Review: Oxford Solo Songs, Secular

It’s lovely to, once again, be able to review some solo vocal music: a rare event! Next up in the increasingly popular Oxford Solo Song series, is a book of secular songs which joins the previous Christmas and sacred editions. It occurred to me that one of the things which this series is doing, is bringing to the solo world, composers known primarily in the choral sphere. This is a diverse collection, representing a range of well-loved and relatively new composers.

Front cover of Oxford Solo Songs, Secular

The book contains 14 songs, all with piano accompaniment, and is, once again, available in a high and low voice edition:

  1. Rutter: A flower remembered
  2. Chilcott: All for Love of One
  3. Quartel: All the way home
  4. Quartel: Blow, blow, thou winter wind
  5. McGlade: Change Upon Change
  6. Quartel: In time of silver rain
  7. Young: Invitation to Love
  8. Rutter: My true love hath my heart
  9. Bullard: Not too fast, not too slow
  10. Thompson: Supplication
  11. Garrett: The Gift to Sing
  12. Daley: The Lake Isle of Innisfree
  13. Chilcott: The Lily and the Rose
  14. Tarney: The Silver Swan

Many of the choral works translate very well for solo voice and piano accompaniment, notably those of Rutter and Chilcott. As with the Christmas edition, I wasn’t entirely sure which were new works written specifically for solo voice, or whether most or all were choral works originally.

Blow, Blow, thou winter wind by Sarah Quartel

I particularly liked Bob Chilcott’s ‘All for Love of One’, written in 2007 for the ABCD North West Honour Choir. It wasn’t one I knew, but the marriage of voice and piano is especially effective here. This is very much, as they should all be, an ensemble work, rather than a background accompaniment.

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I am sure that one of the favourites in the book will be Sarah Quartel’s ‘All the way home’, with a text written and inspired by members of the Radcliffe Ladies’ Choir reflecting their motto of ‘friendship through singing’. I was especially struck in this song by the folk-like simplicity, and reminded that, once again, less is so often more. This piece would sit particularly well alongside John Rutter’s ‘A flower remembered’, written in memory of the victims of the Tohoku area earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Some of the accompaniments are, in my view, a little over-written, and without a careful balancing act, could result in a competition between singer and pianist. Whilst some of the more complex accompaniments may be effective with larger choral forces, a different sort of balance is needed with solo voice. Toby Young’s ‘Invitation to Love’ has particularly complex rhythms and a fairly ‘busy’ accompaniment, and this will need careful management.

One of the secular songs included in the book

It was lovely to see Bob Chilcott’s ‘The Lily and Rose’ included, as this has long been a choral favourite. I can remember it coming in the post in the days when I used to be a member of the Oxford Choral Subscription scheme when it was a new release. Anyone who seeks to compete with Orlando Gibbons in setting ‘The silver swan’, is brave, but Oliver Tarney’s writing is both beguiling and sympathetic.

Perhaps one of the things about a secular edition in this series, is that it tends to represent a broader range of styles than either the sacred or Christmas books. Folk (‘All the way home’), music theatre (‘In time of silver rain’) and jazz/blues (‘Not too fast, not too slow’) are all styles I feel are represented in this volume. This is somewhat of a departure from the traditional repertoire found amongst the Oxford solo vocal catalogue, but it is a departure to be welcomed.

On balance, I felt that some short introductions, composer notes or programme notes would have really enhanced this book. I was left wanting to know more about the background to some of the pieces and choices of text.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Eleanor Daley

As with the Christmas edition, the books are excellent value as they also include accompaniment downloads. There are some real triumphs in this book, and many pieces which have transferred well to the solo voice. There are songs too which I hope, in the future, will become familiar favourites. Just occasionally, the writing is a little over-complicated, and I think it’s the simplistic quality of some of the songs which will mean they stand the test of time. Overall, a diverse and wide-ranging selection of secular songs to suit all levels of singer. A must for singers and singing teachers everywhere.

Oxford Solo Songs, Secular is available in a high voice and low voice edition, ISBNs 9780193556805 and 9780193556812 respectively, RRP £16.95.

I was sent a review copy of this book free of charge; however, this review is my honest opinion as a teacher. You can find my Reviews Policy here.

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