Dreams Desires Desolation English Song Divine Art ddx21114

Dreams Desires Desolation
English Song
Trevor Alexander (baritone)
Peter Crockford (piano)
Notes on the songs in English included.
rec. 2021, Henry Wood Hall, London
Divine Art DDX 21114 (67)

This is a disc of English song which re-creates an evening of Parlour Ballads, such as one might have heard in an Edwardian aristocratic home. Even the more contemporary songs fit quite comfortably into this category and in fact the most forward reaching and original song is by Frank Bridge: his last song, Journey’s End,written in 1925 to a text by Humbert Wolfe. Startlingly, the song almost sounds as if it might have been written by Bridge’s pupil, Benjamin Britten and in fact Pears did record the song with Britten at the piano in 1963. Some of the songs are old favourites that we don’t hear very often these days, though we might know them from older recordings, whilst others are brand new. Indeed, Peter Gelhorn’s Autumn and two songs by Clive Pollard (b. 1959) are here receiving their first commercial recordings. However, they are tuneful and tonal and do not sound out of place in a programme of songs mostly written in the early part of the last century.

As you would expect with a title like Dreams. Desires, Desolation, the mood is mostly melancholy or dreamlike and I can’t help feeling one or two more lively songs would have created a little more variety in the programme. What would also have helped to enliven the recording is a bit more energy in the performances. Trevor Alexander has a pleasant, light, tenorish baritone and he has excellent diction. Though his is obviously not the voice of a man in the first flush of youth, it is mercifully free of excessive vibrato or wobble. Unfortunately, it is also a little lacking in colour and personality. The performances are somewhat diffident, rather lacking in substance and imagination. Take the opening song, Butterworth’s Is my team ploughing? Alexander commendably attempts to differentiate between the ghost and the young man, but whereas his ghost is convincingly eerie, the young man’s responses need to be more healthily robust. It is also true that many of the older songs tap into a vein of sentimentality that is perhaps not so fashionable today.  Even so, one wants a more open-hearted, outgoing emotional response to both words and music, such as we can hear in some of the old recordings of Jonn McCormack, Richard Tauber, Rosa Ponselle and Kathleen Ferrier. Where their voices and personalities fly out from even the crackliest old 78s, Alexander remains earthbound; nice but dull.

Reading the notes that come with the disc, one appreciates that it was obviously a labour of love for the two artists involved and one doesn’t doubt their sincerity for a moment, but although there are some interesting discoveries (and re-discoveries) here, the performances need a little more personality and variety to sustain interest throughout a whole disc.

Philip Tsaras

Previous review: John France (January 2024)

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  1. George Butterworth (1995-1916) – Is my team ploughing?
  2. Frank Bridge (1879-1941) -Come to me in my dreams
  3. Charles Marshall (1857-1927) -I hear you calling me
  4. Roger Quilter (1877-1953) – Now sleeps the crimson petal
  5. Clive Pollard (b.1959) – Go, song of mine
  6. Richard Hageman (1881-1966) -Do not go my love
  7. Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) -Silent noon
  8. James Frederick Keel (1871-1954) – Remembrance
  9. Victor Hely-Hutchinson (1901-1947) – Dream song
  10. Frank Bridge – What shall I your true love tell?
  11. Haydn Wood (1882-1959) – Love’s garden of roses
  12. Peter Gelhorn (1912-2004) – Autumn
  13. John Ireland (1879-1962) – If there were dreams to sell 
  14. Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (1889-1960) – Silver
  15. Clive Pollard – The cloths of heaven
  16. Ralph Vaughan Williams – The sky above the roof
  17. Cyril Scott (1879-1970) – Lullaby
  18. Amy Woodforde-Finden (1860-1919) – Kashmiri song
  19. Roger Quilter – I arise from dreams of thee
  20. Frank Bridge – Journey’s End
  21. Lucy Elisabeth Simon (1940-2022) – How could I ever know (from the Secret Garden)