Greensleeves Suite (1993)
Richard Balcombe (b. 1955)
Robert Truman, solo cello
The four ancient folk melodies heard in this music come from a 19th century volume of "Old English Ditties", subtitled Popular Music of the Olden Time. From the many airs and ballads contained therein, Greensleeves one of the most celebrated of all English folk-tunes, both opens and closes in this short suite. Greensleeves dates from around 1580, and has been made especially famous in our own time by the popular Fantasia of Ralph Vaughan Williams.
This familiar melody is followed by something rather less well-known, To the Maypole Haste Away - "Come, ye young men, come along, with your music, dance and song" - a spirited tune from Elizabethan times. It was a Lover and His Lass, from Shakespeare's As You Like It, was first printed in 1600, and is heard here on the plucked strings of the entire cello ensemble - an effect which brings to mind a gigantic guitar, or the pizzicato Scherzo of Tchaicovsky's Fourth Symphony.
Next comes the poignantly nostalgic melody of The Oak and the Ash and the Bonny Ivy-Tree, in which a young girl in London is pining for her home in the North of England. The use of the solo cello, high over softly-held chords, ideally captures the plaintive nature of the song.
The suite concludes with a full-voiced reprise of Greensleeves, and a tiny coda adds an unexpected harmonic "twist" to the melody before coming to rest on an affecting, sustained chord.
(c) Edward Johnson