Bryn Terfel: Scarborough Fair: Songs from the British Isles

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In this week’s Full Rotation: Album of the Week, Welsh opera star Bryn Terfel sings 17 songs from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

A burly six-foot-three with a warm, sonorous voice to match, bass-baritone Bryn Terfel has set the standard in roles like Mozart's Don Giovanni and Verdi’s Falstaff. Yet he's also a charismatic interpreter of British song literature and his prolific recording career has frequently taken him back to the songs of the British Isles. Unlike many opera singers who come off as overly formal and stiff in folk material, Terfel keeps the common man’s touch in nostalgic songs of love lost and found.

Terfel lavishes as much care on revealing the poetry in modern standards like Ewan MacColl's “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” as well as traditional offerings such as “Marwnad Yr Ehedydd” (“The Lark's Elegy”). Other highlights include “Blow the Wind Southerly,” “Passing By” ("There is a lady sweet and kind"), and the hauntingly lovely Welsh traditional ballad “Cariad Cyntaf” ("First Love"). As is often true of modern crossover albums, Terfel is joined by several collaborators, including rising young soprano Kate Royal (on a touching rendition of “Scarborough Fair") and Ronan Keating, the former leader of the Irish boy band Boyzone (who bravely takes the lead in "Danny Boy").

Terfel and company are supported by Chris Hazell's arrangements for the London Voices and London Symphony Orchestra, which are lush, colorful, and well, a bit schmaltzy. Still, Terfel’s big-guy-with-a-tender-heart persona and expertise with the material prevails over any shortcomings.

Album details:

Scarborough Fair: Songs from the British Isles (Deutsche Grammophon)

London Voices and London Symphony Orchestra, Barry Wordsworth

Buy Scarborough Fair at Arkivmusic.com