Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis opens this superb CD. Boult conducts the New Philharmonia Orchestra, as in the ensuing Sixth Symphony, in live performances from 1972. The Fantasia is particularly outstanding: searingly beautiful, soaring, lyrical, and radiant. I'd go so far as to say that this is one of the best recordings I know of this work; Boult really gets to the heart of it. His account of the Sixth Symphony is incisive and chilling, and is followed by excellent performances of Hadley's One Morning in Spring and Bax's light-hearted and exotic Mediterranean, both with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969.
Anthony Collins Conducts British Music New Symphony Orchestra of London, London Symphony Orchestra, Anthony Collins MCPS LC14244
Recorded in the 1950s under the baton of Anthony Collins, this disc opens with Sullivan's Overture di Ballo. Collins is probably best known for his recordings of Sibelius's symphonies, his score for the film Victoria the Great, and the miniature Vanity Fair. Here he proves himself an excellent conductor of English music, with a nice light touch in the Sullivan and the ensuing Gardiner's Shepherd Fennell's Dance and Grainger's Shepherd's Hey, all 1956 recordings with the New Symphony Orchestra of London. Serene and gentle performances of Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and Fantasia on Greensleeves follow, and Delius rounds off the disc, with evocative renditions of A Walk to Paradise Garden and A Song of Summer played by the London Symphony Orchestra. This is an excellent disc full of good, unrushed performances and a nice range of works.
Britten Who are these Children? Daniel Norman, Christopher Gould BIS-CD-1510
A lovely programme opens with Britten's Winter Words, moves on to Four Burns Songs and Who are these Children?, and ends with a selection of single songs. Daniel Norman (tenor) has a powerful voice and a feeling for these songs, effectively creating appropriate atmosphere. Apart from wrong notes (in A Riddle), Gould is a sensitive accompanist. Who are these Children? is, however, taken very gradually -- A Laddie's Sang is, for example, just too slow. This album is a bit of a mixed bag, with, at best, some good singing and a lovely choice of works.
Songs of Rutland Boughton Louise Mott, Alexander Taylor BMS431CD
Here is a collection of gorgeous songs—lyrical, romantic, wistful, and passionate— from the pen of Rutland Boughton. Louise Mott sings them with knowledge and understanding, and Alexander Taylor is a delicate accompanist on this highly recommended release.
John Joubert Orchestral Works BMS 419 CD
This disc was issued to celebrate John Joubert's seventieth birthday in 1997, and features première recordings of Temps Perdu-Variations for String Orchestra, the Sinfonietta, and The Instant Moment. These are taut, well-constructed works, full of a very English melancholy and wistfulness. The sound is good, apart from the Sinfonietta, in which you can hear (presumably) the conductor breathing and sighing- slightly distracting! The song-cycle The Instant Moment, which concludes the disc, is a powerful work sung well by Henry Herford. This is strong and heady stuff, in committed and sincere performances by the English String Orchestra and William Boughton.
Handel Acis and Galatea 83.420
Handel Alexander's Feast, Ode for St Cecilia's Day 8.3424 Two discs of Handel from the Carus label are worth mentioning. The first is a two-disc set comprising Alexander's Feast and the Ode for St. Cecilia's Day. Both are settings of John Dryden's poetry, and were composed in London, the latter written for the Feast of St Cecilia, and the former for the opening of the Covent Garden Theatre Season. The second disc is Acis and Galatea, Handel's first English dramatic work, and this is the premiere recording of Mendelssohn's arrangement of the masque. Both discs boast stellar casts, with Peter Neumann conducting the Collegium Cartusianum and Kolner Kammerchor in Alexander's Feast / Ode for St Cecilia's Day, while Acis and Galatea counts Christoph Pregardien amongst its singers (with Nicholas McGegan conducting the FestSpiel Orchester Gottingen and the NDR Chor). The solo and choral singing is superb throughout, and the general standard of playing is also top notch. These are excellent performances of some really lovely music.
Benjamin Britten The Beggar's Opera City of London Sinfonia, Christian Curnyn CHAN 10548(2)
With his play The Beggar's Opera, John Gay created a new form by including popular songs to reflect life as the lower classes of London would have known it. The music of the original opera included traditional folksongs, well-known ballads, and songs drawn from the works of Handel, Purcell and other composers. After enjoying many years of popularity, the opera went out of fashion until it was given numerous revivals throughout the twentieth century, by composers such as Frederick Austin and Bliss (in a new film version). Britten's version of 1948 used almost all of the original airs, but also included a new overture and some new text. This recording, with Christian Curnyn conducting the City of London Sinfonia, features an excellent cast. The acting is particularly fine, with the spoken interludes realistically rough and wonderfully characterful. The singing is also of top quality, although on occasion it could be a little more suitably raucous. Nonetheless, this is a superb recording of a work that can be rather difficult to bring off well.
Within a Dream: A Celebration of the Artistry of Richard Hickox CHAN 10568(2)
The untimely death of that much-admired conductor of English music, Richard Hickox, in Autumn 2008 shocked the music world and left friends, family and fans of the conductor with a gaping hole in their lives. The Richard Hickox Foundation, established to further the musical causes dear to Hickox, made the production of this disc one of its first major ventures. This two-disc set on the Chandos label, for which Hickox recorded so extensively, contains a number of excerpts from the many superb recordings on which conductor and record label collaborated. Bridge, Britten, Elgar, Grainger, Holst, Malcolm Arnold, William Lloyd Webber, Stanford, Delius and Tavener are all represented, as is, of course, Vaughan Williams, a composer into whose music Hickox had a unique insight, and of which he was a consummate interpreter. The fact that proceeds from the sale of this disc go to the Foundation is just a further reason to buy this deeply moving compilation.
Sullivan Ivanhoe David Lloyd-Jones, BBC National Orchestra of Wales CHAN 10578(3)
Sullivan's only 'grand' opera, a romantic and serious work based on Sir Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe, at long last receives a performance befitting its importance. Chandos has pulled out all the stops, with David Lloyd-Jones conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the Adrian Partington Singers, and an impressive cast that includes Stephen Gadd, James Rutherford, Toby Spence, Andrew Staples, Janice Watson and Catherine Wyn-Rogers. The performance lives up to expectation. It is well-paced and exciting, with Lloyd-Jones creating some wonderful moments of dramatic tension and generally working magic with the orchestra and chorus, while the cast of soloists sparkle. This is glorious music, and a recording to treasure.
Elgar The Crown of India BBC Philharmonic, Sir Andrew Davies CHAN 10570(2)
The full score of Elgar's masque TheCrown of India was lost in the early 1970s and a substantial portion of the music remained only in its piano arrangement form. Anthony Payne (of the Third Symphony) has recently undertaken the formidable task of re-orchestrating the lost sections, and this disc is therefore the premiere recording of the complete work. The story is very dated (not that this is a bad thing)— Indian cities compete for the honour of being proclaimed the Capital—while the music, played by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Andrew Davies, is utterly glorious: sparkling, tuneful and memorable. The singing of Gerald Finley and Clare Shearer is also of the highest calibre. It is regrettable, however, that the disc is let down by the spoken parts; the modern voices and acting style are at odds with the old-fashioned texts. Although Joanne Mitchell's more mature voice (as Delhi) works much better than the others, in general the deliverance and content clash: old-school acting is needed to pull this piece off. Nevertheless, the disc is worth buying for both the superb music-making and the opportunity to hear this charming work in full.
Bright Orb of Harmony The Sixteen, Harry Christophers COR16069
Here is a powerful juxtaposition of sacred works by Henry Purcell, and four pieces by James Macmillan including the deeply emotional A Child's Prayer. Old and new sit comfortably together, especially when given performances of this high a standard, from the Sixteen under their director Harry Christophers. Beautiful singing, expert directorship and a superb programme result in an atmospheric and compelling disc. Other noteworthy releases from the same label include the aptly named Sounds Sublime (COR16073), a two-disc compilation set drawn from the Sixteen's vast catalogue of Coro recordings. It includes such favourites as Purcell's Thou Knowest, Tallis's Spem in Alium, and Tavener's The Lamb, along with works by Britten, Handel, Sheppard, and a number of foreign composers. Another praise-worthy disc is the Sixteen's lively and buoyant performance of Handel's Dixit Dominus, which is twinned with Steffani's Stabat Mater, composed for the Academy of Vocal Music in London in 1727 (COR16076).
* STAR DISC * Holbrooke Symphonic Poems Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt, Howard Griffiths CPO 777 442-2
This is a hugely welcome release! For far too long the music of Josef Holbrooke has lain neglected, and it is ironic and rather frustrating that it has taken a German label, rather than an English one, to resurrect these fantastic symphonic poems. As if sensitive to this irony, the notes quote Holbrooke thus: "What is wanted is the death by starvation of 3 or 4 English composers. Scarcely anything short of this will awaken the public to recognition of the way they are being treated....Their work is not wanted at home. They have to waste their money and time in travelling to Germany or France in the heart-breaking endeavour to get their music heard abroad, and then when, by good fortune, they have managed to get a hearing in some....German town, they have at last a chance of acceptance at home." This disc, with Howard Griffiths conducting the Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt, opens with the dramatic overture Amontillado (based on the Edgar Allan Poe story The Cask of Amontillado)— which is impressive enough—but then goes on to the staggering symphonic poem The Viking. Based on Longfellow's ballad The Skeleton in Armour, it tells the story of a Viking who renounces his wild ways to marry the Princess he loves. He runs away with her, kills her pursuing father at sea, and then, when she dies soon after they have settled happily on a foreign shore, he falls upon his own sword to join her in death. This deeply exciting work is suitably tempestuous and boisterous, fantastically pictorial and vivid, and is given a tremendously exhilarating performance. The Symphonic Variations on an Old English Air - Three Blind Mice ensues, a fascinating and cleverly composed work, almost otherworldly at times. The disc finishes with Ulalume, another symphonic poem based on a Poe story, given a ravishingly beautiful rendition.
Thomas Weelkes Sacred Choral Music, Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum, Benjamin Nicholas DCD34070
Thomas Weelkes was the organist of Chichester Cathedral, and a composer of some distinction. This disc, amazingly enough, includes premiere recordings of his six-part motet O Vox Omnes, anthem Christ Rising Again, and the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis from the Third Service. Whilst the latter three works are reconstructions, the motet was discovered in a set of partbooks twenty years ago. These are works of great power and beauty, as are the other motets, anthems, canticles and sacred madrigals featured on the disc, culminating in the great Hosanna to the Lord. They are given exemplary performances by Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum, under Benjamin Nicholas. If the boys' intonation is, on occasion, slightly wobbly, this is made up for by the strength and radiance of their singing in general. Vaughan Williams
A Capella Choral Works Laudibus, Mike Brewer DCD34074
This is a splendid disc of Vaughan Williams, combining much-loved choral works (the Mass in G minor, Greensleeves, and Three Shakespeare Songs) with some rarities: how lovely to hear works such as The Souls of the Righteous, Love is a Sickness and Heart's Music! The award-winning choir Laudibus, directed by Mike Brewer, is on superlative form here, with radiant and beautiful singing of great clarity and insight.
Blow the Wind Southerly: Songs of Life and Longing from the North-East of England Ashton, Treherne, Gray, Harrison ddv24139 A pleasing programme of nostalgic Victorian parlour songs, interspersed with contemporary instrumental episodes, is performed by Margarette Ashton accompanied by Peter Harrison (flute), Rachel Gray (cello) and John Treherne (piano). The instruments are historic and, consequently, occasionally rather rough. Ashton's voice is also rather strained at times. Some of the songs are charming, and this is a good attempt to recreate a particular period of English musical history, but I'm afraid I find myself unconvinced by the performance.
Peter Warlock Collected 78rpm Recordings ddh27811
This is an invaluable compilation of historic Warlock recordings, taken from a collection of records left to the Peter Warlock Society by my mentor, John Bishop, on his death in 2000. The first CD in the two-disc set includes several versions of the Capriol Suite, such as a rendition conducted by Constant Lambert in 1937, the Serenade for Strings (in performances by both Lambert and Barbirolli), and arrangements of the Purcell Fantazias. It ends with a chilling recording of The Curlew, with Rene Soames, Leon Goossens and the Aeolian String Quartet. Haunting stuff. The second disc features the songs, performed by such artists as John Goss, Peter Dawson, Gerald Moore, Peter Pears, Roy Henderson, Nancy Evans and Dennis Noble. The version of The First Mercy with boy soprano Billy Neeley is utterly magical. Some might find it hard to get accustomed to the style of some performances, which date back to 1925, but there is much beauty and emotion here (and the recordings are also incredibly important historical documents). This is an absolute must for anyone interested in this loveable rogue of a composer, and English song in general.
Elgar Nursery Suite Sir Mark Elder and Sir Edward Elgar EECD008
Elgar's Nursery Suite was composed in 1930 and dedicated to the Duchess of York and her two daughters, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen) and Princess Margaret. The eight-movement piece used some of the earliest tunes that Elgar had written, and is utterly delightful. This disc presents two very different recordings of the work, the first dating from 2006, with Sir Mark Elder conducting the Royal College of Music Junior Department Symphony Orchestra, and the second Elgar's own 1931 recording with the London Symphony Orchestra (and his great friend Billy Reed playing the violin solo in the coda). Elgar's version is faster, less sentimental, and contains a greater sense of urgency in the swifter movements such as Busy-ness. The sound is amazingly good. As a bonus, the disc concludes with a performance of the National Anthem, arranged and conducted by Elgar. This is a fascinating recording, available from the Elgar Birthplace Museum.
Robin Orr Centenary Tribute GHCD 2350
A collection of works by the composer Robin Orr (1909-2006) opens with the Sonatina for violin and piano. Other works featured include the Sonata for viola and piano (taken from a BBC Radio 3 broadcast), the Serenade for string trio, Duo for violin and cello, and Sonata for violin and harpsichord. Some of the acclaimed artists on the disc include James Durrant, Lawrence Glover, Leonard Friedman and Thurston Dart. The proficiently composed music is generally fairly astringent and terse, with an occasional undercurrent of desolation and sorrow. These are excellent performances of interesting works.
Haydn Wood A Breezy Ballad: Songs and Ballads of Haydn Wood Shae Apland, Sharon Wishart www.haydnwoodmusic.com
This disc presents a selection of fantastic songs by the now too-little-known composer Haydn Wood. The works featured here -sometimes deeply passionate and stirring, sometimes perfectly charming— remind us that Wood was a composer of great skill and ability. The song Khaki and Gold blew me away, and by itself is worth the purchase price of the disc. Bass baritone Shae Apland has a robust, powerful voice, although his vowels often sound rather strange to an English ear and his vibrato is, on occasion, a little excessive. He is, however, very good in the more martial and nautical songs. He is joined by Sharon Wishart on piano, and, in a few songs, by Haydn Wood's great-niece Marjorie Cullerne, who provides authentic-sounding violin interjections. It is a shame that the disc, which contains good notes (though, sadly, no song-texts), could not have been given a glossier booklet.
Flying Horse: Music From the ML Lutebook Elizabeth Kenny CDA67776
This CD features lute music from a book compiled in the 1620s, which probably belonged to a well-born lady of the time by the name of Margaret (whose initials are presumed to be the 'ML' by which the book is known). The disc is subtitled Flying Horse after the anonymous piece that closes it, since the spirit of that work, which depicts Pegasus (the winged horse of the classical world), seems to pervade the whole set of pieces. Composers featured in Margaret's book range from the well-known (Dowland, Robert Johnson and Antony Holborne) through to the less familiar (Julien Perrichon, Mercure d'Orleans and Daniel Bacheler), although of course there are numerous anonymous pieces as well. Many are dances— Pavans, Courantes and Galliards— some are popular songs of the time (John Come Kiss Me Now and Tom of Bedlam), while others are vividly descriptive works, such as The Battle and the eponymous Flying Horse. All are played with perfect sensitivity and conviction by Elizabeth Kenny, here proving herself as outstanding a player as ever.
York Bowen The Piano Sonatas Danny Driver CDA67751/2
Bowen, one of the most impressive and (until recently) obscure English composers of the early twentieth century, is receiving an over-due resurrection. Almost every new release further reveals the composer's genius, and this collection of his piano sonatas is no exception. A two-disc set, it comprises the piano sonatas nos. 1-6 and the Short Sonata in C sharp minor as well. The pieces come to life in all their brilliance under the assured and dexterous hands of Danny Driver. This is scintillating music of passion, intelligence, and often great lyrical beauty, performed with musicality, virtuosity and understanding.
Benedict and Macfarren Piano Concertos Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Howard Shelley CDA67720
The forty-eighth disc in Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto series is comprised of works for piano and orchestra by Julius Benedict and Walter Macfarren. Benedict's Concerto in C minor opens the disc. It is a well-crafted and pleasant work, fairly classical and traditional—well worth hearing, if unexceptional—followed by Benedict's E flat major concerto with its bright and breezy first movement. Both pieces took a while to develop into piano concertos, parts of them forming other works before taking their final shapes. The Macfarren presented here is not the well-known Victorian composer Sir George Alexander Macfarren, but his younger brother. Born in London, he was a piano tutor at the Royal Academy of Music (teaching, amongst others, Henry Wood). The Concertstück in E minor is a delightfully tuneful piece, and makes a lovely conclusion to the disc. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra under the directorship of soloist Howard Shelley acquit themselves well, and Shelley himself is on top form.
Herbert Songs Gilchrist, Tynan, Norris CKD 335
These songs by Muriel Herbert are quite a revelation: works of tremendous beauty, charm and power from a little-known composer. They are given marvellous performances by James Gilchrist and Ailish Tynan, accompanied by David Owen Norris, as sensitive as ever. The sound is superb, as are the notes (by Herbert's daughter), and the general presentation of the disc. The performers are authoritative advocates for this music, and the songs work well for Gilchrist's rich and elegant, sometimes quite languorous voice, and Tynan's clear soprano. The latter's Irish accent is pronounced in some songs.
Purcell Ten Sonatas in Four Parts Retrospect Trio CKD 332
Two other superb recent releases from Linn comprise John Ward's consort music for five and six viols, and Purcell's Ten Sonatas in Four Parts. Both discs are beautifully produced, boast excellent sound, and feature works that are full of novelty and interest. The viol consort Phantasm, directed by founder Laurence Dreyfus, give the John Ward pieces performances of conviction and superb ensemble playing, in the first complete recording of this music. The Purcell sonatas are played by the Retrospect Trio with great sensitivity, capturing the richness and beauty of these intriguing works. These are outstanding performances, definitely worth a listen.
John Ireland 70th Birthday Concert London Philharmonic Orchestra, Adrian Boult LPO-0041
This disc presents a live recording of a Promenade Concert given in 1949 to mark John Ireland's seventieth birthday, with Sir Adrian Boult conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It commences with a snappy and confident performance of the London Overture, with a very atmospheric opening (as, indeed, there is to the ensuing work, the Piano Concerto). Here, however, the piano soloist—Australian pianist Eileen Joyce— sounds a bit lack-lustre, although this is possibly due to the cavernous innards of the Royal Albert Hall in which it was recorded! The sound is, overall, a bit restricted, and although this is not surprising it is, nonetheless, a bit of a shame. A good performance of the Forgotten Rite Prelude follows, and the cantata These Things Shall Be concludes the disc. Again, the sound is a little strained, but baritone soloist Redvers Llewellyn is good, and the Luton Choral Society give a fine and moving performance on this historic disc.
Britten Double Concerto, etc London Philharmonic Orchestra, Jurowski LPO-0037
Here is another superb release from the London Philharmonic Orchestra's own label, this time of more recent (2006 and 2008) performances directed by their Principal Conductor, Vladimir Jurowski, of works by Benjamin Britten. The disc opens with an energetic rendition of the Double Concerto for Violin and Viola, with Pieter Schoeman (violin) and Alexander Zemtsov (viola). It also includes the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, and Les Illuminations, with Sally Matthews as the formidable soprano soloist. Jurowski is one of the most dynamic young conductors in the UK at the moment, and so these recordings, are, as might be expected, exciting and vivacious.
Lyrita 50th Anniversary British Music Sets SRCD.2337 and 2338
To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, Lyrita has published two four-disc sets featuring fifty wonderful recordings from its extensive catalogue of English music. Here you will find such rare treasures as Bantock's Russian Scenes, Holst's Japanese Suite, Foulds's Mantra of Bliss, Hadley's One Morning in Spring, Hurlstone's Variations on a Hungarian Air, Coleridge Taylor's Valse de la Reine, Moeran's second Rhapsody, and Peter Warlock's An Old Song. There are also superb, and often historically important, performances of better-known works such as Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad, Delius's AWalk to Paradise Garden, Finzi's Eclogue, Howells's Merry-Eye, Bax's Northern Ballads and Vaughan Williams's Tallis Fantasia. The order of pieces on the eight discs is alphabetical (by composer's name). This not only facilitates finding pieces by a particular composer, but also makes for fascinating and sometimes unexpected listening when playing the discs from start to finish. The performances -by the likes of Tod Handley, Sir Edward Downes, Sir Charles Groves, Nicholas Braithwaite and Sir Adrian Boult, and on occasion the composers themselves (Alwyn, Walton, Arnold, Bliss, Berkeley)— are infallibly of the very highest standard. This is a collection to treasure.
The Rebels Within, Adam Brown This compilation of works for guitar includes Britten's Nocturnal after John Dowland and Lennox Berkeley's Theme and Variations. Brown, here recording his debut album, plays with conviction and sensitivity. He has clearly chosen works that are important to him, and his knowledge and love of them come through in the recording. The CD notes are a little brief and the presentation is slightly basic, but this disc would nonetheless be a fine choice for anyone interested in these works.
Vaughan Williams Piano Concerto Ashley Wass, James Judd, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra 8.572304
The disc opens with an atmospheric rendition of Vaughan Williams's overture The Wasps (Aristophanic Suite), with James Judd proving a masterly conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. It is followed by a powerful performance of the Piano Concerto, with Ashley Wass as a very convincing and assured soloist. The English Folk Song Suite follows, orchestrated by Gordon Jacob, and the Running Set completes the disc. These are wonderful performances of a wide range of Vaughan Williams's music.
In Terra Pax: A Christmas Anthology Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, City of London Choir, Davan Wetton 8.572102
Christmas may have been and gone, but this disc of Christmas music is so superb that it can be enjoyed all year round. Hilary Davan Wetton conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and City of London Choir, and is joined by the suave, rich baritone of Roderick Williams, along with soprano Julia Doyle. The main works are Finzi's In Terra Pax, of which Davan Wetton gives a deeply moving performance, and Vaughan Williams's gorgeous Folk Songs of the Four Seasons. Other gems include Howells's A Spotless Rose, Holst's Christmas Day, and Gardner's Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day. Davan Wetton conducted the latter for years at St Paul's Girls' School (at which Gardner, following in Holst and Howells's footsteps, was Director of Music) and he is still its unrivalled interpreter.
The English Viola Magyar, Imai 8.572407
These are good performances of three important English viola works. The disc opens with Bliss's Viola Sonata, a work that is alternately lyrical, astringent and frantic, and follows this with Delius's romantic Third Violin Sonata. Frank Bridge's Pieces for Viola and Piano complete the disc, and are given a very free performance, played almost with abandon. The standard of musicianship from Eniko Magyar (viola) and Tadashi Imai (piano) is very high on this excellent disc.
Edward German Tom Jones National Festival Orchestra, David Russell Hulme 8.660270-71
Edward German's Tom Jones is a fantastic operetta, with much wonderful music and superb tunes, and this Naxos version is the first complete recording of the work. It receives a top-class performance from the National Festival Orchestra and Chorus under the skilled direction of David Russell Hulme. The solo singing is excellent throughout, my only quibble being that some of the men, when affecting a rural accent (as in the Act I sextet, The Barley Mow), don't quite capture the twang, and consequently sound somewhat American. However, if you want music of passion, nostalgia, romance, comedy and poignancy, this is the work for you, in a glorious, radiant performance!
Vaughan Williams Sacred Choral Music The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge; Timothy Brown 8.572465
This outstanding disc includes a range of works, some much-loved (such as the Mass in G Minor), whilst others will be less familiar to listeners. The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, are skilfully directed by Timothy Brown. The voices are beautifully integrated, in almost visionary performances of tremendous clarity. Occasionally the soloists fail to excite, but the luminosity and conviction of the choir is impressive, particularly, for example, in the Amens of the Mass's Credo - magical! There is also a gripping sense of drama in A Vision of Aeroplanes.
Ivor Gurney Songs Susan Bickley, Iain Burnside 8.572151 First of all, a confession: I have never been convinced that, unless specifically written for female voice, English solo song works when sung by a woman. It seems to lack the nostalgia, poignancy, subtlety of nuance and wistfulness that a male voice (for me) creates, and often the poems set by the composer have a male persona and therefore don't make sense in a woman's rendition. That said, if you are unfussy about who is singing, then this disc contains a number of exquisitely beautiful gems. Susan Bickley is as good an interpreter as you'll find, while Iain Burnside (as ever) is a sensitive accompanist, making this one of the top female-voice recordings of English solo songs.
Percy Grainger The Complete Piano Music, Martin Jones NI1767
Although not a new release (it was produced in 1997), this five-disc set of Percy Grainger's complete piano music is nevertheless worth a mention. The first CD comprises Grainger's original compositions for piano, disc three his folksong arrangements, and discs two and four his arrangements for piano of other composers' music (from Bach and Dowland to Gershwin and a Chinese melody, via Stanford, Delius, Strauss and Rachmaninov!) The final disc in the set contains four more short pieces for one piano (two of Grainger's own, and two arrangements), and compositions for four hands and six hands (one piece, the gorgeous, rocking Zanzibar Boat-Song, is for six hands at one piano...) The music is as characterful, sparkling and (sometimes) downright wacky as anyone acquainted with Grainger's music will remember, with some strokes of utter genius thrown in for good measure. Exclusive Nimbus artist Martin Jones gives some wonderful performances, although he can, occasionally, be rather more genteel than the music demands. The entire set is most beautifully produced, and comes highly recommended.
Percy Grainger Plays Grainger NI 8809
Fuller-bloodied and gustier playing of these works is available on another Nimbus disc (this time in their Grand Piano series of performances, which were recorded by the Aeolian Company's Duo-Art process on the reproducing piano). The programme is a mixture of original compositions, folk-songs, and arrangements of music by other composers. Grainger provides chaotic, wildly abandoned performances, freed from the restrictions that pianists normally adhere to, such as playing what is on the page in time! This is natural, instinctive playing: wonderful stuff.
This exciting disc of rare Britten opens with Les Illuminations, with the addition of three songs that Britten originally sketched but then discarded from the cycle, here orchestrated by Colin Matthews. Sandrine Piau is the accomplished soprano soloist, providing radiant singing. This is followed by the early work Rondo Concertante, dexterously played by pianist Rolf Hind, who also performs the moody Variations for solo piano. In Memoriam Dennis Brain, composed in 1958 on the death of the celebrated horn-player and scored for four horns, strings and percussion, was left incomplete and has here been finished by Colin Matthews. It contains echoes from Britten's great song-cycle Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, which had been written at Brain's request. The disc finishes with a reconstruction, again by Matthews, of the Movements for a Clarinet Concerto. The first draft of Britten's Clarinet Concerto was impounded by US Customs, and by the time the score was released and sent back to the composer, he had moved on to other things and never returned it. Once again, the performance is excellent, with Michael Collins playing the clarinet solo and the Northern Sinfonia under conductor Thomas Zehetmair on top form throughout. This is a highly recommended and truly fascinating release.
Shakespeare's Tempest Kansas City Symphony, Michael Stern RR-115
This disc from the American label Reference Recordings contains incidental music written for Shakespeare's The Tempest, and opens with a piece by Sullivan. He composed his music for the play at the age of nineteen, making it his earliest major work. It is delightful— characteristically sparkling and brilliant— and is here given an excellent performance by the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra under Michael Stern. A wonderfully light touch, especially in the dancing woodwind, sets this piece off very well indeed. The sound is pleasantly clear, and the disc very nicely presented: highly recommended.
Lincolnshire Posy: Music for Band by Percy Grainger Dallas Wind Symphony RR-117
This excellent disc contains a number of much-loved works by Percy Grainger, including Molly on the Shore, The Children's March (in which the Dallas Wind Band are joined by the Arts District Chorale), Mock Morris, The Gum-Suckers March, a moving performance of the Irish Tune from County Derry,and the eponymous Lincolnshire Posy. The band bring out Grainger's incredible colouring and harmonies superbly, in animated, joyful and sympathetic renditions. There is much versatility in their performances and, at certain points, some fairly virtuosic playing. The disc ends on a fast and furious high note with Shepherd's Hey. Reference Recordings has been doing a great deal of excellent work for English music over the years, and I would like to recommend a few more of their recordings, two of which also feature the Dallas Wind Band. One is a disc of Malcolm Arnold's music for wind band (RR-66CD), which includes many premiere performances. The Dallas Wind Band get the measure of these works perfectly and are particularly effective in the slightly brasher episodes. The other disc (RR-39CD) comprises Holst's Moorside Suite, Suites Nos 1 and 2, and Hammersmith. They also capture these works well, with steady pacing and warm, lively playing.
Another disc features choral works by Rutter (RR-57CD), including an impressive account of the Requiem, with the Turtle Creek Chorale and Dallas Women's Choir. RR-47CD presents concert works by Robert Farnon, and opens with his Captain Horatio Hornblower Suite (for the 1951 Gregory Peck film), moving on to such gems as À la Claire Fontaine, A Promise of Spring, the gorgeous Intermezzo for harp and strings, and the stirring Rhapsody for violin and orchestra. The composer conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in top-class performances, proving that that Farnon was far, far more than just a composer of light music.
One last noteworthy disc from Reference is a recording of Sir John Tavener's Ikon of Eros (RR-102CD), with the Minnesota Orchestra and Minnesota Chorale conducted by Paul Goodwin, and celebrated Tavener exponent Patrizia Rozario singing the soprano role. There is some intriguing music here, searingly beautiful at times, dramatic and exciting at others. The disc also has the bonus of an interview with Tavener as the final track; again, fascinating.
Bax Concertino for Piano and Orchestra Ireland Piano Concerto and Legend Orchestra of the Swan, Curtis, Bebbington SOMMCD 242
I was lucky enough to be at the recent premiere in Stratford-upon-Avon of the amazing work that opens this disc. Bax's Concertino (which means—strangely for such a big piece— a "small concerto") was abandoned by the composer, and only completed within the last couple of years by Graham Parlett. It is on a grand scale, romantic, mysterious and virtuosic, and is brilliantly played by Mark Bebbington. The Ireland Concerto and Legend are also given extremely stirring and evocative performances by Bebbington and the Orchestra of the Swan, under David Curtis's accomplished conducting.
Ferguson and Rawsthorne Concertos City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Howard Williams, Mark Bebbington SOMMCD 241
This intriguing disc commences with Howard Ferguson's Piano Concerto. Ferguson was a close friend of Finzi's, and the immediate opening of this concerto bears a great resemblance to the latter's voice. However, the rest of the piece sounds less like Finzi, although the work inhabits the same sound-world of nostalgia, lyricism and poignancy. A good performance of Finzi's Eclogue follows, before a premiere recording of Frederic Austin's Piano Concerto. The film-score background of this work is obvious. It is showy and flamboyant, and Bebbington brings out these elements well. The disc concludes with another premiere recording: the original version of Rawsthorne's first piano concerto for strings and percussion (which he later rescored for full orchestra). It is here given a thoughtful and forceful account by Bebbington and the CBSO.
Piano Music by John Ireland, Volume 2 Mark Bebbington SOMMCD 088
These are expressive performances of some haunting works, including the much-loved Sarnia (inspired by the Channel Islands, so beloved of the composer), Sea Idyll, Greenways and Amberley Wild Brooks. Bebbington provides a superlative interpretation of these pieces.
Robin Milford Piano Music and Songs Terroni and Bannister TOCC 0009
A fascinating compilation of songs and piano music by the largely forgotten English composer Robin Milford, these works are confidently performed by Raphael Terroni (piano) and Phillida Bannister (contralto). The disc features the piano works My Lady's Pleasure, Prelude, Air and Finale and Reputation Square, and includes the immensely beautiful Trim the French and Jack in his Trousers, the latter deftly played by Terroni with a light touch. The most substantial work on the disc is the set of Swan Songs, settings of poetic passages ranging from Andrew Young to Tennyson via the New Testament. Bannister has a good voice and appropriate manner, and sings with sensitivity, excellently accompanied by Terroni. It is easy to see why this disc was picked as the Gramophone Editor's Choice.
Choral Songs in Honour of Queen Victoria Spiritus Chamber Choir, Adian Oliver TOCC 0012
This beautifully presented disc contains the premiere recording of the thirteen songs written in honour of Queen Victoria's eightieth birthday in 1899, thus mirroring Thomas Morley's Triumphes of Oriana written for Elizabeth I. Setting specially written texts by celebrated poets such as Robert Bridges, the composers chosen for this venture included Somervell, Elgar, Stanford, Stainer, Wood, Parry, Mackenzie and Walford Davies, and the result is a set of choral songs of the finest quality. On their debut CD, the Spiritus Choir under the direction of Aidan Oliver show themselves to be a group of tremendous promise and ability, with gloriously clear and luminous sounds. The disc includes excellent notes and song-texts, along with well-produced photographs and a cartoon. --Em Marshall