BBC's Friday Night is Music Night is the nearest we get nowadays to hearing songs of the late 19th and early 20th Century. Of the thousands of once-popular sheet music songs that can still be found in forgotten piano stools only a sprinkling of modern recordings exist, and these are generally with piano accompaniment. Until now good orchestral settings have been thin on the ground. Peter Dawson recorded a number of songs with orchestra on 78rpm records, but their sometimes inferior quality has brought a need for modern orchestral recordings. (It is perhaps surprising that the BBC have not released items from their Friday Night programmes on the various BBC labels.)
An extra dimension is always given to song intended for the piano when played by an orchestra. Orchestration of early British songs was usually carried out by arrangers working internally for publishers like Boosey and Chappell who realised their intrinsic promotional value to enhance sheet music sales. The arrangements are rarely carried out by the composers yet it is likely that a publisher would have always sought their approval. The source of the excellent orchestrations for this modern recording is not mentioned in the notes but they are presumably traditional and are likely to have come from Boosey, Concord, or the BBC library.
Peter Dawson was a well-known bass-baritone who rose to fame in the twenties and thirties with many concert hall and BBC performances. Apart from making records in the acoustic recording days, he was remembered for providing early broadcasts for the Baird television system in the thirties and generally did much to accelerate sheet music sales in the popular songs he sang. It is reported that thirteen million of his records were pressed, he was so popular.
The selection on this CD are well chosen: they cover a wide range of composers and styles. The Floral Dance, The Kerry Dance and On the Road to Mandalay need no introduction. The orchestral arrangement for On the Road to Mandalay with its florid bridging section between verses is charming and calls for special mention. The Lost Chord is stunningly powerful and reminds us of the British Empire and images found in Mike Leigh's film, Topsy Turvy (on the lives of Gilbert & Sullivan).
There are many songs unfamiliar by name yet known in tune. The songs are sung with good clarity and delivered at a comfortably brisk pace. Lloyd-Jones keeps both singer and orchestra accurately in step. Although I am thankful that Waltzing Matilda wasn't included in the contents list, the absence of favourites like "Leanin'", "Come to the Fair" and "Excelsior" on this well-filled disc are noticed. It is an ideal CD to bring memories of yesteryear flooding back, and is also interesting to hear works of our forgotten British composers whose music regularly turns up in second-hand bookshops.
Full lyrics are provided in the booklet. It is difficult to decide from the contents list exactly who the librettist is and who the composer: sometimes the librettist appears first, and sometimes second. There are detailed notes on Dawson detailing his 1909-10 Australian tour rather than the songs themselves. (This disc, I should add, is produced in Australia).
Gregory Yurisich sings with style and precision. He resembles a Robson in timbre, wide compass and powerful delivery. Yurisich has much experience of Verdi and has a wide repertoire of grand opera, making appearances with the Royal Opera and English National Opera at Covent Garden and Edinburgh. His international tours include Hong Kong, Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Melbourne, Sidney and Washington.
David Lloyd-Jones, who began in 1959 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden needs no introduction: he founded Opera North in Britain and has since worked with Welsh National Opera and appeared at most major festivals ...