This is a somewhat unusual disc because Blow the Wind Southerly is the name of an educational project devised by the early music performers Concert Royal and supported by the UK Heritage Lottery Fund. The project aims to revive, record and promote the heritage of vocal music from the north east of England to local schoolchildren and is delivered on late 18 th and early 19 th century period instruments. The musical elements in the programme can also be presented as a genteel Victorian parlour pastime at which friends might perform familiar music for their own pleasure and entertainment. To help the children become aware of their cultural roots, a programme of ninety schools’ workshops began in October 2008 and will involve more than 3000 children over a 3-year period. The children participate in workshops and collaborative presentations, learning about their heritage through music and dance. Although the focus is on song, materials and workshops will place the music firmly in its social and historical context. Teaching materials and workshops have been developed to enable children and teachers to celebrate and enjoy their musical and cultural heritage through practical activities.
The instruments used by Concert Royal are authentic. According to the excellent liner notes, the flute by Cahusac is a typical late eighteenth century instrument with 6 finger holes and a single silver key. It is turned from boxwood and has a natural pitch is A430, lowered by a corp de rechange to A415 to match the piano. Thomas Cahusac, who died in 1798, was apparently a music seller, publisher and musical instrument maker who traded from Two Flutes and Violin opposite St. Clement’s Church in the Strand for many years.
The English ‘cello dates from around 1790 and was probably made by one ‘Lockey’ Hill. Like many other 18 th century instruments it was ‘modernised’ during the following two centuries to make a bigger, more penetrating sound for larger venues and to cope with the increasingly virtuosic ‘cello repertoire. More recently, it was converted back by lightening the internal construction and reducing the tension of the gut strings, allowing the instruments natural resonances to be drawn out with a modern copy of a period bow by Roger Doe.
The square piano used for the recording is by Broadwood and dates from the early 1840s. With a compass of over six octaves and a single sustaining pedal, its light but sonorous tone makes it ideal for accompanying the voice, flute and ‘cello and also for performing the light textured solos beloved by the Victorians.
All of the music on the disc has been carefully researched . The performing scores are all based on reliable sources including ‘A Selection of the most popular Melodies of the Tyne and the Wear’ collected by Robert Topliff around 1815, Bruce & Stokoe’s ‘Northumbrian Minstrelsy’ (1882) and C. Ernest Catcheside-Warrington’s extensive collection of Tyneside songs first published in 1911.
As music chosen for the project’s purposes or as a concert programme in suitable locations – Concert Royal often perform in National Trust properties for example – the selection deliberately concentrates on lyrical and romantic pieces, and is wholly appropriate for its purposes. Margarette Ashton also chooses to sing with only a slight north-eastern accent, an important presentational point in this context because the authentic ‘Geordie’ dialect which features in most of the songs is essentially incomprehensible to people not brought up with it – which is sadly now the case even with north eastern children as recent local academic researches have shown.
The selection is full of fine and indeed memorable melody. In addition to the eponymous ‘ Blow the wind southerly’ brought to vast audiences by Kathleen Ferrier’s unforgettable recordings, some lesser known gems are the lullaby ‘Bonny at Morn’ (Track 8) , the peddler’s song ‘Buy Broom Buzzems (Besoms) at Track 4 and ‘Maa Bonny Lad’ (Track 20) but there are many others.
Margarette Ashton sings tunefully with a clear soprano voice, light on vibrato but with a very nice lilt to it and her instrumentalist colleagues provide elegant support for her as well as some engaging solo piano and instrumental interludes. My only slight question about this disc is about how much it will satisfy as a stand-alone programme for people not familiar with Concert Royal’s live performances. There is another side to north – eastern music of this period, a raft of music hall and comic song, which force majeur has had to be excluded..
Full details of the ‘Blow the wind southerly’ project are available at www.blowthewindsoutherly.com