Michael William Balfe Songs and Ballads Silver BonyngeMichael William Balfe
Songs and Ballads Rediscovered

Sally Silver, soprano
Richard Bonynge, piano

Guild, 2011


The talent of William Michael Balfe as a composer of songs and ballads has been underestimated and rarely happens that someone recognizes the depth and care with which he designs their musical texture. During his career lasted forty years, Balfe wrote more than two hundred and fifty songs and demonstrated to be much more sensitive than many of his contemporaries for the sharp attention he devoted to every single word of the poems, even if sometimes he did not renounce to alter their forms.

The main reason why this recording of Balfe’s ballads and songs has come to light is that finally Richard Bonynge has noticed the beauty of his forgotten works. Bonynge has always been interested in the songs and ballads of the XIX century and, as a keen collector of old scores, he proposes in Songs and Ballads Rediscovered some of his treasures, sung by soprano Sally Silver.

The association of Silver and Bonynge is very well established and strong. They did not collaborate on this occasion only, but recorded together an album of songs by another Irish composer, William Vincent Wallace, and Silver sang under Bonynge’s baton in Balfe’s opera Satanella.

Silver is a fine and charming singer. Her voice has not a beautiful colour in the middle register, but the high register is bright and firm and her heartfelt interpretation of the songs gives them a touch of grace and irony. I have to confess anyway that I have preferred her in Satanella, where I found her singing definitely more homogenous (some attacks of the presents recording are too vehement and slightly spoils her interpretation). This last observation does not trouble me because the opera was recorded five years after this Songs and Ballads and her best achievement there is nothing but a natural progress.

Bonynge is an accomplished pianist and I think that sometimes he has been underestimated in this regard. In this recording as elsewhere, he provides the singer with a thoughtful and brilliant accompaniment and, at the same time, he endows Balfe’s music with a peculiar, lively sound. Bonynge’s love for this repertoire is immediately revealed, along with his competence and intelligence. I cannot but praise his achievement.

The strict collaboration and the unity of ideals between pianist and singer give as a result many beautiful pieces as the witty I’m a merry Zingara, the dreamy Killarney, the vocative The green trees whispered and many other delightful songs where it becomes easy to appreciate Balfe’s style and spirit. The recording is not the best ever because of Silver’s slight defects, but it is enjoyable and even amusing, if you look at the positive sides.