Ralph Vaughan Williams Folk Songs, Volume 3 Mary Bevan, Nicky Spence, Roderick Williams, William Vann ALBCD044
The third volume in Albion’s set of folk songs is as well-presented and attractive as the previous two, with an appealing and appropriate cover image and excellent, full, and informative booklet notes. The volume features Mary Bevan, Nicky Spence and Roderick Williams, with William Vann on piano. The disc comprises a set of fifteen Folk Songs from the Eastern Counties, three songs from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs and two from The Motherland Song Book, Volume II, as well as one purely instrumental work, played excellently by Vann: Twelve Traditional Country Dances. Many of these songs will be pleasingly familiar to listeners, and it’s fabulous to hear such characterful and admirable renditions as those presented here.
Ralph Vaughan Williams RVW From America: Forgotten Recordings of the 50s Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia, Concert Hall Chamber Orchestra, Rochester Chamber Orchestra, Cornell A Capella Chorus, Robert Hull, Vladimir Golschmann ALBCD048
An interesting disc, this features 1950s American recordings of Vaughan Williams’s music. It opens with the Concerto for Two Pianofortes in C Major with the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia conducted by Vladimir Golschmann, and Arthur Whittemore and Jack Lowe as the pianists. It’s a performance full of verve and panache, with a searingly beautiful Romanza. Flos Campi follows, with the Concert Hall Chamber Orchestra and Cornell A Capella Chorus conducted by Robert Hull, and Francis Tursi the viola soloist – another fine and persuasive performance. The only other substantial work on the disc is the Fantasia (quasi variazione) on the ‘Old 104th’ Psalm Tune, with Robert Hull again at the helm, this time leading the Rochester Chamber Orchestra with the Cornell A Capella Chorus, John Hunt on piano, and John Beavan on organ. Three charming fillers complete the disc, again with Robert Hull and the Cornell A Capella Chorus: the folk songs The Turtle Dove, The Dark-Eyed Sailor, and John Dory. These are fascinating performances of striking works.
William Walton and Ralph Vaughan Williams Walton’s Symphony No. 1 and Crown Imperial; Vaughan Williams’s Suite for Four Hands Lynn Arnold and Charles Matthews ALBCD047
The English composer Herbert Murrill made two-piano arrangements of a number of Walton’s works, including the First Symphony in 1937, and Crown Imperial in 1949 (which he also set for organ), which comprise the bulk of this disc. The First Symphony comes across as rather unremitting in this (indubitably most skilful) arrangement, although it is extremely impressive. Lynn Arnold and Charles Matthews’s playing cannot be faulted at all —full of conviction, passion and, at times, virtuosity.
The sandwich filler in the middle of the Waltons is Vaughan Williams’s Suite for Four Hands on One Pianoforte, a student exercise composed in 1893 when he was studying under Parry at the Royal College of Music, while also reading History at Cambridge. The four movements are entitled Prelude, Minuet, Sarabande and Gigue, so this was clearly an exercise in baroque writing, and I find it quite charming and moving that we are able to listen to it today. Although the work seems generally quite fine, the second movement does appear to be the weakest of the four, and Parry marked it “must try harder”! The disc is well presented, with a clear and attractive booklet and well-written notes; altogether an interesting release.
Sir Arthur Sullivan The Harmonious Echo – Songs by Sir Arthur Sullivan Mary Bevan, Kitty Whatley, Ben Johnson, Ashley Riches, David Owen Norris CHAN 20239(2)
This double-disc set of Sullivan songs is beautifully presented with a thick booklet including German and French translations; excellent notes by David Owen Norris; full poem texts; an extra cardboard case to make the set feel that little bit more special; and an attractive and appropriate cover image by Millais (even if it does look a little as if the lady in question has a bad backache!) The songs featured are all really rather wonderful, full of passion, intensity, beauty, and charm. Perhaps my favourite is the gorgeous The Lady of the Lake, although the upbeat and less sentimental Other Days is another beautifully-composed song. The set also includes the famous The Lost Chord and finishes with the striking Kipling setting The Absent-Minded Beggar. Performances are generally strong: Mary Bevan has a very full, rich, and mature voice, but her enunciation isn’t always clear, whilst Kitty Whately’s is much better. Ben Johnson seems a bit under-powered compared to the other three singers, while Ashley Riches struck me as the soundest, most secure voice on the disc. David Owen Norris, as ever, proves himself a sympathetic and adroit accompanist. For lovers of English solo song, this is a beautiful disc, greatly worth the hearing.
British Oboe Quintets Nicholas Daniel, Doric String Quartet CHAN 20226
This disc opens with Bax’s Quintet, superbly played by the astoundingly accomplished Nicholas Daniel and the Doric String Quartet. This deeply emotional and intense work is an excellent opener, with its first movement featuring a plaintive and almost exotic oboe line, and its jaunty, sunny third movement hinting at Irish folk music. We then have the lovely Interlude, unmistakably Finzi. Vaughan Williams’s Six Studies in English Folksong is heard here, not in its original cello and piano version, but in an arrangement by Robert Stanton for string quartet and cor anglais (also adroitly played by Daniel) – it works beautifully. Bliss’s Quintet is a substantial and attractive work, followed by Two Interludes from Delius’s opera Fennimore and Gerda, arranged for oboe and string quartet by Eric Fenby, his amanuensis. Played by Daniel on an oboe once belonging to Léon Goossens (for whom many of the works here were written), it provides a serene conclusion to the disc. The playing of the Doric String Quartet is admirable throughout, but it is Daniel who really shines.
English Music for Strings Sinfonia of London; John Wilson CHSA 5264
Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge opens this disc of English music for strings. It is generally well played by the Sinfonia of London under the assured baton of John Wilson, although I found the Aria Italiana too rushed for my personal taste. The Britten is here followed, appropriately enough, by some Frank Bridge – his beautiful Lament of 1915. Lennox Berkeley comes next, represented by an excellent rendition of his Serenade for Strings, and Sir Arthur Bliss’s Music for Strings concludes a disc that contains much fine playing and some wonderful pieces of music. The disc boasts a good booklet and a lovely cover featuring a painting of Pen Pits, the house built for Bliss. My only gripe is that the recorded sound doesn’t come across as very focused or clean.
A Musical Zoo Ashley Riches; Joseph Middleton CHAN 20184
This disc is beautifully presented with a separate 68-page booklet, too large to squeeze into the jewel case, but fitting snugly alongside the disc in an outer cardboard case. The booklet includes full sung texts and excellent notes on the music by Mervyn Cooke in French and German as well as English. It also features an additional essay by bass-baritone Ashley Riches, mainly about his cat. In fact, his cat rather dominates the booklet, with no fewer than four full pages devoted to pictures of the feline, while there is only one photograph of a composer (Ravel), and a portrait each of the two performers. Much as I love cats —and I’m sure that Leonora Rubenstein is an admirable creature— the image selection seems somewhat unbalanced.
The lovely programme opens with Schubert (trout and birds), and takes in Schumann (lion), Wolf (rat-catcher), Brahms (nightingale), Strauss (thrush), Fauré (butterfly), Mussorgsky (flea), Shostakovich (cockroach) and Barber (cat). The most substantial works are Ravel’s Histoires naturelles and Vernon Duke’s Ogden Nash’s Musical Zoo. English composers are represented by John Ireland’s Three Ravens, Howells’s King David, and Britten’s superbly executed The Crocodile, which closes the programme and puts Vernon Duke to shame. Ashley Riches and Joseph Middleton prove themselves genial companions on this faunal romp. Riches’s singing is searingly beautiful on the Three Ravens in particular, with good enunciation, excellent intonation, and superb sensitivity to the text, while Middleton provides adroit accompaniment throughout.
British Music for Strings II Sudwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim, Douglas Bostock 555 395-2
A truly delightful opening to this disc is provided by the captivating, well-composed, tuneful and appealing Suite for String Orchestra by the less-familiar composer Christopher Wilson. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and went on to work in the London theatre world, where he was especially associated with the production of incidental music for Shakespeare plays; he died at the age of forty-five in 1919. Sir Granville Bantock comprises the rest of the disc, in the form of his Serenade for string orchestra In the Far West and his suite for strings Scenes from the Scottish Highlands. These are all evocative and atmospheric works, excellently performed by the Sudwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim with conductor Douglas Bostock.
English Song Collection 8.502507
This is a truly magnificent set – twenty-five discs of glorious English solo song, each in its own slipcase, presented in a cardboard case bearing an attractive image of the English countryside. It is accompanied by a substantial booklet that contains profiles of all the composers represented, along with track listings and compact notes for each disc as well. The set starts strongly with a disc of Walton songs, opening with The Winds – a brilliant, individual, and highly-accomplished song from the then-sixteen-year-old composer. Felicity Lott shares the singing with Martyn Hill, accompanied by Graham Johnson on piano and Craig Ogden on guitar in the very Brittenesque cycle Anon in Love – a setting of Elizabethan love songs originally composed for Peter Pears and Julian Bream. This disc also includes the gentle and lively Under the Greenwood Tree, two sets of Three Façade Settings (Lott captures the jazz influences superbly, while in the second set, arranged by Christopher Palmer, Hill performs with absolute passion, verve, and spirit), and the substantial cycle A Song for the Lord Mayor’s Table. This is a fabulous opening to the set, and is followed by an equally excellent disc of Somervell songs, including A Shropshire Lad but also a number of less well-known songs, such as the short Songs of Innocence cycle, James Lee’s Wife, and excerpts from Maud. Graham Johnson is again the pianist, this time for Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Christopher Maltman, and Patricia Rozario (who sounds a little strained at times on this recording), while the Duke Quartet join in for James Lee’s Wife. Discs three and fifteen are devoted to Vaughan Williams, covering On Wenlock Edge, Five Mystical Songs, Songs of Travel, The House of Life, and Four Poems by Fredegond Shove, alongside stand-alone songs, including much-loved favourites Linden Lea, Silent Noon, and The Water Mill. Some less familiar songs are also featured, such as the lovely duets It Was a Lover and His Lass and Dirge for Fidele, as well as The Lawyer, and Searching for Lambs with an unusual violin accompaniment. Lord, Come Away and Come Love, Come Lord feature viola. Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Simon Keenlyside are joined by Graham Johnson and the Duke Quartet for disc three, while Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside star on disc fifteen.
The fourth CD is the only disc of Warlock music and contains The Curlew, Lillygay, and Saudades cycles, as well as Peterisms sets I and II, and much-loved songs such as Captain Stratton’s Fancy, The Frostbound Wood, My Ghostly Fader, and Bethlehem Down. With Adrian Thompson and Christopher Maltman accompanied by John Constable (piano) and the Duke Quartet, these are fine recordings. Disc five is devoted to Roger Quilter songs, including the To Julia cycle, Three Pastoral Songs and others, including the rightly celebrated Take, O Take Those Lips Away and O Mistress Mine. Lisa Milne and Anthony Rolfe Johnson perform, along with Graham Johnson and the Duke Quartet again. Disc twelve is more Quilter – this time the Complete Folk Song Arrangements and the Complete Part Songs for Women’s Voices. Philip Langridge and David Wilson-Johnson shine on this disc, which also features Amanda Pitt and Joanne Thomas, with David Owen Norris at the piano. We come to Gustav Holst on disc six – the Vedic Hymns, Four Songs for Voice and Violin, Six Songs and Twelve Humbert Wolfe Settings, alongside Margrete’s Cradle Song and the little gem The Heart Worships. The performances by Susan Gritton, Philip Langridge and Christopher Maltman, with Louisa Fuller on violin and Steuart Bedford on piano, are superb. Afterwards comes the first of seven discs featuring Britten’s music. These discs cover The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, Winter Words, The Heart of the Matter, Canticles I-V, Folk Song Arrangements sets I and II, Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, Tit for Tat, Complete Scottish Songs,A Birthday Hansel and Who Are These Children? alongside various stand-alone songs. The vocalists include Philip Langridge, Jean Rigby, Gerald Finley, Felicity Lott, Thomas Allen, Roderick Williams, Mark Wilde, the BBC Singers, and Judi Dench as speaker on The Heart of the Matter. They are variously accompanied by Steuart Bedford, David Owen Norris, Iain Burnside and Graham Johnson on piano, Osian Ellis on harp, and the Northern Sinfonia. These are excellent performances of glorious music.
Songs by Lisa Lehmann form disc eight, with Janice Watson, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Toby Spence, and Neal Davies accompanied by Steuart Bedford (including excerpts from The Daisy Chain, Bird Songs, Four Cautionary Tales and a Moral and Two Nonsense Songs from Alice in Wonderland). Disc thirteen is the first of three Finzi compilations, featuring the cycles I Said to Love, Let Us Garlands Bring, Before and After Summer, Earth and Air and Rain, To a Poet, By Footpath and Stile, A Young Man’s Exhortations, Till Earth Outwears and Oh Fair to See. Roderick Williams and John Mark Ainsley star on these benchmark recordings, with Iain Burnside and the Sacconi Quartet providing accompaniment.
On disc eighteen Elin Manahan Thomas and Jeremy Huw Williams perform William Alwyn, supported by recorder player John Turner and Iain Burnside. The works include Mirages, Six Nocturnes for Baritone and Piano, Seascapes and Invocations. There is only one disc of John Ireland, with Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside, which presents Three Songs to Poems by Thomas Hardy, Marigold, We’ll to the Woods, Five Poems by Thomas Hardy and a number of single songs. Likewise only one Gurney compilation is included, with Susan Bickley and Iain Burnside this time. Fifteen stand-alone songs and the Five Elizabethan Songs comprise the programme. Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside make another appearance on the single disc of George Butterworth (number twenty-one), which presents Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad, Folk Songs from Sussex and Bredon Hill and Other Songs from A Shropshire Lad. Finally, Ian Venables and Jonathan Dove represent living composers with one disc apiece (twenty-two and twenty-four respectively). Andrew Kennedy and Iain Burnside perform a number of Venables songs as well as his cycles On the Wings of Love and Venetian Songs. Dove’s Out of Winter, Cut my Shadow, Ariel and All You Who Sleep Tonight are given fine renditions by singers Claire Booth, Patricia Bardon, and Nicky Spence, and pianist Andrew Matthews-Owen. All these discs have previously been released on Naxos, in their English Song Series, but it is lovely to have them all collected together in this way: a wonderful overview of exquisite and uplifting English solo song, in outstanding performances throughout.
Sir Malcolm Arnold Complete Symphonies and Dances National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Penny 8.506041
This handsome centenary edition set contains all nine symphonies by Sir Malcolm Arnold, with Andrew Penny conducting the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. These are colourful, dynamic, idiosyncratic, and beautifully-orchestrated works, here in most sympathetic and convincing performances made between 1995 and 2000 in the presence of the composer. Disc five, containing the ninth symphony, also features an enlightening interview between Arnold and Andrew Penny, which offers insight into the composer and his final symphony. The last disc in the set contains vivacious performances of Arnold’s English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and Cornish dances with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, also conducted by Andrew Penny in 1995. The discs are presented in slip-cases, alongside a sixteen-page booklet of programme notes, within a sturdy and glossy cardboard box.
Sir Arthur Sullivan Incidental Music RTE Concert Orchestra, Andrew Penny 8.555181
Sullivan wrote a fair amount of incidental music, which was popular and successful at the time. This recording, reissued from a Marco Polo disc recorded in 1992, opens with the Masquerade from The Merchant of Venice. The Introduction is quite Mendelssohnian, while the following Barcarole is almost like something from Puccini or Verdi (complete with wailing tenor). The following movements contain a further mixture of styles, moods, and influences, demonstrating their composer’s versatility. The incidental music to Shakespeare’s Henry VIII includes a March, King Henry’s Song, an aptly-named Graceful Dance and Water Music. I have to confess that these ‘suites’ of incidental music don’t captivate me in the way that Sullivan’s concert music or even the Savoy operas do; however, it is interesting to hear them. The disc also includes the overture to an opera, The Sapphire Necklace, which was never performed. The music was subsequently lost, apart from two vocal numbers and this overture, which only existed in a brass band arrangement. Here it is reconstructed again as an orchestral movement. The disc concludes with the Overture in C “In Memoriam,” written for Sullivan’s father – a noble, deep, and poignant work. The playing of the RTE Concert Orchestra is rather on the heavy and wooden side on this disc, lacking the vitality and lightness that is required to bring Sullivan to life.
Richard Addinsell Goodbye Mr Chips, The Prince and the Showgirl BBC Concert Orchestra, Kenneth Alwyn 8.555229
This disc of light music and film soundtracks by Richard Addinsell in the Naxos British Light Music series opens with the theme from Goodbye Mr Chips, followed by the tender Invitation Waltz from Ring Round the Moon, both of which have been expertly reconstructed by composer and arranger Philip Lane. The Smokey Mountains concerto with pianist Philip Martin is a sparkling and attractive work, with a fun-filled third movement. The disc also includes incidental music (Festival), music for radio (the highly-evocative The Isle of Apples) and the one-off Tune in G with pianist Roderick Elms. The rest is film music, here in the form of overtures, themes, and suites, encompassing the well-known films Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Fire over England, and A Tale of Two Cities.
Ronald Binge Elizabethan Serenade, Scottish Rhapsody, Sailing By Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Ernest Tomlinson 8.555190
Another disc in Naxos’s British light Music series, this release of music by Ronald Binge opens with his well-known Elizabethan Serenade, followed by an evocative Scottish Rhapsody, which captures both Scottish folk music and the majesty of Scotland’s landscape. Miss Melanie is memorable, with its effective use of the ricochet in the violins, and is followed by three Spanish-influenced works, including Madrugado, which the Binge family once encountered being played daily at a Spanish hotel (the receptionist told Binge that it was an old Spanish melody and expressed the greatest doubt when informed that his guest was himself the composer). Also featured on the disc is Spring Song —a feel-good piece if ever there was one, full of joy, love, generosity and exuberance— the characterful Alto Sax Concerto, and the impressive prelude The Whispering Valley, with its appealing solo piano part. The disc concludes, appropriately enough, with Sailing By of Radio 4 fame. The performances are lively and vivacious under the expert baton of Ernest Tomlinson, who also contributed the superb booklet notes.
Lord Berners The Triumph of Neptune English Northern Philharmonia; Royal Ballet Sinfonia; David Lloyd-Jones 8.555222
This is a re-issue of a disc recorded in 1996 and containing Lord Berners’ The Triumph of Neptune, L’uomo dai baffi, Valses bourgeoises, and Polka. The Triumph of Neptune, the longest work on the disc, was Berners’ most ambitious ballet, commissioned by Diaghilev for the 1926 season of his Ballets Russes. The work — a “ballet-pantomime-harlequinade” — was devised in collaboration with Sacheverell Sitwell, and in his excellent and informative booklet notes, composer and Berners expert Philip Lane observes that “the inconsequential plot confirms it as a mixture of naïve Victorian pantomime, Jules Verne-style adventure, and modern satire.” The music is colourful, idiosyncratic, attractive, and beautifully-orchestrated. The shorter works are lovely, too, if perhaps not as individual and impressive. L’uomo dai baffi was written in 1918 as a ballet for puppets, and the two final works are both presented in arrangements for orchestra by Lane. Valses bourgeoises was composed as a piano duet in 1919 and is here given a vivid and well-executed orchestration that sounds absolutely like Berners. Although Polka featured in the film Champagne Charlie, for which Ernest Irving orchestrated the piano composition, Lane’s orchestration successfully treats the music as a concert piece, rather than film music. The performances of all the works by the English Northern Philharmonia and Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the baton of David Lloyd-Jones are excellent, idiomatic, and persuasive.
Lord Berners A Wedding Bouquet, March, Luna Park RTE Chamber Choir, RTE Sinfonietta, Kenneth Alwyn 8.555223
Another Marco Polo re-issue, this time of a disc recorded in 1994, this opens with A Wedding Bouquet, a choral ballet to a text by Gertrude Stein, choreographed by Frederick Ashton. Set at a wedding in rural France, it paints pictures of the guests and scenes of the various goings-on. The work is a happy riot of sound, rife with episodes both amusing and touching, in excellent performances from the RTE Chamber Choir and Sinfonietta under the assured baton of Kenneth Alwyn. The rather lovely March which follows was discovered by Philip Lane as a piano score in a chest in the basement of Berners’ house. However, the scoring suggested that it might have been intended for brass or an instrumental group —hence Lane’s arrangement, heard here, for brass ensemble. Luna Park is the third and final work on the disc. A “fantastic ballet in one act,” it is set in a ‘freak show’ pavilion which in fact contains actors wearing elaborate props and costumes. After performing, once the showman has departed, the so-called ‘freaks’ discard these getups, dance again, and then decide to leave the circus, slipping away and leaving the showman —when he returns to give a second performance— to pull up the curtain on the abandoned detritus. Here is a disc full of attractive music of charm, wit, and delicacy.--Em Marshall-Luck