An Irish Songbook
This is far from being a conventional Irish song collection, such as John McCormack might have offered in recording’s early days. Irish soprano Ailish Tynan, no doubt prompted by the ever-imaginative accompanist, Iain Burnside, has devised a sequence of 23 songs that are mainly rarities. There are, for example, six folksong arrangements by Benjamin Britten, only one of which is at all familiar, his setting of Yeats’s popular poem “The Salley Gardens”. Several are settings of tunes from the collection, Moore’s Irish Melodies, including “The Last Rose of Summer”. Typically, they all have distinctive accompaniments, some of them little
related to the melodies above.
Another theme of the collection is the work of James Joyce, not just from his collections of poems, Chamber Music and Pomes Penyeach, but extracts from his two exploratory novels, Ulysses (“Solitary Hotel”, set by Samuel Barber) and Finnegans Wake (“The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs”, set by John Cage to an accompaniment of knocking on the piano lid). Other Joyce settings, such as Herbert Howells’s “Flood” from Pomes Penyeach (with rushing accompaniment) and “Oh Men from the Fields” set by Herbert Hughes, are more conventional but always sensitive. Barber is represented by three songs, including the remarkable dedicated setting of “St Ita’s Vision”, a medieval prayer translated into modern English by Seán Ó Faoláin. Other composers represented include some unjustly neglected, such as Thomas Dunhill, as well as EJ Moeran and Frank Bridge, making up a most attractive sequence.
Aylish Tynan’s bright soprano, very well controlled with clean attack on high notes, is perhaps too little varied in tone for sustained listening, a minor disadvantage. Predictably, Burnside is always a most sensitive accompanist, not least in some of Britten’s tricky piano-writing. A most distinctive disc, well recorded, and well worth investigating.