Terfel songs 4864884

Sir Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone)
Sea Songs
Eve Goodman, Sir Simon Kennlyside, Sting (vocals)
Calan (folk group), The Fisherman’s Friends (male vocal folk group)
rec. 2023, Pentyrch and Acapela Studios, Cardiff, UK
Deutsche Grammophon 4864884 [58]

It’s been a few years since Sir Bryn visited a recording studio and here he lets his hair down in a programme of sea songs, shanties and maritime folk songs. In the notes he explains that, as a North Wales farmer’s son, he has always been somewhat obsessed with the 360-mile coastline of northern Wales. However, his journey takes him much further than the shores of Wales, with songs originating from the Shetlands, New Zealand and the Bahamas (Sloop John B, which no doubt most people will probably know in the version recorded by The Beach Boys in the 1960s).

Along the way, Terfel is joined by friends and colleagues, Sir Simon Keenlyside, Sting, singer-songwriter Eve Goodman, the folk group Calan and the male vocal group Fisherman’s Friends from Cornwall. Arrangements are by Patrick Rimes, who also plays a variety of different instruments, from piano to fiddle to whistle. The whole disc has an atmosphere of companionship, as if a group of friends just got together to reminisce and make music, almost as if they’d gathered in a portside pub one evening, though I doubt one would ever come across quite such accomplished music making by chance. The songs range from the rumbustious to the gently nostalgic and, whether singing in Welsh, Breton, Norn or English, Terfel’s diction is so crisp you can all but taste the words. Terfel’s bass-baritone may have acquired a slightly rougher edge when singing out full voice, but in the quiet songs, he can still spin out a gently caressing legato line of great beauty, and, in any case, that touch of roughness is not out of place in songs like Whisky, Johnny and The Green Willow Tree on which he duets with Sting. A word of praise too for all the various musicians and backing singers not mentioned by name in the recording details above.

I suppose one would call this a crossover album, not a genre I particularly enjoy opera singers doing but, like Agnes Baltsa singing the songs of her native Greece, Terfel makes no concessions to the music and sings with a sincerity and a bid open-hearted personality that I found thoroughly disarming. In some of the gentler songs, like Codi angor or the plaintive Unst Boat Song, this time accompanied simply by piano and melodeon, I found it hard to suppress a tear. Though this is not a disc I would probably have considered buying if I were not reviewing it, I was very pleasantly surprised and I enjoyed it immensely.

Surely a disc to be enjoyed by all but the most curmudgeonly, but beware. These songs are purposefully catchy. I had several ear worms rattling round in my head for days after just a couple of listens.

Philip Tsaras

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FFlat Huw Puw
Drunken sailor
Codi Angor
Whisky, Johnny
Sloop John B
Me ‘zo ganet e-kreiz ar mor
Ar lan y Môr
The green willow tree
The Unst Boat Song
The Wellerman
Ye mariners all
Harbwr Corc
Bold Riley
Mae’r gwynt yn deg
The Irish Rover
Leave her, Johnny