More songs my father taught me

Drawing-room songs that make their mark again, thanks to such a strong advocate

Author: 
John Steane

More songs my father taught me

  • (The) Water of Tyne
  • I heard you singing
  • Will you go with me
  • O men from the fields
  • (A) Song of Sleep
  • (The) Green Hills o' Somerset
  • Mountain Lovers
  • I'll sing thee songs of Araby
  • Mother Machree
  • Roses of Picardy
  • There's a long, long trail a-winding
  • (The) Old Brigade
  • Yes, Let me like a soldier fall
  • Because
  • Love's old sweet song
  • Star of God
  • Friend o'mine
  • Simon the Cellarer
  • Time to Go
  • Echo
  • (The) Songs of Today
  • Just A-Wearying for You
  • Down by the Salley Gardens
  • Orpheus with his lute
  • (4) Indian Love Lyrics, Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar (Kashmiri S
  • In the gloaming
  • (The) Star of the County Down
  • (A) Perfect Day
  • She moved through the fair

Sir Thomas dedicated the first volume (5/02) to the memory of his father, who had these songs always at hand ready to be sung by family and friends on musical evenings around the piano at home. Now comes a second series, and no doubt room and material for a third.

Many of us who were brought up in a similar culture tended rather to dissociate ourselves from it, cultivating a taste for more developed musical forms and more complex modes of expression. Thomas Allen’s father himself would have been aware of the ‘highbrow’ disdain which (I understood from my own elders) dated back certainly to the early 1900s, when these songs were in their heyday. But now their time really does seem to have come around again. A musically knowledgeable audience (as Sir Thomas confirmed two or three months ago at London’s Wigmore Hall) can not only enjoy them but feel free to do so, without apology or an uneasy sense of indulgence. Their limitations can be recognised – in subject-matter and treatment there’s almost an unwritten contract between composer, listener and performer that they won’t disturb – but, equally, we now seem to feel open to the attractions of such frankly melodic music and such unabashed kindliness of feeling.

Other singers over recent decades have given the songs an airing from time to time, but Thomas Allen is the very man to do it. His voice, which is still amazingly beautiful in quality and still under such masterly control, is so ‘central’ in character, and his own appearance and manner are so eminently likeable, that he embodies the ideal drawing-room visitor for such an evening. And age has brought an authority, which doesn’t need to urge us (because it is so natural and evident): ‘If it’s good enough for him…’

At the Wigmore he chose for an encore In the gloaming, enhanced now by Andrew Lamb’s notes, which tell the story of its composer’s love for a lord: very touching in its heartfelt directness. He also included the unaccompanied She moved through the fair, and that too was a highlight, as it is here. Otherwise, both recitals, the live and the recorded, have had the inestimable benefit of Malcolm Martineau’s accompaniments, always alert to whatever of harmony, rhythm or melodic counterpoint enlivens the plain-looking scores, and revealing that there is usually more than you might think.

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