The subtitle "English Songs" on this release by tenor Ben Johnson and pianist James Baillieu is technically accurate, but doesn't give the prospective buyer an idea of the rather specialized nature of the repertoire contained within. The music dates from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, but you are not getting a set of art songs by composers like Roger Quilter, Gerald Finzi, John Ireland, and the like. These have been popular in recent years, but the music on the program here, although it would once probably have been quite familiar, has largely been forgotten. They are, in short, pieces of the kind sometimes referred to as ballads, sometimes unkindly in America as potted-palm music, and sometimes by a variety of other names. Not popular music, but not art songs either, they're harmonically simple, broadly melodic, and devoted to musical exploitation of their sentimental texts. Indeed, probably the most famous work on the program is Arthur Sullivan's The Lost Chord (track six), familiar to most listeners of a certain age through comedian Victor Borge's parody routine based on the song. You can get an inkling of the fun of this release by sampling The Lost Chord and hearing Johnson's disarmingly straightforward reading. "Name" composers like Elgar (Pleading, track five) and Vaughan Williams wrote songs of this type. But check out as well some of the lesser-known items such as the title track (track 13) by Eric Coates, a composer known mostly for what the British call "light music" and North Americans call "easy listening." He was an extremely popular composer in his day, and the album is worth the money simply for the fuller picture of the era that it gives; better still, Johnson and Baillieu have a real way with this music and obviously enjoy it. They have a knack for understating it in just the right places. Recommended.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim