SOMM Recordings announces an important new recording of two classic English song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell – Maud and A Shropshire Lad – from the acclaimed partnership of baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Susie Allan.
Hailed as “the English Schumann” for his mastery of song setting, song cycles in particular, Somervell’s music is marked by a distinctive blend of lyricism and harmony that makes itself indelibly felt in these two seminal works of the English song repertoire.
His first cycle, Maud, setting 13 poems from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s dark monodrama, was first performed in 1899 at the height of a fashion for recitals of songs sung in English. An intense, impassioned portrayal of infatuation, it is marked by remarkably eloquent and revealing relationships between voice and text, and voice and piano.
Composed in 1904, the 10 poems from A.E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad portray a young man wistfully contemplating nature, life and love at the age of 20 before following him through a life full of incident, the horror of the First World War and growing self-awareness. It prompted from Somervell texturally rich and varied music shot through with an aching lyricism all the more powerful and potent for its folk song-like simplicity and directness.
Completing the recital are the enchanting, ever-popular lullaby Shepherd’s Cradle Song and wistful tale of childhood sweethearts with texts by Edgar Allan Poe, A Kingdom by the Sea. British music authority Jeremy Dibble provides informative booklet notes and Roderick Williams a revealing take on Somervell’s music from a singer’s perspective.
Roderick Williams and Susie Allan’s most recent SOMM releases include Celebrating English Song (SOMMCD 0177), described by MusicWeb International as “an exemplary recital of English song”, and BBC Music Magazine’s “strongly recommended” Severn & Somme (SOMMCD 057) focusing on Ivor Gurney and his peers.
On This Recording
- I – I hate the dreadful hollow
- II – A voice by the cedar tree
- III – She came to the village church
- IV – O let the solid ground
- V – Birds in the high Hall garden
- VI – has a garden
- VII – Go not, happy day
- VIII – I have led her home
- IX – Come into the garden, Maud
- X – The fault was mine
- XI – Dead, long dead
- XII – O that ’twere possible
- XIII – My life has crept so long
- A Kingdom by the Sea
- I – Loveliest of Trees
- II – when I was one-and-twenty
- III – There pass the careless people
- IV – In summertime on Bredon
- V – The street sounds to the soldiers’ tread
- VI – On the idle hill of summer
- VII – White in the moon the long road lies
- VIII – Think no more, lad, laugh, be jolly
- IX – Into my heart an air that kills
- X – The lads in their hundreds
- Shepherd’s Cradle Song
A Kingdom by the Sea
A Shropshire Lad
Shepherd’s Cradle Song
“As usual, SOMM’s presentation values are very high. The recorded sound, engineered by Paul Arden-Taylor, is excellent. Singer and pianist are clearly and realistically heard and the balance between the two is very good indeed. The documentation includes not only all the texts but also an authoritative set of notes by Jeremy Dibble and an indispensable essay by Roderick Williams explaining his approach to the songs and how, as he says, he reconciled “my 21st-century ‘post-modern’ standpoint with this music that sounded to me initially so much part of its time”. And that last comment sums up, for me, the value of this disc. Through their artistry and open-minded approach, Roderick Williams and Susie Allan have banished any whiff of the Victorian parlour and demonstrated that these songs by Arthur Somervell belong fairly and squarely in the great English song tradition. For that we owe them great gratitude.” —John Quinn, MusicWeb International
“Roderick Williams brings to life the death-devoted narrator with utter conviction, his warm baritone caressing the songs’ romantic ardour, but never letting the drama teeter into melodrama. Susie Allan embraces Somervell’s full-blooded piano part – no Victorian front parlour tinkling here. Somervell’s Maud demands a hearing by anyone interested in English song.” —Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Susie Allan present the music with great spirit and charm. They go a long ways to put the music in an ideal light, to reveal the depth of sometimes folkish invention, the expressive totality of it all. … The program in the end rewards the patient listener with some very well constructed and well-performed songs. … Give it a listen by all means.” —Grego Applegate Edwards, Classical-Modern Music
“Another exceptionally fine release from SOMM. … this new disc is of the very highest order. No surprise that Roderick Williams should give such insightful and sensitive interpretations. He follows in a long line of superb British baritones and he is the equal of the finest. All his characteristic qualities of superb clarity and sensitive word painting are on display alongside his richly resonant voice which suits this style of music so well. He is partnered – “accompanied” seems to imply a rather secondary/lesser role – by Susie Allan. Allan makes the most of Somervell’s evocative and atmospheric piano writing which extends far beyond being a simple harmonic support for a vocal line. Indeed, Allan’s playing made me realise how dramatically effective Somervell’s writing is. … By the measure of these two cycles, my sense is that Somervell the vocal dramatist must be worth re-examining.” —Nick Barnard, MusicWeb International
“Superbly partnered by Susie Allan (whose deft touch and ingratiating tone are a constant source of pleasure), Roderick Williams gives an outstandingly sympathetic rendering, his consistently perceptive characterisation especially potent when the darkly oppressive tenor of the opening song (‘I hate the dreadful hollow’) returns with a vengeance from No. 10 (‘The fault was mine’) onwards. … no criticism can be levelled at Williams and Allan, who also lavish affectionate advocacy upon both A Kingdom by the Sea and ‘Shepherd’s Cradle Song’. Boasting astute and thought-provoking essays by Jeremy Dibble and Roderick Williams himself, as well as complete texts, SOMM’s presentation leaves nothing to be desired. Pleasingly rich sound and truthful balance, too.” —Andrew Achenbach, Gramophone