Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams Mary Bevan; Roderick Williams; William Vann; Jack Liebeck ALBCD038 HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
A fabulous disc containing songs, many of which will be unfamiliar to listeners, by Gustav Holst and his close friend Ralph Vaughan Williams. Some of the Holst songs are surprising – Rollicum Rorum is almost Warlockian— which immediately makes this an extremely important recording, giving us a truer and broader picture of the composer. There is also a pleasing symmetry to the programme. Holst’s wonderful Six Songs are followed by Vaughan Williams’s substantial Along the Field for soprano and violin, and then the nice set of Cradle Songs (two from Vaughan Williams and one from Holst). Two sets of Four Songs (the second set for violin, rather than piano, accompaniment) by Holst bookend Vaughan Williams’s Folk Songs from the Eastern Counties and Hampshire, before the disc closes neatly with settings of Darest Thou Now O Soul from both composers (Holst’s, interestingly, being the more dramatic). The performances from all involved are good, although Roderick Williams stands out. The tone of the violin in Holst’s Four Songs is rather thin, but that could be the recorded sound, which does not come across as very faithful or true throughout. Nevertheless, a fascinating and beautiful disc and a highly enjoyable listen.
Albion’s Journey: The Life and Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams ALBCD039 HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Albion’s Journey is a compilation of works that have featured on previous Albion releases, with just one new recording. Robin’s Nest, Vaughan Williams’s first composition (at the tender age of six), is a half-a-minute-long piano piece, and it opens the disc in a performance by Frank Ericson. Other works included range from folk and solo songs through to full orchestral and choral works. Perhaps the most fascinating and enjoyable sections of the disc, however, are the spoken-word interludes between the pieces: Vaughan Williams himself talking about Parry, Sibelius and folksong, and Howells, Tippett and Roy Douglas discussing Vaughan Williams.
British Tone Poems Volume 2: BBC Philharmonic; Rumon Gamba CHAN 10981 HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
A really superb programme of interesting and attractive work opens with John Foulds’s April-England. This is Foulds in lyrical and romantic style as opposed to the powerful dissonance and power of some of his other works, yet still very recognisably himself in this exhilarating and brilliant piece. It is followed by Eric Fogg’s Merok, a set of variations on a Norwegian folksong not at all dissimilar to Greensleeves, evoking a Norwegian village set at the head of a dramatic fjord — a beautiful, if not particularly dramatic, work. Eugene Goossens in By the Tarn and Vaughan Williams in Harnham Down provide fairly reflective, brooding and atmospheric interludes, while Dorothy Howell’s Lamia brings dramatic contrast. There is more reflection and brooding in the world première recordings of Frederic Cowen’s Reverie and Patrick Hadley’s Kinder Scout. The disc concludes with Arthur Bliss’s Mêlée fantasque, which starts off rousing and exuberant but ends in slightly subdued mystery. An excellent disc, and extremely well played and conducted by the BBC Philharmonic and Gamba.
Eric Coates Orchestral Works, Volume 1 BBC Philharmonic; John Wilson CHAN 20036 HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
The Merrymakers is a suitably effervescent opening to this wonderful disc, with superb playing, conducting and very clear recorded sound. The performances are spirited and all the instruments are beautifully incisive in their individual lines. Wilson keeps the tempo pushing on, even in the more romantic episodes, which is excellent – he never allows the music to wallow too much. Alongside the much-loved By the Sleepy Lagoon, the disc also contains The Jester at the Wedding (a suite from an imaginary ballet dreamt up by Coates and his wife), the concert valse Dancing Nights, the more melancholic Ballad and the Two Symphonic Rhapsodies, and concludes with the London Suite. One has the distinct impression that the orchestra is enjoying itself. Volume II is eagerly awaited. On another note, one wonders what would happen to this country and the people living within its shores if this sort of music were played on the main radio stations these days – perhaps there would be a happier atmosphere on the daily commuter journeys?
Holbrooke Symphony No. 3 Deutsche Radio Philharmonie; Howard Griffiths cpo 555 041-2
The Birds of Rhiannon opens this disc, but here comes across as rather un-atmospheric. Part of this is due to the recorded sound, which is too closely-miked and clinical; some extra space is needed to add more dimension. Nevertheless, there is a nice clarity of detail from the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie itself. The Symphonic Variations on The Girl I Left Behind Me follow, with a good sense of lightness, fun, and, occasional silliness, brought out well by the orchestra and their conductor Howard Griffiths. The disc concludes with Holbrooke’s Third Symphony (The Ships), which depicts various aspects of sea-faring, from naval battles to the swell of the deep. Again, the playing is good and the conducting sensitive and sympathetic.
English Piano Trios Trio Anima Mundi dda 25158
This disc contains some very unusual and rare works which immediately spark interest. It opens with Rosalind Ellicott’s Piano Trio No. 1, written in 1889 in the composer’s thirties, the first movement of which contains striking similarities to Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor – in fact, the whole work borrows fairly heavily from Mendelssohn while never quite rising to that composer's greatness. This is followed by the early Trio by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, an impressive and assured work for an eighteen-year-old, yet one which could do with slightly more vitality and excitement from the violinist. Boughton’s distinctive Celtic Prelude could not have been written by anyone else, and it is followed by James Cliffe Forrester’s The Folk Song Phantasy, which won the fifth Cobbett Competition. Another competition-winner closes the disc – Harry Waldo Warner’s very varied and interesting Trio, which took the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge prize.
The performances from pianist Kenji Fujimura and cellist Noella Yan are good, but I was less convinced by violinist Rochelle Ughetti, whose playing features the occasional uncontrolled swoop (as in the Ellicott), messy shifts, and intonation and focus issues (especially in the Coleridge-Taylor). Given this, it is unfortunate that the recording balance favours the violin, as these are otherwise commendable performances of some fascinating and unfamiliar pieces.
Thomas Arne The Judgment of Paris The Brook Street Band; John Andrews CDLX7361 HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
A strong cast, a passionate, enthusiastic and highly sympathetic conductor, and a good orchestra join together to give an excellent account of this beautiful and interesting masque by Thomas Arne, based on the Ancient Greek myth of the shepherd Paris, who was given the unenviable task of deciding which of the three most important goddesses was the fairest. The booklet contains good notes by Lewis Foreman and the complete text.
Music for Two Pianos Simon Callaghan, Hiroaki Takenouchi SRCD.368 HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
The world première recordings of two works by Percy Sherwood feature on this disc, alongside a piece by Parry. The disc opens with Sherwood’s Suite for Two Pianos – a substantial and impressive work dating from 1901–1902. Parry’s following Grosses Duo in E minor from 1875–1876 is an assured and confident piece which demonstrates the composer’s preoccupation with baroque form. Sherwood’s Sonata for Two Pianos is another lengthy, rather grandiose and virtuousic work, lasting nearly forty minutes. Takenouchi and Callaghan deliver enthusiastic, polished performances on this interesting and enjoyable disc.
Sarah Rodgers The Roaring Whirl Geraldine Allen, Baluji Shrivastav, Timothy Walker, Bhasker Patel msv 28592
The Roaring Whirl intersperses music for sitar, tabla and pakhavaj alongside the clarinet and guitar (the work was, in fact, commissioned by clarinettist Geraldine Allen) with excerpts from Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, read by actor Bhasker Patel. The narration of episodes from that most wonderful of books is excellent, and works so well because Patel is Indian himself. The Indian musical sections, played by Baluji Shrivastav, also sound authentic enough, but I was less convinced by the introduction of the Western instruments, which seem out of place against the glorious Indian music and narration; the clarinet and guitar just sound incongruous after the scene has initially been set. I had high hopes for this disc, but the project doesn’t really come off.
Alfred Cellier Dorothy Victorian Opera Chorus, Victorian Opera Orchestra, Richard Bonynge (director) 8.660447
This is the world première recording of a work that was one of the most popular pieces of its day, with the longest run of all nineteenth-century musical theatre works, beating even The Mikado. Indeed, the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue was built using its box office profits. Alfred Cellier was a contemporary of Sir Arthur Sullivan and conducted many Gilbert and Sullivan works, but this shortish, light opera shows him as a fine composer in his own right. The music is attractive, tuneful, and gently sparkling, and the performance is spirited, although there is some warbling going on in the Victorian Opera Chorus, and the intonation is sometimes less than secure —otherwise the chorus and orchestra manage admirably. Nine vocal soloists are involved, and nearly all of them have (to my ears) an excessive vibrato, but that is very much a matter of personal taste.
The Songs of Roger Quilter, Volume 2 Nathan Vale; Adrian Farmer NI 5969
This is a lovely programme containing some of the most gorgeous songs ever composed, performed by tenor Nathan Vale and pianist Adrian Farmer. The latter is an excellent colleague to Vale —adroit, accomplished, and sensitive. I was, however, less struck by Vale (and this is purely a subjective response), again because of his vibrato, which is very narrow, fast and pulsating, more a variation in volume than a variation in pitch. Despite this, he has a nice, carefree manner that works well for these songs, good enunciation, and a light, high voice that suits this music. I found it slightly odd that a number of songs are lumped together, so that three or more of them appear on a single track. The booklet, with its atmospheric cover, pleasingly contains a biography of Quilter, notes, and full texts.
Alwyn and Carwithen Music for String Quartet Tippett Quartet SOMMCD 0194 HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Alwyn’s extremely evocative Three Winter Poems open this disc. These are lovely, deeply pictorial and distinctive works, well-played by the Tippett Quartet. They are followed by the first and second string quartets by Alwyn’s wife, Doreen Carwithen. Although early compositions, these are confident and assured pieces, performed here with sensitivity and conviction. The disc ends with Alwyn’s third String Quartet – his last major work, with its terse first movement and a second movement full of radiant beauty. The release includes good booklet notes (although there are some odd hyphenations) and on the whole this is an excellent and interesting disc.
Songs of Renewal Bath Camerata; Benjamin Goodson SOMMCD 0195 HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
This is a highly enjoyable disc of interesting and attractive contemporary works. It commences with Jonathan Dove’s The Passing of the Year, written in 2000 in memory of his mother. This is a characterful and beautiful work, containing some lovely passages. The Bath Camerata are very good: energetic, and clearly sympathetic to the music. The vocal solos, however, aren’t always audible. Huw Watkins plays the (in parts very virtuosic) piano part with panache. The following a blue true dream of sky by Judith Weir sets a religious poem by e e cummings, while Tarik O’Regan sets one of Kathleen Raine’s Poems of Incarnation. The world premiere recording of Will Todd’s highly individual Songs of Renewal, with its striking first movement Me renovare, precedes Cecilia McDowall’s Standing As I Do Before God. This is a deeply poignant meditation on Nurse Edith Cavell and the hours prior to her execution in the First World War, and it is beautifully performed by the Bath Camerata and soprano Elizabeth Cragg. Huw Watkins sets Shakespeare in his The Phoenix and the Turtle, and Roderick Williams sets George Herbert and Siegfried Sassoon respectively in Love Bade Me Welcome and Everyone Sang, the latter a commission for this disc and a work which the Bath Camerata seem to completely relish. Overall this is an excellent release, with some delightful works performed enthusiastically and well – my only criticism is that the recorded sound sometimes comes across as slightly muffled.--Em Marshall-Luck