John Mark Ainsley / Felicity Lott / Kathryn Rudge / Roderick Williams / Christopher Glynn

Songs by Donald Swann

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Donald Swann was one-half of the comic duo Flanders and Swann; it may be because of that, or because he was so prolific (he wrote more than 2,000 songs, stopping only very shortly before his death in 1994), but his serious art songs have never attracted strong attention. This double-CD set shows the esteem in which Swann is held by singers -- a quintet of them, including the septuagenarian Dame Felicity Lott, is on hand -- and it introduces what is really quite a delightful body of work. The variety of text authors, running from Shakespeare to J.R.R. Tolkien, with several American writers thrown in, might get your attention right off. One cannot do better in summarizing Swann's appeal than to quote the booklet notes by accompanist Christopher Glynn: "A sketch of Donald Swann's life must piece together a very English humor and self-deprecating charm, his deep roots in Russia and the East (Swann's mother was Turkmen), a lifelong search for meaning and solace in religion, a love of language, a gift for melody, and the fertile territory that lies -- for those who will look -- between so-called 'serious' and 'light' music." All these traits are present among the 46 songs recorded here. One might sample He wishes for the cloths of heaven, a remarkable swan song (as well as Swann song) to a text by Yeats that has a concision bringing to mind Mompou. Swann's musical language is late Romantic, becoming only slightly more contemporary as the century developed, but this should not matter. A beautiful tribute and overview by a quintet of top British singers.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
A Collection of Songs
1 2:06
2 4:05
3 2:08
4 5:01
Five colourisations of Emily Dickinson
5 1:23
6 1:34
7 2:11
8 1:08
9 1:59
Two sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay
10 2:13
11 1:30
12 4:50
Two poems by Thomas Hardy
13 2:59
14 2:54
Four lyrics from In memoriam
15 2:09
16 2:30
17 2:51
18 2:21
Two poems by Christina Rossetti
19 2:12
20 2:42
21 3:57
22 4:59
23 4:12

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Six songs to poems by William Blake
1 1:34
2 1:25
3 0:59
4 2:19
5 1:39
6 0:59
7 2:51
8 2:33
9 3:42
10 3:31
11 2:09
12 1:57
13 1:57
14 1:50
15 1:14
16 2:40
17 1:57
18 5:11
19 2:42
20 2:04
21 4:26
22 2:46
The road goes ever on
23 4:29
blue highlight denotes track pick