September 28, 2023


Magic Tree House: The Graphic Novel—No. 5, Night of the Ninjas. Adapted by Jenny Laird from the original by Mary Pope Osborne. Illustrated by Kelly & Nichole Matthews. Random House. $9.99.

The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel: The Graphic Novel—No. 1, The Alchemyst. Adapted by Nicole Andelfinger from the original by Michael Scott. Illustrated by Chris Chalik. Random House. $17.99.

     Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House novels for ages six to 10 have always seemed well-suited to graphic-novel adaptation, and they prove to be so once again in the fifth of the series, Night of the Ninjas. The books’ basically simple stories, added to an underlying touch of the unexplainable/magical, and seasoned with a dollop of education to go with a series of wholesome adventures, work quite well when carried forward as much by illustration as by verbiage. The fifth book in the original series marked some changes to Osborne’s approach: the first four had companion books that gave more information than the minimal factual material included in the adventure story itself – the fifth did not. And the fifth was the start of a multi-book adventure – one requiring eight-and-a-half-year-old Jack and his seven-year-old sister Annie to travel through time and place to locate four objects that will help Morgan Le Fay, whose powers underlie the tree house but who has mysteriously disappeared when the house shows up for the kids’ latest time-travel foray from their home in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. To make the Magic Tree House books work as graphic novels, all that is needed are illustrations of a couple of everyday kids, a high-in-the-trees tree house, and suitable pictures of whatever locations Jack and Annie are going to visit – including pictures of the inhabitants of those locations. Thanks to Jenny Laird’s carefully managed and appropriately paced adaptations and the pleasantly apt illustrations by Kelly and Nichole Matthews, the graphic-novel versions of the stories work quite well. It is, of course, crucial not to think too much about the stories – not to try, for instance, to figure out just how Jack and Annie successfully interact with the inhabitants of ancient Japan, and just why those inhabitants accept the kids’ appearance and clothing (not to mention language) so readily. None of that is the point. Night of the Ninja, in the original as well as graphic version, was and is one of the less-informative Magic Tree House books, with the ninja concept itself reduced essentially to being silent and stealthy, and being physically able to handle lengthy treks and climbs. The mystery of what has happened to Morgan Le Fay, and the introduction of a tree-house mouse that Annie names Peanut, are the biggest points of interest in the story. The greatest attraction of the graphic-novel art is its darkness: more than two-thirds of the book takes place at night or in dark places, and the way the illustrations constantly manage to be dark-on-darker without ever quite becoming scary or, worse, dull, is impressive. Young readers are far more visually oriented now than when the Magic Tree House books began appearing in 1992, and the graphic-novel versions seem, if anything, more suitable for today’s six-to-10-year-olds than the originals. Osborne’s novels do, however, contain more educational elements in most of the stories (although not many more in Night of the Ninjas) – so it would be nice if the graphic-novel versions turn out to interest at least some young readers in tracking down the originals.

     Speaking of darkness and tales told within it, Michael Scott’s six-book The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel fills the bill nicely for somewhat older graphic-novel fans – the original novels were intended for ages 12 and up, and the graphic-novel versions will likely work best for preteens and young teenagers. Scott is an authority on myth and folklore, and there is a germ of truth underlying this series: there really was a Nicholas Flamel, who lived from 1330 to 1418 and was a highly esteemed alchemist. Alchemists were seeking, among other things, the Philosopher’s Stone, which could change base metal to gold and provide eternal life. Scott’s books’ foundation is that Flamel did indeed discover the secret of eternal life, hidden within a volume called The Book of Abraham the Mage, which Flamel has kept throughout the ages and continues to protect. Arrayed against Flamel and his wife, Perenelle, are forces collaborating with the equally long-lived and very sinister Dr. John Dee, who was once a spy for Queen Elizabeth I and is determined to get his hands on the book for his own nefarious purposes. However, according to a prophecy, contemporary teenage twins Sophie and John Newman are in effect “chosen ones” with the power to help Flamel protect the book, and the world, from Dr. Dee’s evil machinations. All this is pretty straightforward magical-adventure stuff, but Scott did a good job throughout the series of novels at keeping the plot moving ahead briskly and maintaining a sense of familiarity of place and circumstance: in The Alchemyst, for example, the twins travel in an SUV across the Golden Gate Bridge while serious magical matters are afoot. Scott’s Flamel adventures are more nuanced and complex than Osborne’s tree-house tales, so the graphic-novel adaptation omits rather a lot of the story’s background and may leave some readers a bit befogged. What is not left out, understandably, is the material that adapts most readily to graphic-novel form: multiple action scenes. Scott does a nice job of arraying the good guys against the bad, and of creating such characters as the Morrigan, Hekate and the Crow Goddess to make the battle scenes attractive – and Nicole Andelfinger wisely focuses her adaptation on the magical realms and conflicts therein that spill into our “humani” world, while Chris Chalik gives the human, subhuman, prehuman and more-than-human characters plenty of individuation that keeps their interactions interesting. Scott’s weakness in the Flamel novels was his irritating tendency to slip into cliché: “The smile curled her lips, but did not light up her eyes.” “These are creatures that have no right to exist outside of myth.” “We really should be leaving.  And right now would be a good time!” Being somewhat cartoonish, words like these, when included at all, actually work better in graphic-novel form than in the original books. So in some sense, what The Alchemyst loses in depth from this adaptation, it gains in effectiveness of narrative and dialogue. As with the Magic Tree House books, and indeed to a greater extent, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel has considerably more depth (if not exactly profundity) in its original form than in graphic-novel dress. The basic excitement of magical good vs. magical evil comes through quite well in The Alchemyst as a graphic novel, but there is a good deal more to Scott’s tale-telling than can fit into illustrated form. Hopefully this fine adaptation will intrigue at least some readers into seeking out the source on which it draws.

(++++) KNOW, THEN GO

The Best 389 Colleges, 2024. By Robert Franek with David Soto, Stephen Koch, Aaron Riccio, Laura Rose, and the staff of The Princeton Review. Princeton Review/Penguin Random House. $26.99.

     Inflation is everywhere these days. For example, “bracket creep” is the insidious means by which slight increases in one’s taxable income suddenly result in a higher tax rate – an issue especially to be feared in inflationary times (except when elements of taxation are indexed for inflation and therefore unaffected by it). Something like bracket creep also affects the annual, encyclopedic Princeton Review guide to colleges: the 2024 edition features 389 colleges, up from 388 in the 2023 version, 387 for 2022, 386 in 2021, and 385 for 2020. The book’s price has inflated, too: to $26.99, up from $24.99 a year ago.

     Of course, in the grand scheme of things, given the cost of attending college, the slight price rise is inconsequential, the important thing being that these books have been appearing for three decades and have long since established themselves as go-to volumes for students and their families as they try to figure out a good fit for learning, personal growth, and – not to be forgotten – finances. There is really no “best” college for everyone, but anyone who wants to go to college can surely find a good match, if not within these books then outside them: there are 5,000-plus schools of higher education in the United States alone, only 7% of which are presented here.

     The presentation itself is formulaic – in a good way that makes cross-comparison among schools very simple. Each school gets a two-page spread with far-left and far-right columns giving statistical details on students, academics, majors, selectivity, deadlines and finances. The remaining space on both pages is narrative, divided into sections headlined “Students Say,” “The Princeton Review Says,” and “The School Says.” The first of these gives student comments on academics, campus life and the student body as a whole; the second has suggestions and recommendations for making the application process to that specific school go smoothly; and the third gives the school an opportunity for some self-serving PR. This last is best taken with several grains of salt and is most useful when juxtaposed with the comments by students on the facing page. For example, the administration at Swarthmore College says the school “empowers students to intertwine academic curiosity with social responsibility and a sense of purpose.” The quoted students say the campus “is very diverse racially but not in terms of thought – in other words, pretty much everyone’s liberal, you don’t get many different points of view.” This is the sort of thing that can actually make it easier for prospective students to determine if they would be comfortable at a given campus.

     To pick another school at random, the administration at University of Dallas says “our curriculum is designed to provide students with wisdom, knowledge, and skills that can be applied to all areas of life – intellectual, professional, spiritual and personal.” Students say their peers “have a genuine interest in being faithful people and growing in their spiritual lives,” and one comments, “I haven’t walked away from a conversation without smiling.” Again, potential students will find this official-vs.-experiential contrast quite helpful in looking for a good academic and personal fit.

     Also as helpful in the 2024 book as in prior ones are the many lists that can make the thick volume (more than 850 oversize pages) bearable rather than overwhelming. Students who are unsure of their future major but who know more or less what geographical area they would like to live in during college can turn to the back of the book for lists by state – actually an interesting exercise for anyone using the book, since it shows that the editors present only two colleges each in Arizona and Kansas, one each in Delaware and Idaho, but 26 in Massachusetts and 29 in Pennsylvania. Families interested in areas that appear under-represented in the main book can check the “2024 Best Regional Colleges” list, which includes 245 schools not explored in the main part of the volume – including, among others, five in Kansas and two in Idaho.

     Students who do have a pretty good idea of their preferred course of study will do better at the start of the book than at the end: they can consult the “Great Schools” lists for majors from A (accounting, agriculture) to P (political science, psychology). These lists make good starting points for more-in-depth study of the focuses on individual colleges within the main portion of the book. Another section definitely worth consulting is the back-of-book “Index of Schools by Tuition,” which may be eye-opening for some and an excellent means of narrowing choices for others.

     Every edition of The Best However Many Colleges We Are Listing This Year (well, that’s what it should be called) offers multiple ways to sort and use the data provided so exhaustively (and, for readers, potentially enhaustingly). Like its predecessors, The Best 389 Colleges, 2024 is most aptly seen as a starting point, a chance to understand the expectations of the colleges it includes and, based on that understanding, either to select some to which to apply – or to decide to look into the thousands that it does not include. The book will be most useful for students and families that want to focus on the specific colleges it profiles but are able to keep in mind that there is nothing sacrosanct about the schools included here.


Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 29; Stockhausen: Klavierstück X. Marc Ponthus, piano. Bridge Records. $16.99.

Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 13; Adagio in B minor, K. 540; Variations on “Unser dummer Pöbel meint,” K. 455; C.P.E. Bach: Twelve Variations on “Les Folies d’Espagne”; Rondo in C, H. 260; J.C. Bach: Harpsichord Sonata in A, Op. 17, No. 5; Clementi: Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 13, No. 6. Anna Khomichko, piano. Genuin. $16.

     The magnificent effrontery of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 29 is scarcely encompassed by calling it the Hammerklavier, since the composer gave that title to No. 28 as well. Rather, it is the sheer scale of the work and its monumental technical difficulties – as well as its decidedly peculiar proportions – that give listeners pause, even today, when the work is quite well-known. How much greater and more intense the reactions must have been to the sonata when Franz Liszt first performed it in 1836, nearly a decade after Beethoven’s death and 18 years after the work was written, can only be surmised from reviews of the recital (including a famous one by Berlioz) and assumptions about audience taste in that time period. Or perhaps there is another way to get at the intensity of response provoked by this Beethoven sonata: by presenting 21st-century listeners with a different extended piano work that requires a kind of aural expansion, the sort of thing that George Ives meant decades later when he told his son Charles, “You’ve got to learn to stretch your ears.” Whether or not this sort of thinking underlies the Bridge Records recording pairing Beethoven’s sonata with Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Klavierstück X, it certainly could be the rationale for this fascinating release. Marc Ponthus sounds as if he is attacking the music, regarding it as an edifice to be conquered and, through conquest, explored in detail. He performs the Beethoven with unrelenting speed and power, producing a reading that get through the sonata in barely 40 minutes – significantly more quickly than is the norm. Yet the music feels not so much rushed as relentless, unstoppable in its communicative strength. The potency of the opening movement and speed of the tiny second (only two-and-a-half minutes here) combine with an effect that contrasts to an extreme degree with the expansive Adagio sostenuto, which is speedy in clock time (some performers take 50% longer to play it) but never seems hasty or unemotional. Ponthus then handles the finale as a genuine capstone, its mighty fugue’s dissonances brought to the fore as if the pianist wants to emphasize just how forward-looking this sonata was in its time. And in some ways it does look forward to the 10th of the 19 Klavierstücke by Stockhausen (1928-2007). For example, the Stockhausen begins with a descending third (although it quickly moves into other organizational methods); Beethoven’s Sonata No. 29 uses a descending third (major or minor) as an organizational principle throughout. It is easy, however, to overdo the seeking of parallels between the pieces, since Ponthus’ pairing of them is as much (if not more) about contrast as about hints of similarity. Stockhausen’s work, more than half a century after it was completed in 1961, remains very difficult to listen to and can be aurally unpleasant even for audiences now quite familiar with atonality, tone clusters, and the other elements employed by Stockhausen to produce the effects he sought. Interestingly, one important element of Klavierstück X is the use of pedaling to shape the sound world of the piece – and Beethoven, in Sonata No. 29, also used pedaling (specifically, extensive use of the una corda pedal) to produce the effects that he sought. Ponthus’ intensity in Klavierstück X is as great as in the Beethoven, with the pianist tossing about the note cascades, highly varied dynamics, different forms of attack, and other characteristics of the piece with abandon. The whole thing is splendid in its own way – but it has to be said that it is also rather strange. It is impossible to equate or even approximate the effect of Stockhausen’s work today with that of Beethoven’s sonata in the 1830s, although trying to do this is a somewhat salutary experience. What Ponthus does in pairing these pieces is enormously impressive, and his handling of the two large-scale works is thoughtful and technically first-rate. There remains, however, the whiff of the exceedingly odd about the entire CD: it is far from easy to listen to the recording, in which the Stockhausen precedes the Beethoven, from start to finish – the newer composer’s aura produces an intriguing but not entirely appropriate overhang once Beethoven’s sonata begins. As knowing and intricate as Ponthus’ performances are, the CD as a whole is ultimately more satisfying intellectually than emotionally. It is, however, quite an experience.

     If the Ponthus disc seeks comparison and contrast, a recent Genuin release featuring Anna Khomichko has a different reason for mixing disparate works. Khomichko seeks context – a sense of the ways in which Mozart, for all his genius, was part and parcel of an active and very attractive musical scene in Europe: Mozart was influenced by it, and he in turn influenced other composers of his time. Khomichko’s way with Mozart is one of poise and delicacy balanced with seriousness: the B-flat sonata K. 333 has considerable warmth and elegant style; the later B minor Adagio is thoughtful and quietly melancholic; and the deservedly popular variations on a theme from a Gluck opera retain their underlying marchlike elements in a performance distinguished by the pianist’s close attention to rhythmic changes. Khomichko actually builds up to the Mozart works, in the sense that she places them last on the CD – after offering pieces by his contemporaries. Two of the sons of “old Bach” were among the most-influential composers of Mozart’s time, and Khomichko performs works by both. The variations on a theme by Marin Marais, by C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788), contrast interestingly with Mozart’s handling of Gluck’s tune, being more delicate and less virtuosic. Similarly, the C.P.E. Bach rondo heard here is well-made and nicely decorated in what is almost but not quite Baroque style. The two-movement harpsichord sonata by J.C. Bach (1735-1782) is too slight to be fully effective on the piano, but Khomichko handles its extensive ornamentation well and avoids overwhelming its essentially simple lines with pianistic flourishes or too much pedal. The three-movement sonata by Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), who remains underrated as a composer despite the high regard in which he is held as a publisher and piano manufacturer, opens with a darker and more strongly felt Allegro agitato than might be expected, moves to a tearful (if scarcely profound) Largo e sostenuto, and concludes with an intriguing Presto that blends intensity with an almost bucolic sensibility – all in all, a most interesting work, and one that contrasts quite effectively with Mozart’s K. 333. Khomichko nimbly explores the differences among these composers while retaining an overall sensitivity to the mid-18th-century style that they all share, albeit with a few twists and turns along the way. In addition to offering some very enjoyable Mozart performances, the disc does a fine job of contextualizing Mozart without in any way diminishing his genius or the uniqueness of his piano music.


Harry Ore: Piano Works based on Eastern and Latvian Folk Tunes. Zhaoyi Long, piano. MSR Classics. $14.95.

Villa-Lobos: Valsa da dor for solo piano; João de Souza Lima: Chorinho for viola and piano; Osvaldo Lacerda: Appassionato, Cantilena, e Toccata for viola and piano; Ernani Aguiar: Meloritmas No. 5 for solo viola; Lindembergue Cardoso: Pequeno Estudio for solo viola; Brenno Blauth: Sonata for viola and piano; Chiquinha Gonzaga: Lua branca from the operetta “O Forrobodó.” Georgina Isabel Rossi, viola; Silvie Cheng, piano. Navona. $14.99.

Britten: Eight Folksong Arrangements for High Voice and Harp; Vaughan Williams: Along the Field; Ivor Gurney: Five Elizabethan Songs; Roger Quilter: Four Songs, Op. 14; Gerald Finzi: Let Us Garlands Bring, Op. 18. Scott Robert Shaw, tenor; Emilie Bastens, harp; Eva de Vries, violin; Luba Podgayskaya, William Drakett, and James Williams, piano. Divine Art. $18.99.

     Composers can carry listeners to pretty much any geographic area. They do not have to visit the locations themselves to do so if they study and absorb a region’s music and culture and then incorporate them into their own compositional creations. There are nowadays all sorts of overdone worries about “cultural appropriation” in such circumstances, as if only people from a particular place can create and/or perform music from or associated with that place. But again and again, audiences worldwide are enriched by exposure to music from regions with which they may not be familiar – and it is at best an academic point to argue, for example, whether Brahms or Bartók is a “better” composer when it comes to the use of Hungarian melodies and rhythms. Thus, it will hopefully be possible to enjoy the piano works of Harry Ore (1885-1972) on an MSR Classics CD without twisting oneself into knots wondering about levels of “authenticity” associated with them. Ore was Latvian, so the three pieces here that are derived from Latvian folk tunes draw on his own background. First Rhapsody and Second Rhapsody are both variegated works with nicely contrasting sections that range from the bright and dancelike to the more-serious and often surprisingly dissonant. The third Latvian-derived piece, Two Bagatelles, neatly contrasts a short and sweet Adagio cantabile with an even shorter, bright and very catchy Prestissimo. Zhaoyi Long plays all the works with enthusiasm and a particularly strong emphasis on their rhythmic intensity (sometimes, however, bordering on pounding the keyboard). But the Latvian material makes up less than half of this disc. The rest draws on Ore’s wide-ranging travel throughout the Orient – to China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and especially Hong Kong and Macau, where he eventually settled and lived for more than half a century. Long plays a fair selection of the music that Ore wrote based on the folk songs and melodies of these lands. South China Fantasy: The Lady and the Flowerseller, Op. 17, No. 1 has a clear Oriental cast to its tunes and rhythms, but its overall impression is that of a pleasant salon-like miniature. Five South Chinese Folksongs, Op. 17, No. 2 includes straightforwardly harmonized, rather foursquare presentations of the melodies, with the delicate scene-painting of The Autumnal Moon as Seen from a Palace and the amusing stop-and-start motion of The Hungry Horse Rings the Bell being especially attractive. Two Southern Chinese Melodies, Op. 18, are quite short and nicely contrasted, the impressionistic A Thunderstorm in Fair Weather seeming, however, to be more of a gentle spring shower. Macau Lullaby, Op. 19, is quite slow and quiet and lacks any real sense of exoticism within its tenderness. The most-interesting of these pieces is the four-movement Concert Suite Based on Oriental Music, Op. 23, whose movements draw, respectively, on Japan, South China, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Here Ore does a fine job of absorbing the nations’ varying musical elements and making them his own through arrangements that explore but do not exploit the sounds he encountered and lived with during his travels and residences. The overall impression of the CD is of pleasant, nicely played salon music with some unusual thematic, harmonic and rhythmic elements – nothing overly challenging to the ear, but a well-performed recital of not-quite-trifles that draw effectively on a variety of geographical and cultural sources.

     The specific source is Brazil for the music on a Navona disc featuring Georgina Isabel Rossi and Silvie Cheng – and that means, not surprisingly, the inclusion of a work by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959). But the solo-piano Valsa da dor is deliberately placed midway through the disc, as the fourth of seven pieces, so that the recording essentially revolves around its best-known composer but does not over-emphasize him. The five-and-a-half-minute piece itself is a nicely harmonized, rather melancholic dance that sways gently and does not rigidly adhere to any specific dance rhythm; Cheng plays it with good pacing and fluid rhythm. Villa-Lobos is the only composer on the CD who will likely be familiar to most listeners. The disc, which intermingles solo and dual-instrument pieces throughout, opens with Chorinho for viola and piano by João de Souza Lima (1898-1982). This is a well-proportioned duet in which the viola is more lyrical, the piano more acerbic. Next is Appassionato, Cantilena, e Toccata for viola and piano by Osvaldo Lacerda (1927-2011). The work’s three movements reflect their titles almost too precisely – not quite to the point of parody, but certainly to that of precision labeling. Then there is Meloritmas No. 5 for solo viola by Ernani Aguiar (born 1950). The piece’s three movements give Rossi ample opportunity to explore the sonic and expressive capabilities of her instrument and engage with sonorities that run the gamut from expressive to incisive. The Villa-Lobos solo-piano piece follows, after which there is Pequeno Estudio for solo viola by Lindembergue Cardoso (1939-1989). This proves to be a work that employs silence to the same extent as sound, and that engages more with string technique than with any particular attempt at audience connection. In contrast, Sonata for viola and piano by Brenno Blauth (1931-1993) is in traditional three-movement form and, while scarcely eschewing modern compositional elements, does seem designed to communicate with listeners while also giving the performers something of a workout in the outer movements – this and the Villa-Lobos piece are the most appealing on the disc. The CD concludes with a two-minute encore in the form of an operetta excerpt called Lua branca, by Chiquinha Gonzaga (1847-1936) – arranged by the performers. It has a stronger flavor of Brazil than anything else on the disc except for the Villa-Lobos item, and makes for a pleasant conclusion to a recording that gives some insight into Brazilian composers but less into the influence on them of Brazilian folk or indigenous material.

     The musical flavor is entirely British on a new Divine Art CD featuring tenor Scott Robert Shaw performing no fewer than 30 songs in five cycles, mostly folksong-inspired. Art song is always a specialty item, so it is no surprise that these works are not particularly well-known even though several of their composers certainly are. The disc opens, however, with some less-than-familiar material: Five Elizabethan Songs by Ivor Gurney (1890-1937). Shaw quickly establishes his bona fides with clear pronunciation, accurate accentuation, and warm expression that does not overdo vibrato – the straightforward declamation fits these settings well. The third and shortest song, Under the Greenwood Tree, with its bouncy piano introduction (played by Luba Podgayskaya), is especially pleasant. Each song cycle here gives Shaw a different accompanist. Gurney’s set is followed by Vaughan Williams’ Along the Field, which has eight parts, four of them lasting fewer than 90 seconds each; here the accompaniment is provided by violinist Eva de Vries. The voice-and-violin mixture produces an unusual sonority, and Vaughan Williams’ restraint in use of the instrument means that some of the songs are almost spoken, albeit with singsong delivery. The amount of dissonance in some songs, such as The Half-Moon Westers Low and The Sigh That Heaves the Grass, is somewhat surprising, although not out of keeping in works of this vintage (1927); and the use of the violin is quite nicely proportioned, from its near-absence in some songs to its importance in complementing the voice in Good-Bye and Fancy’s Knell. This cycle contrasts interestingly with Four Songs, Op. 14 by Roger Quilter (1877-1953). Here Shaw’s accompanist is pianist William Drakett, who is particularly sensitive to the scene-setting that is given over to his instrument. A kind of quiet melancholy pervades this cycle, and Shaw nicely conveys the sense of longing underlining the mood. Next on the disc is its most intriguing offering, Britten’s Eight Folksong Arrangements for High Voice and Harp, with Shaw accompanied by Emilie Bastens. Like Vaughan Williams in his voice-and-violin songs, Britten clearly intends the unusual instrumentation of this cycle to contribute significantly to its impact, and so it does: the gently lilting harp envelops the voice throughout without ever competing with it. The songs in which voice and harp seem to go in different directions (Lemady, Bird Scarer’s Song) are especially interesting, but those in which the harp plays an additive emotional role (I Was Lonely and Forlorn, David of the White Rock) are equally effective in a different way. The CD concludes with Let Us Garlands Bring, Op. 18 by Gerald Finzi (1901-1956); here the pianist is James Williams. The mood of these five songs is mostly on the dour side, although Who Is Sylvia and O Mistress Mine, the shortest song settings, offer at least a degree of bright contrast. There is enough similarity among most of the cycles to make this disc a treat for aficionados of folksong-based art song and interpretations in general, and 20th-century British music in particular. Listeners who enjoy the chance to be immersed in this nation’s folk material and this compositional time period will be more than pleased by the disc – and although that means the CD will have only limited appeal, it also indicates that it will be accepted enthusiastically by members of that specific audience.