fraser-simson milne prima facie

Harold Fraser-Simson (1872-1944)
Complete Songs of A. A. Milne and Lewis Carroll
Julian Boyce, Philip Lloyd-Evans (baritone), Simon Crosby Buttle (tenor), Helen Greenaway, Francesca Saracino (mezzo-soprano), Rosie Hay (soprano), Stephen Wells (bass)
Frederick Brown (piano)
rec. 2023, The Vanguard Centre, Caerphilly, UK
Prima Facie PCFD212/13 [2 CDs: 132]

I recently reviewed a twofer on the EM label of Harold Fraser-Simson’s complete songs to texts by A. A. Milne, sung by Grant Doyle. As almost everyone knows, Milne wrote four books about his son Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh. After the first, When We Were Very Young, appeared, various composers approached Milne about setting some of the poems. He settled on his neighbor the operetta composer Harold Fraser-Simson, who went on to write six books of songs to poems by Milne, and to eight poems by Lewis Carroll.

Here is a very similar set on the Prima Facie label. It differs from the Doyle recordings in several ways. To begin with, there are seven singers, all of them connected to the Welsh National Opera.

I will make a comparison with the songs I featured in the Doyle review. Baritone Philip Lloyd-Evans tackles all of Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner songs, and others in Pooh’s voice. I loved his Sing Ho! For the life of a Bear, a little fast but very jolly. Slightly more serious but equally charming was Cottleston Pie. The best was Christopher Robin is going, where Lloyd-Evans produces the perfect mixture of sadness and befuddledment.

All the other singers here are equally fine. I especially liked tenor Simon Crosby Buttle in The End, the last song in Now We Are Six, and in the well-known Buckingham Palace, where he shares honors with soprano Rosie Hay, whom I must mention for her rendition of Wind on the Hill from Now We Are Six. Helen Greenaway has only three solo songs; I greatly enjoyed her mockheroics in Daffodowndilly and Shoes and Stockings, both from When We Were Very Young.

Baritone Julian Boyce baritone gets the scena-like Teddy Bear and takes a part in The King’s Breakfast, the other “scena”. His voice may be the most appropriate here for Fraser-Simson’s songs. Bass Stephen Wells was best at entering into the child-like element in these songs, especially in Foxes from When We Were Very Young.

I have left mezzo-soprano Francesca Saracino for last because I found her most effective in the Lewis Carroll songs. Written a few years after the last of Fraser-Simson’s Milne songs, they are more satirical and slightly more operatic. I found her voice and sense of humor perfect for these, especially in How doth the little crocodile.

In the earlier review, I noted that the pianist’s role is sometimes as prominent as that of the singer. Frederic Brown, also chorus master of the Welsh National Opera, undertakes his role effortlessly. His ability to vary the accompaniment for each of the seven singers is very impressive.

So, which of the two recordings of Fraser-Simson songs? It is hard to choose. The EM set has the advantage of a single singer and so a conception of the songs, as well as excellent recording and extra trimmings in The King’s Breakfast. The Prima Facie version has seven very talented singers, which sometimes allows for interesting combinations of voices, and a chronological ordering, likely appealing for many listeners. Either way, nobody will go away unhappy.

William Kreindler

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CD 1
When We Were Very Young
1. Buckingham Palace [2:07]
2. Happiness [0:21]
3. The Christening [1:40]
4. Puppy and I [2:26]
5. The Four Friends [1:39]
6. Lines and Squares [1.20]
7. Brownie [1:18]
8. Independence [1:06]
9. Nursery Chairs [2:29]
10. Market Square [2:28]
11. Daffodowndilly [1:10]
12. Disobedience [2:43]
13. Spring Morning [3:36]
14. The Three Foxes [1:41]
15. Politeness [0:37]
16. Jonathan Jo [0:49]
17. At the Zoo [1.37]
18. Rice Pudding [1:55]
19. Missing [1:40]
20. Hoppity [0:42]
21. Shoes and Stockings [1:22]
22. Sand-Between-The-Toes [2:30]
23. Knights and Ladies [1:31]
24. Halfway Down [1.33]
25. Before Tea [1:21]
26. Teddy Bear [6:26]
27. Bad Sir Brian Bottany [3:33]
28. In the Fashion [1:07]
29. The Alchemist [1:26]
30. Growing Up [0:58]
31. If I Were King [1:30]
32. Vespers [2:39]

The King’s Breakfast
33. Feed-My-Cow [1:42]
34. The King’s Breakfast [6:50]

CD 2
Winnie the Pooh
1. Isn’t it Funny [0:32]
2. How Sweet to be a Cloud [1:10]
3. It’s very, very funny [0:18]
4. Cottleston Pie [1:11]
5. Lines Written by a Bear of Very Little Brain [1:06]
6. Sing Ho! For the life of a Bear [0:37]
7. They all went off to discover the Pole [0:46]
8. 3 Cheers for Pooh [1:33]

Now We are Six
9. Sneezles [2:08]
10. Binker [3:32]
11. Cherry Stones [1:12]
12. Us Two [2:00]
13.The Engineer [0:51]
14. Furry Bear [1:08]
15. Forgiven [2:10]
16. The Emperor’s Rhyme [2:33]
17. Down by the Pond [1:08]
18. The Friend [1:16]
19. Twice Times [2:14]
20. Cradle Song [2:04]
21. Waiting at the Window [1:05]
22. Wind on the Hill [1:31]
23. In the Dark [2:46]
24. The End [1:02]

The House at Pooh Corner
25. The more it snows [0:57]
26. What shall we do about poor little Tigger? [1:03]
27. I could spend a happy morning [1:23]
28. Oh, the butterflies are flying [1:28]
29. If Rabbit was bigger [0:41]
30. This warm and sunny spot [0:50]
31. I lay on my chest [0:49]
32. Here lies a tree [2:01]
33. Christopher Robin is going [2:06]

Songs from Alice in Wonderland
34. How doth the little crocodile [1:12]
35. Fury said to a mouse [0:58]
36. You are old, Father William [2:12]
37. Speak roughly to your little boy [1:19]
38. Will you walk a little faster [4:26]
39. ‘Tis the voice of the Lobster [1:06]
40. Beautiful Soup [2:50]
41. They told me you had been to her [1:28]