G BUSH; HOROVITZ Songs
That Geoffrey Bush (1920‑98) possessed a very real gift for word-setting is evident throughout this most welcome selection of his songs, the contents of which span more than four decades. Dating from 1952, the Three Songs of Ben Jonson already proclaim a budding mastery of the medium (one imagines Bush’s childhood mentor, John Ireland, would have been mightily pleased). They’re preceded here by Mirabile misterium (1985), seven sharply inventive treatments of medieval texts in praise of the Virgin Mary, full of engaging personality and blissful wonder, not least the concluding ‘Out of your sleep arise and wake’ with its ecstatically pealing bells. Both Yesterday (1990, nine settings of poems by the Cornishman Charles Causley) and archy at the zoo (1994, to words by the American humorist Don Marquis) likewise stand out for their pithiness, wit, grace and melodic fecundity. Commissioned in 1982 by The Songmakers’ Almanac (and premiered that same year by Felicity Palmer and Graham Johnson), ‘Cuisine provençale’ proves another gem, a wryly observant, five and a half-minute scena, whose text was adapted by the composer himself from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.
Joseph Horovitz turned 90 last year, and the six varied and approachable offerings that make up Naxos’s 27-minute sequence in fact represent his entire output for voice and piano. Absorbing listening they make, too, whether it be the chilling intensity of the scena ‘Lady Macbeth’, seductive sense of longing in ‘Zum 11ten März’ (the date of Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938 – Vienna-born Horovitz and his family emigrated to Britain shortly afterwards) or biting satire of ‘Foie-gras’ (composed in 1974 for The King’s Singers to words by Michael Flanders).
Soprano Susanna Fairbairn is in delectably fresh voice throughout, and she forges a splendidly stylish and communicative alliance with her accompanist Matthew Schellhorn. They have been very well recorded, and there are also useful booklet notes by Roderick Swanston and the disc’s producer Martin Cotton, but the absence of texts is an irritant. Cordially recommended nonetheless.