Friday 22 May 2015

Is this a cross-over disc? - Till the Stars Fall from Matthew Long

Matthew Long - Till the Stars Fall
RVW, Holst, Quilter, Butterworth, Finzi, Elgar, Parry, traditional and folk-songs; Matthew Long, Malcolm Martineau, Rufus Miller, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Ben Parry; JSK Music
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 12 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Finely crafted performances bring this mixed repertoire to life

When I interviewed tenor Matthew Long about his new disc, Till the Stars Fall, he said that if the disc sat uneasily between Classic FM and Radio 3 then he would be happy, and his intention was to spark a discussion about what crossover is. At the heart of the disc is a sequence of arrangements of traditional folk-songs, and linking to these are two other groups, art songs can be seen to be folk-song influenced, and more such as I vow to thee my country and Jerusalem which shade from traditional to national and patriotic. There are songs by RVW, Holst, Quilter, Butterworth, Finzi and Elgar in which Matthew Long is joined by pianist Malcolm Martineau, folk-songs performed with guitarist Rufus Miller, and more traditional and patriotic songs performed with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ben Parry. The arrangements are by Ben Parry, Jonathan Rathbone, Rufus Muller and Long himself. The disc is issued by JSK Music.

It all sounds sounds something of an indigestible mix, and could have been rather an embarrassment to review, but in fact it works quite superbly. I find myself in the interesting position of having been a bit dubious when I found out about the disc, becoming intrigued when I spoke to Matthew Long about the disc and having listened to it I am convinced. This is definitely a disc to which I will return.

It works because all concerned seem to have taken the premise seriously, and the intention to give all the material the same degree of concentration and finish has paid off. The orchestral arrangements by Ben Parry and Jonathan Rathbone are modern and sympathetic, sometimes lush, without seeming out of place or stylistically wrong. Guitarist Rufus Miller, who as a session player has worked with bands such as the Sleaze and Sting, here seems to play mainly an acoustic guitar (or something close) and the arrangements that he has made with Matthew Long are sympathetically intriguing and rather imaginative. In fact, you could have imagined a whole disc of them on their own.

The songs performed with Malcolm Martineau are all finely done. Matthew Long has a fine-grained lyric voice which suits this repertoire. He combines a fine lyric line, with feeling of the words. It is clearly not a large instrument, but he uses it intelligently and his performances are frequently affecting. The choices of the composed songs are not always obvious, Holst's The Thought, for instance, is edgy and positively aphoristic.

In fact, it is Matthew Long's voice which is at the centre of all this music. He seems to bring that same combination of fine lyric line, beauty of tone and intelligence to all the music, singing Jerusalem and The Last Rose of Summer as beautifully as Butterworth's Loveliest of Trees. And in the larger orchestral arrangements, Matthew Long does not try to be anything other than what he is, singing with admirable straight directness, and it is to Ben Parry and Jonathan Rathbone's credits that they have crafted orchestrations which set Matthew Long's voice off, rather than trying to pretend that it is something that it is not. This is the least poppy cross-over album that I have heard in a long time.

Whilst I would not want to hear a whole disc of the orchestral arrangements of songs like I vow to thee my country, Jerusalem and O Danny Boy, in the context of this set they work well. The disc generally alternates the three strands (orchestra, piano, guitar) in an attractive and intelligent way. And it does throw up some interesting links when you hear songs by Finzi and Quilter, performed alongside both folk-songs and the more traditional popular songs.

A finely crafted performance of O Danny Boy, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, is followed by a performance of RVW's Tired (one of his four last songs to works by his wife Ursula) accompanied by Malcolm Martineau, and Matthew Long sings both with same beauty of tone, care and intelligent attention to the phrasing. This is why this set works.

Do give this set a try, there is as much in it for the season recital goer as for those less familiar with the repertoire.

Matthew Long at Abbey Road from Billy Boyd Cape on Vimeo.

Trad. arr. RVW - The Turtle Dove [2.50] MM
Gustav Holst, arr. Jonathan Rathbone - I Vow to Thee my Country [4.16] LPO
Trad. arr. Matthew Long and Rufus Miller - She Moved Through the Fair [2.29] RM
Gustav Holst - The Thought [2.13] MM
Trad. arr. Ben Parry - My Love is like a Red, Red, Rose [4.04] LPO
Trad. arr. Matthew Long and Rufus Miller - The Ash Grove [2.01] RM
Roger Quilter - Go Lovely Rose [2.53] MM
Hubert Parry, arr. Jonathan Rathbone - Jerusalem [2.55] LPO
Trad. arr. Matthew Long and Rufus Miller - O Waly Waly [2.44] RM
Arthur Butterworth - Loveliest of Trees [2.40] MM
Trad. arr. Ben Parry - Danny Boy [4.08] LPO
RVW - Tired [2.18] MM
Roger Quilter - Weep You No More, Sad Fountains [2.29] MM
Trad. arr Ben Parry - Greensleeves [5.06] LPO
Trad. arr. Matthew Long and Rufus Miller - The Last Rose of Summer [3.02] RM
Trad. arr. Matthew Long and Rufus Miller - The Parting Glass [3.25] RM
Gerald Finzi - Only the Wanderer [1.45] MM
Gerald Finzi - As I Lay in the Early Sun [2.10] MM
Edward Elgar - Speak, music [3.05]MM
Trad. arr. Matthew Long and Rufus Miller - Auld Lang Syne [2.21] RM
RVW, arr. Ben Parry - Orpheus with his Lute [2.59] LPO
Trad. arr. Matthew Long and Rufus Miller - The Turtle Dove [2.51] RM
Matthew Long (tenor)
Malcolm Martineau (piano) MM
Rufus Miller (guitar) RM
London  Philharmonic Orchestra/conductor Ben Parry LPO
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios
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