The World of Compact Discs

By Munson, James | Contemporary Review, March 1996 | Go to article overview

The World of Compact Discs


Munson, James, Contemporary Review


Recently issued discs have included a wide range of sung music and the following are but a few examples. First there is Hyperion's Bird Songs at Eventide sung by the American tenor, Robert White and accompanied at the piano by Stephen Hough (CDA 66818). The title comes from the first song, by Eric Coates, but the collection should really be entitled 'the lost age of innocence'. The twenty-five songs were those popular in the closing years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth and include favourites like 'Ah, Moon of my Delight', 'Bless this House' and 'Roses of Picardy'. The notes that accompany the CD are extremely well done by the singer himself and the selection brings back to life those days when families gathered round the piano to sing the latest hits. Robert White is the true heir of John McCormack.

Hyperion has also brought out two other vocal releases: the first is Thomas Moore's Irish Melodies in the original settings by Sir John Stevenson with music from The Ancient Music of Ireland by Edward Bunting (CDA 66774). The musical ensemble, Invocation, is admirably directed by Timothy Roberts. Here are thirty-one of the most beautiful of Irish songs, works that were once so loved on both sides of the Atlantic such as 'The Last Rose of Summer'. This is the third in a series of recordings made by Invocation for Hyperion. Turning from Ireland to Britain, we have our second Hyperion issue, a potpourri entitled British Music on Hyperion, to mark British Music Year, 1995. It is a selection from recent and forthcoming recordings (HYP 15) and there are some eighteen pieces which range from Purcell to Wesley, from Holst to Horder. As an introduction to British music over the last 225 years it cannot easily be surpassed.

Another recording well worth noting is A Goethe Schubertiad. This is the twenty-fourth disc in one of the major recording projects of our time: The Hyperion Schubert Edition (CDJ 33034) which is becoming the definitive edition of Schubert's Lieder With Graham Johnson at the piano, Christine Schaefer (soprano), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Simon Keenlyside (baritone) and Michael George (bass) recreate one of those earnest but enjoyable evenings, so beloved in German and Austrian homes devoted to the poems of Goethe sung in settings by Schubert. This disc includes some of Schubert's best loved songs such as An Mignon and Erlkonig. The singing cannot be faulted and, as always, Hyperion is outstanding in including the German text along with a good translation.

Perhaps the only poet to surpass Goethe in both genius and influence is Shakespeare. The Prince's Choice, a well selected and arranged anthology of some of his most memorable passages, has been released on both CD (HH375) and Cassette (HH 500) by Hodder and Stoughton. This work has gained much publicity because it was arranged by the Prince of Wales. He has contributed a noteworthy essay about Shakespeare to the book The Prince's Choice (published by Hodder and Stoughton, [pounds]12.99 ISBN 0-340-66039-2). This is no titular royal patronage. The Prince was closely involved in all stages of the production and he draws on his own undergraduate theatrical experience at Cambridge to portray his forebear, Prince Hal. Some of the greatest names in the English theatre are involved in this production including Sir John Gielgud, Alex McCowen, Maggie Smith, and the late Sir Robert Stephens. The only complaint is that occasionally the music is allowed to impede on the words, most notably in Gielgud's performance of 'This England' from Richard II. It is the Prince's hope that these performances will lead listeners to re-read Shakespeare's plays 'or better still to see them again on the stage.' It is to be hoped that some listeners will also see the deeply serious and thoughtful side of this much maligned man, the Prince of Wales, subject as he is to the constant tittle-tattle of the gutter press. It is hardly surprising that one of his selections comes from Henry V in which that King reflects on his 'hard condition, Twin-born with greatness: subject to the breath of every fool. …

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