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Varcoe's forays into the byways of repertoire light a beacon for fellow-professionals -- Purcell, Arne (both familiar enough), then Thomas Linley, via S.S. Wesley and Sterndale Bennett to what Frank Howes hailed, in a riposte to that German adage, as the English Musical Renaissance : heralded by Parry and Stanford, the fruitful era of Somervell, Delius, Butterworth, Gurney, Quilter, Warlock and Grainger.

Varcoe's intelligent approach to text, both broad-based and specific, makes Sing English Song a valuable reference work for the amateur singer, for members of choirs and choral societies, for oratorio performers, for Lieder singers, for young college students and for even school-age aspirants to university choral scholarships and/or a career in music.

It has an added value for native speakers of English whose origins lie outside Britain, whether in the USA, Canada, Australasia or South Africa, and for aspiring singers whose first tongue is not British, be they German, French, Slavonic or Italian speaking, Chinese or Japanese : indeed, it really deserves to be widely translated as well.

The entire first half of the book is riddled with useful advice, both commonsense and technical, on the way a singer should approach English poetry. Varcoe pays special attention to the elusive gradations of what he terms 'the vowel continuum' in English, to the vexed problems of English dipthongs, the aspirate and glottal stop, to nebulous English semi-consonants that are a ready trap for foreign singers and which all too often, even today, get incorrectly Italianised, to the implementation of ritenuto, accelerando and rubato, and to issues of emphasis (whether arising from accentuation or meaning). Context is crucial : he constantly cites well-chosen, and often brain-teasing, examples, before offering a solution. Such guidance is simply invaluable to those who face the bewildering inconsistencies in English which Romance, Slav, Germanic and even Hungarian generally lack.

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Copyright © 26 November 2000 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK





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