Scott Robert Shaw

Divine Art ddx 21110

What can be more English for a tenor than a recital of English songs, that is Gurney (Five Elizabethan Songs) followed by Vaughan Williams, the little known ‘Along the Field’ which are eight settings of A.E.Housman scored with just voice and violin. Then, we have Roger Quilter, again the somewhat lesser-known ‘Four Songs’ Op 14, then Britten’s quirky Eight Folk Song Arrangements, one of his last works composed for Peter Pears and harpist Osain Ellis Finally there isFinzi’s Let us Garland’s Bring, five famous settings of Shakespeare. But the only snag is that Scott Robert Shaw is not English but Australian as he admits in his fascinating booklet essay. However, he was brought up musically in the C of E, and under the Royal Schools of Church Music. He trained in Sydney but has sung professionally in London in Opera, with a chamber choir, and in the world of Early music.

So, if you are looking for a CD presenting typical English Song repertoire this could be for you. However, what about the voice? I sat with one of my more advanced vocal students enjoying much of Shaw’s interpretation, but the thought never left us that, although it works well on a recording, this was not an entirely satisfactory recital voice. The voice is lyrical and light with, generally, a controlled vibrato, but the tone is a little what I might call ‘pinched’ (my student even used the word ‘old-fashioned’ in timbre) especially in the highest register. Ideal then for choral singing, small choirs and cathedrals but somehow lacking the ‘gravitas’ that some of these songs need.

The generously-filled CD may never have been recorded if it hadn’t been for Shaw’s sheer determination. It was recorded between March 2021 and January 2023 in two different venues and was almost scuppered by Covid, indeed Shaw himself fell victim.Some items on the disc even needed to be re-recorded. However, there is a consistency in volume levels and tone quality, and the project is admirably presented with good notes and photographs.

Scott Robert Shaw’s diction is almost entirely clear, but all texts are neatly provided. The programme is very well balanced and varied, amounting to thirty songs in all. That is, three cycles with the sensitive pianist William Drakett, and the Vaughan Williams with the rich toned violinist Eva de Vries, and the Britten with delectable harpist Emile Bastens.

Review by Gary Higginson