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The masque of pastiche

TREVOR HOLD listens to
baritone songs by John Jeffreys

Somm    SOMMCD 218

Of Fire and Dew. 21 Baritone songs by John Jeffreys. © 1999 Somm Recordings

The songs of John Jeffreys pose an interesting question: is it possible to write music of quality and integrity in a stile antiqua? He was born in 1927 and is therefore of the same generation as Stockhausen, Boulez and Henze, yet he writes as though he were a contemporary of Quilter, Ireland, Gurney and Warlock. He even chooses the same poetry that they did: 'I will go with my father a-ploughing', 'Brown is my love', 'I will make you brooches', 'Weathers', 'The Salley Gardens': all of which have been set more memorably, sometimes definitively.

He is certainly in the English Romantic Song tradition, in his careful word-setting, the way he deploys voice and piano, his acute ear of texture and harmony, his lyrical vocal-writing. But ultimately he lacks three things: memorability, originality and a recognisable voice. The latter is perhaps inevitable with the wide range of styles that he adopts in these songs. In the end, to write anything worthwhile you have to find an original, personal voice, and that means you cannot be somebody else. The authentic Jeffreys [listen -- track 6, 0:01-1:05] does occasionally surface, for example in the three Housman settings, but mostly he is submerged behind the masque of pastiche.

The songs are given excellent interpretations by Jonathan Veira (baritone) and Shelley Katz (piano).

Copyright © 24 August 2002 Trevor Hold, Peterborough, UK


Of Fire and Dew - 21 Baritone songs by John Jeffreys

SOMMCD 218 DDD Stereo 63'20" 1999 Somm Recordings

Jonathan Veira, baritone and Shelley Katz, piano


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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Saturday series of shorter CD reviews