Donald Swann (1923-94) is particularly remembered for his shows with Michael Flanders (At the Drop of a Hat, etc.) but his genius was many-sided and this CD will extend the knowledge of his music for many people.
Swann got to know the Greek islands at the end of the Second War, especially Casos in the Dodecanese. This was reflected in his music from time to time and this well recorded CD seeks to draw together Swann’s Greek strands. Some of the tracks are arrangements of traditional songs, mostly sung in Greek; others are varied original settings by Swann of Greek poems, mostly sung in English, of which I particularly enjoyed the delicious Miranda, which often figured in At the Drop of a Hat, the charming dialogue The Favours and the stark The Isles of Greece.
The three singers, admirable in their clarity of diction and delivery, are all well suited to this repertoire and they are accompanied by a chamber orchestra, a solo soprano saxophone contributing some evocative moments. The arrangements, including the purely instrumental Casiot Journey are by Mr. Jansson, who also sets the folk song Militsa which Swann did not set but much enjoyed. Swann returned to Casos in 1986, wondering if the spell it cast would have dissipated (it hadn’t); the eight Casos Sonnets represent his thoughts in words and music on that journey. All are here, sung by Swann himself to his piano accompaniment, as a bonus II-VII, which also finely sung by the three “modern” singers. Their idiom is often recitative-like but is nevertheless deeply felt. Divine Art’s relatively small catalogue has afforded several items of unusual interest, many of them British. This is certainly one of them and I am happy to give it a warm recommendation. (awarded 5 stars *****)