John Dowland and Friends: Earth, Water, Fire and Air Consort of Musicke, Anthony Rooley ALC 1223
A re-release of a recording made in Forde Abbey, Dorset, in 1998, this presents a programme of Dowland, Tomkins, Morley, Weelkes, and Locke, with a single (charming) song by the less familiar Claudin de Semisy. Not all of the voices entirely convince - bass Simon Grant is far too breathy for my personal taste, and I found a slight lack of purity in the voice of soprano Eveyln Tubb (alto Lucy Ballard and tenor Andrew King cannot, however, be faulted). Anthony Rooley directs and accompanies on the lute and, no doubt, compiled the programme, which pleasingly includes some less well-known songs, and also varies the mood very well indeed. The cover is slightly dated in style and the notes are really far too meagre to give much of a real insight into the composers, music, or times. Texts are, however, included.
Benjamin Britten: Frank Bridge Variations etc Camerata Nordica; Terje Tonnesen BIS-2060
A collection of Britten chamber orchestral works, this combines excellent sound with superb playing. The disc features the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (Britten's tribute to his teacher) alongside the Simple Symphony, Lachrymae and Two Portraits, and concludes with a world première recording - the Elegy for Strings - an early yet nevertheless remarkably assured work from the precocious young composer (it was written in 1928). From the outset the quality of the playing is obvious, with superb articulation, attack and ensemble from Camerata Nordica (an excellent unity in the unison pizzicatos is especially noticeable). The playing is full of vitality, with great energy and drive, and outstanding focus, while the sound that the group produces is warm and radiant. Each movement is beautifully characterised: the different moods and styles that Britten evokes are brought out, with good dexterity and softness of touch in the lighter works and movements, and a sense of weight and melancholy in the more dolorous parts. The acoustic is very reverberant, and the sole criticism that I can bring to bear is that the audible breathing is rather distracting. Otherwise, these are some of the best Britten recordings that I've ever encountered.
CHAMPS HILL RECORDS
Tell Me The Truth About Love Amanda Roocroft, Joseph Middleton CHRCD040
A quirky but attractively produced set, made up, essentially, of a CD-case-sized hardback book, with a CD inserted into a sleeve at the back. The style and image are vintage, as of an antique "memories" box, and the whole release sets out to tell a love story. The "book" opens with some (presumably atmospheric) blurred photographs, printed in a collage with flower petals and leaves, a theme throughout the book. The story comes next, integrating the work notes (all well-written by pianist Joseph Middleton), then texts and artist biographies. Each page is printed on a lovely floral design, with marbled inside covers for both the book and the CD sleeves - a lot of thought and care have clearly gone into this production. The disc itself presents the storyline through the music of a mixture of composers, from Grieg, Brahms and Wolf through to Barber, Weill and Schoenberg. The disc opens with the overture The Eternal Question, in the form of the eponymous Tell Me the Truth about Love, Britten's cabaret-song setting of the Auden poem. Roocroft immediately impresses with her rich and vibrant voice, easily able to capture and convey the mood and style of the song. Act 1: Love at First Sight concludes with Quilter's Love Philosophy (lovely rippling piano accompaniment here); Saturday Afternoon of Act 2: An Encounter includes Ireland's The Trellis; whilst the following Saturday Evening Liebestod features Dunhill's beautiful The Cloths of Heaven. Bridge makes an appearance with Adoration (radiantly and passionately sung) on Sunday Morning in Act 3: The Morning after the Night Before, and while no British composers feature on Sunday Afternoon in Act 4: Deception and Betrayal, Britten provides the Postlude to the disc with Early One Morning. The performances are very strong indeed, in deeply sensitive and idiomatic renditions of these gorgeous works.
The English Oboe: Rediscovered James Turnbull, Libby Burgess CHRCD051
Oboist James Turnbull here presents a rather intriguing programme of British music spanning over a century. The disc opens enigmatically with Rubbra's Sonata in C for Oboe and Piano. Edward Longstaff's stark Aegeus brings about a change of mood; it is one of three contemporary works on the disc, alongside John Casken's Amethyst Deceiver for solo oboe (inspired by a woodland mushroom) and Michael Berkeley's Three Moods for Unaccompanied Oboe. The contemporary works are balanced by more lyrical, following works from earlier periods: Thomas Attwood Walmisley's rather elegant Sonatina No. 1; Gustav Holst's Terzetto for Flute, Oboe and Viola (for which Turnbull and Burgess are joined by Matthew Featherstone and Dan Shilladay in a sympathetic and understanding performance); and, to conclude the disc, Vaughan Williams's Six Studies in English Folksong, here set for cor anglais and piano. Although something of a purist, I have to confess that the Six Studies do work extremely well for the haunting tones of the cor anglais: this is probably the strongest piece on the disc. An interesting programme, and all extremely well played.
Phoenix English Chamber Orchestra, Benjamin Wallfisch, Emily Pailthorpe CHRCD025
Three very different works for oboe and orchestra are presented here, but nevertheless work very well together programmatically. The disc opens with Paul Patterson's Phoenix Concerto, written for oboist Emily Pailthorpe, the soloist on the disc. Pailthorpe explains in her foreword to the booklet notes that she has always been struck by the "exotic and bird-like" potentialities of the instrument, and that Patterson's suggestion of the phoenix as the basis of a work chimed perfectly with her own feelings. The result is a strong piece, modern, yet entirely accessible; enigmatic, quixotic and haunting. It is extremely well played by Pailthorpe and the English Chamber Orchestra under the secure baton of Benjamin Wallfisch. Vaughan Williams's Oboe Concerto follows in a thoroughly compelling performance, while Howells's Sonata for Oboe and Piano completes the disc. Pailthorpe also notes in the Foreword that she felt the Sonata would "work better" if transcribed for strings. Whilst I personally wouldn't dream of suggesting or endorsing "improvements" to a work by a composer of Howells's status, it must be said that this arrangement (by the conductor) works reasonably well. The performance, certainly, is superb. Good booklet notes are provided by Malcolm MacDonald in an overall high-calibre production.
Ascribe Unto the Lord: Sacred Choral Works by Samuel Sebastian Wesley Choir of St John's College, Cambridge; Nethsingha CHAN 10751
A programme is here built around the sacred choral works of Samuel Sebastian Wesley, with the Psalm Chants 42 and 43 by S.S. Wesley's father, Samuel Wesley, acting as the reflective filling between two sandwiching halves. The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge is on top form, with clearly enunciated and sensitive performances from all involved. The solos are generally good, with only one bass struggling with a particularly challenging part. The trebles are excellent, and the second anthem featured, Wash Me Thoroughly from My Wickedness, opens with an especially haunting treble. Works featured include four and five-part anthems (including the dramatic eponymous Ascribe Unto the Lord and striking and rather individual The Wilderness and the Solitary Place), a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, a short organ solo and the much-loved hymn O Thou Who Camest From Above. The disc ends gently with the tender gem Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace. As one would expect from Chandos, the booklet and presentation are excellent, with my sole quibble being that it would have been informative and interesting to have dates for the works featured, especially given the indication in the booklet notes that the music featured takes one through the various stages of Wesley's life. This is definitely a disc to which I will be returning.
British Works for Cello and Piano, Volume 2 Paul Watkins; Huw Watkins CHAN 10792
This second volume in Chandos's British Works for Cello and Piano series also features the excellent Watkins brothers, Paul (on cello) and Huw (Piano). It commences with York Bowen's Sonata in A Major, in which the brothers capture the heroic feeling of the movement very well, but without giving in to the temptation of being too forceful. The following Bax Sonata in E Flat Major is a rather highly-strung work, in which Paul Watkins employs judicious string changes and use of portamento. The brothers communicate the dreamy, slightly otherworldly feel of the second movement particularly well. The disc concludes with a convincing performance of the Ireland Sonata in G Minor. I was impressed by the playing: the phrases are excellently shaped and the instruments are well balanced, although I would have liked a little more resonance in the lower notes of the chords in the cello. The recording was made at Potton Hall in Suffolk. A more resonant acoustic for this type of music might have been preferable, but this is otherwise a superb disc with very strong performances indeed, and comes highly recommended.
Holst: Orchestral Works BBC Symphony Orchestra; BBC Symphony Chorus; Susan Gritton; Sir Andrew Davies CHSA 5127
A good pairing of the Mystic Trumpeter and the First Choral Symphony fills this disc of Holst orchestral works. The performances cannot be faulted. Susan Gritton has just the right type of voice for the Mystic Trumpeter - mature and rich - and she brings to the recording good communication, sensitivity and understanding, whilst Sir Andrew Davies conjures an appropriately warm sound from the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Overall, there is a wonderful sense of exhilaration in this glorious piece. The First Choral Symphony is, likewise, a very sound rendition, with a good all-round sense of power and drama. The BBC Symphony Chorus offer excellent enunciation, although the singers are a little on the sibilant side and the ladies are, on occasion, slightly lispy. The sound quality from this super audio CD is, naturally, better than that on its close Hyperion / Helios rival, with Hilary Davan Wetton conducting the First Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasia, yet I am not convinced that Davies has a better intuitive understanding of the work than Davan Wetton, and I must confess to preferring Lynne Dawson as soloist on the Hyperion disc. For those who would prefer a more polished disc with top-quality performances and superb sound, this is the one to go for, yet for me it cannot replace Davan Wetton's version for emotional depth, nor supersede it for the conductor's overall grasp and fathomless, instinctive comprehension of the music.
Britten: Les Illuminations Etc Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Candida Thompson, James Gilchrist, Barbara Hannigan; Jasper de Waal CCS AS 32213
Les Illuminations, Serenade and the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge make a fine programme. The orchestral playing from the Amsterdam Sinfonietta immediately strikes one as full of energy, providing a good rendition of Les Illuminations with Hannigan, whose voice comes across as very young and quite light. Although she doesn't have much strength in her lower register, sounding almost child-like in that voice, she is nevertheless very nimble and athletic, and copes well with the challenges that this piece offers. I was less impressed with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta in the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, where the ensemble is less than perfect, and the playing is not particularly precise. The orchestra produces quite a thin sound, and doesn't communicate enough emotion. For example, the anguished harmonies in the Funeral March should be played far more wrenchingly, with great angst, and jagged notes in the bass, using the bow with weight and almost force, but this is not captured here at all. I also found the acoustic too echo-y for string music, so that many details are lost. We are back on form again, however, with the introduction of the superb James Gilchrist for Serenade, his voice as distinctive and beautiful as ever. He sings with excellent diction and tremendous intelligence and sensitivity - Dirge is particularly ghostly and harrowing. The song Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal (originally meant to be part of Serenade, but later omitted by the composer), still with Gilchrist, makes an interesting conclusion to the disc and a very welcome filler.
Sea Change: The Choral Music of Richard Rodney Bennett Cambridge Singers; John Rutter CSCD 521
This disc of choral music by Richard Rodney Bennett, recorded in 2004, comes recommended. There are some really rather wonderful works and all are competently performed. The disc opens with the four-movement Sea Change (setting words by Andrew Marvell, and from Spenser's The Faerie Queene and Shakespeare's The Tempest), which contains some suitably "watery" music. This is very pictorial and descriptive writing, occasionally "otherworldly" in harmonies, and with particularly strong musical effects in the third movement The Waves Come Rolling, where a carefully constructed chaotic effect effectively implies waves crashing one after another. The disc includes some shorter works - A Farewell to Arms, A Good-Night, Verses, Lullay Mine Liking, What sweeter Music and Puer Nobis, as well as the particularly striking Miss Brevis--with snappy rhythms in the Gloria yet an over-arching sense of beauty--and the lovely Five Carols. This is wonderful Christmas music, tender and gentle yet not candy-floss-ish, and with those typically unusual and interesting Richard Rodney Bennett harmonies. All works are well performed by the Cambridge Singers under the sympathetic direction of fellow composer John Rutter.
The Britten Collection The Sixteen; Harry Christophers COR 16107
This set comprises three discs recorded between 2002 and 2006, repackaged as a collection for the Britten centenary celebrations. The first disc, entitled Blest Cecilia, features sacred choral works including various hymns, the Festival Te Deum and Rejoice in the Lamb. There is particularly good phrasing in the Hymn of St Cecilia and a wonderful floating lightness at the opening of the work, whilst the Sixteen convey well a sense of power in Rejoice in the Lamb. The second disc is of Christmas music, opening with the eponymous Ceremony of Carols, which is complemented by the Missa Brevis in D, A Boy was Born, and a few individual carols. Disc three is entitled Fen and Meadow and contains the Choral Dances from Gloriana, Five Flower Songs, Sacred and Profane, and a few rarely-heard individual items such as Advance Democracy and the Ballad of Lady Musgrave. It is a good mixture of the very familiar and the almost unknown. The Choral Dances from Gloriana shine with the unmistakable, suave and gentlemanly tenor of Ian Partridge, making this disc a top contender amongst versions of this work. Throughout all three discs we find superb music-making from all involved, with fine singing, good sensitivity to words, excellent clarity, ensemble and enunciation, and secure solos. Sound and productions are consistently high in quality.
The Genius of Illumination The Sixteen; The Hilliard Ensemble; Harry Christophers COR16098
A compilation released in conjunction with the British Library's Royal Manuscripts exhibition, this is another visually attractive CORO release - although the rather silly strapline made me laugh: "Medieval and Renaissance music inspired by the British Library exhibition," suggesting an image of William Cornysh nipping down to the BL to see the latest exhibition and being so impressed by the manuscripts that he returns home saying "I must write a piece of music about that!" The recordings (of works by John Browne, Robert Wylkynson, Richard Pygott, William Cornysh, Richard Davy, Guillaume Dufay, Thomas Tallis, and various anonymous composers) are drawn from The Sixteen's Eton Choirbook series and The Hilliard Ensemble's Perotin and the Ars Antiqua, Brumel and Dufay discs. All performances are of an extremely high standard, although I did note that The Sixteen sound a little breathy on occasion, and the singing in Robert Wylkynson's Jesus Autem Transiens comes across as rather clogged: the polyphony is lost in the density of voices, which is a pity. The notes, I must confess, did disappoint me, with no real musicological details at all. There is nothing, for example, about how the works were written, how the musicians have chosen to interpret them, or how the manuscripts differ from modern musical notation, and with the line-up of experts listed as note authors, one would have expected something more.
Haec Dies: Byrd and the Tudor Revival Choir of Gonville & Caius College DCD34104
This beautifully-produced disc explores the fascination of twentieth century British composers with music of the Tudor period. Thus the disc presents sacred Tudor-influenced works by Vaughan Williams, Harris, Holst, Howells, Finzi, Whitlock, Britten and Bax alongside works by Tallis, Pearsall and Byrd, most substantially Byrd's Mass for Five Voices. The disc opens with Vaughan Williams's Whitsunday Hymn and progresses through various hymns and anthems to conclude with Howells's Master Tallis's Testament. The sound is generally good and clear, despite the reverberant acoustic of Worksop College Chapel, although we do lose words in, for instance, Harris's Eternal Ruler. The choir sing with passion, superb intonation and clarity, but occasionally come across as slightly lispy and breathy (especially noticeable in Holst's Man Born to Toil and Pearsall's Tu Es Petrus). We are, nevertheless, treated to a particularly intense and moving rendition of Britten's beautiful A Hymn to the Virgin. The soloists are always strong, and the production levels are also high, including song texts and excellent notes by the Choir's director, Geoffrey Webber.
From a City Window: Songs by Hubert Parry Ailish Tynan; Susan Bickley; William Dazeley; Iain Burnside DCD34117
This is another nicely-produced disc, with a good, clear booklet layout, notes by Philip Lancaster, and, gratifyingly, all the texts of the songs (although I was a bit surprised by the choice of cover picture of Gustave Caillebotte's Man at the Window, which depicts a Parisian street scene--not, possibly, the most appropriate image for a disc of Parry songs!) I also found it a rather odd decision to open the disc with A Good-Night - an admittedly very beautiful song, but one more suited to closing a programme than opening it, surely? The recording was made in the Music Room of Highnam Court and this produces a slightly disappointing, "boxy" acoustic. Although one appreciates the lovely Parry connection that this venue offers, it very much sounds like what it is: a fairly small drawing room. The Parry songs are performed by Ailish Tynan, Susan Bickley and William Dazeley, accompanied by the ever-sensitive and proficient Iain Burnside. Sad to say, only Dazeley impressed me. He has a pleasant timbre and a rich, deep, colourful tone that suits these songs well. Equally important, he is deeply sensitive to the words, and communicates their emotions and meanings well. Both female singers have very wide vibratos that are too over-powering for this music. To my great surprise (having admired her singing in other contexts), I found that Bickley's voice didn't work, to my ears, in these songs particularly well. In comparison with Tynan's purer, more 'classical' voice, Bickley comes across as more suited to light opera than art song. Her tone is also slightly nasal and a little lisp-y, while she is also just very slightly flat in Proud Maisey. Yet Tynan also does not capture the nuances and phrasings as well as Dazeley— for example, she rather misses the point in My Heart is Like a Singing Bird. Although she conveys a good lightness of touch in this song, she fails to alter her response to the stanzas according to the compositional progressions. This is a case where the harmonic trajectory of the stanzas is shadowed by the vocal line, and the singer needs to reflect this by travelling towards the high points in the trajectory, rather than simply singing phrase by phrase, as Tynan does. All three singers, however, have good enunciation, and the programme itself is a pleasing one.
Romantic Piano Trios Trio Anima Mundi dda25102
This is a two-disc set, but it is only the opening work on the first disc that concerns us: Hurlstone's Piano Trio in G Major, a work composed in 1905. At times in the first movement, Allegro Moderato, it is reminiscent of Brahms, whilst its third movement Molto Vivace could be described as "elfin." The performance here is a convincing one, with a generally warm and lyrical reading of the Trio. I have a few small quibbles - pianist Kenji Fujimara needs to give more to the bass, as the texture is not quite properly underpinned, whilst violinist Miranda Brockman's sound is slightly brittle and, in the second movement Andante in particular, comes over as rather constricted. Otherwise, this is a version that I am happy to recommend.
Cyril Scott: Piano Concerto, Cello Concerto BBC Concert Orchestra; Martin Yates CDLX 7302
Here is a superb disc which definitely repays the investigations of any English music-lover. It comprises three works by Cyril Scott, all of which have been edited, realised or completed by conductor Martin Yates, opening with the rather exotic Overture to Pelleas and Melisanda. The Piano Concerto in D is the main work on the disc, a three-movement, dramatic work with wonderfully esoteric and scrunchy harmonies in the opening Adagio Maestoso and a deeply languorous second movement Intermezzo that inhabits the sensuousness, if not the sound-world, of Delius's music. Peter Donohoe is the excellent pianist here. The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra completes the disc--another fabulous piece with some truly ravishing music. Very highly recommended!
Bax, Vaughan Williams, Holland, Harvey BBC Concert Orchestra; Stephen Bell; Richard Harvey; Roger Chase CDLX 7295
Another outstanding disc of English music from Dutton, this time contrasting both familiar and less well-known composers, and reaching up to the present day with the inclusion of Richard Harvey, whose very accessible Reflections for Viola and Small Orchestra concludes the disc. This contains some challenging moments for the viola, but soloist Roger Chase deals with these superbly (as, indeed, he conducts himself throughout the disc). We encounter some impressive nonchalant agility from Chase right at the outset, in fact, in Bax's Phantasy for Viol and Orchestra, whilst the BBC Concert Orchestra under the direction of Stephen Bell join the soloist in encapsulating a good sense of wistfulness in the second movement, before it moves into equally well-captured high spirits in the dance-like third movement Allegro Vivace. Theodore Holland's Ellingham Marshes was composed in around 1940, and although it does not seem to be idiomatically written for the viola, the scoring is very detailed and has good use of orchestral colour, especially in its opening. Vaughan Williams's Suite for Viola and Small Orchestra completes the disc. I'd love to know whether Chase is using Tertis's fingerings here (the work was composed for Lionel Tertis, who was famously particular about his fingerings). The Suite is well-realised by both soloist and orchestra, with an appropriate air of fun in the final movement Galop. There is very little to criticise in this disc (perhaps just the fact that the sound is slightly bathroom-y, particularly noticeable in the section for soloists within the orchestra). It can be highly commended for both programme and performances, especially from the deeply impressive Roger Chase.
John Taverner: Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips CDGIM 045
Recorded in Merton College Chapel, with its rich and vibrant but not over-lively acoustic, this disc contains the late Tavener's much-loved Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas, alongside the Magnificat for Four Voices, the deeply reflective Magnificat for Five Voices and the concluding Magnificat for Six Voices. The latter two works have reached us incomplete, and have been reconstructed for this recording by Tim Symons. The sound is excellent and the performances are of a very high standard throughout, with clear enunciation of words and confident solos. On a few rare occasions the upper voices are perhaps not quite rock-solid in terms of intonation, but they otherwise cope well with very demanding parts. Production is also high quality: the booklet includes interesting and informative notes by Peter Phillips as well as texts.
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang: Latin Music From Tudor England Magnificat; Philip Cave CKD 417
Magnificat, directed by Philip Cave, here present a programme of Latin music by three British composers, William Byrd, Robert Parsons and Robert White, recorded in the resonant acoustic of St George's, Chesterton, Cambridge. Byrd's well-known Christe qui Lux es et Dies opens the disc. This is followed by White's Lamentations, the most substantial work on the disc. Parson's Ave Maria will surely also be familiar to many listeners; this is followed, however, by a less well-known work by Byrd, Domine, Quis Habitabit. A strikingly different setting of the same words by Parsons follows, before Byrd's Quomodo Cantabimus and De Lamentatione, and the disc concludes with White's setting of Christe qui Lux es et Dies. It is an interesting idea to juxtapose and contrast settings of the same texts by different composers, and it works well. There are comprehensive and excellent work notes and texts included in a high-quality booklet and these, along with the admirable performances, certainly make this a disc to look out for.
A Tale of Two Cellos Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber 8.573251
Although this disc only contains a handful of works by British composers, it nevertheless demands a mention for the beauty of the playing featured in these recordings. The disc ranges from Monteverdi and Pergolesi through to Saint-Saens and Rachmaninov in a rather charming programme that is overall very convincing. The first English piece we come across is Holst's Hymn to the Dawn from the Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda, arranged for four cellos and harp by Julian Lloyd Webber, which succeeds spectacularly. Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber are here joined by Guy Johnston and Laura van der Heijden (cellos) and Catrin Finch. Roger Quilter's My Lady Greensleeves follows in a particularly rich and sonorous rendition. William Lloyd Webber's Moon Silver is rather lovely, as is the atmospheric version of Purcell's Lost is My Quiet For Ever, while Joseph Barnby's Sweet and Low starts to bring the disc to a gentle, yet enchanting close. It is followed by Quilter's Summer Sunset, which is the penultimate track (before the disc is finally brought to a lilting finish with Arvo Pärt's much-loved Estonian Lullaby).
The Romantic Viola: Benjamin Dale Yuko Inoue; Stephen Coombs 8.573167
The Suite for Viola and Piano in D Major, Op. 2, is the first of the three works included on this disc, and I was impressed by the way in which Inoue and Coombs made their articulation of the imitative figures match in the first movement, Fantasy-Prelude. Coombs plays the virtuosic piano part with aplomb - although I found the viola sound rather scratchy, as if the bow was skating off the strings, and not particularly well-focussed. The final work on the disc, the Phantasy for Viola and Piano, Op. 4, is excellently played by the duo, who create a good balance between the instruments and incorporate some nice phrasing. However, the Introduction and Andante for Six Violas, Op. 5 is less successful. The work was commissioned by Lionel Tertis for him to play at a lecture recital with five students, and this is replicated here, with Inoue accompanied by five Royal Academy of Music students. The middle layers are slightly messy and the playing as a whole is not as well integrated as it should be, nor is the intonation fully secure.
Down by the Sea: A collection of British Folk Songs Blossom Street; Hilary Campbell 8.573069
A rather "different" set of British folk-songs, this includes contemporary settings, as well as better-known ones by the likes of Vaughan Williams, Warlock and Moeran. We have particularly striking arrangements from Stuart Murray Turnbull and Kerry Andrew, whose All Things Are Quite Silent is full of efficacious sound effects. The programme as a whole works well, with works old and new never jarring, yet I was disappointed by both the sound and, occasionally, the performances. The acoustics come across as very odd, rather artificial and extraordinarily boomy (the disc was recorded at St Philip's Church, Norbury). In Judith Bingham's The Orphan Girl the balance between soloists and chorus seems wrong. The soloist sounds rather restricted in John Duggan's Over the Moon, and the ensemble at times leaves something to be desired. This is particularly noticeable in Grainger's Mo Nighean Dubh, where slightly ragged entries and endings of words are exacerbated by the way the odd sound exaggerates the sibilants.
Elgar & Sawyers: Violin Sonatas Steinberg Duo NI6240
Edward Elgar is contrasted with contemporary composer Philip Sawyers in this interesting release from Nimbus Alliance, featuring Sawyers' first and second violin sonatas alongside the Elgar. The Sawyers sonatas are rather disparate and not particularly cohesive compositions, containing many "effects," the purpose of which is somewhat elusive. There are some effective contrasts from husband-and-wife team the Steinberg Duo, although the more strident passages would have benefited from a more focused sound in the violin, to better reflect the percussive piano writing. The performance of the Elgar sonata I found deeply puzzling, in that it differs quite strikingly from the written score: rests are omitted, tempo fluctuations and stresses are not executed, and there are also tempo fluctuations that are not printed in the score. Dynamic markings are not observed (leading, in parts, to the loss of the violin/piano dialogue) and, more disconcertingly, the point of the first movement - namely the juxtaposition and conflict between A Minor and E Minor that drives the movement and is never fully resolved, even at the end - appears to be missed, with no real indication of harmonic direction from the artists.
Frederick Delius: Orchestral Music transcribed for Two Pianos Simon Callaghan, Hiroaki Takenouchi SOMMCD 129
This is the second in Somm's set of two-piano arrangements of Delius's orchestral works. The recording opens with Paris. Despite formidable playing from Callaghan and Takenouchi, the arrangement, to my mind, fails to capture the magic, enchantment and power of the original orchestral version (but how on earth could it?) The following Evetyr is of interest in light of its transcription by fellow composer Benjamin Dale, and delicacy is a particular feature of this rather more convincing arrangement, brought out well by the two pianists. The Fantastic Dance sees more impressive playing from the duo, and there is a good sense of elegance and fluidity in Summer Night On the River, transcribed by Philip Heseltine. My interest was piqued by this reference to the composer using his original (pre-Warlock) name, and I would have liked more detail in the booklet notes about the transcription itself (indeed, about all the arrangements). Grainger's two-piano version of the Song of the High Hills completes the disc. Grainger, as ever, seems able to capture the essence of Delius's music and to focus it into reduced forces better than any other arranger, and this thus provides a strong finisher. It is an interesting disc, but personally I don't see why anyone would listen to two-piano transcriptions rather than to the orchestral originals.
You might also be interested in:
The new Cala release, Elgar's Trombone (CACD77016), with Sue Addison playing Elgar's own trombone in arrangements for trombone, piano and (on occasion) trumpet, harp, piccolo, and double bass, of works by Elgar, Bridge, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Sullivan, Quilter and Gurney.
Paul Carr's Seven Last Words From the Cross, performed by the Bath Philharmonia and Chorus Angelorum, conducted by Gavin Carr, and available from Stone Records. Immensely beautiful and powerful music, definitely worth hearing.--Em Marshall-Luck