John Ramsden Williamson is a British composer, born in Manchester in 1929, and is still alive. He is an enthusiast of the poet A. E. Houseman, and the vast majority of his songs (about 120 of them in all) are settings of Houseman poems. The songs on this disc are divided into categories: love, war sorrow and regret, lost love, religion, pastoral, and conflict (the latter being two World War 1 poems by Sassoon). His style and musical grammar are conservative, clearly a part of the English song tradition. They are lyrical, with straightforward, chordal-based piano accompaniments, and they are pleasant and engaging. They may not reach the depths of Vaughan Williams’s best songs, but they make an enjoyable hour of listening.
While I am happy to have discovered Williamson’s songs, I would have preferred discovering them with a singer with more solid vocal equipment. Mark Rowlinson sounds like a singer near (or at) the end of his career; while the provided biography is not precise, it would indicate a singer in his 60s. I don’t know what the voice sounded like 10 or 20 years ago, but at this stage the tone is loose and unfocused, and seems produced more in the throat than from the diaphragm. He is a terrific musician, he is very sensitive to the texts and to the differing moods of the songs, and he does sing in tune and with a firm rhythmic pulse. The result, therefore, is good enough to serve as an introduction to these songs, particularly because the singer is clearly engaged with them, but it would be gratifying and instructive to hear someone like Gerald Finley have a go at these.
avid Jones is an involved, sensitive pianist, and the recorded sound, while just a bit too airy for my taste, is certainly more than acceptable, and is well balanced between singer and voice. There are helpful notes on the songs by the composer, and bios of the composer and both artists. Although Rowlinson’s diction is excellent, it is praiseworthy for Diversions to have provided texts. In the end, I am glad to have heard this disc, and think that anyone who enjoys the special world of 20th-century English song writing will find pleasure here, despite my reservations.
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