Here is another wonderful Bax disc from Chandos and Handley, mainly of nature poems that started life as piano works and were later orchestrated. The disc opens with the Three Northern Ballads, named collectively after Bax's death. The first Ballad was started in 1927 and fully orchestrated four years later, and the second, which had to wait twelve years for its first performance, dates from 1933-34. The third, entitled Prelude for a Solemn Occasion (never performed at all during Bax's lifetime), was completed in 1933, although the fact that the short score is dated 1927 leads musicologists to believe that it may have been linked to the first ballad. The second and third are more characterfully 'Northern' than the first, with harsher, bleaker sounds that may recall Bax's trip to Finland to see Sibelius, as well as his annual winter sojourns in Morar (where he scored at least the second ballad, and his symphonies). These ballads are given vibrant, energetic performances, conducted by Handley with insight, conviction and understanding.
They are followed by Nympholept, a "nature poem" dedicated to fellow composer Constant Lambert and prefaced with the words "Enter these enchanted woods, you who dare," from Meredith's poem The Woods of Westermain. It was written in 1912 as a piano work and was orchestrated by 1915, although, sadly, Bax was never to see it performed. Again, it receives a brilliant performance from Handley and the BBC Philharmonic. Red Autumn, also first written in 1912 for solo piano, was reset in by Bax in 1931 for two pianos, and the Bax Trust recently commissioned Graham Parlett to re-orchestrate it to enable it to be appreciated in its full glory as a nature poem.
The Happy Forest was yet another piano work (1914) that Bax later orchestrated (in 1922), based on a prose poem by Herbert Farjeon: a pastoral idyll depicting satyrs, shepherds, and the like. The piano version was dedicated to Farjeon and the orchestral version to Goossens, who conducted the premiere performance. This disc concludes with Into the Twilight, a prelude to Bax's planned (but never written) Irish opera Deidre. Here, Handley captures a sense of expanse and grandeur. This is a lovely release of luscious, romantic music, with the bonus of a premiere recording for the orchestrated Red Autumn.
Vaughan Williams On Wenlock Edge CHAN 10465
This recording by the Schubert Ensemble is excellent, although I must confess to being slightly disappointed by On Wenlock Edge itself: for my particular taste, Mark Padmore's voice is not the best to convey this work. However, the Piano Quintet in C Minor, composed in 1903 and then revised but withdrawn on Vaughan Williams's return from the war, is marvellous. The playing is raw and compelling, with fire and passion in the first movement and much delicacy in the Fantasia. The Romance and Pastorale, which conclude the disc, were composed before the First World War but, though they are wonderful works, they were not published until 1923. Both are given beautifully tender performances here. This release is recommended for the Quintet and Romance and Pastorale, although other listeners might appreciate the version of On Wenlock Edge more than I do.
Lambert and Berners The Film Music of Constant Lambert and Lord Berners CHAN 10459
Lambert and Berners were both English composers of the early to mid twentieth century. Their music, although recognisably 'English,' was nonetheless slightly more cosmopolitan and avant-garde than that of their 'pastoral school' contemporaries, with, especially in the case of Lambert, occasional jazz accents— although, as this disc shows, both were still able to write gloriously lyrical music. Neither produced a vast amount of film music, yet what they did compose is certainly worth hearing.
This disc opens with Lambert's atmospheric score for the documentary film Merchant Seaman, depicting the various moods of the sea as a backdrop to the film's action. It is followed by the soundtrack for Anna Karenina. There is some magical music here: listen in particular to Anna and Vronsky in Venice). The two excerpts from Berners' music to Champagne Charlie -a song in popular 'music hall' style, and a polka— come as quite a change in mood, upbeat, syncopated and lively; indeed, all the Berners pieces are lighter in style. The one-movement suite from Nicholas Nickleby follows, with its lovely chiming bells at the end, and the disc concludes with the suite from The Halfway House. The suite arrangements have been most sympathetically made by Philip Lane, composer and Lambert and Berners expert, and the music is performed scintillatingly by the BBC Concert Orchestra under the assured baton of Rumon Gamba.
John Ireland Chamber Works CDA7648
An excellent value two-disc set on Chandos's '2 for 1' label presents Ireland's chamber music performed by an impressive array of musicians. The disc opens with the two violin sonatas, which Mordkovich plays with a sweet tone yet a little restraint, giving a lyrical and indulgent rather than a passionate performance; the second movement (Romance) in the first sonata is very tender. The lovely Fantasy sonata, which closes the first disc, has a sinuous clarinet line beautifully played by Gervase de Peyer. An impassioned rendition of the Cello Sonata by Karine Georgian and Ian Brown has a meltingly beautiful slow movement. It is followed by the much-loved Holy Boy, set here for cello and piano, in a lilting if rather prosaic performance. The Phantasie Trio and second and third trios, all extremely well-played, complete a release that is highly recommended to Ireland fans.
Phoenix Chorale, Charles Bruffy Spotless Rose CHSA 5066
This Superb Audio disc from Chandos (and the sound is, indeed, superb) comprises a selection of hymns to the Virgin Mary. Although it does not exclusively feature English composers, England is better represented than any other single country, with works including Britten's A Hymn to the Virgin, a gem of supreme craftsmanship and beauty that is given a glowing performance. This is followed by Cecilia McDowall's Three Latin Motets, well-fashioned and pleasing pieces of which the first two, Ave Regina and Ave Maria, slightly recall Tavener in style, while the third is both livelier and more delicate. The eponymous Spotless Rose, by Herbert Howells, is the third English piece on this disc, sung here flawlessly in a completely smooth and unruffled performance that is perhaps achieved slightly at the expense of emotion: Jacob Herbert is the excellent solo baritone. (The other works on the disc are by Americans Stephen Paulus and Jean Belmont Ford, Spaniard Javier Busto, and Canadian Healey Willan.)
Britten Owen Wingrave CHAN 10473(2)
This is a powerful performance of Britten's pacifist opera Owen Wingrave, based (like Britten's masterpiece The Turn of the Screw) on a story by Henry James. The opera tells of a young lad, Owen, from a noble family with a long history of military service. Owen refuses to become a soldier, and each member of his family in turn ridicules, rejects, and disinherits him. The ancestral home is haunted by the ghosts of a father and son who, earlier on in the family history, found themselves at odds over the very same issue; the father murdered the boy, but was later found dead himself. Owen, to prove that he is not a coward, decides to sleep in the haunted room. Visiting friends are concerned about this -the more so when they hear a cry from the haunted room. The opera ends with the discovery of Owen's corpse on the floor, before the narrator affirms how, though not on the battlefield, Owen Wingrave courageously fought his battle. This recording boasts a stellar cast, with Peter Coleman-Wright as Owen, as well as Alan Opie, James Gilchrist (superb, as always), Janice Watson, Elizabeth Connell, Sarah Fox, Pamela Helen Stephen, and Robin Legate. The late lamented Richard Hickox conducts the City of London Sinfonia in this wonderfully stark, chilling and atmospheric version, with top-rated performances from all involved. Channel Classics
Elgar Complete Songs for Voice and Piano Vol. 1 CCSSA 27507
Here is the first release in what could well be a good series of Elgar's complete solo songs, another Superb Audio CD, again with excellent sound quality. Reinild Mees accompanies soprano Amanda Roocroft and baritone Konrad Jarnot. Roocroft's voice is rather operatic, sometimes too much so for my liking—though others may disagree— and I was not entirely convinced by Jarnot. The Sea Slumber Song was slightly prosaic and plodding, and although Jarnot then compensated for this in terms of passion when he reached TheSwimmer, the whole of the Sea Pictures was lacking in momentum. The song cycle was composed for mezzo soprano and orchestra, and I simply felt that it did not work here: the piano accompaniment (it is difficult, though not impossible, to capture the orchestral sound on the piano, but Mees did not do so here) and baritone voice were lugubrious and heavy, so that the songs lacked the magic, evocative atmosphere that they should have. On the other hand, the disc contains a good selection of songs and is beautifully produced, with excellent notes and a user-friendly disc case that makes it easy to get the notes out! This release will hopefully demonstrate to those who dismiss them that Elgar did indeed compose some fine songs.
Holbrooke Music for Piano CC9035CD
Josef Holbrooke was one of those incredibly gifted and masterly English composers of the early twentieth century who, despite contemporary popularity and a catalogue of exquisite works, has almost entirely faded from public memory. He is due for a revival, which makes this disc all the more welcome. Pianist Panagiotis Trochopoulos is an extremely gifted musician, as I know personally from having engaged him to play at last year's English Music Festival where he wowed audiences with his virtuosic performances of this very music. Although the sound on this disc is not perfect, with a rather reverberant acoustic and a slightly tinny-sounding piano, the listener nonetheless gets an impression of the excellence both of Holbrooke's compositions and of Trochopoulos's playing, ranging from the stormy and passionate to the incredibly atmospheric and delicate (as in the Nocturne no 4 - Elan).
The English Cornett and and Sackbut Ensemble Flower of Cities All DXL 1118
Here is a really enjoyable disc of music from Renaissance London, which, during the period featured here (1580-1620), was a burgeoning hub of musical and other cultural activity. This splendid compilation features works by composers such as Anthony Holborne, Byrd, Dowland, Thomas Morley and Giles Farnaby, with welcome contributions from some less familiar (Valentin Haussman, for example). The pieces chosen vary in mood and instrumentation: works for brass are interspersed with pieces for plucked instruments (lute and virginal) and songs performed in accents that are brilliantly authentic-sounding, yet don't detract from the music. All the performers are leaders in their fields, including William Lyons, who also wrote the excellent notes, David Miller, and the superb countertenor Mark Chambers.
Various Composers The Dark Pastoral ALT 1035
This disc interweaves poetry and songs from the First World War. It includes some rare works by the often-overlooked William Denis Browne and Eugene Goossens as well as the more familiar songs by Gurney, and it is truly wonderful to hear the less well-represented works, several of which receive their world premiere recordings here. The poetry itself is as moving as the music, if not more so, yet Simon Russell Beale does not do it justice. His style of reading is too modern— Bredon Hill, for example, is terribly bland and unfeeling— though of course everyone probably feels that they could do better (whether it is possible to do so without bursting into tears is another matter). I have never been entirely convinced that Andrew Kennedy captures the spirit of English song, but I am more than impressed with his singing here. Julius Drake's accompaniment on this disc is sympathetic and atmospheric. On the whole, the occasional unimaginatively-read poem aside, this touching and powerful recording works very well, and comes highly recommended.
Bax and Jacob Cello Works REAM.2104
These recordings of Florence Hooton and Wilfred Parry playing Bax and Jacob's music for cello and piano were made in 1964-66. The music is wonderful: from Bax, a haunting Sonata, powerful Sonatina, and stirring Legend-Sonata, and from Jacob, the astringent Divertimento for solo cello and dark but beautiful Elegy for cello and piano. Unfortunately, Hooton's obvious enthusiasm for the music comes at the expense of intonation—she is terribly out of tune in the opening Folk Song—but these are, nonetheless, important historical recordings.
Moeran and Jacob Piano Music REAM.1103
Jacob is this time paired with Moeran on a disc of piano music performed by Iris Loveridge. Predominantly Moeran, the album features his Theme and Variations, Three Fancies, and Three Piano Pieces, as well as a few other, shorter works. Although there is a slightly harsh sound (not surprising, given that the Moeran pieces were recorded in 1959 and the Jacob in 1965), this is still a lovely disc with some wonderfully dreamy playing, showcased by the gorgeous, opening Irish Love Song. Loveridge captures the variety of moods brilliantly, extremely incisive in some pieces, and deeply romantic in others: I particularly liked her very poignant rendition of Summer Valley. The disc concludes with Jacob's Piano Sonata of 1957, a terser and less lyrical piece than the accompanying works, but played with great feeling.
Elgar Falstaff and Enigma SRCD.301
These are superb performances of two of Elgar's masterpieces, the symphonic poem Falstaff, and the better-know Enigma Variations. Andrew Davis conducts the New Philharmonia Orchestra (in 1975 and 1985) in vivacious and confident performances. Full of energy and drive, they also capture the tender aspects of this music, such as the nobility of Nimrod. As a bonus, Pomp and Circumstance MarchNo. 5 rounds off the disc, in another lively and assured rendition.
York Bowen Composers at the Piano REAM.2105
This set features York Bowen's piano music played by the composer himself on the first disc, and by the German-born Franz Reizenstein on the second. Bowen made these recordings of the Ten Preludes, Partita, Berceuse, Moto Perpetuo, and Toccatain A minor in 1960, the year before he died. Though he was clearly not at the height of his powers, these are pretty impressive performances for a seventy-six-year-old, suggesting what a formidable pianist he must have been in his heyday. Bowen plays with ease, charm, wit, lyricism, tenderness, and (when called for) passion on an utterly fascinating disc that is both delightful to listen to, and of invaluable historic import. Hyperion
Lionel Monckton Songs from the Shows CDA67654
This disc presents a lovely selection of songs by Lionel Monckton from the popular London shows of the early twentieth century. The orchestral accompaniment, conducted by Ronald Corp (an expert in the field of light music), is extremely good, as is the New London Light Opera Chorus. All the songs, whether romantic or rousing, are exquisitely sung by Suart and Bott. Suart is particularly excellent in Yo Ho, Little Girls, Yo Ho, with some fantastic characterisation, while Bott manages to sound wonderfully coquettish and girlish but also allows the richness and maturity of her voice to come through when necessary. This is a first-class release.
Kenneth Leighton The World's Desire CDA67641
Although Kenneth Leighton's compositions may not be to everyone's taste, too astringent and dissonant for some, they nonetheless make an impression upon the listener. The music on this disc is no exception, original, tumultuous and striking, with mordancy occasionally melting into tenderness. The disc contains two large-scale works, the Sequence for All Saints, and a first recording of the impressive The World's Desire. There are also premiere recordings of O God Enfold Me in the Sun and Morning Canticles. David Bednall is given a chance to show off his outstanding organ skills in the chorale prelude Rockingham. The Wells Cathedral Choir and Wells Cathedral School Chapel Choir are conducted by Matthew Owens, and all the soloists are exemplary on this disc of the highest quality music-making.
Britten Piano Concerto CDA67625
Steven Osborne gives an exuberant performance of Britten's extrovertive Piano Concerto on this disc. He is an ideal interpreter for the work, capturing in piano pyrotechnics both its whimsical nature as well as Britten's ostentatious gestures. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Ilan Volkov, and proves as vibrant as the soloist in an incisive and brisk performance. The rest of the disc contains an energetic version of Young Apollo, a 'fanfare' for piano, string quartet and string orchestra, and the Diversions, which is for orchestra and left hand only, one of the many works (including piano concertos by Korngold, Strauss, Martinu, Ravel, Prokofiev and Schmidt) composed for the Viennese pianist Wittgenstein who had lost his right arm in the First World War. It receives a very lively, virtuosic and buoyant performance on this excellent recording.
York Bowen Complete Viola and Piano Works CDA67651
It is wonderful to see Hyperion continuing to promote the work of that vastly under-rated genius, York Bowen. This latest disc contains the complete works for viola and piano, including several premiere recordings, with Lawrence Power accompanied by Simon Crawford-Phillips. What music it is—brilliantly-crafted, and gorgeously romantic. The artists are also of the very highest calibre, pouring their souls into these works. Just listen to the first sonata (composed, remarkably, when Bowen was just twenty) which the musicians invest with the utmost passion and intensity. They do not, however, go over the top: Power plays the second movement (Poco Lento e Cantabile) of this sonata with lyricism, yet without sentimentality. He is ever so slightly restrained here, and the music is more beautiful as a result. Many of the pieces are invested with great liveliness and joy, such as the Allegro for Concert on the second disc, whilst the Romance in D flat is performed with delicacy but also passion and intensity. Power is joined by three other violists for the Fantasia for Four Violas, a very evocative piece, full of wistfulness and yearning with its lovely rich, dark tones. The shorter works that follow the splendid second sonata are likewise brilliantly played, and contrast well with each other: some gentle, tender and deeply romantic (the Melodies for the G and C strings, for example), others impassioned and stirring (such as the amazing Rhapsody in G Minor, which concludes the disc). This is a superlative recording.
Britten Britten Abroad SIGCD122
Britten is particularly admired for his settings of English poetry and libretti, yet this disc demonstrates his consummate skill in setting other languages as well. It opens with the Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, which is followed by The Poet's Echo (text by Pushkin), the Four French FolksongArrangements, Um Mitternacht (Goethe), and Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente, while another Four French FolksongArrangements conclude the disc. Susan Gritton is robust and effective, and Mark Padmore is very good here, his strong and assured singing well-suited to the songs. His rendition of Um Mitternacht is especially excellent, very dark and powerful. If you don't know any of Britten's foreign settings, this disc is a way to discover them.
Alec Roth and Vikram Seth Songs in Time of War SIGCD124
This is an interesting collaboration between Indian poet and author Vikram Seth and English composer Alec Roth. In Songs in Time of War Roth sets words by Seth that are based upon the poetry of eighth century Chinese poet Du Fu. The cycle works well: the music pays homage to Britten, but the violin, harp and guitar instrumentation accompanying Mark Padmore's tenor voice lends it an exotic air. The disc also includes two atmospheric pieces for solo guitar (played by Morgan Szymanski), and Chinese Gardens for tenor and guitar, another Seth-Roth collaboration, inspired by Seth's visit to the Ming Dynasty Gardens in Suzhou. These are well-performed and pleasing works, modern and original without being atonal, and accessible though they do not resort to pastiche.
Coro The Sixteen Treasures of Tudor England COR16056
This exquisite disc from the Coro label features three composers from just before and during the time of Henry VIII, Christopher Tye, Robert White (Tye's son-in-law), and Robert Parsons, with two works from each composer. The glorious music, opening with Parsons' beautiful Ave Maria and including White's impressive Lamentations, is timeless, powerful, and full of the deepest emotion and spirituality. The performances by The Sixteen under their usual conductor, Harry Christophers, are faultless, overflowing with serenity, the effortless voicelines floating and soaring. This recording is one to be treasured.
PrioryElgar Organ Music PRCD 6010
This album originally appeared on LP in the early eighties, one of a series of organ recordings that Priory is currently reissuing. These are of considerable interest, since, though they were all made by an amateur producer, Michael Woodward, they are now generally considered to be some of the finest organ recordings ever released. The LPs were also legendary for the amount of detail in the sleeve-notes, reproduced in full here. This recording of Elgar organ pieces on the Harrison and Harrison organ at King's College, Cambridge is atmospheric and magisterial. Stephen Cleobury had only recently taken over the position of Organist and Choirmaster, and clearly relished the opportunity to put the instrument through its paces. Not all the pieces are entirely successful, however. The arrangement of the Imperial March is rather woolly and tame, lacking the exuberance and panache of the orchestral version, while Nimrod from the Enigma Variations only comes alive in the final bars, perhaps because it is played too slowly and methodically. However, both organ sonatas see Cleobury in his element, and come across very powerfully on this fascinating disc.
Sir Thomas Beecham The Beecham Collection Vol. 24 SOMM-BEECHAM 24
A new addition to Somm's wonderful collection of Beecham recordings, this disc includes a performance of a Moeran Sinfonietta dating from 1947, and a 1946 recording of Berners' ballet suite The Triumph of Neptune. The Moeran performance is delightfully evocative, with an exceptionally gentle Andante, although the Allegro Risoluto slightly lacks bite. The Berners piece was, apparently, a favourite English work of Beecham's: he conducted it around thirty times, including well-received performances in Dresden and Leipzig. This particular rendition is full of fun and wit, Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra appearing to enjoy the quirky charm and humour of the work. The sound is not great—there is some scratching in the background, especially on the Berners piece— but this is entirely forgivable and ignorable, given the age of the recording. The disc also includes Jour d'Ete a la Montagne by the French composer D'Indy.
Sir Thomas Beecham The Beecham Collection Vol. 23 SOMM-BEECHAM 23
On this disc Beecham conducts Mozart's Symphony no. 29, Alwyn's Third Symphony, and Grieg's Symphonic Dances. The Alwyn recording dates from 1956, and the orchestra is the BBC Symphony in a premiere live performance. Because Beecham was the replacement for other conductors who had pulled out, he had only a few days to learn the score, yet he was able to conduct it from memory. Listen to the incredible sense of drama that he creates in the first movement, the mystery and occasional menace in the second, and the combination of frenzied outbursts and lyrical episodes in the last movement. This is, indeed, an amazing performance, and Alwyn was utterly overjoyed with it.
Various Composers Constant Lambert Conducts Ballet Suites SOMMCD 080
There is only one piece of English music here, in a programme dominated by Tchaikovsky, Meyerbeer and Rossini. Lambert was heavily involved with the Vic-Wells Ballet (later Sadler's Wells Ballet, now the Royal Ballet). He would advise on which ballets the company should stage, and often chose, arranged, and conducted the music. For a ballet entitled The Prospect before Us, Lambert arranged music by William Boyce from several trio sonatas and symphonies. A comic ballet, it helped to lighten the wartime mood. This recording dates from 1940, shortly after the ballet was premiered at Sadler's Wells. The sound is excellent in this lovely performance. It is said that Lambert was a superb conductor, and one can catch a glimpse of this here as he directs with a light but deft touch.
Frank Bridge Piano Music Vol. 2 SOMMCD 082
This disc has already been highly acclaimed, and it is easy to see why. Mark Bebbington is an admirable exponent of Frank Bridge's often very chromatic piano music, which on this recording ranges from the romantic to the more turbulent. His playing is wonderfully dreamy and delicate in the Fairy Tale Suite (especially The Princess and The Prince), as also in the Miniature Pastorals and Three Pieces. This contrasts with the darkness in, for example, Retrospect from In Autumn. As well as various sets and suites, there are several individual pieces on the disc, of which the most substantial is the Dramatic Fantasia—however, the short Etude Rhapsodique pulls its weight with some dramatic gestures, and the Sea Idyll is quite gorgeous. Here is a disc that will enchant and surprise both those already familiar with Bridge's orchestral music, and those entirely new to him.
Vaughan Williams Fifth Symphony and Dona Nobis Pacem SOMMCD 071
This off-air recording of Vaughan Williams conducting his Fifth Symphony with the London Philharmonic Orchestra was made in 1952 at a BBC Prom. The spacious and serene opening, Preludio, builds up to wonderfully intense passion. After an excellent second movement, Scherzo, comes a lovely Romanza full of nobility, lyricism, and poetry. The symphony concludes with tender and gentle tranquillity in this deeply moving performance. The recording of Dona Nobis Pacem, with Vaughan Williams conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, was the first-ever broadcast performance. It took place a month after the work's premiere and featured the same two soloists, Renee Flynn and Roy Henderson. Remarkably, there is absolute passion from Flynn, the chorus and the orchestra from the very beginning. Vaughan Williams creates a real sense of menace in the second movement, with furious and frenzied music that is really quite terrifying. Although listeners may find Henderson's pronunciation in Reconciliation somewhat dated, it is nonetheless full of the expressiveness and dignity that is typical of this entire poised performance. In the Dirge Vaughan Williams masterfully builds up tension, and the next movement, Angel of Death, is quite simply harrowing, from Henderson's chilling opening through to the desperately passionate outburst from the chorus and Flynn's searing, agonised, heart-rending cry for peace. Henderson is also fantastic in We Look for Peace, his voice showing its strength and power. This final movement is full of hope and joy, and concludes on an exquisite and touching note. With its radiant performances, this CD has deservedly received the highest critical acclaim. Anyone who appreciates Vaughan Williams' music should have this fantastic historical document. Various Composers The Long Day Closes SOMMCD 204
This is a wonderful collection of English part-songs from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century. It opens with two by Robert Pearsall, followed by songs from his contemporaries Sir Joseph Barnaby, Samuel Wesley and Thomas Forbes Walmsley. The next composer, both on the disc and chronologically, is George Macfarren with When Daisies Pied, which has lovely cuckoo effects. Coleridge-Taylor is represented by Summer is Gone, with its almost Delian chromatic harmonies, beautifully sung here. Two charming songs by Sullivan precede a couple by Stanford, including the much-loved (and rightly so!) The Blue Bird. Charles Wood's Full Fathom Five, sung with joy and conviction, is another delight. It is followed by three Elgar songs, and the disc concludes with some alluring pieces by Parry. Although the intonation is on occasion slightly wobbly, particularly in the sopranos, the songs are in general well-performed by the Canzonetta Choir under their director Jeffrey Wynn Davies.
Various Composers Love's Voice SOMMCD 063
The choice of songs and song-cycles on this disc is excellent, featuring four composers - Gurney, Venables, Ireland, and Finzi—who complement each other well. Vale's voice is quite impressive, as he demonstrates in his robust rendition of the first song, Gurney's On Wenlock Edge, yet he also proves his gentleness and tenderness in songs such as Down by the Salley Gardens and Finzi's As I Lay in the Early Sun. English song is a difficult genre to get right, but Vale has an excellent feel for it. I particularly liked the renditions of the Ireland songs Three Ravens, which Vale invests with a nice light touch, Goal and Wicket, and Oh Fair to See, showcasing some very expressive singing with good accompaniment by Paul Plummer. Where Vale really shines, however, is in the Venables pieces, especially the Love's Voice cycle. There is some lovely, evocative music here, especially in the eponymous song. I am slightly unsure about Vale's vibrato, which I found a little over-the-top on occasion for my personal taste, and his voice is sometimes slightly strained, but on the whole it is generally refined and beautiful in these delightfully-poised, well-paced performances.
Alwyn Orchestral Music 8.570704
This disc of William Alwyn's orchestral music opens with the lively Overture to a Masque (composed in 1940), followed by the first of Alwyn's three Concerti Grossi, this one commissioned by the BBC and dedicated to the leader and other players in the London Symphony Orchestra, in which Alwyn had been a flautist. It is an elegant, witty and sophisticated piece, excellently performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of David Lloyd-Jones. The ensuing Pastoral Fantasia dates from 1939 and presents a nostalgic vision of an England soon to be lost in the approaching war. Philip Duke is the eloquent viola soloist. Though the Five Preludes were performed at the BBC Proms in the year they were composed (1927), this is their world premiere recording. Each prelude lasts under two minutes, despite the large orchestral forces, and yet is wonderfully characterful. The Tragic Interlude, prefaced by three lines from Aldington's novel Death of a Hero, is a harrowing work given an intense and dramatic performance here. The following Autumn Legend also has a preface, this time from Rossetti's The Blessed Damozel. The piece, Alwyn's personal tribute to the poet and painter, is another moody work in which the performers create an excellent sense of atmosphere. The disc finishes with a suite of charming Scottish Dances that are given a joyful, light and lively performance in this superb collection of brilliantly-constructed compositions.
Alwyn English Song Series Vol. 17 8.570201
Another good addition to Naxos' English Song Series, this is full of effective songs and performances. Jeremy Huw Williams' strong baritone is accompanied by Iain Burnside's piano in the song cycle Mirages, and in Six Nocturnes (recorded here for the first time). Elin Manahan Thomas, with her soaring light soprano, and Burnside are joined on Seascapes by John Turner on treble recorder, which lends the cycle a sometimes folk-like, sometimes slightly mysterious air. The disc is concluded by the song-cycle Invocations for soprano and piano.
Alwyn Piano Music 8.570464
This second volume of Alwyn's piano music is another first-rate recent Naxos release. Played by Ashley Wass, who is making a name for himself in British piano music generally, it features the Twelve Preludes, Contes Barbares and Movements, as well as a number of shorter pieces. This record is well worth looking out for.
Elgar Part-Songs 8.570464
Everything about this excellent collection of Elgar part-songs is wonderfully clean and clear: the sound, the enunciation, and the vocal lines. The Cambridge University Chamber Choir under Christopher Robinson sing with great precision and their diction is outstanding (listen to Death on the Hills, for example). On the negative side, the performance is sometimes a bit too measured so that there is no sense of thrill or exhilaration in the music. Nevertheless, these are good crisp performances of some wonderful songs, with top-quality singing.
Ireland Piano Works Vol. 3 8.570461
John Lenehan continues his recording of John Ireland's piano works with this third volume. The disc includes the Piano Sonata, the FourPreludes (of which the third is yet another arrangement of Holy Boy), and several solo piano pieces, including the slightly more substantial Ballade of London Nights. The works are all played with conviction, sensitivity and sincerity.
John Bradbury and James Cryer The English Clarinet 8.570539
This is a delightful compilation of English works for clarinet, played very well indeed by John Bradbury accompanied by James Cryer. It opens with a surprisingly languid work by the usually bouncy Edward German, which is followed by a suitably brooding performance of Bax's Sonata. Each of the Edwin Roxburgh Four Wordsworth Miniatures is preceded by a slightly prosaic spoken introduction, which the works nonetheless depict effectively; the real joy, however, is the performance of Finzi's well-loved, tuneful Five Bagatelles. The ensuing Hurlstone Four Characteristic Pieces are deftly-composed, interesting works, as are the charming little miniatures by William Lloyd Webber. The disc concludes with Bliss's rather sombre Pastoral. There are fine performances of some real gems on this release, which is highly recommended to those who enjoy clarinet music.
Elgar Sea Pictures 8.557710
This attractively-programmed disc includes the two Elgar works that feature major roles for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, Sea Pictures and The Music Makers, which thus form an excellent coupling. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under the expert and sympathetic direction of Simon Wright provides a superb base for what is one of the most magnificent renderings of Sea Pictures available on CD. Although the state-of-the-art performance that Janet Baker recorded with Barbirolli over forty years ago is still the one to beat, this one comes very close, with Connolly rising easily to the work's many challenges. The closing pages of both Sabbath Morning at Sea and The Swimmer illustrate the true power of her voice, which is also capable of great subtlety and perception, as in In Haven. Wright takes a very positive view of The Music Makers and this comes across clearly in the Introduction, which he begins with an impressive Allegro rather than a Moderato (the theme is marked, characteristically, as nobilmente). He phrases the second theme most beautifully, so that the listener eagerly begins to anticipate a great performance. Sarah Connolly again shines in this work, and when she combines with the excellent Bournemouth Symphony Chorus the music really catches fire. Unfortunately, the balance between chorus and orchestra is not always perfect, so that some of the detail is lost. Nevertheless, these are two outstanding performances that will be difficult to match.
Handel Israel in Egypt 8.570966-67
Though this was something of a failure in Handel's own time, and admittedly has some problems (the first part, The Lamentation of the Israelites for the Death of Joseph, is a rather lugubrious episode, composed later and added to what is otherwise a much livelier work), this oratorio nonetheless deserves a hearing as there is some fine music in it. A larger choir than the Aradia Ensemble would have helped beef out the choruses and create a fuller sound, but the performance is nonetheless a good one, quite exciting in choruses such as But the Waters Overwhelmed Their Enemies. The orchestral playing also is of a very high standard.
Howells, Britten and Vaughan Williams Sonatas for Violin and Piano CRC 2922
The American label Centaur has brought out a lovely English music release of works for violin and piano by Howells, Britten and Vaughan Williams, performed by John Gilbert and Susan Wass. The disc opens with Howells' Sonata No. 1, a student work yet one that is nonetheless full of character and lyricism. It is given a sensitive and assured performance, particularly lovely in the introspective second movement. The Britten Suitefor Violin and Piano—another youthful, although surprisingly forward-looking, work - is full of energy, and Gilbert brings out its vivacity and ebullience. The Sonata in A Minor, composed by an octogenarian Vaughan Williams, is a sophisticated work, particularly in this searching and intelligent rendition by Gilbert and Wass.--Em Marshall