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The Folksong Arrangements

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Album Review

British composer Carey Blyton (1932-2002), a nephew of author Enid Blyton, wrote music for several television series, including Doctor Who. These little treatments of folk songs — the word "arrangements" on the title does not quite cover his contributions — are all but unknown, at least outside Britain, but they're very nice finds, with several items being unlike anything else in repertory of this type. If you're expecting a disc of straightforward settings of British (and Welsh and Canadian, the largest single group) folk songs, this isn't it; each item on the program is different. Most of the selections are vocal, but perhaps the most interesting piece is the opening A Newfoundland Posy, Op. 72, for violin, clarinet, and piano. The structure of this work is unique. It is in six movements, with each movement consisting of a medley of from one to three tunes. One tune, the "Anti-Confederation Song" (Newfoundland became part of Canada only in 1949), occurs three times in different guises and serves as a kind of motif. ("The Squid Jiggin' Ground" is the same song known to country music fans through its recording by Hank Snow.) Blyton's treatments of the tune range from straightforward to impressionistic, with the spaces between these modulated to expressive effect. The work is a delightful addition to the trio repertory. The Six Regional Canadian Folk Songs, Op. 39, are more conventional, but include an interesting variety of pieces; "Auction Block," track 8, is a song in the African-American spiritual idiom but was clearly composed by a slave who had made it to southwestern Ontario. The Three Canadian Carols are all in English despite the fact that two of them were originally in other languages (French and Huron or Wyandot, in the case of the famed "Huron Carol," track 15), but the Three Welsh Folk Songs, Op. 36, are in Welsh; the tracklist does not make this clear, but English translations are provided for the Welsh songs. The rest of the album presents some British songs ("There Is a Tavern in the Town," indubitably British and quite sad, will interest those who know the tune in its boisterous polka incarnations), as well as some Blyton originals. Blue Christmas, track 21, is not the Elvis Presley song but a serious piece that uses hints of blues in the service of a story of poverty during the Christmas season. Singaporean soprano Soo-Bee Lee is to be commended for her grasp of the subtle ways in which this song uses the blues idiom, and both she and baritone Robert Ivan Foster, who has championed Blyton's music, plainly bring enthusiasm to the project, which will do the same for its listeners.~James Manheim, Rovi

The Folksong Arrangements, Robert Ivan Foster
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