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Gramophone, January 2006

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Anne Ozorio
MusicWeb International, June 2005

"This is an important recording because it is presents part songs and ballads from Roger Quilter’s extensive output. Many of these are first recordings. This Naxos series of Quilter material will do much to restore the composer’s place in British musical history. It builds upon their acquisition of the Collins British music series and makes them a major player in the genre.

This disc doesn’t include the famous art songs, like Now sleeps the crimson petal. Instead it documents another aspect of English musical life : music for private performance.. The majority of songs here come from the Arnold Book of Old Songs, a collection of traditional songs compiled over twenty years, arranged for various friends. . It was dedicated to Arnold Vivian, Quilter’s adored nephew. He was executed for escaping from a prisoner of war camp in 1943. Quilter never got over the tragedy. .The "old songs" are well known melodies like Drink to me only and My Lady Greensleeves., where the tune remains constant, but the composer writes a varying accompaniment. Apparently Arnold had a high, light tenor voice : perhaps he sang some of these while his uncle played. The song, What will you do, love, was never published. Written when Arnold was sent to war, it is a starkly personal cry of pain, couched in Quilter’s characteristic reticent understatement. It is among the many songs recorded here for the first time.

The very simplicity of these self effacing arrangements lends itself to performance. No technical challenges here, allowing performers to relax and enjoy themselves. Even the fairly ambitious setting of Barbara Allen, with mounting crescendos between verses, supports the melody rather than overwhelms it. John Ireland, reading the scores for the BBC, considered some of these songs unworthy of Quilter at his best, and indeed a few do little but add to the limited part song repertoire. Nonetheless, taking these songs for what they are, in themselves, is an insight into another sensibility : the sensibility of essentially private, personal music making. I also found that this helped me understand the composer himself more intuitively, for he was an intensely private man whose inner self must have been hard to penetrate.

The performers on this recording are all well known. If anything, they have to "sing down" to the songs instead of aiming for their usual high art background. The result is charming and natural. Langridge and Pitt come over particularly well. Owen Norris negotiates Quilter’s subtle arrangements with aplomb. Here, he is playing a Bösendorfer. Notes are by Valerie Langfield, the leading authority on the composer."

Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, April 2005

"The opening song of the album is 'Drink to me only' (to words by Ben Jonson, 1573-1637), sung ardently by David Wilson-Johnson, its haunting accompaniment singing so eloquently and touchingly of a love that is constant and true. That special quality of golden nostalgia pervades so many of these arrangements. Just think of his treatment of the Scottish song 'Ye banks and braes' sung most sympathetically by Amanda Pitt. She rises so well to the rhythmic and tempi challenges of the following arrangement of 'Charlie is my darling' while David Owen Norris has fun with its amusing and rousing march-like piano line, a delicious accompaniment. And the depth of feeling that they convey in that lovely song of regret 'Ca the yowes to the knowes' - one of Arnold's favourite songs. 'The Jolly Miller' is distinguished by an imaginative piano part that wonderfully evokes the movement of the miller's wheel and his tipsiness.

'Barbara Allen' also has a telling piano accompaniment especially when Barbara scorns the dying (for love) Jemmy Grove and David Owen Norris dramatically hammers home the sound of dead-bell.

To the duets for female voices. 'Where go the boats?', one of Quilter's Four Child Songs, is another of those heart-stopping melodies that persist in the mind. This song, to words by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), has all the magical enchantment of childhood and is sung most beautifully by Amanda Pitt and Joanne Thomas, their voices blending beguilingly. I must also mention the ravishing beauty, as communicated by these two ladies, of 'Summer Sunset ' to words by Quilter himself. The pretty duet for women's voices, 'The Starlings', delicate and wistful, is distinguished by its evocative bird-song piano part and its independent soprano line. 'To a Harebell by a Graveside' is another simple but heart-touching melody. I must mention just two more songs for the women's voices: the graceful 'The Passing Bell' with its pretty 'ding-a-dong' refrain; and 'Blossom-Time' with its interesting harmonies and counterpoints in vocal writing.

One of the most unusual songs is 'I gotta robe' written in the style of a negro spiritual and sung with enthusiasm and style by David Wilson-Johnson. The song was originally written for the black American contralto, Marian Anderson.

Philip Langridge (with beautifully clear diction) sings passionately Quilter's sweet arrangement of 'The Rose of Tralee' and another of Quilter's most tender melodies, 'What will you do, love' (?when waves divide us and friends chide us for being fond ? In faith abiding I'll still be true?) Here is beguiling simplicity; it just rends the heartstrings. The manuscript is marked 'for Arnold' dated June 1942.

Of course Roger Quilter was very fond of light music and wrote much material for the theatre. This collection includes three songs from the stage. Of these the most memorable is the haunting 'Love Calls through the Summer Night'. It is unashamedly popular but none the worse for that. Valerie Langfield reckons it recalls Edward German, this may be true of the outer sections but the lovely central refrain is surely pure Ivor Novello (who was very popular at that time). Philip Langridge and Amanda Pitt sing it with commendable unembarrassed élan in the rather florid style of the period. Older readers who remember Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth will remember what I mean.

A memorable collection, sympathetically performed. With over half the songs premiere recordings, this is an album that all Quilter enthusiasts simply must have."

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