Gary Higginson, MusicWeb International