Clara Sanabras - The New Irish Girl - The Consort

This is a delightful collection of Irish and English folk songs performed by the Catalan soprano Clara Sanbras and lutenist William Carter. This is a difficult repertoire to pull off, even if it is aimed at the early music crossover market rather than at lovers of folk music, as this CD seems to be. If, as some think, many of these songs are in their most natural state when sung unaccompanied by an untrained voice, the trick in any arrangement by performers with the amount of training that Sanabras and Carter boast in the accompanying notes, is to get the balance right. The vocal style needs to sound neither constrained by over training, nor like a trained voice trying to sound untrained (which is probably worse). Likewise, accompaniments need to be neither cloyingly banal nor so sophisticated that they might have been written for a completely different song.

Sanabras sings with a clear, passionate tone and almost flawless intonation. Her straightforward approach to the songs, coupled with Carter's subtle, intricate yet sympathetic accompaniments, produce beautiful performances that demonstrate a deep understanding of the music. Clara's ability to move the emotions is clearly demonstrated in that much-loved song She Moved Through the Fair, whose unaccompanied first verse is so movingly sung that I almost resented the intrusion of the lute at the beginning of the second verse. I needn't have worried, however, as the simple chordal accompaniments, laced with a few tasteful embellishments, provides solid support for the vocal line without being distracting.

The performances are beautifully paced: the melody lines are never rushed and the text is allowed the time to speak for itself; the lute accompaniments breathe with the singer. Diction is always clear, and no attempt is made to adopt an Irish accent. Clara even bravely tackles a couple of songs in Irsih Gaelic. She lightly peppers her vocal lines with sprightly ornaments and gracings, but they seem to grow organically from the songs and are rarely forced or ostentatious.

The selection has been carefully chosen for Clara's voice, and they are all fine songs with great melodies. They include such familiar songs as The Three Ravens, Green Bushes, my favourite version of The Jug of Punch and a heart-wrenching version of Lord Rendal, as well as some new to me such as the Sussex song I Must Live All Alone. These are interspersed with delicate and virtuosic lute solos from William Carter.

The Consort
01 June 2002