Listening to Britten – There’s none to soothe


Winter, Womack Dyke by Edward Seago. Photo (c) Estate of Edward Seago courtesy of Portland Gallery, London

There’s none to soothe (Scottish) (Folksong Arrangements, Volume 3 no.2 (British Isles) – folksong arrangement for high or medium voice and piano (pre 27 September 1945, Britten aged 31)

Dedication Joan Cross, the creator of the role of Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes
Text From Hullah’s song-book
Language English
Duration 2′

Audio clip (with thanks to Hyperion)
There’s none to soothe (Jamie MacDougall (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano))

Background and Critical Reception

Philip Reed, writing for the Collins Classics recording of Britten’s complete folksong settings, describes how the first three songs in Britten’s third volume of folksong settings were performed by Peter Pears and Britten at Melksham Music Club on 27 September 1945.

The folksongs were proving very popular as part of the duo’s recitals, which may seem conventional for today’s concertgoers but were actually rather radical for the mid 1940s.

There’s none to soothe, the second in the set, is seen as taking a more Victorian approach, its subject matter rather more sombre than the preceding song The plough boy. The text is from John Pyke Hullah’s The Song Book, published in 1884.

Thoughts

This is a rather elegant setting, and while there is a whiff of the drawing-room about it Britten’s piano part ensures it has a restrained beauty.

In mood the song is similar to one of the Satie GymnopĂ©dies, with a slow and dreamy waltz-like profile in the piano, over which the singer paints the melancholy picture. ‘There’s none to soothe my soul to rest, there’s none my load of grief to share’. And while the singer may not find any solace in the course of the song, Britten at least dwells in calm resignation at the close.

Recordings used

Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano) (Decca)
Philip Langridge (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano) (Naxos)
Jamie MacDougall (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano) (Hyperion)
Mark Padmore (tenor) (piano) (Harmonia Mundi)
David Daniels (countertenor), Julius Drake (piano)

Again it is Pears and Britten that bring the keenest emotion to the song, but once again Philip Langridge and Graham Johnson perform beautifully too, the piano part benefiting from the more reverberant recording. Mark Padmore and Roger Vignoles are good too. For a totally different take on the song try countertenor David Daniels, who really soars in a different key – not to every taste, but a quite extraordinary voice!

Spotify

Pears and Britten are here, while Philip Langridge and Graham Johnson can be found here. Mark Padmore and Roger Vignoles can be found here. There is also a baritone version from Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside, found by clicking here, while the version referred to above with David Daniels and Julius Drake is here

Also written in 1945: Rodgers & Hammerstein – Carousel

Next up: Sweet Polly Oliver

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