Heirs and Rebels: Music by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst Peter Dawson, Gerald Moore, Robert Irwin, Black Dyke Mills Band, BBC Chorus, Band of HM Grenadier Guards, Julius Harrison, Stuart Robertson ALBCD027
This disc presents reissues of music by Vaughan Williams and Holst from 78s, recordings which date from between 1922 and 1946. The sound quality is quite astoundingly good, with barely any blemishes or detracting features. The programme has been split neatly into two, the first half featuring works by Vaughan Williams and the second, Holst. Both composers are represented by several of their songs, performed by artists such as Robert Irwin, Peter Dawson, Stuart Robinson and the BBC Chorus, as well as by works for brass band: the English Folk Song Suite for Vaughan Williams, and The First Suite and A Moorside Suite for Holst. A respective Wassail Song finishes both halves. Although some of the performances might sound a little dated to modern ears (and one might sometimes raise an eyebrow at unexpected tempi), they are nevertheless spirited and fine performances. These are not only of tremendous historical importance, but they also present the listener with great musical enjoyment.
Ralph Vaughan Williams Fair Child of Beauty Britten Sinfonia, Joyful Company of Singers, Alan Tongue ALBCD025/26
In a bold move, Albion Records here presents the two closely-related works, The Bridal Day and Epithalamion, together on a double-disc set. The Bridal Day is a masque by Ursula Wood (later Vaughan Williams), based on Edmund Spenser’s Epithalamion, for septet, baritone soloist and speaker, whilst the Cantata Epithalamion (of just under twenty years later) is a revised version of this work for enlarged chorus, string orchestra and baritone solo, with the inclusion of some new music. Both works are given excellent performances here by the Britten Sinfonia (the septet for The Bridal Day is drawn from these players), and the Joyful Company of Singers conducted by Alan Tongue. Philip Smith is the excellent baritone soloist and John Hopkins the speaker. His surprisingly old-fashioned delivery is absolutely perfect for this – very impressive indeed. The sopranos are occasionally a little on the thin and reedy side, and for some reason Epithalamion comes over as rather more earth-bound than The Bridal Day, but this is otherwise an extremely valuable release, and also most interesting, enabling listeners to hear and directly compare these two gorgeous, radiant and fascinating works.
I Have Set my Hert so Hy The Dufay Collective, Voice AV2286
This disc is destined to remain in the immediate vicinity of my CD player, and comes with the highest recommendation. Subtitled Love and Devotion in Mediaeval England, it features extant English songs and dances from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as well instrumental adaptations and recreated works by director William Lyons, who takes poetry of the period and sets it to adapted and original melodies. Works are performed by the Dufay Collective (William Lyons on recorder, double pipes, flute and whistle, Rebecca Austen-Brown on recorder, vielle, rebec and gittern, Jon Banks on gittern and harp, and Jacob Heringman on gittern and lute) and Voice, a female trio consisting of Emily Burn, Victoria Couper and Clemmie Franks. The fabulous works are well-executed by the musicians in a style appropriate to the period: for instance, the solo singer used for Wel were hym that wyst has a vulnerable and fragile voice which works extremely well indeed. Other highlights include some very familiar carols — including the most gorgeous rendition of Adam lay ybounden and a hauntingly beautiful version of the Corpus Christi Carol —and the Gresley Dances. The latter is a set of six lively, extremely rare examples of surviving instrumental dances discovered in some family papers in Matlock. This is music of true beauty and joy, guaranteed to both calm and soothe in the more lyrical works, and imbue one with love of life in the more energetic dances.
Handel Trio Sonatas for Two Violins and Basso Continuo The Brook Street Band AV2357
This well-produced disc presents seven Trio Sonatas by Handel, dating from 1704 through to 1738 (the Saul sonata is linked to the oratorio of the same name). The sonatas are excellently performed by The Brook Street Band (Rachel Harris and Farran Scott on violin, Tatty Theo on cello and Carolyn Gibley on harpsichord), who play with clearly articulated voicing and excellent use of phrasing. Also very good are the ensemble, intonation and sense of energy and dynamism that the Band bring to bear in this music. The invention of these works is beautifully brought out in these loving and careful performances, making for enjoyable listening, enhanced by good notes and a nicely-produced booklet.
Western Wind Taverner Choir and Players, Parrott AV2352
Andrew Parrott directs the Taverner Choir and Players on this excellent disc of music by John Taverner, Cornysh, Aston, Henry VIII and anon. Tavener’s Mass The Western Wynde is set amongst other music from the court of Henry VIII, including other “Western / Westron Winds / Wynde” works. The Choir and Players excel and solo soprano Emily Van Evera has a distinctive timbre to her strong, clear voice that works extremely well indeed for this repertoire. Tenor Charles Daniels appears only fleetingly, but is also very good when we do hear him. This is a superb release all-round: gorgeous music; music-making of a very high standard; and good presentation with a clearly-laid out booklet and good notes from Parrott himself.
A Painted Tale Phan, Leopold, Morgan AV2325
In A Painted Tale, tenor Nicholas Phan has devised a programme of early English song by different composers that tells a story of love and loss, as if in a song-cycle. Using Thomas Morley’s A Painted Tale as an introduction, the “story” itself employs songs by Henry Purcell, Robert Johnson, John Blow, Nicholas Lanier, John Dowland and Alfonso Ferrabosco. Phan is good – and he is more than aware of this fact, which results in delivery that is rather self-conscious and mannered. His enunciation is excellent, as are his technique and communication. He is virtuosic (as in Dowland’s Of all the torments, all the care) as well as passionate (as in Can she excuse my wrongs), but it is all just slightly over the top, as if he glories too much in his own sound. His accompanists – Michael Leopold on lute and Anna Marie Morgan on viola da gamba— are excellently sensitive.
The booklet continues the focus on artist as opposed to music, with a note from Phan which is far more about himself than anything else (meaning that we have no notes at all on the actual composers or the songs themselves), and more photographs, in addition to those on the front of the booklet and the back inlay, of Phan in very posed attitudes of casualness with an undone bowtie hanging around his neck, looking artistically moody.
Sorabji 100 Transcendental Studies Fredrik Ullen BIS 2223
This disc presents an excellent performance by Swedish pianist Fredrik Ullen of this complicated, intense repertoire by the English composer Kaikhosru Sorabji (born in Chingford to a Parsi father and English mother). Numbers 72 to 83 of the 100 Transcendental Studies (which were composed between 1940 and 1944) are covered here, this being the fifth disc thus far in the set. The Steinway D used in the recording has a very clear, bright, hard sound, and the piano is quite closely recorded with BIS’s trademark excellent sound quality. The booklet is well presented and clearly laid out, with good notes about the music, although a biography of the composer would not have gone amiss.
Sorabji tends to divide listeners. Many might find this music too full of padding, meaningless, or even incomprehensible, but for lovers of Sorabji’s music, this release is highly recommended.
Butterworth Orchestral Works BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Kriss Russman, James Rutherford BIS-2195
Original orchestral works by Butterworth and an orchestrated song-cycle and chamber piece fill this disc. The first thing to say is that the performances are all of an extremely high standard: there is beautifully radiant sound from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under the assured direction of Kriss Russman, whilst James Rutherford is as excellent in the songs as one would expect from a singer of his stature. He is technically superb and sensitive to the nuances of the texts, and excellent at communicating these to the listener. I would therefore highly recommend these exquisite performances of the original orchestral works: the Idyll Banks of Green Willow, the Shropshire Lad rhapsody, Two English Idylls, the orchestral song-cycle Love Blows as the Wind Blows, and the Orchestral Fantasia, here completed sensitively by Russman. However, I hesitate more over the six songs from A Shropshire Lad and the Suite for String Quartet, both of which have been arranged for orchestra (string orchestra in the case of the suite) by Russman, as I am not convinced of the point of rearranging works that work perfectly well (or, rather, better) in their original versions. The booklet notes do not give any clues as to why these works have been orchestrated, and although the orchestrations are very colourful, I would personally far sooner listen to Butterworth’s original and fully idiomatic versions.
British Composers Première Collections Volume 4 Plus 1 Malta Philharmonic, Orion Symphony, Seferinova, Laus, Purser CC9041CD
The rather odd title of British Composers Première Collections Volume 4 Plus 1 is, I think, meant to refer to the fact that all but one of the featured composers are British – the final being German. However, I was personally glad that the German, Jadassohn, was included as I found his work (the Serenade No. 3) by far the strongest piece on the disc. The release opens with Lillian Elkington’s Out of the Mist, and both this and Dorothy Howell’s following Piano Concerto are atmospheric works: the piano concerto is also a fairly big-boned and romantic piece.
I would count some of Cyril Scott’s music amongst my most favourite works, yet the harpsichord concerto is just extraordinarily bizarre: a deluge of odd clatterings. Perhaps I’ve been reading too much of H. G. Wells and C. S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy recently, but it struck me more as music from another planet than anything terrestrial. The disc concludes with the rather charming Jadassohn Serenade, a strong finish to a disc of works that deserve to be heard.
Josef Holbrooke Music for Piano Vol. 2 Panagiotis Trochopoulos CC9036CD
This is the second disc in Cameo Classics’ series of piano music by Joseph Holbrooke (here given his ‘chosen’ name of Josef). As always, the music is full of imagination and colour, charming works of individuality and idiosyncrasy, and a joy to listen to. Trochopoulos’s hand is just slightly on the heavy side, not quite rising to the challenge of some sections which require a very gossamer touch, and I would more strongly recommend his playing in the fabulously memorable, tuneful and joyful Pavel Pabst Piano Concerto, also on Cameo Classics. Trochopoulos’s exuberant virtuosity is more closely aligned to Pabst’s idiom than to Holbrooke’s subtle nuances. The recorded sound is also rather harsh and boxy, yet this is music certainly worth the hearing, and it is to Cameo Classics’ great credit that it has been released.
British Composers Première Collection Volume 3 Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Laus CC9034CD
Another fascinating collection of world première recordings from Cameo Classics, with the highlight of the disc being Arthur Somervell’s Symphony in D Minor, Thalassa, a passionate and extremely impressive work. The Mackenzie La Belle Dame Sans Merci is also substantial, whilst the Holbrooke Pantomime Suite is delightful and very much within the identifiably English string orchestra genre. It is a great shame that these enterprising recordings are let down by the performances of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, which is simply not able to cope with the strains of this repertoire, with ensemble, intonation and general sound suffering.
Purcell Songs Realised by Britten Robin Blaze, Allan Clayton, Anna Grevelius, Ruby Hughes, Benedict Nelson, Matthew Rose, Joseph Middleton CHRCD106
This is a beautifully produced double-disc set of Purcell songs, realised by Benjamin Britten. The set contains excellent notes from acclaimed Britten scholar Paul Kildea, and the booklet is attractively and clearly laid out, with all song texts present. The performances are of a very high standard: for instance, we have an extraordinarily dramatic rendition of Saul and the Witch at Endor with Ruby Hughes, Allan Clayton and Benedict Nelson, an incredibly raw, passionate and theatrical performance that is perhaps the highlight of the disc for me. Counter-tenor Robin Blaze is, as would be expected, superb in all the counter-tenor songs, although he and Ruby Hughes are not always perfectly together in the unison bars of Sound the Trumpet. The baritone Benedict Nelson has a huge voice but not the cleanest of executions. Music For a While is here set for a tenor, which somehow makes it a much darker song. Allan Clayton struggles a little on the lower notes here, and I do miss the clarity and lightness of a counter-tenor voice. These minor comments aside, this is a disc well worth obtaining for the gorgeous songs and the energetic and committed performances.
The Pleasures of the Imagination: English 18th Century Music for the Harpsichord Simon Yates CHAN 0814
From Chandos’ early music arm, Chaconne, this disc aims to give an overview of English harpsichord music in the eighteenth century, featuring works by John Blow, Jeremiah Clarke, William Croft, Maurice Greene, Richard Jones, and Thomas Arne. This is music of charm and invention, most beautifully played by Sophie Yates on two different double manual harpsichords (one after Vaudry, the other after Goujon). Yates brings her musicianship to bear as she draws out the nuances and delights of the music with careful phrasing and expression. Much care and attention has also been lavished on the booklet, which contains excellent notes on the music by Yates – although these are slightly on the short side – along with illustrations and photographs of the instruments used. An excellent disc all round.
Overtures from the British Isles BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rumon Gamba CHAN 10898
An effervescent rendition of Walton’s Portsmouth Point makes for a sparkling commencement to this disc, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Rumon Gamba. It is followed by Leigh’s Agincourt, a rather impressive work with a noble, epic sweep, and the world première recording of another scintillating piece, Bowen’s FantasyOverture, a fantasy on Dibdin’s Tom Bowling with various nautical musical devices adding to the overall atmosphere. Smyth’s Overture to The Boatswain’s Mate, Ansell’s Plymouth Hoe and Mackenzie’s Britannia continue the nautical theme before Coates’s exuberant The Merrymakers. Parry’s substantial Overture to an Unwritten Tragedy is followed by Quilter’s lovely Children’s Overture, and the disc ends in celebratory style with Foulds’s Cabaret Overture. This, then, is a disc presenting a good range of overtures, from the much-loved through the less-familiar to world premières, in good and strong performances: an uplifting release (and particularly good for listening to whilst driving!)
British Clarinet Concertos BBC Symphony Orchestra, Michael Collins CHAN 10891
This disc opens with an atmospheric rendition of Britten’s Movements for a Clarinet Concerto. Britten had sketched out the first movement of a Clarinet Concerto which jazz clarinettist Benny Goodman was interested in commissioning from him. The war interrupted and prevented further work on the piece, and what we have here is Colin Matthews’ orchestration of the sketches as the first movement. The second movement is an arrangement by Matthews of Britten’s Mazurka Elegiac for two pianos, and the Finale is an adaptation of another Britten orchestral sketch (the Sonata for Orchestra). The work is here given an idiomatic performance and is followed by Finzi’s much-loved Five Bagatelles, in which clarinettist and conductor Michael Collins shows an adroit lightness of touch. The following Arnold Cooke Concerto No. 1 is an attractive work, while the concluding Matthias is a colourful and rhythmically-driven piece, also well played by Collins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
British Cello Concertos Raphael Wallfisch, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra, Bournemouth Sinfonietta, Vernon Handley, Bryden Thomson, Norman Del Mar CHAN 241-56
Re-releases of old recordings of major English cello concertos, all featuring the soloist Raphael Wallfisch, are presented together here in a double-disc set. The original recordings date from 1986, 1987, 1990 and 1991, and testify to a rather old-fashioned recording ethos, in which a great deal of the resonant ambient sound is recorded rather than just the direct sound of the musicians, to give listeners a sense of being in the hall — a philosophy no longer followed today. The set opens with Finzi’s Cello Concerto in the resonant acoustics of Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall, with Handley conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. This is twinned with the Bax Cello Concerto with Bryden Thomson and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Disc Two comprises Bliss’s Cello Concerto and Stanford’s gorgeous third Irish Rhapsody, both with Handley and the Ulster Orchestra. The set concludes with Moeran’s Cello Concerto, in which Del Mar conducts the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. All performances are of the very highest standard of musicianship, from soloist and orchestras alike. Many lovers of English music will have these works already, but this set brings them together nicely in a single package.
British Violin Sonatas Tasmin Little, Piers Lane CHAN 10899
This is the second volume in Chandos’ British Violin Sonata series, featuring violinist Tasmin Little and pianist Piers Lane. The disc includes violin sonatas by Frank Bridge, John Ireland and Arthur Bliss, alongside two pieces by Ralph Vaughan Williams (the Romance and Pastorale), and William Lloyd Webber’s The Gardens at Eastwell. For me, the latter two – and especially the gorgeous The Gardens at Eastwell - are the most successful from the performance point of view. With the opening Bridge Sonata in E flat, it immediately struck me that the piano sounds too recessed in relation to the violin, which is overly prominent as a result. This skewed balance is particularly noticeable in the second movement, but the problem persists throughout the disc. Little gives the impassioned first movement a wild, almost histrionic performance, with a vibrato that borders on the hysterical in places, and a sound that sometimes lacks sweetness and is too hard and pressed. The following John Ireland Sonata No. 1 in D minor is fine apart from the use of different bowing to that specified by the composer for the third movement (Ireland requests sprung bowing, but Little employs just détaché on the strings, which of course gives a different character to the movement). The Bliss Sonata is also problematic – though here I must disclose that it was myself and my husband Rupert Marshall-Luck who, with the valued help of Bliss Trust Board member Giles Easterbrook, ‘discovered’ this Sonata and first brought it to the public through the English Music Festival and our première recording on EM Records (with my husband as editor of the work and performer). Aside from the minor criticism of a very heavy hand in this work – with no sense of gossamer in the lighter sections, for instance — Little does not observe Bliss’s articulations and takes liberties with the tempi. She adds extraneous bowing markings and articulation, for instance, by alternating paired slurs with dots of articulation which are not indicated by the composer in the score. This naturally gives a very different musical impression from that which Bliss seems to indicate by his own markings. This is, of course, entirely a matter of interpretation, but it does raise the difficult question of how much intervention the performer should make with respect to the composer’s stated intentions.
Mynstrelles with Straunge Sounds Rose Consort of Viols, Clare Wilkinson DCD34169
The booklet notes explain that a report of the Revels at Henry VIII’s court in 1515 describes “mynstrelles with straunge sounds as sagbuts, vyolles & outhers,” and this disc sets out to replicate some of those strange sounds, with the Rose Consort of Viols and mezzo-soprano Clare Wilkinson. Only a few of the works on the disc are English, such as the opening And I Were a Maiden, Helas Madame by Henry VIII, and William Cornysh’s Fa La Sol. These are presented alongside numerous other works, many of them from the Henry VIII Book. Clare Wilkinson is a little lispy in the opening And I Were a Maiden, but she otherwise has a nice clear, bright voice, with excellent intonation and tremendous conviction and sympathy for this music. The disc also boasts a nice recorded sound – resonant, but still clear and intimate— and excellent booklet notes, well-presented and clearly laid-out. A thoroughly enjoyable disc, and high production standards throughout.
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs BBC Concert Orchestra, Corp CDLX732
This disc presents a range of most attractive music by Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, in the strongest of performances by the BBC Concert Orchestra under the baton of Ronald Corp. The disc opens with the suite for orchestra, Crossings, followed by The Enchanted Wood – a dance phantasy for piano, violin obbligato and strings, with Ben Dawson on pianist and Charles Mutter playing the violin beautifully, with great sweetness of tone. The piano sounds rather recessed and muffled in comparison to the clarity of the violin, which is a shame. The symphonic poem A Vision of Night is really quite impressive, and is followed by the only familiar (and, indeed, the only non-world-première) work on the recording, Dusk, which is gorgeously played, light and sweet in comparison to the more substantial previous work. A Suite in A for Violin and Orchestra is an interesting piece which again features excellent playing from Mutter, and precedes the jolly and enjoyable The Cat and the Wedding Cake, while the disc concludes with Four Orchestral Dances.
HARMONIA MUNDI Ascendit deus Choir of Clare College, The Dmitri Ensemble, Graham Ross HMU 907623
A disc of music for Ascensiontide and Pentecost, this disc covers a good range of music old and new, with five world première recordings of new works: the noisy Viri Galilaei by Gowers (here in an arrangement by Ross for organ duet, choir, brass and percussion); Was it a Voice? by Brett Dean; Let All the World in Every Corner Sing by Nico Muhly; Ross’s own Ascendo ad Patrem Meum, with its plaintive use of the soprano saxophone; and Swayne’s concluding God is Gone Up. The performances are all of a very high standard and include a clear and limpid rendition of the Credo from Frank Martin’s Mass and Finzi’s God is Gone Up with some beautifully rolled ‘r’s. The highlight of the disc for me is the roof-raising performance of Vaughan Williams’s O Clap Your Hands, with the Dmitri Ensemble and a good loud organ and percussion – all suitably exultant and joyous. Excellent.
Bliss The Beatitudes, Madam Noy, Rout, The Enchantress BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Chorus, Bliss REAM.1115
BBC broadcasts from 1957, 1958 and 1964 captured by Richard Itter are here presented on disc, and feature four important works by Sir Arthur Bliss. All the performances are superb. The disc opens with Madam Noy and Rout, with the Wigmore Ensemble, and Jennifer Vyvyan the soprano. Both Vyvyan in these pieces, and Pamela Bowden in the following The Enchantress, are outstanding: perfect in communication and intonation, and with mature and refined voices that struck my ear as fabulously old-fashioned in the best way, sounding warmer, more elegant and gracious than today’s brighter yet brittle voices. The Enchantress features the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Rudolf Schwarz, and is given an extremely dramatic rendition. The Beatitudes concludes the disc, with Bliss himself conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the huge united forces of the BBC Chorus, Goldsmiths Choral Union, the Royal Choral Society and the Wembley Philharmonic Society, with Heather Harper as the soprano soloist and Gerald English the tenor, in the Promenade concert première of the work at the Albert Hall in 1964. It is a hugely impressive interpretation, almost harrowing in places. This release could be recommended just for the important historic performances that it contains, but the fact that these performances are so outstanding makes it even more of a seminal disc.
Vaughan Williams Sir John in Love Philharmonia Orchestra, Sadler’s Wells Chorus, Stanford Robinson REAM.2122
This recording of Vaughan Williams’s comic opera Sir John in Love is a BBC studio broadcast dating from 1956, with Stanford Robinson conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Sadler’s Wells Chorus. The cast is an excellent line-up, including Pamela Bowden as Mrs Quickly, Gerald Davies as Slender, Forbes Robinson as Pistol and Owen Brannigan as the Host of the Garter Inn. Roderick Jones is an excellent Falstaff and April Cantelo a youthful and fresh-sounding Anne Page, whilst Denis Catlin gives Nym an amusingly pronounced rustic accent. In fact, the only two singers who do not tremendously impress are Laelia Finneberg as Mrs Page and Marion Lowe as Mrs Ford: they are a little on the lispy side and slightly less focused than the rest of the cast. Otherwise, this is an outstanding recording of a hugely enjoyable work. Given that the sound is extremely good indeed, and the two enclosed booklets are also excellent – one for notes and a second containing the complete libretto - this is a version that I can recommend as much as the more modern recordings.
Bantock Omar Khayyam BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBS Singers, Del Mar REAM.2128
Chandos’ relatively recent release of this searingly beautiful work by Bantock is outstanding but glaringly omits several chunks of music. This release rectifies this by presenting us with the full work of 173 minutes, presented on three discs. The performance, from a BBC broadcast in 1979, is also excellent, featuring as it does the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Singers conducted by Norman Del Mar, with Sarah Walker, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Brian Rayner the soloists. It is hard to fault the sensitive, dynamic and gorgeous performance, and the fact that the complete music is included undoubtedly places it above the Chandos release for me. If that is not incentive enough, Disc Three also contains a suitably rumbustious performance of Fifine at the Fair with Del Mar conducting the BBC Scottish Orchestra from a 1968 broadcast. There is a further disc with an (alas, abridged but passionate) rendition of Sappho with Joanna Peters, a very deep, mature and plummy contralto soloist, whilst the set concludes with the charming The Pierrot of the Minute – these two latter works also come from a 1968 broadcast with Del Mar and the BBC Scottish Orchestra. Furthermore, the booklet contains unusually and impressively in-depth and scholarly notes, as well the texts (the only drawback is the occasional typo). An absolute must for anyone captivated by the glorious and magical world of Bantock.
Benjamin, Moeran, Bax, Walton Violin and Cello Concertos
BBC Northern Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Stanford Robinson, Rudolf Schwarz, Malcolm Sargent, Derek Collier, Alfredo Campoli, Andre Gertler, Gregor Piatigorsky REAM.2114
This double-disc set of concertos recorded from BBC broadcasts opens with the Benjamin Violin Concerto, possibly the best thing by Benjamin that I have heard. It is by turns joyful and energetic, dark and brooding, and lyrical and reflective. Although the sound is rather boxy, this is a nice performance from the BBC Northern Orchestra under Stanford Robinson with Derek Collier as the soloist. Collier is occasionally a little on the flat side but otherwise is excellent, bringing out well both the lyrical and the virtuosic sides of the work. This is followed by the glorious Moeran Violin Concerto. A tender and loving performance of this is given by Campoli and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Rudolf Schwarz, which brings to the fore the air of wistfulness, poignancy and yearning. One of the great concertos, it is here given an emotionally charged and satisfying rendition. The main drawback of the first recording on the second disc – Bax’s Violin Concerto — is the noisy audience, who seem to spend much of the first movement coughing. The Bax is a typically dark work and, like the Moeran, has a lot of Ireland in it (the country, not the composer!). We have here another persuasive and sensitive performance from the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Sir Malcolm Sargent and Andre Gertler is the sympathetic soloist. The set closes with another good performance, this time of Walton’s Cello Concerto, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra again with Sargent, and Gregor Piatigorsky as the fine soloist.
Bushes and Briars: Folk-Songs for Choirs, Book 1 & 2 St Charles Singers, Jeffrey Hunt MS 1606
Recorded in the reverberant acoustic of St Michael’s Catholic Church, Wheaton, Illinois, this release presents a number of favourite folk songs – from Yarmouth Fair and Swansea Town, through The Sailor and Young Nancy, to Brigg Fair and Early One Morning. There are very few indeed of these songs that will be unfamiliar to lovers of English music. The performances by the St Charles Singers under their director Jeffrey Hunt impress greatly – the sound of the choir is clear and fresh, and not only do they have a good feel for the folk-song genre but, equally importantly, and as shown in songs such as Bobby Shaftoe, their ensemble is also really excellent. Enunciation and intonation are both extremely good as well, resulting in a very fine disc. The booklet contains good notes, although these are slightly on the brief side, and is printed on thick, glossy paper, albeit in a slightly clunky layout. Full texts are pleasingly provided for the songs, and the only aspect that might give an English listener pause for thought is the collection of rather sentimental declarations at the very back.
Elgar Sea Pictures Sarah Rose Taylor, Nigel Potts, Grace Cloutier MS 1532
Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder fill the first half of this disc, while the second is taken up with Elgar: the Sea Pictures, and The Angel’s Farewell from The Dream of Gerontius. The difference between these versions of the Elgar works and any others that you will hear is that these have been transcribed for organ and occasional harp inclusion by Nigel Potts, the organist on the disc. Despite the fact that Potts clearly brings all the colour available on the organ to bear in these transcriptions, I do not feel that this is a particularly successful exercise – the whole thing becomes very earthbound, plodding and turgid, with none of the lightness or freedom of the orchestral original (this is sometimes exacerbated by rather lugubrious tempi, as shown by In Haven, for instance). Mezzo-soprano Sarah Rose Taylor has good enunciation and vibrato, but the first thing that is noticeable in the Sea Slumber-Song is that there is a great disparity between her vocal registers. The lower sounds very dark and mature (and is also a little constricted), whilst the upper register sounds extremely young and fresh. The disc is well-presented, with good notes, including full organ specifications. It is an interesting idea, but it doesn’t really work in practice, and I for one will be sticking to the original versions.
W. H. Squire Miniatures for Cello and Piano Oliver Gledhill, Tadashi Imai 8.571373
An utterly charming disc of works for cello and piano by the great turn-of-the-century English cellist W. H. Squire, this features twenty miniatures of the utmost delight, poise and elegance. The cellist, Oliver Gledhill, specialises in Squire’s music and playing technique, and it is very noticeable here that he employs a slow, narrow vibrato and a good deal of portamento. These, and the fact that he also has an audible end-note descending shift – extremely unusual for a modern player – make one suspect that he is deliberately adopting an old-fashioned style of performance and emulating Squire’s own playing to make these works sound even more ‘authentic.’ In any case, the playing feels very apt indeed for the pieces and works extremely well. My only criticism is that during the more passionate and upbeat works Gledhill’s playing is far too gentle, such as in the Tarantella, which completely lacks a sense of excitement, passion and urgency. Otherwise, however, this is a lovely disc of gorgeous little works, most enjoyable listening.
Ireland and Moeran Choral Music The Carice Singers, George Parris 8.573584
This lovely disc presents part-songs by Ireland and Moeran, ranging from the much-loved (Ireland’s Sea Fever and Moeran’s cycle Songs of Springtime) through to a number of works that will be far less familiar to listeners. The Carice Singers impress greatly on the recording: their ensemble, intonation and communication are all excellent, and they sing with understanding, great energy and dynamism. Soloists are drawn from the Singers, and although there are a few lispy moments from a couple of them, they are generally very good indeed. David Owen Norris accompanies a couple of the Ireland songs, and Jeremy Dibble provides the booklet notes. All round, an excellent release.
Balfe Satanella Victorian Opera Orchestra, John Powell Singers, Richard Bonynge, Sally Silver, Quentin Hayes, Kang Wang 8.660378-79
Michael Balfe’s romantic opera Satanella, first performed at Covent Garden in 1858 and highly acclaimed, tells of a demon named Satanella, her role in a love tangle, and final transformation into an angel. The work is here given a touching and convincing performance by the Victorian Opera Orchestra and John Powell Singers, under the direction of Richard Bonynge. If the chorus are a little screechy at times, this doesn’t detract from an otherwise strong performance, with especially good solo singers (including Sally Silver as Satanella and Kang Wang as the hero, Count Rupert). Enjoyable.
I heard you singing Ben Johnson, James Baillieu OA CD9032 D
This programme of English solo song comes from the Rosenblatt operatic recital series, now being recorded for the first time on the Opus Arte label. It will therefore not be necessary to say that the musicianship presented here is of the very highest standard. Tenor Ben Johnson marries sensitivity to the words and their meanings with an excellent technique, including superb enunciation. His skill in communicating the music means that a very intimate atmosphere is captured in this recording – humour is also brought out well in a couple of more amusing, witty songs, and his voice is capable of offering that wide range of light and dark which is so necessary when performing English solo song. James Baillieu proves an equally sensitive accompanist, wonderfully sympathetic to his musical partner. The programme is interesting, encompassing as it does not just the well-known songs, such as Sullivan’s The Lost Chord, Vaughan Williams’s Orpheus With His Lute and Woodforde-Finden’s Kashmiri Song, but also less well-known compositions by Coates, German and Wilfrid Sanderson. The style of song presented heads very much towards the ballad, and is absolutely none the worse for doing so. These are charming gems of songs, beautifully executed. The CD booklet focuses more on the performer than the music or the composers, but texts are provided, as well as notes – albeit brief – about the music, although it is noticeable that the artists come first, and there are no composer photographs, only very glossy portraits of the artists.
TOCCATA William Hurlstone Complete Piano Music Kenji Fujimara TOCC 0289
This disc charts the complete extant piano music by William Hurlstone, from the Five Easy Waltzes written at the age of nine, through the Hungarian Air With Variations of 1897 and the substantial and virtuosic Piano Sonata in F Minor, to his arrangement of Wieniawski’s mazurka Sielnka, composed in the year of his early death at the age of thirty, 1906. This is music of poise and elegance – particularly in works such as the Five Miniatures, which open the disc – yet also of complexity and passion. The excellent pianist, Kenji Fujimara, brings out all the necessary qualities and nuances, with a lovely dancing quality, for example in Alla Mazurka, the fifth of the Five Miniatures, but also plenty of virtuosity and fire in works such as the Piano Sonata, which closes the disc. He is joined by Julia Lu for the penultimate, brief but charming Work for Piano duet. --Em Marshall-Luck