To my mind, a concert of English folk songs is one of the loveliest of musical experiences. I do not count such collections from the past in which Kiri Te Kanawa sings against a full orchestra or one in which Benjamin Britten’s complex arrangements are substituted for the simple beauty of the originals. I have in mind the early Alfred Deller discs (now available on Vanguard CDs) in which the songs are sung a cappella or with a simple recorder and/or guitar accompaniment.
On a Divine Art CD, there is “Blow the Wind Southerly: Songs of Life & Longing from the North East of England” as a good example of what I consider a successful format. Of the 20 selections in this 53-minute collection, 14 are sung by soprano Margarette Ashton, five are nonvocal, with only flute, violoncello and pianoforte, and one with piano alone.
The most familiar tunes are “Bobby Shaftoe,” “The Keel Row” and “The Oak and the Ash.” The others do not appear on many other recordings, if indeed any others. (I am thankful not to have yet another “Danny Boy” to bear.) Among those less familiar songs are “Buy Broom Buzzens,” “Bonny at Morn,” “Water of Tyne” and “Blow the Wind Southerly.” The sound of the ensemble is exquisite.
I have only one reservation, however, and that concerns understanding the lyrics. In a track or two, Ashton is just a bit too far from the mike; and in some selections, she sings in a Tyneside accent that does not sit comfortably in an American ear. Still, the program notes considerately provide the texts of the songs — and all is well after all.
That stated, I recommend this Divine Art disc, as I said, as a lovely musical experience.
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