Bryn Terfel – First Love: Songs from the British Isles

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Including Scarborough Fair; Loch Lomond; Danny Boy (Londonderry Air); Molly Malone; Blow the Wind Southerly; The first time ever I saw your face; My Love is like a red, red rose; My Little Welsh Home

[All arrangements by Chris Hazell]

Bryn Terfel

With Kate Royal, Ronan Keating, Sharon Corr (violin), John Paricelli (nylon guitar), Andy Findon (tin whistle) and Neil Martin (tin whistle & uilleann pipes)

London Voices

London Symphony Orchestra
Barry Wordsworth

Recorded in December 2007 & May 2008 in AIR Studios, London


Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: October 2008
CD No: DG 477 7865
Duration: 55 minutes

 

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In an interview in the booklet to this release, Bryn Terfel says, “After meetings about repertoire and guest artists we ended up with about 17 songs out of a possible 100.” As the disc’s playing-time is only 54’35”, one wonders why so few: actually 16. Another 20 minutes’ worth could have been included.

The songs are from the four countries of the British Isles. Some, like “Danny Boy” and “Loch Lomond”, are well known, but the two Welsh-language one are not often encountered, even in Wales. Most are listed as being ‘traditional’, presumably with regard to the tunes. Whether one would prefer the accompaniment of a single instrument to that of an orchestra, only each listener can answer. Certainly a harp or a piano is given less chance to alter the mood and colour of a song.

Two little points occur to me. “Molly Malone” is better known as “Cockles and Mussels”, isn’t it? “Passing by” is listed as being traditional; I thought it was by E. C. Purcell. It’s a lovely song anyway.

The first piece is “Carrickfergus”, in an overblown arrangement recorded as though it’s a pop song. How much better a piano would have been. I shan’t listen to this one again. It is followed by “Scarborough Fair”, in which Terfel is joined by Kate Royal. The arrangement is another excessive one, so the impression was forming that arrangements are being treated as more important than the original melody. Actually they are inferior in every instance. A few, like “Blow the wind southerly”, “Cariad Cyntaf” (First Love) and “Passing by” are reasonably unobtrusive, but the whole exercise was unnecessary.

Terfel’s voice is generally at its best when flowing freely, forceful and unfettered. Caressing is not always his strong point, as one can hear in the somewhat unsteady opening of “My love is like a red, red rose”, although he does make good use of head-voice in some songs. I should have liked “She moved through the fair”, another beautiful one, to have been sung more gently, slowly and introspectively. Terfel makes something more extrovert and dramatic of “O Waly Waly” than if he were performing Britten’s arrangement, and it has its effect.

Who on earth decided to employ Ronan Keating to join Terfel in “Danny Boy”? The voices do not match. It is interesting to compare Terfel’s legato with Keating’s lack of it; to notice how Keating often fails to give a note its full value; and to hear how his tone is often unsupported (listen to his opening notes). These are two styles of singing which do not gel.

There is a pleasing lilt to “Blow the wind southerly” and, especially, “Marwnad yr Ehedydd” (Elegy to the Lark), with Terfel applying a light touch to the latter without losing vocal quality. To “My Lagan Love” he brings a noble tone and strong delivery. In W. S. Gwynn Williams’s “My Little Welsh Home”, one feels pride and a nostalgic sadness in the singing. This is one of the best tracks, and if you relax your guard or possess a drop of Welsh blood in your veins, you may find that a tear has formed unnoticed in your eye. Years ago, after Terfel had included this song in a recital in Wigmore Hall, I asked him if he had a specific place in mind when he sang that song. He looked at me and replied simply, “Oh yes.”

I find this collection to be something of a mixed bag and I should definitely have preferred just one instrument accompanying the voice. That is not a criticism of the LSO, even if that fine orchestra does seem to be superfluous.

The popularity of the singer is almost guaranteed to sell this CD, but there are better ones by him even without looking beyond DG, such as his disc of Welsh songs with Malcolm Martineau.

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