Review of Brian Rayner Cook/Roger Vignoles recording

Godfrey Berry

Performed by Brian Rayner Cook and Roger Vignoles - Godfrey Berry When icicles hang by the wall, Take O take those lips away, Sorrow song, The message, Farewell, Care-charmer sleep, Since love is dead, The soul of steel, Why dost thou wound and break my heart?, On parting, Lady Ellayne, Renunciation, Love is a merry game, Piping down the valleys wild, The chimney sweep, The land of dreams, The defiled sanctuary Auracle AUC 1003

I have now heard three different copies of this disc, and am deeply impressed on all counts. Of the songs themselves what can one say without sounding mindlessly euphoric? Recent broadcasts by these artists will have alerted many of us to the fact that Brian was no mean song writer. Hearing their recital at the AGM, and now this record, has confirmed and strengthened that impression.

It is not just the quality of each individual song which impresses, although some at least are quite clearly short masterpieces in their own right. It is also the breadth of Brian’s imaginative and expressive range. As Malcolm MacDonald’s admirable sleeve note indicates, most of the songs concern themselves with one or more of Brian’s ‘three great themes—love, hate & death’, but within those central preoccupations he proves himself capable of almost infinite variety. He embraces with equal aplomb the teasing humour of Lady Ellayne, the alternating ardour and tenderness of Why Dost thou wound and break my heart, the innocent happiness of Piping down the valleys wild, the almost tragic intensity of Sorrow song, the uncompromising defiance of The soul of steel, the horrified repugnance of The defiled sanctuary and much else besides. Rather a lot may be asked of the performers, but in terms of the intended effect Brian hardly puts a foot wrong. The standard is remarkably consistent with only a growing awareness of harmonic and other technical possibilities, and the general refinement of an already prodigious talent, to mark out the later songs from the very earliest. On this evidence Brian merits serious consideration alongside such major English song writers as Purcell, Dowland, Vaughan Williams and Britten.

The performances impress no less than the songs themselves. Brian Rayner Cook has clearly given much thought to his interpretations and scarcely a shade of meaning or a nuance of feeling escapes him. His technique is equal to all Brian’s demands, strain showing only where Brian quite clearly intended it should. Roger Vignoles handling of the substantial and far from easy piano parts—one can scarcely call them mere accompaniments—is equally fine. It adds considerably to the effect of the performances as a whole.

The recording is possibly a little close for some tastes, but only at a handful of the most extreme climaxes is there even a suspicion of hardness or distortion. Everywhere else the sound is commendably full, clear and lifelike. The piano tone, often a weakness in song records, is particularly well reproduced. Surfaces on the three copies of the record I have heard have been all but silent, and the pressings generally seem up to the high standard we have come to expect from Nimbus. The only fault was an isolated, and barely perceptible, pressing fault on one of the six sides.

All in all this is not a record which any Brian enthusiast should willingly miss. More than that, it is a record which, if it sells as well as its quality deserves, should win Brian many new friends.

NL 47 / © Godfrey Berry 1983


Newsletter, NL 47, 1983