Interpretation 3/5; Sound Quality 3/5; Repertoire 4/5; Booklet 4/5

High society of the early Victorian period not only whiled away the time, it also hit the piano keys because part of good taste was a pianoforte set up in the salon. People gathered around it, adding other instruments to it and considered themselves lucky if the abilities of the singers complete with the technical skills of the instrumentalists. Editions of notes together with collections of then popular songs and traditional folk tunes belonged to such music-making at home. Now there is an effort to revitalize record and popularize this body of songs, long neglected in the interim.

For thirty-five years, the musical group Concert Royal with Margarette Ashton (vocals), Peter Harrison (flute), Rachel Gray (cello), and John Treherne (pianoforte) has devoted itself to the task. The ensemble has dedicated itself to the rich repertoire of vocal music from northeastern England in the region around Tynemouth. These songs won national significances through their popularity. Meanwhile the revitalization and care of this repertoire has resulted in a project of three years’ duration that has also given its name to the CD under review: “Blow the Wind Southerly”. Another goal of this project is to make children aware of their cultural roots. The intent is to involve more than 3000 children in 90 workshops using a specially developed curriculum. Both teachers and students are to be re-sensitized to this body of songs by means of presentations and concerts. The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund subsidized this project. The first CD with 14 songs and instrumental pieces has already been completed, i.e., this one here.

Is the ensemble Concert Royal not about to tilt at windmills? Hasn’t the sharp wind of the present – ignoring the past – long blown toward the wind mentioned in the song “Blow the Wind Southerly”, which may lead the beloved to his beloved, which makes the youthful generation deaf for the past, without history, even more makes it without an awareness of history and has blown sensitivity and politeness with a catastrophic storm into social no-man’s land? It gives me consolation to ask such questions because the now, the present, gives answers.

Wherever possible, the Concert Royal in Victorian costumes and with historical instruments sings and plays full of hope into hopelessness. Musically speaking, the ensemble is surely not condemned to fail with its project. Authenticity seems to be the commandment of the hour and this authenticity influences all aspects of this performance. The four musicians perform in sound created true to style for the atmosphere of a salon (since part of the recording was done in the church at Wickham, then this church is either very small or the technicalities of sound removed every echo from the recordings. John Traherne, who plays a table piano of the Broadwood Company 1830, delivers a very solid performance, both as soloist and as accompanist. Peter Harrison on the wooden flute (made of the wood of boxtree) and Rachel Gray on the cello (both instruments stem from the end of the 18 th century) are just as good as he is. At the same time, the instrumentalists deliver something “home-made”, but in the best sense phrased out and played freshly musically. Whether the songs about living, striving, loving and yearning would be better sung by a younger, less narrowly timbered voice – one could argue about that. Margarette Ashton, in any case, always renders traditional songs unpretentious, simple, home-baked. But even this home-baked-ness contributes here much more to the ideal than that it should be valued negatively. Finally, readers, after listening to this CD, should check out the project’s website. There, namely, one can find some of the songs to be downloaded and sung and performed afterward.

—Erik Daumann