Naval Heroes and the Mystery of the Sea
Lawrence A. Schenbeck | Atlanta, GA USA | 07/31/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) stuck close to his desk and never went to sea. But during his lifetime, Stanford's reputation was built with works like these--alternately swashbuckling and wistful essays on great British naval heroes and the romance and mystery of the sea-faring life itself. It was a heady mixture that spoke to every English male child once he got a glimpse of the great ships or read about men like Nelson or Grenville.
Fortunately the lure of the sea, as expressed in these three great vocal-orchestral works, translates well to twenty-first-century types, Americans, and landlubbers. More *Master and Commander* than *Pirates of the Caribbean* (and thank goodness for that), these three pieces will also give you more than a passing bout of sea-fever. Romantic, accessible, hearty, deeply felt, this music sticks with you. The performances by baritone Gerald Finley (well known for his recent operatic work), conductor Richard Hickox, and the BBC National Chorus and Orchestra of Wales are just about all you could hope for.
Incidentally, of the three works on this disc, "The Revenge" is the earliest and weakest. It is based, only too literally, on a ballad (story-song) by Alfred Lord Tennyson, and the composer's attempts to portray every bump in the narrative create a too-diffuse effect. Much more powerful are "Songs of the Sea" and "Songs of the Fleet," both with words by Stanford's friend Sir Henry Newbolt. You don't need to know a great deal about British naval exploits, but it doesn't hurt either. (You can always look it up.)
The SACD surround sound is warm and spacious, the SACD stereo mix perhaps slightly better at focusing the choral sound and overall impact of the performances. The Redbook CD sound is also quite good. A British tar, after all, is a soaring soul. Strongly recommended."