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Fine readings but some disappointment
on 12 October 2011
Samuel West is a fine reader on the Naxos Audiobook compact disc edition of the complete A E Housman "A Shropshire Lad" poems. He is a highly distinguished actor who offers spoken versions of each verse with an appropriate amount of dramatisation without ever going too far in this regard - too much actorly emphasis would make repeated listening to the disc wearisome - and Sam West avoids making that mistake.
However where I am critical of this compact disc is in relation to Samuel West reading the verse using a light "rustic" accent. Now it's not Joe Grundy, don't get me wrong, but I feel sure that the conception behind these poems involves the voice of the narrator being at some remove from the apparent subject matter of country lads betrayed in love and the precariousness of life as a soldier or yeoman. Indeed while the verse sometimes sounds like folksong it is not folksong. On the contrary Housman is adopting a disguise in order to be able to express his deepest emotions about love and the precariousness of life. The time in which he lived would not have allowed him to be open about these very personal feelings - or at least he felt that was the case.
Likewise, Sam West reads out the number of each poem at its start. The director, David Timson, presumably instructed him to do this but it's a another mistake, and this time a bad one because it makes an otherwise fine spoken account sound like a catalogue. Perhaps a new edition could edit out the numbers. It would help enormously.