The three composers featured in this recital of English songs have all suffered some degree of undue neglect — as has the song recital itself, no doubt — and the partnership of tenor Paul Martyn-West and the fine accompanist Nigel Foster have sought to redress this musical imbalance with a well balanced programme and clean, clear studio performances recorded in 2005 . A binding thread is the poetry of James Joyce. E J Moeran ‘s setting of seven of the poems from ‘ Chamber Music’ dates from 1929 and easily makes a group of the best of his songs. The title of the disc is taken from the opening of one of the poems:
Strings in the earth and air make music sweet;
strings by the river where the willows meet.
which Moeran sets with grace and tenderness, and which is sung and played with understanding care.
Unfortunately the fees required by the Joyce Estate for the reproduction of the verses in the CD sleeve proved prohibitive, but the texts can be accessed at Poets’ Corner. Moeran also collected and arranged many folksongs, both English and Irish , and a selection of six from Norfolk is included, the first telling of a bold fisherman who goes to collect his lady ‘to row you on the tide’ — Down by the Riverside .
The group of Warlock songs includes a delightful cycle of nursery jingles, miniatures under the title ‘Candlelight’, among which is Suky, you shall be my wife ,
and three songs dating from 1916 -17 with varied texts, one from Shakespeare , Take, O take those lips away ; one a translation of a Greek poem by Callimachus; and a Chinese poem by Li-Po: The rustling nightfall strews my gown with roses .
Equally inviting are two sets of songs by Geoffrey Stern, born in 1935. His work is less well known because he kept his musical talents in the background against a full-time occupation as a senior lecturer in International Relations at the London School of Economics until his retirement in 2001. Yet his output was steady and significant. Three Wordsworth Songs were written in 1953 and reflect his interests as a competent jazz pianist, not without some influences of Vaughan Williams , and Four Songs of James Joyce , which form the link with Moeran in this recital, were written between 2001 and 2005 [including] his setting of Strings in the earth and air :
There is additionally a lively Stern song to verses by Henry Treece dating back to 1960 is also included: Legend : ‘There was a man with a coloured coat of rags…’
Sadly Geoffrey Stern died in 2005 of a sudden heart attack, depriving him of hearing the final rehearsals for this recording, and of a longer retirement in which to indulge himself — and us — in more interestingly explorations.