William Sterndale Bennett and Francis Edward Bache Piano Concertos CDA67595
It is often claimed that England went through a musical 'ice-age' between Purcell and Elgar. This is completely untrue: England had its fair share of top quality composers, ranging from Thomas Linley, whose music was claimed by contemporary sources to be every bit as good as Mozart's, through to the Wesleys. This disc, featuring piano concertos by William Sterndale Bennett (a pupil of Mendelssohn and Schumann) and Francis Edward Bache, testifies to the brilliance of English composition during this period. From the bold, declamatory, impressive opening, through the delicate and elegant slow movement Barcarole to the spirited and witty finale, Sterndale Bennett's fourth piano concerto is brilliantly-crafted, confidently- written (extraordinarily so, given that he was only twenty-three when he wrote it) and brilliantly performed. Howard Shelley plays with fire and passion, and the BBC Scottish Orchestra provide polished and enthusiastic accompaniment. Like Sterndale Bennett, his pupil Bache was also twenty-three when he composed his Piano Concerto in E. The first movement alternates between scintillating, dancing passages and moments of exquisite lyrical beauty, while a romantic slow movement precedes a final movement of fast-runs and almost Sullivanesque glee. Sterndale Bennett's lively Caprice dates from the same period as his fourth piano concerto, and, contrasting poignancy with exultation, it provides the perfect conclusion to this disc.
Herbert Howells and Ralph Vaughan Williams Requiem and Mass in G minor CDH55220
As well as producing top-quality recordings of often rare English works, Hyperion does its listeners the added benefit of later re-releasing these on its cheaper label, Helios. One of the most important recent re-releases is the Corydon Singers' 1983 recording of Vaughan Williams's Mass in G minor and Howells's Requiem, conducted by Matthew Best (CDH55220). The disc boasts a starry line-up of soloists, including, for example, Michael Chance and Philip Salmon, as well as Thomas Trotter on organ. The sound is good, even by today's high standards, and the venue of St Alban's Church in Holborn provides the perfect combination of resonance and clarity: the soprano solos are boy-like in their crystal purity. The Mass is followed by the fantastic Te Deum in G, sung with passion and good enunciation, the words pleasingly audible despite the vibrant resonance (in this piece, the glorious sound really fills the venue). Howells's Requiem, written following the death of his son Michael, is an almost painfully moving and poignant work, and the Corydon Singers bring out all the intensity, heart-rending grief, and lyrical beauty of the piece. The record ends with a touching performance of Howells's Take him, Earth, for Cherishing. This is another exquisite disc of seminally important works from the English sacred music canon.
William Walton and Edmund Rubbra Viola Concertos CDA67587
Walton's viola concerto has fared very well in the catalogue, with many fine performances from which to choose, including those by violinists such as Kennedy and Menuhin. Walton had a habit of tinkering with the orchestration of his early works after their first performances, and the viola concerto was no exception. He later decided to re-orchestrate it by cutting back on the woodwind and trumpets, removing the tuba and adding a harp, and this revised version is the one that is usually used, both in the recording studio and the concert hall. This is the first modern recording of the original version. Lawrence Power is the soloist here, and Ilan Volkov conducts the BBC Scottish Orchestra. Although Power plays magnificently, I do find the overall interpretation a bit lacking in intensity and purpose, especially the faster and more dramatic passages. Indeed, it is the ability to bring out the contrast in Walton, one minute lush and romantic and the next hard-driven and dramatic, that is the key to a successful and satisfying performance; I found this version a little too laid-back. The Rubbra, on the other hand, was a revelation: a work of consummate beauty and elegance, and surprisingly approachable. Rubbra was a great friend of Finzi, and there are some passages in the concerto which sound very like him. Just listen to the theme of the last movement following its meditative introduction. In this, and the Meditations for solo viola, Power's playing has a luminous quality, and the accompaniment is beautifully judged. It is also extremely gratifying to hear how well the Israeli-born conductor Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra get to the heart of these works. This release is highly recommended, especially for the Rubbra.
John Dowland and Benjamin Britten Lute Songs and Nocturnal CDA7648
For those who prefer earlier music there is a good new Dowland release (CDA7648), with the Britten Nocturnal after John Dowland sandwiched between the Dowland song it is based on (Come, Heavy Sleep) and more Dowland songs. Craig Ogden is the sensitive solo guitarist on the Britten piece, whilst Mark Padmore is accompanied by Elizabeth Kenny on the Dowland songs. The rapport between the two is excellent, and they give lively renditions of the songs, full of character, emotion, and contrast. Padmore's voice can sometimes sound a little restricted, but on the whole, these are good versions of some much-loved works.
Joop Celis plays York Bowen CHAN 10410
As well as a singularly talented (yet bafflingly neglected) composer, York Bowen was also an outstanding pianist. He was the first person to ever record Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, and he was a regular concert performer, playing in venues such as the Royal Albert Hall and Queens Hall. It is not surprising, therefore, that he composed a fair amount of piano music, all of it interesting and superbly crafted for the instrument. This second volume of Bowen's piano music, performed by Joop Celis, opens with the substantial and atmospheric Fifth Sonata of 1923, followed by the dreamy and impressionistic Nocturne, played with immense delicacy and beauty. The rest of the works on the disc are premiere recordings: the vividly pictorial Ripples, Two Intermezzi, the engaging Siciliano and Toccatina, Four Bagatelles, and the concluding Evening Calm. The music is always delightful—sometimes evocative and wistful, sometimes roused to great passion and emotion—and the virtuosic Joop Celis plays with great sensitivity and understanding.
Cyril Scott Violin Concerto CHAN 10407
A disc of Cyril Scott's music commences with the astounding Festival Overture, which starts off in a wistful, romantic English sound world not far away from Bax, and then progresses into something more other-worldly and Fouldsian. Just over half-way in, prepare yourself for a grand climax, when rolling drums, rushing strings, and an impressive noise from the organ herald the hair-raising moment when the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus unexpectedly burst forth in solemn and ominous tones. Turn the volume up and feel your spine tingle!Scott's Violin Concerto is in one movement, though it contains different sections. This is a powerful piece, combining brooding lyricism with harsh intensity and a more modern sound. It is played with passion and flair by Olivier Charlier in an impressive performance. The colourful, impressionistic Aubade follows, a score which inspired Debussy to herald Scott as the future of music. The disc concludes with Three Symphonic Dances, an adaptation of Scott's Second Symphony. These consist of a pretty Allegro con brio with folk-like overtones, an Andante of such lush romanticism that Bantock would have been proud of it, and a final Allegro energico, a joyful jig. These are luscious performances from the BBC Philharmonic, under the baton of Martyn Brabbins, of some wonderful works.
Cyril Scott Symphony No. 1 and Cello Concerto CHAN 10452
Another Scott disc from Chandos includes his First Symphony and a cello concerto. The cello concerto here is his second, and dates from 1937. This is its premiere recording, possibly its premiere performance. It has a mysterious and slightly otherworldly opening, with a sinuous cello line, played beautifully here by Paul Watkins, that works slowly but inevitably up to a fiery climax in a disproportionately long first movement. A similarly haunting second movement leads into a finale that contrasts more involved passages with ones of cold beauty, remoteness and distance. Scott composed the Symphony at the tender age of twenty, although it was withdrawn shortly after its first performance. The first movement is lively and joyful, with soaring strings and bird-song sounds, and the performance by the BBC Philharmonic under Martyn Brabbins is poetic and lush. The second and third movements are richly pastoral (in the best sense of that word), the second movement wistful with its eloquent cor anglais passages, and the third movement vivacious. The finale is a set of variations, contrasting the solemn with the chirpy, and the work concludes with a grand climax. This is an enthralling disc.
Edgar Bainton Premiere Recordings CHAN 10460
Though he eventually emigrated to Australia, Edgar Bainton is another of those English composers of tremendous innovation, artistry, and lyricism who have something valuable to say and an original voice in which to say it. This release is entirely comprised of premiere recordings. Listening to it, it seems incredible that these lovely pieces have never been recorded before.
The record opens with the Three Pieces for Orchestra. In 1914, Bainton (along with Benjamin Dale) was captured as a British civilian prisoner when he went to Germany for Bayreuth, and was taken to Ruhleben Camp. Entrusted with organising and conducting music in the camp, he composed incidental music for productions of two Shakespeare plays, some of which he later re-arranged as these utterly delightful Three Pieces: a Pavane, Idyll, and Bacchanal. The Pavane is splendidly elegant and delicate, with a wonderful sense of poise and grace; the Idyll is a pastoral movement with a flute indicating an idyllic rusticity; and the Bacchanal concludes the work with exuberance and delight. TheGolden River is based on Ruskin's fairy-story, in which the King of the GoldenRiver appears to the good youngest brother, telling him how to restore his country to its previous bounty after its ruin by his evil elder brothers, and the music is suitably dramatic, impassioned, and descriptive. The disc is closed by the unusual and intriguing Concerto fantasia, given a first-rate performance by Margaret Fingerhut. The BBC Philharmonic conducted by the peerless Paul Daniel play superbly on this highly recommended disc.
Eric Coates The Enchanted Garden SRCD.213
The main work on this Eric Coates disc is the ballet The Enchanted Garden. Inspired by Coates's own ancient, mysterious, and beautiful garden in Sidlesham, Sussex, it is given a sparkling performance here. The other featured works include the lush and romantic Valse Dancing Nights, and the Three Men Suite, which portrays the bustling "Man from the Country," the suave "Man from Town" and the "Man from the Sea" using the tunes Johnny Come Down to Silo, Three Blind Mice, and hornpipe figures respectively. The Four Centuries Suite represents dances from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, but only the last movement is present on this disc, the twentieth-century Rhythm, with its jazzy syncopation. Coates re-arranged many of his most popular songs for orchestra, and several are included here, such as the effervescent I Pitch my Lonely Caravan, and an evocative combination of the symphonic rhapsody arrangements of Birdsong at Eventide and I Heard You Singing, as well as Summer Afternoon, here an Idyll. Barry Wordsworth has considerable expertise in ballet and light music, and he and the LPO make a good team on this appealing record.
Gordon Jacob Symphonies SRCD.315
Gordon Jacob spent much of his life at the Royal College of Music, first as a student and then later as a member of staff, although his earlier years had been interrupted (like those of many others) by the Great War. His dearest brother, Anstey Jacob, was killed at the Somme, and Gordon himself was captured. This disc includes the premiere recording of his First Symphony, twinned with the Second Symphony. The First Symphony was dedicated to Anstey's memory. An agitated, terse and astringent first movement Allegro e molto risoluto leads into the second movement Lento e mesto, in which a more peaceful opening builds to a powerful and solemn climax, described by the composer as "in the style of a funeral march." A light, sunny, lively and quirky third movement is followed by a mysterious, modal Larghetto, and the symphony concludes with a fast-moving and quixotic Allegro con fuoco. The Second Symphony was composed sixteen years later, and Jacob called it a "meditation on war suffering and victory." In the opening movement, buoyant martial themes contrast with more peaceful and lyrical episodes. The second movement is pure nobility— melancholic, yet beautiful— and a slightly menacing scherzo ensues. The finale is unsettled, but ends in a dark show of triumph. These characterful, well-constructed and original symphonies are given masterful performances by the LPO and Barry Wordsworth.
E. J. Moeran Cello Concerto SRCD.299
Moeran composed his Cello Concerto in 1945 for Peers Coetmore, the cellist wife he adored. This is the only recording of her performing the work written for her. The orchestral opening is emotionally charged and intense, raising expectations for a stunning performance. However, there is a rough edge to Coetmore's cello tone: her intonation is occasionally dodgy, and her performance on the whole is cavalier, terribly unfocused and unconvincing. The second movement is taken at a very slow pace, while the cello opening to the final movement is laboured. Although the London Philharmonic Orchestra play excellently under Sir Adrian Boult (the orchestral interlude just over half-way through this movement is superb, intensely beautiful, with sublime soaring strings), the solos are over-aggressive and do not dance as they should. Similarly, in the Cello Sonata, Coetmore is too mannered and the cello line does not sing. Although this is a fascinating recording from the historical point of view, the works fail to come to life.
William Alwyn Mirages SRCD.293
Mirages is a passionate, sometimes chilling, and generally rather dark song-cycle, in which Alwyn set his own poems in a superbly-crafted marriage of words and music. Here it is sung with great sensitivity and insight by Benjamin Luxon, with David Willison an adroit accompanist. It opens this two-disc Alwyn set, and is followed by the Divertimento for flute. Alwyn was himself a professional flautist (one can also add 'artist' to his list of accomplishments, as the CD cover testifies) and a Sonatina for flute is succeeded by the atmospheric Naides for harp and flute, originally written for masterful flautist Christopher Hyde-Smith and sympathetic harpist Marisa Robles, who perform it here. The second disc is comprised of piano works, the Fantasy-Waltzes and the Sonata Alla Toccata. The former contains eleven pieces of great diversity, and was dedicated to Alwyn's friend, the New Zealand pianist Richard Farrell. The Sonata alla Toccata is a neo-classical work of great charm and delight, with solemn and grand opening bars leading immediately into a lively dancing movement. Both the Sonata and the Fantasy-Waltzes are excellently played by a virtuosic Sheila Rondell.
William Sterndale Bennett Overtures and Symphony SRCD.206
On this collection of Sterndale Bennett works the pastorale The May Queen (originally a stand-alone overture entitled Marie du Bois) is followed by the Wood Nymphs overture, both effective and confidently-composed pieces. The ensuing symphony is a later work, inspired by the sight of the Rhine, and later completed on the train from Cambridge to London! The third movement Romanza was a later addition, adapted from an unpublished song of Bennett's. Two more overtures follow the symphony, including Naiades, also inspired by the Rhine. This was one of Sterndale Bennett's favourites among his own works, and it was very popular in England and Germany for many years; one can see why, as it is full of melody and lyrical beauty. The final work on this disc is the overture Parisina "to Lord Byron's poem." The London Philharmonic Orchestra (and, on Naiades, the Philharmonia Orchestra) give performances under Nicholas Braithwaite's direction that are sympathetic and polished, if just occasionally slightly laboured—parts of Parisina in particular require a lighter, defter touch. There is nothing backward-looking about this music, and the overtures in particular are extraordinarily impressive given that they were all composed when Sterndale Bennett was between nineteen and twenty-six. Combining inner strength with excellent Mendelssohn-like string writing, they demonstrate that, far from a mere follower of fashion, Sterndale Bennett was at the forefront of musical development.
Gerald Finzi Instrumental Music SRCD.239
This disc of instrumental music shows that although Finzi was perhaps best known for his vocal music, he was just as at home writing music without voices. It includes the gentle and poetic Severn Rhapsody, Nocturne, with its typically Finzian brooding wistfulness, the lovely Three Soliloquies -extracts from a suite of music Finzi composed for a BBC Home Service broadcast of Love's Labour Lost— Prelude for String Orchestra, The Fall of the Leaf, Introit (the gorgeous second movement of a concerto for small orchestra and violin) and the Romance for String Orchestra. The London Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, and invest the works with great nostalgia, eloquence, and lyricism. The final two works on the disc are played by the New Philharmonia Orchestra under Vernon Handley, with Peter Katin as the solo pianist. The much-loved Eclogue is performed with great tenderness, followed by a dramatic version of the Grand Fantasiaand Toccata, with its Bachian overtones and slightly terser musical language.
Gerald Finzi Love's Labour's Lost SRCD.237
Another Finzi disc opens with the whole suite of music from Love's Labour Lost. It is attractive stuff, here given a vivacious performance by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley. Let Us Garlands Bring is followed by a setting of five Shakespeare songs, dedicated to Finzi's friend Vaughan Williams. John Carol Case is the baritone soloist, with excellent enunciation and high-spirited renditions: It Was a Lover and His Lass is particularly splendid. The wonderful tenor Ian Partridge then sings Two Sonnets by John Milton and Farewell to Arms, the latter a setting of the sixteenth and seventeenth century poets Peel and Knevet, with heavy allusions to Bach. With his sophisticated, noble, and beautiful voice, Partridge performs radiantly on all of these; it is a joy to listen to them for his voice alone. The disc ends with a moving performance of In Terra Pax, a setting of Bridge's poem Noel Christmas Eve, and St Luke. The New Philharmonia Orchestra is again conducted by Handley.
Charles Avison Concerti from Opus 9 DDA24108
Avison was an extremely important eighteenth-century English composer, organist, writer, and promoter, described by Dr Burney as "an ingenious and polished man, and an elegant writer upon his art." He set up the first Newcastle subscription concerts, for which he himself composed much music, including no fewer than sixty concerti grossi. This disc features six of the twelve that comprise his Opus 9. The works brim with elegance and intelligence; some are quite courtly and stately, while others are livelier and more up-beat. The Georgian Concert, a group founded as specialists in eighteenth-century English repertoire, gives excellent performances of these works.
Charles Avison Twelve Concerti Grossi After Geminiani DDA21210
Another Avison disc presents his recently-discovered concerti grossi arrangements of Francesco Geminiani's Sonatas for Violin and Basso Continuo. Avison became acquainted with Geminiani in the mid-1720s in London, where Geminiani had been establishing himself as a top violinist, scholar and composer. The Italian composer became Avison's mentor and friend, and probably his teacher as well: in a letter to Avison, he wrote "You are my heir." In return, Avison copied, arranged, and promoted much of Geminiani's music. Whilst remaining generally faithful to Geminiani's formal structure and melodic lines, Avison occasionally includes some elements new to the Geminiani originals. Here the Avison Ensemble, a group formed specifically to promote the composer after the unexpected discovery of a collection of his music, record his arrangements of Geminiani's Op. 1 sonatas. (No. 11 of the twelve is missing, so it is included here in an arrangement by the Ensemble's director, Pavlo Beznosiuk.) The Ensemble perform this attractive music with flair and intelligence.
John Garth Six Concertos for Violoncello DDA25059 John Garth, a close associate of Avison's, may have been one of Avison's first pupils, and he ran the Durham equivalent to Avison's Newcastle subscription concerts. Born in CountyDurham (rather than the city), he may have first come to the city as a performer in one of Avison's concerts. Like Avison, he composed much music for his own concerts and performed in them as well, and he and Avison performed reciprocally in each other's concert series. His music was popular, and a great deal of it was published (including his completion of a work that Avison first began- the English edition of the Marcello Psalms). The six violoncello concertos that comprise this double-CD set were dedicated to Edward, Duke of York, an accomplished cellist whom Garth and Avison had met when organising a concert for him. They were written partly for Garth to perform in his own concerts, thus also filling a gap in the market, since not much cello music was then available. Well-received and much-loved, the concerti combine the concerto grosso style beloved of Avison with more modern elements, in works of superb craftsmanship and great allure. They are given wonderfully crisp, enthusiastic, and convincing performances by Richard Tunnicliffe and the Avison Ensemble on another excellent disc.
Goss Male Quartet Gossiana DDA25048
This disc is a tribute to the great baritone John Goss. Born in 1891, Goss was heavily involved in promoting and performing the music of several contemporary composers, including Warlock, Delius and Moeran, while also helping to resurrect English ballads. Here, baritone Giles Davies is accompanied by the Goss Male Quartet and pianist Steven Devine on songs that Goss would have sung (indeed, some of them were composed for him). The disc opens with three early English ballads. There is a wonderfully dreamy quality to the gorgeously-performed Three Ravens, but the Quartet's exuberant high spirits are in danger of brimming over into histrionics on Agincourt and Here's a Health to His Majesty. A French ballad and three Elizabethan songs follow, and Davies excellently captures the feeling of melancholy in I die whenas I do not see her. The ensuing Lieder are also beautifully sung, especially Schubert's Totengrabers Heimweh, in which singer and pianist build up a terrific sense of tension from the beginning, with Davies both meltingly tender and full of passion. It is, however, early twentieth-century English songs that are given the fullest representation on this disc. Davies's love and knowledge of this repertoire shines through clearly in pieces such as Moeran's Dream of Death (in which Davies achieves a particularly beautiful tone), the brilliantly-sung As ever I saw, and the rousing Captain Stratton's Fancy, both by Warlock. The disc closes with five traditional ballads and sea-songs. The American folk-song Shenandoah -a Goss favourite— is here given a lovely performance, with a delightful coda composed by Danny Gillingwater (who also wrote the arrangements of the early ballads). On Blow ye Winds, Heigh Ho! Davies demonstrates his aptitude for characterisation, and the quartet is superbly boisterous. The rather tinny recorded sound and piano do not do the performers justice. Nevertheless, the selection of songs is a very fine one, and the fact that the disc also contains detailed, interesting and well-written notes is a bonus.
E J Moeran The Collected 78rpm Recordings Historic Sound 27808
Although born in England, Moeran was strongly drawn to Ireland, and its influence features heavily in his music, both in the Irish folk-melodies that we can hear appearing occasionally, and also in the almost pictorial wildness and freedom of his writing. This is brought out strongly in this disc of remastered releases of old recordings. The record opens with the String Trio in G Major,recorded in 1941, in which Jean Pougnet, Frederick Riddle and Anthony Pini capture a great sense of freedom and eloquence in the first movement, and vast bleakness in the second movement. It is a rhapsodic and radiant performance. Tying in well with the recent Goss release reviewed above, there follow 1942 and 1945 recordings of Goss singing three Moeran songs in his wonderfully expressive style. Two 1925 songs with Heddle Nash ensue, Diaphenia, sung superbly, and the lovely The Sweet o' the Year. The main, and concluding, work on the disc is Moeran's Symphony in G Minor. Leslie Heward conducts the Halle Orchestra in a 1926 performance of passion, fire, and ferocity. Throughout Heward invests the work with a great sense of menace, with snarling brass, howling woodwind and shrieking strings. Although the ending rather lacks the punch of the more modern recordings, this is, on the whole, a splendidly harrowing version. This is an extremely valuable disc, both historically and for the incredible performances on it.
Celia Redgate and Michael Dussek The English Flute DDA25061
The term 'English Flute' referred, at least for much of the twentieth century, to the wooden flute (as opposed to the metal flute usually played these days), and the works on this disc were all written for this style of instrument. The record opens with the utterly delightful, lively Edward German Suite for flute and piano, in which Redgate and Dussek really make the music dance. This is followed by Redgate's attractive arrangement of three folk songs; the slightly syncopated Green Bushes is particularly well-composed, with its strong rhythmic drive and contrasts of mood, and the final Gipsy Dance is quite virtuosic. The disc also includes Head's evocative By the River in Spring, Cooke's Sonatina -an engaging little piece—and the York Bowen Flute Sonata. This latter is the most substantial piece on the disc, both in terms of length and content, and the lush piano accompaniment (excellently played by Dussek) is characteristic of Bowen's romantic style. In Greek Interludes, Tavener employs old Byzantine modes, combined with folk-song melodies from different parts of Greece, to create an atmospheric, interesting, and engaging piece, while Griffith's Danse Negre and Stainer's Etude in D minor finish off the record beautifully. Redgate and Dussek are an excellent partnership on this disc of light, lovely music.
John Jeffreys The Far Country DDA25049
John Jeffreys is in that unrivalled English school of song composition that includes Warlock, Moeran, Ireland, Delius, and Finzi, amongst others. In fact, his songs so thoroughly inhabit their sound world that on this disc his version of Passing By is not terribly different from Warlock's setting, and Horror Follows Horror sounds like a pastiche of Finzi. The songs are on the whole delightful, if rather samey; a little more variety within Jeffreys's songs themselves would have been appreciated, as well as some stronger signs of an individual voice. James Gilchrist is the splendid soloist on this disc, his excellent diction and great beauty of tone demonstrated in a wide range of moods, from the power and intensity of I Am the Gilly of Christ to the crooning tenderness of O my Dere Heart.
Eric Coates Sound and Vision, etc. CDLX7198
Another Eric Coates disc opens with the rousing Sound and Vision march, and includes the utterly charming and lyrical In the Countryside suite, the march Holborn, Moresque (a dance interlude with a slightly exotic flavour), and the clever Four Ways. Here, the movement Northwards incorporates the Scottish folk tune Ca' the Yowes, Southwards is a waltz with a sultry opening, Eastwards employs the pentatonic scale characteristic of eastern music, and Westwards is an homage to the jazz music of the 1920s, with its syncopation and hints of dances such as the Charleston. Three Bears was written at the request of Coates's son for his fourth birthday—a musical setting of his favourite story— and the Valse is included here, along with the 8th Army March, celebrating the victory of Montgomery's 8th Army at El Alamein. The disc also includes a number of the songs for which Coates was famed in his earlier days. Those presented here range from 1915-1943, several in renditions by Richard Edgar-Wilson, others by Sir Thomas Allen. All are engaging works, full of interest and delight, and the BBC Concert Orchestra (who excel at this sort of repertoire) sparkle under the masterly baton of John Wilson.
Benjamin Dale Music for Viola CDLX 7204
Benjamin Dale was celebrated throughout his childhood and youth for his amazing skills as a composer and musician. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music, along with York Bowen and Bax, and spent most of his life thereafter on the RAM staff. He wrote much viola music for the famed violist Lionel Tertis, and this disc includes several such works. It opens with the Suite for Viola and Piano, performed by Roger Chase accompanied by Michiko Otaki. They play superbly, investing the lyrical second movement Romance with great tenderness and the Finale with fire and virtuosity. The ensuing Introductionand Andante for six violas was commissioned by Tertis for a lecture-recital he was giving at the RAM, which included Eric Coates as one of the violists! The English Dance was composed for violin in the Ruhleben Camp, where Dale was interned with Bainton, and this arrangement of the delightful pastiche folk-dance was made by York Bowen. The disc concludes with the Phantasy for viola and piano, commissioned by the great English music champion, W. W. Cobbett, and played with a good dramatic sense. These are excellent performances of works that really deserve a more permanent place in the repertoire. They are made all the more appealing by the fact that Roger Chase plays Tertis's own viola on this disc.
Alan Rawsthorne Practical Cats, etc. CDLX 7203
Alan Rawsthorne is another of those underrated but brilliant English composers of the twentieth century, with a very distinctive and idiosyncratic voice. This disc includes a few premiere performances along with some of his better-known works, such as the 'entertainment for speaker and orchestra' Practical Cats, and the Street Corner Overture, which opens the disc. It was commissioned by ENSA, the army entertainment organisation, and was written in 1944. It is meant to represent an unspecified but busy town, and is full of wit, contrast and interest, given a rousing performance here by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under the masterful baton of David Lloyd-Jones. The following Madame Chrysantheme Suite is from Rawsthorne's ballet composed in 1955 for Sadler's Wells. It is typically quirky and full of invention, surprise, and delight. The ensuing Practical Cats is Rawsthorne's extremely evocative and nostalgic setting of several poems from T S Eliot's much-loved Book of Practical Cats. For me, it is one of Rawsthorne's greatest pieces, and Lloyd-Jones's version of it is full of drive, poetry and energy. Although I personally prefer Robert Donat, the narrator on the old EMI recording by the Philharmonia Orchestra (his voice has more of a sing-song, old-fashioned quality), Simon Callow's sprightlier, slightly clearer, more modern-sounding narration also works. Callow gets a bit more variety into his voice than Donat, but the overall effect is not as magical, moving, or haunting. The last three works on the disc -the dramatic Theme, Variations and Finale, the Medieval Diptych (Rawsthorne's only work for solo voice and orchestra), and the Coronation Overture— are premiere recordings, and interesting works of great character. These are highly-charged performances of pieces that deserve to be heard more often.
Frank Bridge Songs and Chamber Music CDLX 7205
All the pieces on this disc are relatively early works, written before Bridge had developed his terser, more astringent style. The opening Phantasie Piano Quartet was composed for the W. W. Cobbett competition, like the closing piece, the Phantasie Piano Trio. The Phantasie Piano Quartet is a lovely work, contrasting playful and high-spirited music with a wistful and lyrical sound, and is very well-played by the London (Frank) Bridge Ensemble. Bridge wrote more than sixty songs, and this disc presents a selection of them, with a range of moods from the dramatic to the tender. Ivan Ludlow is the baritone and sings very well, although I personally find his voice rather harsh, and this becomes unrelenting in Night Lies on the Silent Highways and A Dirge. Of the other works on the disc, the Scherzo for cello and piano (Kate Gould and Daniel Tong respectively) is given a pleasingly jaunty performance, and there is wonderful ensemble playing on the Phantasie Piano Trio, in which rousing passages are alternated with sections of infinite tenderness. All the works are given radiant performances combining enthusiasm and understanding.
Wigmore Hall Live
Gerald Finzi and William Walton Romance for String Orchestra, etc. WHLive0021
An important addition to the Wigmore Hall series of live recordings, this disc of Finzi and Walton is performed by the Scottish Ensemble directed by Jonathan Morton, with Toby Spence as the tenor soloist on Dies Natalis. The disc commences with a deeply-felt performance of Finzi's Romance for String Orchestra. Dies Natalis follows with its evocative words by Thomas Traherne, Spence and the Scottish Ensemble bringing out the poetry, wistfulness, drama, and tender beauty of the work. Walton's Sonata for String Orchestra -an arrangement of his Quartet in A Minor— is the final work on the disc. The Scottish Ensemble play with incisiveness and musicality in excellent performances of works by two rather different, but equally 'great,' composers. --Em Marshall