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Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, January 2011

It is an irony that has been commented upon many times that George Butterworth, who set quite a few of A.E. Housman’s poems about the fragility and dear transience of youth, would himself in 1916 become a youthful victim of the Great War. As a composer he showed much promise, and some achievement. In particular, his surviving orchestral compositions—Two English Idylls (1911), A Shropshire Lad (1912), and especially The Banks of Green Willow (1913)—are rhapsodic tone poems that reveal both a subtle touch with instrumental textures, and a long-breathed, piercing lyricism well suited to his subjects. His songs by contrast are mellifluous but generalized. Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad settings concentrate upon establishing a theme-based polarity of temporal joy and timeless regret, without an attendant emphasis on textual specifics. Several are wonderfully memorable, such as “Requiescat,” “Is My Team Ploughing,” “With Rue My Heart Is Laden,” and “Loveliest of Trees,” though they fail to reach the emotional intimacy inherent in the poetry, and caught perhaps best by Ivor Gurney and John Ireland.

Butterworth was born in York and of Yorkshire ancestry, but drawn to the countryside of Sussex. His 11 arrangements of folk songs from that county were published in 1912, and form the rest of this release. They are “classicized,” with extra voices (“Sowing the Seeds of Love”), and shifting, complex harmonies (“A Lawyer He Went Out One Day”), but none the worse for that. Of interest is “Yonder Stands a Lovely Creature,” recognizably a textual variant on “The Spanish Merchant’s Daughter” or “Oh, No, John,” made very popular in an anonymous musical arrangement based on a sanitized edition by Cecil Sharp. (Conchita Supervia’s 1932 recording of it has become justly celebrated.)

Roderick Williams leaves nothing to be desired in his performances of this material. He is the possessor of a dark baritone, evenly produced throughout its broad range, and without any attendant breathiness. His phrasing is exemplary, as are his rhythmic emphasis and enunciation; though texts are provided at Naxos’s Web site, it’s possible to understand most words he sings. One couldn’t wish for a better “The True Lover’s Farewell,” and its artistic restraint; for however beautiful the performance is, Williams must have been sorely challenged not to sing the lovely melody much slower, and with a good deal of rubato. That he didn’t, testifies to his taste.

He also doesn’t make the mistake of searching for a level of interpretative emotional depth in these selections, but emphasizes instead clarity, legato, and an attention to dynamic values that stands him in good stead. Those pieces that involve a dialogue (“A Lawyer He Went Out One Day,” “Tarry Trousers,” etc.) use subtle variation in tone to evoke personae, while a exuberantly light selection such as “Seventeen Come Sunday” gets a Sussex accent and resonance-drained voice for its handsome maid. Iain Burnside is a fully fledged partner in the proceedings, working hand-in-glove with Williams to excellent effect.

There are various collections that include Butterworth’s songs, but I haven’t encountered an in-print disc solely devoted to them, save this one. Definitely recommended.

John Boyer
American Record Guide, November 2010

There have been many good entries in this series, but this certainly is one of the very best.

To read complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

James Manheim, October 2010

George Butterworth came of age just before World War I and was a friend and creative associate of Ralph Vaughan Williams. He was killed by a German sniper at the Battle of the Somme. The discovery of British folk music in which both he and Vaughan Williams were inspired by the researcher Cecil Sharp finds some of its most beautifully distilled expression in the three sets of songs sampled on this release. The two sets of settings of poems from A.E. Housman’s volume A Shropshire Lad are actually more “folklike” than the Folk Songs from Sussex, which are based on folk song melodies and derive their appeal partly by pushing them just slightly in directions in which they don’t want to go. The Housman songs are among the most beautiful of any settings of the work of this poet, who has been very popular among English song composers, with an intense melancholy that only intensifies as one considers that the war poem “The lads in their hundreds,” for example, would soon describe Butterworth himself. The Folk Songs from Sussex, with their pert songs of courtship, are more humorous. They include “Seventeen Come Sunday” (track 8), which in more uncouth America evolved into I’ll Be Sixteen Next Sunday. Baritone Roderick Williams’ performances are an absolute joy throughout, and his easy way with the light yet subtle tone of the folk songs ought to be commended to singers in all voice ranges...Williams’ diction is clear, and the engineering at Suffolk’s Potton Hall is top-notch.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, October 2010

A German sniper shot Lt George Butterworth, of the 23rd Division the 13th Durham Light Infantry through the head on the night of 5 August 1916 during the battle of the Somme. With his death he became one of the “lads who will never be old”, to quote Housman, and one of those composers about whom speculation as to their subsequent development was rife. This kind of supposition is futile, but with such a loss, one is bound to mourn and wonder. At the time of his commission he was seen as one of the brightest talents in British music, and even though his output is slender—he destroyed many of his works—it’s easy to understand why. This disk contains his complete vocal music with piano—for the rest of his works, there’s three orchestral works and a song cycle, Love Blows as the Wind Blows, for baritone and string quartet (subsequently orchestrated). He is one of the handful of composers about whom one can say his total output is perfect with not a note out of place.

As a young musician, just out of college, I gave a number of recitals, with a fantastic pianist, and, as often as possible, we performed the Six Songs from A Shropshire Land, so I have a very personal interest and involvement with this work. To say that it’s the greatest song-cycle in the English language is no understatement. With a Webern–like concision, years before Webern commenced the total serialisation of his music, Butterworth penetrates to the very core of Housman’s slight poems, and fills them with a strength and poignancy lacking in all other Housman settings I know—and there are many. Published in 1896, Housman’s poems were intended to resonate with the feelings brought about by the First Boer War (1880/1881) and seem to presage the Second Boer War (1899/1902), However, Butterworth’s death, among too many others, not to mention his heartbreaking settings, have lead many to believe that the poems were written some twenty years later. Certainly, emotionally, they appear perfectly to reflect the feelings of that later time. Surprisingly, the cycle hasn’t had as many recordings over the years as one would have thought. My favourites are Roy Henderson’s 1941 version and John Carol Case’s fine 1976 disc, for Pearl; this is almost as fine; what puts the disk ahead of them is the coupling. Williams is a singer who has impressed me more and more since I saw, and heard, him in Opera North’s production of Peter Grimes a couple of years ago. He has intelligence and insight, understands the musical line, displays marvellous breath control, and his diction is magnificent. This latter is handy as there are no texts in the booklet.

The simple folksong arrangements are split into two groups, either side of the Bredon Hill set and the three separate songs. They are given in a straightforward way, with no attempt to “interpret” them, as befits the simplicity of the originals. The accompaniments are equally simple. I can understand why Butterworth, after writing the Six Songs from A Shropshire Land, would wish to set more Housman, but good as they are, Bredon Hill and Other Songs don’t reach the ecstatic heights of its companion cycle. These are more consciously concert “art” songs, lacking the folksong effortlessness of the earlier set.

Quite simply this is a great disk of great music in very fine performances. If I have a complaint at all, it is that Williams fails to vary his tone colour as much as one would like, making everything sound too alike, and he misses the great interpretive challenge of the final song of the Six Songs from A Shropshire LandIs my team ploughing?—a conversation between a ghost and his best friend. That said, this is a disk well worth having. The recording is good but the notes are perfunctory.

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, October 2010

Intelligent and personable performances from this thoughtful partnership

The selection may not be as generous as Mark Stone’s recent complete survey (warmly welcomed by John Steane, 6/10), but no lover of British song should miss hearing what Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside have to bring to this gorgeous repertoire. Their readings of Butterworth’s two sublime Housman cycles are, on balance, the most consistently stylish and illuminating to have come my way since those of Bryn Terfel and Malcolm Martineau (a true modern classic on DG, 8/95). The great Welsh bass-baritone may still have the edge in terms of strength of character, winning communicative flair and interpretative daring (his extraordinarily soft pianissimos) in “Is my team ploughing?” never fail to activate the goose bumps), but Williams’s engagingly fresh delivery, secure technique, eloquent turn of phrase and variety of tone are a joy throughout, as is his crystal-clear diction. Burnside, too, is at his customarily unmannered, attentive best, the crispness and poise of his pianism a pleasure to encounter.

Granted, the presentation is no match for Stone Records’ handsomely designed and comprehensively annotated booklet (the full texts have to be downloaded from the Naxos website). When it comes to sound quality, though, Mike Clements’s marvellously transparent, truthfully balanced sound falls far more sympathetically on the ear (the rival Stone production is a touch too hollow and distant for my own tastes). An enticingly low price-tag further enhances the appeal of what may well be Williams’s finest disc to date. Recommended with enthusiasm.

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, September 2010

What an unsuspected gem this was! I’d long been familiar with the tone poem A Shropshire Lad by the terribly shortlived English composer George Butterworth (18851916), but had never heard any of his eleven song settings from A E Houseman’s slender volume of verse until just now, in this tastefully and sensitively crafted account by two Britons, baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Iain Burnside. Their cohesive performances, distinguished by Williams’ smooth, beautifully modulated voice that never has to strain for an effect, and Burnside’s ability to create and sustain an underlying mood and carry it on in places where the piano continues after the voice has ceased to be heard, make this CD recital a memorable experience.

When A E Houseman (18591936) published A Shropshire Lad in 1904, the simple dignity and straightforward manner of expression of these poems about the lives, aspirations and early deaths of obscure youth in a far, rural shire of England soon struck a resonant mood in a nation that had seen many of its young men perish in the Second Boer War. The experience of the First World War solidified its enduring popularity to this day and led to numerous settings of various poems by British composers, of which those of Ralph Vaughn Williams (On Wenlock Edge) and Ivor Gurney (Ludlow and Teme) are at the top of the list. Along with George Butterworth.

Houseman’s poetry had a special meaning for Butterworth, who had a premonition he himself would die young (which he did on 5 August 1916 in action at the Somme). The eloquent simplicity of “On the Idle Hill of Summer,” the vivid directness of “Look Not in My Eyes,” the anguish that accompanies the memory of loss in the line “O noisy bells, be dumb!” from “Bredon Hill” – all these and more find perfect correlatives in Butterworth’s musical settings (and in the present recital, in Roderick Williams’ sensitive interpretations, aided by his smooth delivery and exceptionally clear diction). We get the deft touch of irony in the lines “I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart; / Never ask me whose” from “Is My Team Plowing?” And the opening line of “The Lads in Their Hundreds come into Ludlow for the Fair” is as perfect a wedding of sound and sense as you will hear in art song.

Interspersed with two sections of Shropshire Lad songs in this recital are two sections of folk songs from Sussex, mostly dealing, often lustily or playfully, with the allconsuming subject of courtship (Significantly, Sussex is more highly populated today than is Shropshire) plus memorable settings of “I will make you brooches” (R L Stevenson), “I fear thy kisses” (Shelley), and Requiescat (Oscar Wilde). In the folk songs Williams does a great job creating the different voices in such lovers’ colloquies as “Roving in the Dew” and “A lawyer he went out one day.” Of special interest is “The True Lover’s Farewell,” a song that has variants here in the Appalachians.

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, September 2010

Of the many settings of Housman’s cycle A Shropshire Lad, Butterworth’s is, with some justification, the best known. There are two basic approaches – the dramatic and the lyrical – and Williams and Burnside choose mainly the lyrical. Williams doesn’t ignore the dramatic elements, but I could wish that he gave us a little more of them. The Sussex Folksongs are well sung, with a (slightly twee) touch of Mummerset dialect where appropriate and well accompanied. For all my slight reservations, this is a most enjoyable addition to Naxos’s English Song series – a new recording, not inherited like some of the earlier volumes from the defunct Collins catalogue. The sound is good – I’d have preferred something a trifle more forward – and Keith Anderson’s notes, as usual, excellent. The lyrics are available online

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, September 2010

Roderick Williams is a busy recitalist, performer and recording artist and has carved out a real niche in songs of his native country, of which this disc is the latest manifestation. His diction is fine, his tone warm, rounded and attractive. In the A Shropshire Lad settings he proves simple, straightforward and effective in When I was one-and-twenty, where Burnside’s parting piano comments are supremely deft. The pianist also catches the portentous roll of Think no more lad...Williams['s] singing is fluidly lyric...The singing and playing in The lads in their hundreds are especially attractive too...The peal and toll of Bredon Hill are well calibrated. Both When the lad for longing sighs and On the idle hill of summer are tricky to balance but the duo manages well. With rue my heart is laden is well hued... In I will make you brooches Williams proves confident and alluring.

In the Sussex songs he manages to vest A blacksmith courted me with a degree of poignancy. A lawyer he went out one day is one of the best of these Sussex settings...Seventeen come Sunday is certainly brisk and in Roving in the dew Williams puts on an accent...I enjoyed the disc greatly...It’s well recorded, and well balanced too.

Michael Scott Rohan
BBC Music Magazine, August 2010

Another collection from Roderick Williams, rapidly becoming the voice of this repertoire—and not without reason.

Balaam’s Music, July 2010

MENDELSSOHN, Felix: Midsummer Night’s Dream(A) (Sung in English) (Wollerman, Becker, Varsity Voices, Nota Bene Choir, New Zealand Symphony, Judd) 8.570794
BUTTERWORTH, G.: Songs from A Shropshire Lad / Folk Songs from Sussex (English Song, Vol. 20) (Williams, Burnside) 8.572426

…A Midsummer Night’s Dream…music is wonderful !

Ian Burnside…accompanies Roderick Williams in a disc of Songs by George Butterworth, a wonderful composer cut down in his prime in the First World War. Another English composer who deserves to be better-known is Cyril Scott, and his three sonatas for Violin and piano make up an enjoyable disc from Clare Howick and Sophie Rahman.

Other rarities to emerge this months include Cimarosa’s Requiem, Casella’s Second Symphony, Franz Schmidt’s third, and Havergal Brian’s Eleventh and Fifteenth. Piano music on disc from Ferdinand Ries (Beethoven’s student and assistant), Anton Rubinstein, and finally, one of Arensky’s Piano Pieces and Etudes.

Lovers of the Clarinet will be pleased to see a coupling of Copland’s Concerto (one of my faves) with a Concerto by Robert Aldridge, of whom I for one, have never heard, but it’s said to be “a direct descendant of the Copland”. If it has anything approaching the haunting, magical atmospher of the Copland, it’ll be a treat!

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2010

The death of George Butterworth in action during the First World War, at the age of thirty-one, robbed England of a composer with the musical stature of Vaughan Williams. Stylistically they were very much akin, Butterworth’s younger years also taken with the task of collecting folk-music. It was to form the basis for two volumes of Folk Songs from Sussex, settings that altered little in the music he had retrieved, the piano simply used to embellish the basic tunes he had notated. With words that often talk of love and its trials and tribulations, they are all short and unadorned. The Shropshire Lad settings come from a collection of poems by A. E. Housman that were a nostalgic look backwards in time to the pastoral English region of Shropshire. Often almost prophetic of the passing of an age that was to be destroyed by that dreadful conflict on the horizon. They also could well have been written for the baritone, Roderick Williams. Without parody he changes his voice and diction to capture the folk idiom, bringing the appropriate degree of humour to such songs as Tarry Trousers and the yearning quality of A blacksmith courted me. He then he moves to an appropriate style for English ‘lieder’ in the Shropshire songs, Is my team ploughing never having sounded so beautiful. He has in recent years become the leading singer of English song, but nothing has quite equalled this, and in the pianist, Iain Burnside, he has the perfect partner. The sound is superb, and Anglophiles cannot be without this disc

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