Concert: Desert Island Songs

St Peter’s, Sudbury
Sunday, October 25 2009
7.30 pm

Desert Island Songs

an Entertaining Collection
of Personal Favourites
sung by
Stephen Varcoe
Christina Lawrie
at the piano

Aided, Abetted and Compèred by
Andrew Phillips

Tickets £10 reserved, £8 unreserved
available from Compact Music, Sudbury,
or, with SAE, from
Roger Green, 62 Friars Street, Sudbury,
CO10 2AG

Singing Workshop at Ansells, September 2009

Our forthcoming Song Day, September 26th, entitled ‘Sun, Moon & Stars’ is already fully subscribed. However, if anyone is interested, please email to put your name on our waiting list, and of course, receive notification about future dates.

The next singing workshop will be in November, and details will be posted here as soon as they are available.

Ansells Music Weekend June 26-28th 2009

“We had the most wonderful time!”

Workshop at AnsellsAs many of you experienced for yourselves, our first venture into the world of the music festival turned out to be a tremendous success; a magical feast of music, food and wine, with the weather miraculously on our side throughout, which meant that the theme of Summer Songs was in tune with everyone’s mood. It may have been hard work on the part of the singing-students, certainly, who took part in intensive master-classes led by Stephen Varcoe, with Susi Morrow at the piano. But in the relaxed, informal atmosphere of Ansells Barn, which proved an ideal setting for classes and concerts alike, there was an air of enjoyment and conviviality too.

Food at Ansells!The weekend opened on Friday with an evening programme of music and words, ‘Up the Garden Path’, presented by Stephen with Caroline Holmes. Christina Lawrie accompanied the songs, and played some mouth-watering piano pieces in the same summer garden spirit. Songs and readings ranged from Noel Coward to The Song of Solomon, with all stations in between – great fun, and much appreciated by, we suspect, a fairly knowledgeable gardening audience…

After a day of workshops for the students, Saturday was rounded off by Andrew Marsden’s superb exploration of performances by the great singers of yesteryear, and what an inspiration these old masters of song were! It was utterly fascinating to admire differences and similarities in style and material over more than a hundred years of recording, and to see images of these vanished icons too.

Freshly baked treatsAfter a morning study-session on Sunday, our seven students presented a programme comprising some of the songs on which they’d been working with Stephen. This delightful afternoon concert (during which the performers’ composure was briefly challenged by a power cut) was followed by scrumptious homemade cakes and tea in the June sunshine, while the roses and pansies bloomed around us and the swallows flitted in and out of the barn where their young joined in the singing! It was idyllic, and we were glad so many local folk chose to join us for all or some of the events on offer. Heroic quantities of delicious food were prepared by Melinda for the participants, and the Music at Ansells team proved efficient and discreet wine-waiters to the concert-goers.

For those of you who missed the weekend, don’t despair – plans are already afoot for next summer, after unanimously positive feedback from both participants and audiences.

We’ll keep you posted!


Vaughan Williams – Singing the Story


Youth & Love

Let us Garlands Bring

Box Office: 020 7222 1061


Stephen Varcoe, who is widely admired as an exponent of English song, has devised two programmes based around VW’s long and fascinating life. He is joined by James Gilchrist, one of England’s leading tenors, and by pianist and Grainger expert, Penelope Thwaites. They will include songs by some composers seldom heard – Max Bruch, for instance; Michael Mullinar, Gordon Jacob, Elizabeth Maconchy, Denis Browne, Charles Wood, Thomas Dunhill – as well as those great figures of English music, Parry, Stanford and Elgar, and not forgetting Ravel and VW’s great friend Holst. Armstrong Gibbs, Butterworth, Finzi, Ireland and Grainger will also feature.

As for VW himself : there are the two great works On Wenlock Edge and Songs of Travel which form the major focus of the two programmes. There will be folksong settings, some of The House of Life, and songs from the operas. All of this will be knitted together with a narrative about aspects of the great man, and anecdotes from him and his friends. A highly entertaining pair of evenings, giving a picture of the variety and broadness of VW’s achievement.

More on Vancouver Song Institute

Vancouver was a great success, and a tribute to the organistaion of Rena Sharon and all her team. It was most enjoyable not only giving classes and lectures, but going to others given by Graham Johnson and Susan Youens in particular. My recital with Graham wasn’t designed to be especially long, but we decided to embellish it with some dialogue from the stage, and as a result it went on for at least half an hour longer. Never mind, the listeners seemed pleased to get their money’s worth.

September workshop at Ansells

Our Ansells Song Day on September 15th, which will look at how to build a programme, is fully booked. The last time we had a day like this we were amazed at people’s resourcefulness in finding connections between songs which at first sight seemed to belong to different worlds. This time I’m prepared to be astonished.

Vancouver International Song Institute

On June 19 I fly out to Vancouver for the VISI extravaganza on English song. I shall be giving a recital with Graham Johnson on June 22, then a series of masterclasses and talks alongside other performers and academics, finishing on June 27. It’s wonderful that such interest is being shown in this important but neglected field.


As well as providing a chapter on European Art Song for the Cambridge Companion to Singing, Stephen has written an acclaimed work on the interpretation of English song – Sing English Song. There have long been books on German Lieder and French Mélodies, and it was Pierre Bernac’s Interpretation of French Song which prompted him to create something similar for the English repertoire.

Stephen passionately believes that for the English-speaking singer the best approach to gaining experience in singing with intelligence and understanding is to start with one’s native language. Two of the problems for the young singer, namely the pronunciation and meaning of a foreign text, are immediately removed. Quite apart from this eminently practical purpose, there is the quality of the songs themselves, many of which stand comparison with their French and German counterparts. The book is mainly aimed at British students who might otherwise not be encouraged to explore their own musical heritage, but will also appeal to foreign singers who are interested to develop their knowledge of the language and the music.

Some reviews:

‘…a helpful guide, giving insight into the genre for advanced students and performers alike.’ – Sheet Music

‘…a wonderfully thought-provoking book which will in fact encourage singers to re-examine their approach to any music, not just that by English composers.’ – Classical Music

‘Stephen Varcoe has produced a valuable book, Sing English Song, outlining just how we shape our elusive tongue.’ – The Independent

‘Stephen Varcoe’s approach reflects both the practical experience accumulated during his distinguished career as a singer, and the serious thought he has given to the theoretical underpinnings of his art and craft. Quite apart from the valuable things it has to say, the book makes a most enjoyable read; Stephen Varcoe is a natural writer, and this is one of those books where by the end you feel that you know the author well and would get on with them if ever you met them.’ The English Poetry and Song Society Newsletter

CD Reviews

Stanford songs volume 1:

‘Sung with exceptional sensitivity and intelligence…a pleasure to listen to’ (Gramophone)

‘Warmly recommended’ (Classic CD)

‘No praise can be too high for Stephen Varcoe…his warm, natural baritone, finely judged legato and sensitivity to words are a joy throuhgout’ (International Record Review)

Stanford songs volume 2:

‘Stephen Varcoe is the perfect singer for this repertoire. A treasure of a disc’ (Fanfare)

‘Maintains in each and every bar the high standards of the previous release’ (BBC Music Magazine)

‘Beautifully performed with excellent notes, this recording will convince even the skeptical of the true worth of these songs…a most sensitive performance’ (Gramophone)

‘This collection, along with its predecessor, has changed my life. Without any question, it contains some magnificent songs, settings that would grace any company under the sun…voice and piano are in true partnership. I can only salute with deepest admiration Stephen Varcoe’s sterling baritone, so utterly sympathetic to Stanford’s every note, so undemonstratively secure, so responsive to word and musical line’ (International Record Review)

Parry songs:

‘Une heure d’absolu ravissement’ (Diapason)

Fauré songs:

‘The immaculate voice of Stephen Varcoe singing the four songs of Mirages’ (Music Web International)

Grainger vol 2: songs for baritone – Chandos:

Stephen Varcoe’s nothing less than a marvel. The intonation is dead-on true, the tone clear, the diction immaculate. He phrases sound as supple as a great pop singer, like Bennett, Sinatra, Tormé, or Astaire. He has no annoying vocal mannerisms to snatch attention from the music. He sings superbly even in dialect. Even more wonderful, he has solved the chief problem of a singer of songs: that of “naturalness.” He communicates. He knows what the texts are about and can convey them to the listener. He’s a singing story-teller. I’d love to hear a Winterreise from him, or a Fauré recital. [Classical Net – Steve Schwarz]

Armstrong Gibbs songs – Hyperion

Stephen Varcoe has a perfect song-singer’s voice; not only is the tone blessed with a warmly resonant character that can carry almost any melody, but behind it is a steadiness and strength of sound and sureness of delivery that seems effortless. His upper-register singing is lovely, and he sparingly employs falsetto to delightful effect. [Classics Today – David Vernier]