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Words For You

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Genre: Classical / Artist: Various Artists / Audio CD released 2009-11-16 at Island

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      08.07.2012 14:18
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      An anthology of poetry and music which doesn't real best serve either genre

      In theory, beautiful words accompanied by beautiful music should be a match made in Heaven. In reality, it can turn out to be a case of the one cancelling out the other and with 'Words for You', I found it to be rather more of the latter. This was a gift and though one shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, I've really not appreciated this CD quite as much as the giver expected me to do. The fault may lie with me, of course, but I find that words and music work best in song format where the two elements combine into one coherent whole and not where the listener is torn between hearing the words or listening to the music. One also shouldn't ask how much a present cost but I've checked on Amazon and it's currently selling for £4.49. This album provides 27 tracks of some of the most beautiful poetry ever written plus one passage from the Bible, all very competently, and sometimes superbly read by British actors. Don't worry; I'm not going to review each track individually, just cherry pick what I found to be the best and the worst aspects of the album. The main difficulty for me is that although acknowledging poetry is written to be read aloud, I feel some poems are best kept inside the reader's head where they can be given whatever form of interpretation the reader wishes. Some of the poems read here are particular favourites of mine and the vocal interpretation given by the reader isn't how I'd imagined they would sound if read aloud and they simply don't resonate for me. The CD begins with Geoffrey Palmer reading from Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, with Vivaldi's 'In Due Cori' playing in the background. I find this particular passage from Ecclesiastes one of the most beautiful and thought provoking in the Bible. 'To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under Heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up....' and although Geoffrey Palmer reads the piece very well, it's read without much expression and the music of Vivaldi is somehow more appealing and I always end up listening to the music and missing the words. For me, The Byrds interpretation of this biblical passage is superior in every way. Geoffrey Palmer reads two other poems on this recording and, again, I found his reading of Robert Browning's 'Home Thoughts From Abroad' strangely flat. I can't say this poem is one of my favourites, largely because we had to learn this by heart at school (where we all recited it without expression!) but this poem is written by a man living in exile in Italy and longing to see an English Spring. The words express this longing wistfully but Geoffrey Palmer's rendition doesn't quite get that across. Once again, the music choice, takes from the words rather than enhancing them. It's the piece by Dvorak which will forever be linked to the Hovis adverts so instead of envisioning an English Spring, all I can see is that little lad pushing his bike up Golden Hill in Shaftesbury! Another piece which disappointed me was Lindsay Duncan's reading from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'Sonnets from the Portuguese' which begins 'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...' Lindsay Duncan has a beautifully well modulated speaking voice and though she doesn't quite read it with the passion I would have hoped for, it's the music choice which fights against the words. Mozart's sublime Symphony no. 50 was written to be listened to without distraction and when presented with the choice of words or music, for me Mozart's the winner over Mrs Barrett Browning. Lindsay Duncan redeems herself with her reading of W H Auden's 'Stop All the Clocks' however, which is read against a suitably sombre piece of Mahler. This is one of my favourites on this album. There isn't much regional poetry on this album, by which I mean ones read in accents other than standard English but Robert Burns is included and Brian Cox's reading of 'A Red Red Rose' is a delight. (That's Brian Cox, the actor, not Professor Brian Cox ex of D:Ream, by the way.) He retains just enough of a Scottish burr to his voice to give the reading authenticity and the musical accompaniment is a traditional air played on the violin which, for once, blends the two elements together superbly well. Brian Cox's reading of an excerpt from 'The Lady of Shallot', one of my all time favourite narrative poems, is another good one with a well thought-out musical accompaniment, which is another traditional air which has a suitably medieval sound to it. Although there are quite a few tracks where I feel the words and music don't meld particularly well, equally there are some which are as close to perfect as it's possible for humans to come. 'Dulce et Decorum Est' is one of the most emotive pieces of war poetry and here it's read by Ben Wishaw who infuses his voice with just the right amount of weary desperation whilst a particularly sombre passage from Beethoven's 7th Symphony is playing in the background, adding to the poignancy of the reading. He also gives a great interpretation of Keats' 'Ode to Autumn'. Another great track was Anthony Head's recitation of Christina Rossetti's 'Remember'. My only experience of Anthony Head comes from his stint as Giles the librarian in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more recently as King Arthur's father in Merlin, so his reading of this particular poem, as well as his interpretation of a D H Lawrence poem, came as something of a revelation. He has a beautiful speaking voice, at times quite light but full of rich texture and at the same time it has a depth of feeling which really resonates. It's quite a sexy voice! Another surprise was Lennie James who reads Shakespeare's sonnet 116 which begins 'Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment...' and also W B Yeats wonderful piece, 'He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven'. I've only ever heard Lennie James when he's been playing the part of a cor blimey South London boy, so to hear him reading these beautiful words in standard English was a pleasure. Both these poems are read to the music of Mahler, a composer whose music I personally find rather dreary but it works very well here as a background. There are some real duds on this album, or at least I find them so. Martin Shaw is not one of my favourite actors: I find him ponderous in his delivery and his tone is just too syrupy for my tastes. He reads an excerpt from John Betjeman's 'Diary of a Church Mouse', which is one of the only light hearted pieces on this album but he manages to reduce it to something rather turgid. He also spoils Byron's 'She Walks in Beauty Like the Night' for me but is perfect for the rather gung ho 'If' by Rudyard Kipling because he has just that sort of stiff-upper-lip, mealy mouthed quality to his rendition which brings to mind a Victorian, public school educated twerp who thinks it's honourable to die for some lost cause. Joanna Lumley, too, lets the side down. I suppose her excuse could be that she isn't a trained actress but her reading of Shakespeare's sonnet 18, 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day....' is pretty poor and her rather plumy accent doesn't help and is equally matched by the rather heavy handed piano playing of Beethoven's piano concerto number 8. Overall, this album is rather depressing. The choice of poetry tends towards the melancholic or concerns the lovelorn or bereaved which doesn't help and the musical choices don't always blend well with the words. If you're a fan of poetry, you probably already have an idea of how your favourite poems should be read so, again, this album may come as something of a disappointment. For me, there are some poems on here that I simply refuse to listen to because they were drummed into me at school, giving me a lifelong dislike of them. I speak of Wordsworth's lousy 'Daffodils' and Walter de la Mare's 'Silver' both of which are enough to put any child of moonlight and flowers forever! Both poetry and music are very subjective and what one person dislikes, another may love. The idea of blending words and music in this way may be a novel one but, for me, it just doesn't come off and it's hard to see quite when to listen to it, except perhaps if you wanted to descend into a depression. Perhaps a better blend of more cheerful verse with the thought provoking and poignant ones would have worked better. For me words and music go well in a song but in this format, I feel never the twain should meet. Track listing: 1. Ecclesiastes 3 (Geoffrey Palmer/Vivaldi - Concerto 'In Due Cori') 2. William Shakespeare - Sonnet 18 (Joanna Lumley/Beethoven - Piano Sonata No.8) 3. Robert Browning - Home Thoughts From Abroad (Geoffrey Palmer - Dvorak Symphony No.9) 4. Elizabeth Jennings - Friendship (Alison Steadman/Beethoven - Piano Concerto No.5) 5. Robert Burns - A Red, Red Rose (Brian Cox/Austin Ince & Frankie Hepburn - Colonel Robertson) 6. William Wordsworth - Daffodils (Honor Blackman/Tchaikovsky - Piano Concerto No.1 - 2nd Movement) 7. On The Balcony - D.H. Lawrence (Anthony Head/Grieg - Last Spring) 8. Business Girls - John Betjeman (Joanna Lumley/Satie - Gymnopedie No.2) 9. To Autumn - John Keats (Ben Whishaw/Borodin - Symphony No.2) 10. Sonnets From The Portuguese - Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Lindsay Duncan/Mozart - Symphony No.50 11. If - Rudyard Kipling (Martin Shaw/Verdi - La Forza Del Destino) 12. Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep - Mary Frye (Miriam Margolyes/Tchaikovosky - Variations on a Rocco Theme Op.33 13. Diary Of A Church Mouse - John Betjeman (Martin Shaw/Bach - Sleepers Awake) 14. Come Walk With Me - Emily Brontë (Samantha Morton/Dvorak - Waltz No.1) 15. The Lady Of Shalott - Lord Tennyson (Brian Cox/Stephen Darrell Smith & Dan Smith - The Great Glen) 16. One Flesh - Elizabeth Jennings (Honor Blackman/Terrega - Adelita) 17. He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven - W.B. Yeats (Lennie James/Mahler - Symphony No.3) 18. Sonnet 116 - William Shakespeare (Lennie James/Mahler - Symphony No.3) 19. Stop All The Clocks - W.H. Auden (Lindsay Duncan/Mahler - Symphony No.1) 20. Adlestrop - Edward Thomas (Geoffrey Palmer/Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending) 21. When We Two Parted - Lord Byron (Brian Cox/Tchaikovosky - Symphony No.5) 22. Dulce Et Decorum Est - Wilfred Owen (Ben Whishaw/Beethoven - Symphony No.7) 23. Silver - Walter de la Mare (Miriam Margolyes/Chopin - Nocturne in C sharp minor) 24. She Walks In Beauty - Lord Byron (Martin Shaw/Grieg - Peer Gynt Suite No.2) 25. Rock Me To Sleep - Elizabeth Akers Allen (Alison Steadman/Schubert - Rosamunde) 26. Remember - Christina Rossetti (Anthony Head/Sor - Allegretto) 27. Last Post - Carol Ann Duffy (Samantha Morton/Satie - Gymnopedie No.3)

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      Disc #1 Tracklisting
      1 Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 (King James Version) Attributed to King Solomon (read by Geoffrey Palmer) / Music: Vivaldi - Concerto \x{2018}In Due Cori\x{2019} - 2nd movement (excerpt)
      2 Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare (read by Joanna Lumley) / Music: Beethoven - Piano Sonata No.8 (excerpt)
      3 Home Thoughts From Abroad by Robert Browning (read by Geoffrey Palmer) / Music: Dvorak - Symphony No.9 (excerpt)
      4 Friendship by Elizabeth Jennings (read by Alison Steadman) / Music: Beethoven - Piano Concerto No.5 - 2nd Movement (excerpt)
      5 A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns (read by Brian Cox) / Music: Austin Ince & Frankie Hepburn - Colonel Robertson (excerpt)
      6 I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud by William Wordsworth (read by Honor Blackman) / Music: Tchaikovsky - Piano Concerto No.1 - 2nd Movement (excerpt)
      7 On The Balcony by D.H. Lawrence (read by Anthony Head) / Music: Grieg - Last Spring (excerpt)
      8 Business Girls by John Betjeman (read by Joanna Lumley) / Music: Business Girls by John Betjeman / Music: Satie - Gymnopedie No.2 (excerpt)
      9 To Autumn by John Keats (read by Ben Whishaw) / Music: Borodin - Symphony No.2 - 3rd Movement (excerpt)
      10 Sonnets From The Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (read by Lindsay Duncan) / Music: Mozart - Symphony No.50 - 3rd Movement (excerpt)
      11 Mozart - Symphony No.50 - 3rd Movement (excerpt) (read by Martin Shaw) / Music: Verdi - La Forza Del Destino (excerpt)
      12 Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep by Mary Frye (read by Miriam Margolyes) / Music: Tchaikovosky - Variations on a Rocco Theme Op.33 (excerpt)
      13 Diary Of A Church Mouse by John Betjeman (read by Martin Shaw) / Music: Bach - Sleepers Awake (excerpt)
      14 Come Walk With Me by Emily Brontë (read by Samantha Morton) / Music: Dvorak - Waltz No.1 from Opus 54 (excerpt)
      15 The Lady Of Shalott by Lord Alfred Tenyson (read by Brian Cox) / Music: Stephen Darrell Smith & Dan Smith - The Great Glen
      16 One Flesh by Elizabeth Jennings (read by Honor Blackman) / Music: One Flesh by Elizabeth Jennings
      17 He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven by W.B. Yeats (read by Lennie James) / Music: Mahler - Symphony No.3 - 6th Movement (excerpt)
      18 Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare (read by Lennie James) / Music: Mahler - Symphony No.3 - 6th Movement (excerpt)
      19 Stop All The Clocks by W.H. Auden (read by Lindsay Duncan) / Music: Mahler - Symphony No.1 - 3rd Movement (excerpt)
      20 Adlestrop by Edward Thomas (read by Geoffrey Palmer) / Music: Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending (excerpt)
      21 When We Two Parted by Lord Byron (read by Brian Cox) / Music: Tchaikovosky - Symphony No.5 - 2nd Movement (excerpt)
      22 Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen (read by Ben Whishaw) / Music: Beethoven - Symphony No.7 - 2nd Movement (excerpt)
      23 Silver by Walter de la Mare (read by Miriam Margolyes) / Music: Chopin - Nocturne in C sharp minor (excerpt)
      24 She Walks In Beauty by Lord Byron (read by Martin Shaw) / Music: Grieg - Peer Gynt Suite No.2 - 4th Movement (excerpt)
      25 Rock Me To Sleep by Elizabeth Akers Allen (read by Alison Steadman) / Music: Schubert - Rosamunde (excerpt)
      26 Remember by Christina Rossetti (read by Anthony Head) / Music: Sor - Allegretto (excerpt)
      27 Last Post by Carol Ann Duffy (read by Samantha Morton) / Music: Satie - Gymnopedie No.3 (excerpt)