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Bryn Terfel: Schwanengesang
21 Oct 2005

Welsh songs worth discovering

SAIN (the Welsh word for 'sound', and pronounced like the English word 'sign') is Wales' leading recording company, founded in 1969 in Cardiff by Dafydd Iwan, Huw Jones and Brian Morgan Edwards. The label has a strong social and political message, and for the first few years, SAIN specialised in songs by young singers, many of them concerning the national and linguistic resurgence of Wales, which had begun in the 60's.

  • Bryn Terfel (Vol. 1)
    SAIN SCD9032
  • Bryn Terfel (Vol. 2)
    SAIN SCD9099
  • Bryn Terfel: Schwanengesang
    SAIN SCD4035
  • Bryn Terfel: Un Canu Caneuon
    SAIN SCD2013
  • Rhys Meirion: Pedair Oed
    SAIN SCD2438


So it is not surprising that the first CD's of the world famous Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel were produced by this label. His first CD was released in 1988, when Bryn Terfel was the winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship. This was before his opera debut, and the compilation on this CD seems like an unconnected collection of casting arias. Besides Welsh songs of Idris Lewis, R. Vaughan Williams, Eric Jones, Vincent Davies, W. Mathews Williams, Osborne Roberts, W. Bradwen Jones, and two traditional songs arranged by the pianist Annette Bryn Parri, you will find Schubert’s "Fischermädchen", Mozart’s "Non più andrai", Gounod’s "Vous qui faites l'endormie", Händel’s "But who may abide the day of his coming?", Tosti’s "Ideale" and Franco Leoni’s "Tally-Ho!". This may be dramaturgically strange, but it shows the great variety of the young singer at the beginning of his career. Terfel’s wonderful voice is powerful and technically effortless, but sometimes sounds on this CD a little exhausted or not quite mature. This does, however, not reduce the listening enjoyment. The booklet is sparse with only short descriptions of the songs in English, and contains nothing about Welsh composers, some of whom are not well known.

In 1990 the second Bryn Terfel CD was released with the title "Cyfrol2-Volume2", again under the label SAIN. The booklet is even more meagre than that of the debut album: the publisher did not take the trouble to name the composers of some of the pieces. The collection seems similarly arbitrary as that of the first CD. Thus we find here the well known aria from "The Fiddler on the Roof" in Welsh, three beautiful Welsh songs by Meirion Williams, Schubert’s "Ständchen", an aria from the musical "South Pacific", an aria by Handel from "Judas Maccabäus" with piano accompaniment - marvelously sung by Bryn Terfel! -, songs by William Davies, W. Albert Williams, John Ireland, Mansel Treharne Thomas and Richard Samuel Hughes, a canzonet by Haydn, the Coat aria from "La Bohème", Don Giovanni's "Serenade" - all arias with piano accompaniment. Bryn Terfel's voice is beautiful, in his own language completely free and easy. But also listening to the opera arias one can anticipate the world career of this great singer. The Welsh songs are worth discovering. One wishes for a more detailed booklet about these unknown compositions.

A year later, 1991, SAIN recorded with Bryn Terfel singing Schubert's „Schwanengesang“ with the well known pianist Malcolm Martineau. The quality of the recording is technically and musically excellent. Bryn Terfel has a beautiful flowing voice with apparently infinite breath and easy height. However his pronounciation of the German vowels and consonants is shaped by the Italian vowel sound and thus sometimes irritating to a German ear. Through this strange vowel sound each German word has a great importance, and sometimes the intermediate tones are missing; perhaps only a native speaker can produce these. This is remarkably apparent in "Abschied", where the ambiguity which one knows from Fischer-Dieskau is missing and Bryn Terfel is suffering exclusively. Every "Ade" he sings with great importance. Also the "Taubenpost" he sings similarily ponderous and suffering. However, Bryn Terfel sings "Kriegers Ahnung", "Aufenthalt", "Der Atlas" and "Die Stadt" in a wonderful way. Here his powerful bass-baritone voice and his great strength is especially effective. The booklet is in Welsh, English and German and in more detail than the ones included in the first two CD's.

1993 SAIN released the CD "Un Canu Caneuon" with songs by the Welsh composer Meirion Williams, sung by Bryn Terfel, with Annette Bryn Parri at the piano. Meirion Williams lived from 1901-1976 and was one of the composers mainly responsible for transforming Welsh classical song-writing. He always took great care to make sure that the words he used were appropriate for the expression of feelings. This CD contains the compositions of 40 years, including well known Welsh songs that Meirion Williams composed as a young man, and at the end the cycle "Adlewych", which he composed for BBC Wales when he was almost 70 years old. Meirion Williams' style is influenced by late romanticism. Developments like the twelve-tone technique have passed him by. This by no means diminishes the compositions: they are wonderful and passionate, and should be known outside Wales! Williams’ songs are about the love of country and landscape, and Welsh is a very singable language. The songs have wonderful melodies for the language and voice. The combination Bryn Terfel / Meirion Williams is ideal! Bryn Terfel's vigorous voice flows with infinite breath, and it is a joy to listen to him. This time the booklet is very detailed in Welsh and English, and one hopes that many listeners will get to know the songs of Meirion Williams.

Besides the CD's of Bryn Terfel, SAIN released the second solo album of the young Welsh tenor Rhys Meirion in 2004. Rhys Meirion was member of the Frankfurter Opera and this year sings "Rodolfo" in Sydney and "Roméo" in Melbourne. The label compares him with Bryn Terfel, with whom he has also sung duets. Rhys Meirion - a bright light tenor - has not made a good choice with the selection of all the songs for this CD. The lyric Welsh songs by Bilys Elwyn Edwards, R Lowry and Meirion Williams with piano accompaniment are beautiful and appropiate for his voice. Also very musical and beautiful are his version of "Caro Mio Ben" by Guiseppe Giordini. Unfortunately, for some songs and arias keyboard instead of orchestra accompaniment was chosen, and the keyboard playing falsifies the total sound of the compositions. In addition, Rhys Meirion has chosen 3 compositions by a friend of his, the composer Robat Arwyn, with keyboard and choir accompaniment, which are indescribable trivial. In the Italian arias "Torna a Surriento" by Curtis and "Core 'Ngrato" by Cadillo the keyboard sound seems inconvenient to the extent that it is difficult to listen to the singer`s voice. When one gets accustomed to Rhys Meirion`s bright voice he sings very musically, but one is relieved as a listener when he manages to reach the high notes. In "Ave Maria" by Schubert - again with keyboard accompaniment - one wonders painfully whether Meiron’s breath will be enough for the long phrases. The final piece, "Ombra Mai Fu" by Handel was - for whatever reasons - arranged by the pianist Annette Bryn Parri for keyboard, choir and tenor, which can seem banal. After listening to this CD I wish this young singer and the label more luck and a sensible ear in the compilation of the next program.

Wiebke Hoogklimmer

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