No Exceptions No Exemptions


A song recital which commemorates World War One brings to mind works by the poets and composers who fought valiantly for their country. But the affliction of the War was not restricted to the battlefields. As well as those who fought, there were those interned, those who stayed to defend their home, and those who were forced from their homes by the advancing armies.

This recital draws its inspiration from those lives upturned by the Great War, whether friend or foe, soldier or civilian. Some survived the conflict to produce great catalogues of works. Others never made it home, penning their final songs in the mud of the trenches.

Alongside established works, this recital programme introduces some little known songs to portray the humanity of those caught up in the torrent of The Great War.

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What people are saying

"If you are looking for an interesting musical insight into the First World War then this is for you. But it is also a fine recital from a pair of talented artists." Planet Hugill

"Recording companies usually love anniversaries, though the big conglomerates seem to be turning a blind eye to the commemorations of the First World War. The rising Irish tenor Robin Tritschler is a different matter … songs variously familiar, unknown, tender and belligerent, projected with an emotional force always appropriate to the material." The Times

"This is an admirable and stimulating musical commemoration of the Great War, valuable not least for the way it shines light on some lesser-known composers and songs. I’ve found listening to it a fascinating and rewarding experience." Musicweb International, John Quinn

"there are many gems, both moving and lyrical. " The Daily Telegraph, November 2014 

Robin Tritschler tenor
Malcolm Martineau piano

Release date:10th Nov 2014
Order code:SIGCD401
Barcode: 635212040126

This year that begins our centenary commemorations of the First World War has seen a few worthwhile musical contributions to that story, but this is probably the best that has come my way. The first great strength of No Exceptions, No Exemptions is its programming: it’s a very well chosen set of songs that comes from either composers or poets who were connected in some way with the war. Its strength and variety puts me in mind of Anna Prohaska’s excellent recital disc, also from this year, Behind the Lines (which I referenced when I heard her do the same programme at the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival).
The featured composers range from footnotes in the history of the war (such as Albéric Magnard, who died in 1914 while defending his property from Germans who were trying to seize it) through to those who were interned on German soil (Keel, Bainton and Dale who were interned at Ruhleben in Berlin) or, most poignantly, those who were killed in action. That last category includes famous names like Butterworth, but also those I had never come across, such as Ernest Farrar, William Denis Browne or, poignantly, the German composer Rudi Stephan who was shot by a Russian sniper in Galicia. Stephan’s cycle, Ich will dir singe nein Hohelied, is beautiful, poignant, almost Mahlerian in quality. Its inclusion here fills the listener with regret, not only for his life, lost in 1915, but for the lives of so many other artists, killed in the war, who never got the chance to attain greatness. As with them, so with countless others. It’s a fine tribute, and whoever assembled the programme — Tritschler himself, presumably, though the notes give no details — has done us all a service in doing so.
After the programming, though, the disc’s second great attribute is the performances, which are moving and poignant throughout. Tritschler is an extremely humane guide through this often tragic scene. While he carries the bluster of Le Rhin Allemand, it is the poignancy of the final verse that sticks with you the most. There is an appropriately ghostly quality to his voice at the opening of Prokofiev’s Trust Me and the delicacy of his tenor fits the mood of Delius’ To Daffodils very well. Equally, there is quiet nobility to his singing of Cecil Coles and disarming simplicity to Farrar’s Brittany. The sequence from William Denis Browne is full of the freshness of discovery, and I loved Kelly’s setting of Shall I Compare Thee, with its earnest longing and intense concentration, which Tritschler encompasses with appropriate ardour.
I also enjoyed the Ruhleben songs that open the second disc. It’s remarkable how many moods they range across, from songs appropriate to their sombre place of origin through to a bizarrely perky setting of Shakespeare’s O Mistress Mine. However, we are in much darker territory for Debussy’s Noël, a setting of the composer’s own dark text about the dispossessed civilians of the war. This is, arguably, where both Tritschler and Martineau are at their most successful in bringing the text to life. Martineau’s unnervingly agitated piano line is met by Tritshchler’s haunted voice. Michael Head’s two songs are very beautiful, both concealing dark suggestions behind a seemingly plain-speaking vocal line and beautiful melody. I found Vellones’ Letter very moving, both in its music and the touching subject matter of its text, and Gurney’s In Flanders resonates with the genuine feeling of loss and longing, as does Caplet’s brief song expressing his longing for his village. The recital ends appropriately with Ives’ great setting of MacCrae’s In Flanders Field, which Tritschler approaches with great dignity and purpose leading to the entreaty of the final verse. This Martineau meets with suitable focus, hanging tellingly on the final dissonances which close the song, and the recital, on an unsettling question mark.
The booklet notes are useful and focused, and are written by Tritschler himself, another string to his bow. Irritating, though, is the booklet’s printing of the translations below the original language, rather than in parallel. This is often a feature of Signum’s vocal releases, and is surely avoidable, as parallel translations would take up little more space and would make following the recital a lot easier on the listener’s eye. Don’t let that put you off exploring this important release, though. It is of interest far beyond the historical.

Simon Thompson, Musicweb International

"Recording companies usually love anniversaries, though the big conglomerates seem to be turning a blind eye to the commemorations of the First World War. The rising Irish tenor Robin Tritschler is a different matter. Armed with Malcolm Martineau as his accompanist, he throws himself into his thoughtful recital No Exceptions No Exemptions with winning dedication. Butterworth and his colleagues are duly featured, but also songs from Prokofiev, Debussy, Ives and the German war victim Rudi Stephan: songs variously familiar, unknown, tender and belligerent, projected with an emotional force always appropriate to the material.

Tritschler’s voice has an unusual kink: depending on his register or volume he can seem like two different singers, one with a shiny edge to his tone, the other roundly mellow. It’s initially disconcerting, but he’s worth attention in either mode. His booklet notes are worth reading too, as the programme’s focus shifts from songs reflecting battlefront experiences to songs nurtured in prison camps and the shattered comforts of home.

The Times, Geoff Brown

This timely recital includes songs by those, more or less obscure, who fell young in the First World War – George Butterworth, Albéric Magnard, Rudi Stephan, William Denis Browne and others – and by those who survived, were imprisoned or were otherwise affected by that shameful conflict. The gifted tenor Robin Tritschler’s singing is nuanced sensitively, while the pianist Malcolm Martineau is, as always, an astute partner. 

The Sunday Times, Stephen Pettit

A programme of songs by first world war poets and composers can yield a wide-ranging picture of the time. Tenor Robin Tritschler offers a full-length recital (two discs, 85 minutes) that embraces composers of all the major nations that took part, from Delius to Debussy, Ives to Prokofiev. More colours would have been nice in the singing but Tritschler is communicative in the English-language songs and his imaginative reach extends to largely forgotten composers such as William Denis Browne, Benjamin Dale, Rudi Stephan and Pierre Vellones.

Financial Times

Andrew McGregor: No Exceptions No Exemptions. That’s the powerfully resonant title of tenor Robin Tritschler’s recital of songs from the Great War with pianist Malcolm Martineau. Its range and reach is pretty impressive, seeking context not just in songs about the war but the lives turned upside down by it, from composers and poets of many stripes, who lived through it – or in many cases, didn’t survive it. They start with Alberic Magnard, who was shot defending his house from invading German soldiers. Then comes George Butterworth’s ‘On the idle hill of summer’ from Haussmann’s ‘A Shropshire Lad’, describing the tramp of the armies heading to war and, like Butterworth himself, to death in the trenches. After this I didn’t expect Prokofiev, who evaded conscription in 1918 by re-enrolling at the St Petersberg conservatory apparently. ‘Trust me, and I will take you along a woodland path to a temple of divine beauty’ – but before the Prokofiev, Hausmann’s drums and Butterworth’s music call the marching armies to war.


… Robin Tritschler in wonderfully eloquent form, showcasing a wide range of timbre and expression in these 32 songs from Delius and Debussy… Caplet to Cecil Coles, Earnest Farrar and Arthur Bliss – and he ends with Charles Ives’s ‘In Flanders Field’. The recital is excellently researched, cleverly sequenced, very well annotated, with moving performances from Tritscher and pianist Malcolm Martineau. This is definitely one of my favourite newcomers for the First World War centenary… It’s on two discs at mid- price from Signum Classics.

BBC Radio 3 CD Review, Andrew McGregor

This compendium of mostly little-known songs written in the First World War era is largely by composers who fought or fell in the conflict. Although it includes examples of the English pastoral mode (Butterworth and Gurney), it is more interesting for its exploration of music emanating from France, Russia, Germany and the US – particularly a remarkable cycle, Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied by Rudi Stephan, a German composer who died on the Ukranian front. Between Alberic Magnards Le Rhin allemand and Charles Ives’s In Flanders Fields there are many gems, both moving and lyrical. 

Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph

I have to confess, when I first saw this CD my heart sank; a disc of First World War Songs seemed a rather too hackneyed prospect. But this new disc from Robin Tritschler and Malcolm Martineau on Signum Classics is definitely one to gladden the heart. Tritschler and Martineau devote their recital to composers who took part in the First World War. 

The result is a remarkable programme which combines the known and the unknown in highly seductive performances. The songs are rarely about war directly, instead we have a varied sequence of side tangents full of joy, desire and melancholy. The list of composers makes remarkable reading, Alberic Magnard, George Butterworth, Sergei Prokofief, Frederick Delius, Rudi Stephan, Cecil Coles, Ernest Farrar, Darius Milhaud, William Denis Browne, Frederick Kelly, Frederick Keel, Edgar Bainton, Benjamin Dale, Claude Debussy, Michael Head, Albert Roussel, Piere Vallanes, Arthur Bliss, Ivor Gurney, Andrew Caplet and Charles Ives. 

The first disc, At the Front, covers composers who were actually fighting in the trenches which means that of the 10 composers, 7 died during the war. The selection includes composers from all major combatants British composers, plus Frenchmen like Alberic Magnard who died whilst defending his property from the Germans and Rudi Stephen, a German who was killed by a Russian sniper on the Galician Front. The only exception is Prokofiev who seems to have endeavoured not to get involved!

The songs are sung in an imaginative order so that Butterworth’s glorious On the idle hill of summer is followed by Prokofiev’s Trust me, Rudi Stephan’s cycle Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied by Cecil Coles, and Milaud rubs shoulders with Ernest Farrar and  William Denis Browne. Inevitably not all the composers all well known. Some have a very small output, but the work of Rudi Stephan was a major discovery for me.

The second disc is divided into sections which cover those who participated but did not fight, including those such as James Frederick Keel, Edgar Bainton and Benjamin Dale who were interned in Ruhleben Camp, those who were forced to stay at home such as Debussy and Michael Head, and those who did return albeit changed such as Arthur Bliss, Ivor Gurney and Andre Caplet.

And it isn’t only composers who died in the war, there were librettists too such as Francis Ledwige, whose poems were set by Michael Head. 

Assembling a recital like this, it would have been fatally easy to give us an almost exclusive diet of music by doomed English youth, a sort of echo of Lambert’s ‘cow-pat’ school but instead Tritschler and Martineau show that the songs are richer and that the influences of continental composers can be detected in the English ones.

As well full texts and translations, the CD booklet includes a long and informative article by Robin Tritschler which introduces the composers and the works and the way they fit into the First World War.

Partly, the recital works so well because Tritschler and Martineau perform the songs so beautifully. Tritschler finds a lovely wide range of colours in his voice, from the incisively dramatic to the highly seductive. He has a very beautiful voice, but certainly does not coast through quite the opposite in fact. Throughout Tritschler is accompanied by Martineau in a stylish manner, in fact he is more of a partner.

If you are looking for an interesting musical insight into the First World War then this is for you. But it is also a fine recital from a pair of talented artists.

Planet Hugill, Robert Hugill

In the course of 2014 I’ve attended two recitals that were outstanding in their planning and their execution, both of which commemorated the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. Both were given by baritones: Christopher Maltman (review) and Roderick Williams (review). I do hope that one – or, preferably, both – of these fine singers might be invited to take their respective programmes into the recording studio. Happily, we have here one such programme, devised and sung by the young Irish tenor, Robin Tritschler.

I don’t know if Tritschler designed his programme, as Christopher Maltman did, to include music by composers from all the main combatant nations but that’s what has happened: he offers songs by English, French and German composers as well as one item each from Russia and the USA. Several of the composers who are represented here lost their lives during the conflict – of those whose date of death falls between 1914 and 1918 only Debussy was not a war casualty. Tritschler says in the booklet that the programme “draws its inspiration from those lives upturned by the Great War … Some survived the conflict to produce great catalogues of works. Others never made it home, penning their final songs in the mud of the trenches.” He adds that he restricted his selection of songs to those composed either during the war itself or in the years immediately preceding the conflict. Some of the poets whose words we hear set to music in these songs were also involved in the war. Tritschler provides brief notes on all the composers and poets. These are useful though it’s a pity that the composition dates of only a few of the songs are given: in a collection such as this that information would be invaluable.

Since so many of the songs may be unfamiliar it’s hard to know where to start. I think the best thing is to comment on the songs in the order in which they occur in the programme but I hope I’ll be forgiven if I leave out some of the better-known songs, such as the ones by Butterworth and Delius.

The song by Magnard was new to me. Though not a combatant he died in the first month of the conflict, defending his house against German soldiers. Le Rhin allemand is one of his Six poèmes, Op 3, which were composed, I believe, between 1898 and 1890. It’s perhaps an indication of Magnard’s patriotism that the text for this particular song is a poem prompted by the Rhine crisis of 1840. Also new to me was the Prokofiev song, written to a text by a poet friend. It’s quite a strange piece: the tempo is slow and the vocal line is almost entirely plangent and high-lying. The amount of dissonance in the piano part, though quietly stated, indicates that this is a relatively early composition.

The German composer, Rudi Stephan was killed in action in 1915. His music is becoming better known these days – there was a welcome and good performance of his 1912 Music for Orchestra at the 2014 Proms (review). There are or have been orchestral collections on Chandos and Schwann. I’d not previously heard any of his songs but I was impressed by Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied. This is a set of six songs to poems by Gerda von Robertus (1872-1939), composed, I understand in 1913-14. The title translates roughly as ‘I want to sing you a song’. The songs, which are mainly slow in tempo, are rewarding and very interesting with expressive vocal lines and intriguing harmonies in the piano part. They deserve to be better known, especially the last two; this recording should help their cause.

The British composer, Cecil Coles, was an almost exact contemporary of Stephan. Like many composers cut down in the war – George Butterworth being the prime British example – he left tantalisingly few compositions. His orchestral music was well served some years ago by Martyn Brabbins and Hyperion (review). He thoroughly deserves his place in this collection, though coming straight after the Stephan songs Elegy appears much less searching though the music hints that there would have been more and better to come had he been spared. I don’t think much of the poem that Ernest Farrar chose to set in Brittany but the music itself is gently touching.

It’s valuable to have a song by Darius Milhaud – a novelty, as far as I’m concerned. His slow, searching L’abandon is intriguing and also full of feeling. Several of the handful of songs composed by Denis Browne have become quite well known in recent years. It’s good to encounter no fewer than three of them here, though I wish his fine The Isle of Lost Dreams (1909?) had been included. To Gratiana Dancing and Singing (1913) is arguably his finest song and Tritschler sings it very well. The other two songs on his programme date from the previous year.

The second disc opens with an interesting sub-group of five songs written by British composers while they were in the internment camp that the Germans set up at Ruhleben to house allied non-combatants who were stranded in Germany at the start of the war. Frederick Keel is best known for his song, Trade Winds (1919). In Prison (1915) isn’t as memorable a song. The two Edgar Bainton songs are more interesting, especially Angel spirits of sleep. Benjamin Dale is represented by two Shakespeare settings. I was particularly taken with the lovely Come Away, Death which includes a husky viola obbligato.

We hear Debussy’s very last song, which dates from 1918; it gets a passionate performance here. Both of the Michael Head settings are fine examples of his craft. Tritschler is very effective in both and I particularly appreciated the way he floats the poetic line of The ships of Arcady. Roussel’s Light was previously unknown to me but I liked it and I admired the expertly controlled performance. At least I’ve heard music by Roussel before, if not this particular piece; however, not just the music but also the name of Pierre Vellones was completely new to me. I learned from the notes that he was a friend of many musicians, including Ravel and Roussel but that his father persuaded him to pursue a career in medicine rather than in music. Lettre du Front dates from 1916 and it’s an eloquent song which is sung with fine feeling by Tritschler.

The two songs by André Caplet are fairly rare, I think, but I’ve encountered them before. They’re included on an excellent and thoughtful disc of Great War songs recorded by the late Philip Langridge with David Owen-Norris under the title Priez pour paix (Prelude CDPR 2550). Tritschler is a persuasive advocate for them. He finishes, perhaps provocatively, with In Flanders Fields by Charles Ives. It seems to me that Ives’s deliberately vulgar and sardonic style sits rather oddly with John McRae’s poignant words but that’s a purely personal view which probably isn’t universally shared.

Robin Tritschler has put together an uncommonly thoughtful and enterprising programme. But he’s done more than that because he’s also executed the programme extremely well. I enjoyed his singing very much and I particularly admired the consistent clarity of both his tone and diction. At every turn he’s partnered expertly and perceptively by Malcolm Martineau. This is an admirable and stimulating musical commemoration of the Great War, valuable not least for the way it shines light on some lesser-known composers and songs. I’ve found listening to it a fascinating and rewarding experience.

Musicweb International, John Quinn

  1. Le Rhin Allemand, Op. 3, No. 3 – Alberic Magnard – 4.16
  2. On the idle hill of summer – George Butterworth – 3.02
  3. Trust me, Op. 23, No. 3 – Sergei Prokofiev – 2.22
  4. To Daffodils – Frederick Delius – 2.45
  5. Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied: Kythere – Rudi Stephan – 1.37
  6. Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied: Pantherlied – Rudi Stephan – 1.01
  7. Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied: Abendfrieden – Rudi Stephan – 1.40
  8. Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied: In Nachtbars Garten – Rudi Stephan – 2.33
  9. Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied: Gl?ck zu Zweien – Rudi Stephan – 2.05
  10. Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied: Das Hohelied der Nacht – Rudi Stephan – 1.52
  11. Elegy – Cecil Coles – 2.46
  12. Brittany, Op. 21, No. 1 – Ernest Farrar – 2.19
  13. L’abandon, Op. 20, No. 1 – Darius Milhaud – 4.19
  14. Epitaph on Salathiel Pavy – William Denis Browne – 3.33
  15. To Gratiana Dancing and Singing – William Denis Browne – 4.04
  16. Diaphenia – William Denis Browne – 2.00
  17. Shall I compare thee? Op. 1, No. 1 – Frederick Kelly – 2.39
  18. In Prison – Frederick Keel – 2.30
  19. Angel spirits of sleep – Edgar Bainton – 2.10
  20. All night under the moon – Edgar Bainton – 2.09
  21. O Mistress Mine – Benjamin Dale – 1.29
  22. Come Away, Death – Benjamin Dale – 4.45
  23. No?l des enfants qui n’ont plus de maison, L. 139 – Claude Debussy – 2.34
  24. The ships of Arcady – Michael Head – 2.36
  25. A blackbird singing – Michael Head – 2.41
  26. Light, Op. 19 – Albert Roussel – 3.14
  27. Lettre du Front – Piere Vellones – 5.25
  28. A child’s prayer, F. 171 – Arthur Bliss – 1.48
  29. In Flanders – Ivor Gurney – 3.03
  30. Quand reverrai-je, h?las! – Andr? Caplet – 1.07
  31. En regardant ces belles fleurs – Andr? Caplet – 1.33
  32. In Flanders Fields, S. 277 – Charles Ives – 2.39
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