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Scarborough Fair - Songs from the British Isles

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Album Review

Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel has a special interest in folk songs from the United Kingdom; he has researched them in manuscript at the National Library in Aberswyth and has even collected his own, old dusty volumes of such songs. He has internalized the work of past singers such as Kathleen Ferrier's version of Blow the Wind Southerly, and as a young lad Terfel sang folk songs in singing competitions, which, being Terfel, he usually won. In Deutsche Grammophon's Scarborough Fair: Songs from the British Isles, Terfel has assembled a traditionally minded collection of folk songs, some of which are relative standards worldwide, some primarily known in the U.K., and a few not terribly well known outside the National Library in Aberswyth. The original title of this release in the U.K. was First Love after the Welsh song "Cariad Cyntaf," which a little better indicates Terfel's relationship with the material and, therefore, the album's intended purpose. Chris Hazell is behind the arrangements, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra with the London Voices in tow on certain selections. Terfel's other guests include — in the U.K. version of the album — Sharon Corr of the Irish pop group the Corrs, Irish heartthrob and former member of the band Boyzone Ronan Keating, and soprano Kate Royal.

Perhaps in this album's American release DGG felt that the title Scarborough Fair would be a better choice given the continuing popularity of Simon & Garfunkel's 1966 hit version of the song. Indeed, Hazell's orchestration more or less follows the one developed on that album, and truly the number is a highlight of this album, with Royal's fine support in the countermelody. There are other highlights, such as the opener "Carrickfergus," "My Lagan Love," "Blow the Wind Southerly," and "My Little Welsh Home." However, Scarborough Fair: Songs from the British Isles is a bit of an uneven collection; the duet between Terfel and Keating is not a good match of voices, with Terfel coming off like a man's man and Keating a scrappy lad in need of a good whackin'. Some of the reviews for this disc have been brutal, particularly for the orchestration as being overwrought, but it's really not as bad as all that; largely the orchestrations are rather understated and not much different from what one might hear on a Robert Goulet LP from the 1960s. At times, Terfel's voice assumes a timbre rather similar to that of Nelson Eddy, which in itself is certainly a likable quality. The pacing of the overall album is a bit too slow throughout, though; variety is not its strong suit, and to include a number or two at a somewhat quicker tempo — say, with a dash of humor or irony as well — would not have hurt this program at all. Nevertheless, it is a pleasant listen and if one is able to negotiate through the Danny Boys and other rough patches, Scarborough Fair: Songs from the British Isles can be edifying in spots. One curious note, though: although Corr is duly credited in two duets on this disc, she is not heard. For some reason in the U.S. version Corr is dropped from the mix, and it appears that no one at DGG bothered to change the tracklisting in kind, which still bears her name.~Uncle Dave Lewis, Rovi


Born: 09 November 1965 in England

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Operatic baritone/bass Bryn Terfel forged an acclaimed career based not only upon his rich, booming voice, but also upon his ability to bring abundant personal charisma and enthusiasm to his stage roles. Terfel grew up singing traditional folk songs from his native Wales and entered London's Guildhall School of Music in 1984. He graduated in 1989 and debuted at the Welsh National Opera the following year, performing the role of Guglielmo in Cosi Fan Tutte. 1992 saw Terfel's international breakthrough...
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