Published


Winthrop Rogers, 1934

 

Recordings


Anne Dawson, Roderick Barrand
Hyperion A66103
(LP, 1984 )

 

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Four English Lyrics (1934)
R69

1 - Cherry Ripe (Campion)
2 - Willow Song (John Fletcher)
3 - The Constant Lover (William Browne)
4 - The Passionate Shepherd (Marlowe)

Moeran wrote the Four English Songs in 1934, the same year he restarted work on his Symphony, and after several years of reappraisal which had seen the innovations of the Sonata for Two Violins and the String Trio in particular. His most recent song collections prior to this had been the Seven Poems by James Joyce and the Songs of Springtime, both written 5 years earlier in 1929, and just as Moeran was getting back into the swing of composition after his relatively barren years in Eynsford with Peter Warlock.

The previous set of solo songs, the Joyce settings, came together as a real masterpiece, perhaps among his finest sets of vocal work, and yet somehow Moeran seems unable to capture that same je ne sais quoi here. One senses perhaps a lack of personal engagement in the creation of this set that perhaps he was more inclined to work on when setting the words of his friend Joyce. Indeed, that highly sensitive, personal feeling was to reappear some years later, with the Six Poems by his friend Seamus O'Sullivan.

As Geoffrey Self points out, Moeran was no great fan of singers, and he seems to suggest that these songs were, in a way, 'dumbed down' to find popular appeal amongst those singers who had tended to ignore him in the past. Moeran's mistake, perhaps, was to chose the ballad form, whose heyday had already passed, and to miss his target by trying to hard to conform to what he felt would be popular, rather than follow his own musical instinct and whim.

That is not to say that the songs here are not worth hearing. On the contrary, there is indeed good material here, and good craft. 'Cherry Ripe' in particular seems to have the sort of sticking quality that makes it hard to get out of your head once heard. Self points to close similarities between The Constant Lover and Warlock's 'Passing By', before coming to the robust conclusion that Moeran has taken Warlock's model and improved on it.

And yet... And yet... There seems a lack of overall progression, a lack of coherence which leaves one somewhat unsatisfied. Despite the craftsmanship and experience of 1934 vintage Moeran, there is something lacking which can be found even in his most early song cycle, Ludlow Town of 1920. The Four English Lyrics do deserve a hearing, but they are unlikely to set your heart on fire.

 

 

 

...seems to have the sort of sticking quality that makes it hard to get out of your head once heard...

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