Reginald Spofforth. Ever heard of him? Me neither, and nor has the Oxford Companion to Music. According to the sleeve notes with Oxford Liedertafel’s CD (Maproom MR 0071), he lived c.1768-1827, and he could write a very cheerful song, to judge by his Hail! Smiling morn, recorded here.

Oxford Liedertafel — Stephen Burrows (countertenor), Ben Alden and Matthew Vine (tenors), and Duncan Saunderson (bass) — have put together a collection of 19 songs under the title Paradise on Earth. The word ‘paradise’ is interpreted widely: you would not, surely, think of paradise in connection with a song entitled My pocket’s low and taxes high. And, no, composer Samuel Webbe presumably wasn’t thinking of the recent VAT rise, since he was around from 1740-1816. Rather he must have been the eternal optimist: “Fortune may yet smile,” he tells us, before running on into the National Anthem, sung with due solemnity and patriotism. Perhaps he was hoping for a tax rebate.

Nor does Purcell’s downbeat Winter — full of snow and frost — strike you as a picture of paradise. Rather the CD’s title is taken from Robert L. Pearsall’s memorable song There is a paradise on earth.

Liedertafel range widely across the English repertoire from the 16th to the 20th centuries — OK, Stanford was born in Ireland, but who in their right mind would omit his haunting Hush, sweet lute? There are visitors from across the Channel too: J Frederick Bridges’ Two snails tells the tale of a loving couple, whose story does not end happily: there’s mention of “fried in batter” towards the end. Elsewhere, Parry’s Love wakes receives a beautiful interpretation, as does Vaughan Williams’s familiar Linden Lea.

Oxford Liedertafel sing immaculately throughout, as you would expect from this well-known group. For good measure, James Bowman offers three solos (recorded close up), and Colin Dexter reads A. E. Housman’s How clear, how lovely bright.