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EDGAR BAINTON (1880 - 1956)


by Michael Jones

For many people, the anthem And I Saw a New Heaven, a classic of English church music, is all that is known today by the composer, pianist, conductor and teacher, Edgar Bainton. And yet, if we look back 60 years to the many competitive festivals and choral society events that were a vital part of British music-making, his part-songs and choral works were part of the backbone of the repertoire. If we study the anthem a little more closely, surveying the natural shape of the melodies in relation to the words, the imaginative and sensitive harmonic flow, and above all, that other-worldly quality that is such a special characteristic of the piece, and which made it such an appropriate contribution to the Hillsborough Memorial Service at Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral in 1989, we must surely wish to know more about the personality and the music of this elusive figure. Such thoughts prompted the research for this article.

Edgar (Leslie) Bainton was born in London on 14th February 1880; his father was a Congregational minister who later moved with his family to Coventry. His abilities in music and at the piano were noticed early; he made his first public appearance as solo pianist at 9 years of age, and at 16 he won an open scholarship to the Royal College of Music to study piano with Franklin Taylor and theory with Walford Davies. In 1899 he gained the Wilson Scholarship to study composition with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, and thus became one of the rising generation of British composers destined to contribute extensively to the English Musical Renaissance. Unlike some other students, Bainton did not find Stanford overbearing or restricting, but seems to have derived great benefit from his studies, as he later wrote:

"It is a curious paradox that in spite of his dominating personality (at times aggressively dominating) hardly one of his many pupils' works shows any influence of Stanford... And this fact in itself is surely the finest tribute to his teaching that he kept his own personality in the background and helped them whether they were conscious of it or not to express themselves, to say clearly what they had to say."'

Life at the Royal College was not always easy and he had to supplement his income by undertaking outside engagements, either as accompanist, as drummer in theatre orchestras (he was timpanist in the College orchestra) or on one occasion as organist - playing to Queen Victoria at Balmoral. His college friends included George (later Sir George) Dyson, William H. Harris and particularly Rutland Boughton, who was to be a great help to Bainton's career. His first surviving work is a Prelude and Fugue in B Minor for piano, dating from 1898; it is the first entry in his notebook which lists nearly all his works up to his death, and to which I shall constantly refer.

In 1901 Bainton was appointed piano professor to the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Conservatory of Music (it closed in 1938, four years after his emigration to Australia - see D.H. Thomas The Newcastle Conservatoire of Music, British Music Vol 14 1992 pp.). He immersed himself totally in local musical life-becoming pianist and writer of programme notes for the Northumbrian Chamber Music Society in 1909, conductor of the Philharmonic Society (amateur) Orchestra in 1911, and in 1912 the Principal of the Conservatory. He decided to enlarge the facilities there by purchasing a large house in Jesmond Road, a venture which, had it failed, would have ruined him financially. He had married a former student, Ethel Eales, in 1905, and their two daughters, Guendolen and Helen were born in 1906 and 1909. They lived at Stocksfield, near Hexham, where Bainton gained much inspiration from taking long country walks, often with his friend, the Lakeland poet, Wilfred Wilson Gibson; it was through Gibson that Bainton became part of the literary circle surrounding the poet and litterateur, Gordon Bottomley. This connection was to result in Bainton setting many of his poems and writing an opera to one of his lyric dramas. He was also part of an important musical circle for introducing much new British music. Works by Holst, Bax, Vaughan Williams and many others were performed for the first time in the area, largely through the pioneering efforts of Bainton, his close friend William Gillies Whittaker (right), George Dodds (front, second from left) and H. Yeaman Dodds (rear centre), the violinist Alfred Wall (rear left), the conductor J.E.Hutchinson and the Cathedral Organist, William Ellis (left) (photograph ~1930).

In the summer of 1914, while en route to the Bayreuth Festival, he was arrested as a British civilian in wartime Germany and interned at a prison camp at Ruhleben, near Berlin. This was a converted race-course and internees had to sleep six men to every horse-box. Despite many hardships this four-year exile proved to be a period of great creative and practical musical activity, not only for Bainton, who was placed in charge of all the music at the camp, but also for a number of other musicians interned there, including Carl Fuchs (principal cellist in the Halle Orchestra, released after a few weeks), Benjamin Dale, Frederick Keel the singer-songwriter, Percy Hull (assistant to G.R.Sinclair at Hereford Cathedral), Ernest Macmillan and Edward Clark (a colleague from Newcastle, studying with Schoenberg in Berlin, and European correspondent for the Musical Times). Many of these were to figure in Bainton's later career in some way. Bainton directed his own madrigal group, known as Bainton's Magpies, as well as conducting the ad hoc orchestra; he played occasional concertos, such as no.20 in D Minor K466 of Mozart, reviewed in the camp magazine as:

"..played by Mr.Bainton, whose very fine technique is better suited to pianoforte writing of a more modern character, the vigour and robustness of his playing scarcely compensating for what was lost in the way of delicacy..."; (2)

one wonders what sort of instrument he had to play on!

He supervised the taking of degree examinations in the camp - Ernest Macmillan gained a D.Mus, the papers being sent to London for assessment. There were Sunday evening concerts featuring a wide range of orchestral and choral music, ranging from the classics to works by Massenet (Scenes-Alsatiennes). Performances of Handel's Messiah were given, and for the Shakespeare tercentenary celebrations of 1916 The Merry Wives of Windsor; followed in 1918 by Twelfth Night, for which Dale wrote the deeply beautiful Come away, Death; Bainton wrote incidental music for both productions which was re-worked after the cessation of hostilities into his Three Pieces for Orchestra. Composition seems to have been very therapeutic for him throughout this entire period. An Overture for orchestra was sketched at Frankfurt 1914. During the internment period itself he wrote the String Quartet in A and songs which included Into the Silent Land and All Night under the Moon. March 1918 saw a breakdown in his health and he was transferred along with several other internees to The Hague for convalescence. He was placed in charge of music activities for the YMCA and, after the Armistice, he was engaged as the first English musician ever to conduct the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra in two concerts of British music by Balfour Gardiner (the Overture to a Comedy), Bridge, Coleridge-Taylor, Delius, Elgar, Grainger and Stanford before his return home.

At home, as life returned to normal he resumed his work at the Conservatory which his wife had run single-handed since the outbreak of war. He wrote an article for the Musical Times on his wartime experiences in Ruhleben, and lectured on a wide range of topics for the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society, as well as undertaking frequent conducting engagements, including premieres of his own works, such as Before Sunrise and A Song of Freedom and Joy. His works also featured at the Three Choirs Festivals, through the influence of Percy Hull, now the Director of Music at Hereford. He became a regular examiner for the Associated Board and began to travel extensively. He went on a tour of Australia and Canada from April 1930 to January 1931, the only time his composition ceased, and from August to December 1932 he toured India, where he gave a piano recital for the Indian Broadcasting Company and was the guest in Calcutta of the celebrated poet and musician, Rabindranath Tagore, who introduced him to the beauties of Indian music. His Australian visit had obviously made a significant impression on the governing body of the New South Wales Conservatorium at Sydney for him to be offered the Directorship in the summer of 1933. He was awarded an honorary D.Mus at Durham University by Sir Edward Bairstow, and in 1934 the family prepared to start a new and exciting life in Australia.

In her biography of her father, Remembered on Waking, Helen Bainton writes:

"In 1934, a year remembered for the deaths of Elgar, Delius and Holst, my father came to this country. He was steeped in the traditions of the English Schools of Music, with their choral, orchestral, operatic, chamber music and general scholastic training. He came filled with enthusiasm and an abiding love for the work he was to do, and whatever he undertook was done with his whole mind and heart. His vitality was unbounded; his thoughts simple and direct. He was highly strung and very sensitive but possessed great self-control, due to his sense of discipline and rigorous physical training. His temper could quickly rise and as quickly be forgotten, and he possessed a deep philosophy of life.... From this he realised how precious were the small, simple, day to day tasks and was contented with his life. He never strove for success nor wished for power, but was deeply aware of the need for spreading the understanding and appreciation of an artistic inheritance."3

Thus he took a very active interest in all aspects of the Conservatorium, from conducting the choral and orchestral classes, founding the Opera School, to supervising the interior decorating. Many unknown works were introduced by him to Australia, including Elgar's Second Symphony in 1934, The Dream of Gerontius in 1936, and The Apostles in 1940. His Arrival in Sydney coincided with plans to establish a permanent professional orchestra under the aegis of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC); this was to become the New South Wales Symphony Orchestra (later the ABC Sydney Symphony Orchestra), and Bainton conducted the inaugural concert in 1934. He introduced much British music, including Bax's Third Symphony, for which he wrote an introductory article for the Sydney Morning Herald, Vaughan Williams's Job, Five Variants on Dives and Lazarus, and works by Delius, Walton, Debussy and Sibelius amongst many others. At the Conservatorium he also gave opportunities to native Australian composers such as Alex Bumard, Roy Agnew, Miriam Hyde, Arthur Benjamin, F.S.Kelly (killed in action in 1916), Percy Grainger and the senior composer Alfred Hill, who had conducted at the 'Con' for many years. Perhaps the high point of every year was the annual performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion which, as the years progressed, attained a height of spiritual magnificence still remembered to this day. There is a famous Bainton 'story' attached to one of these performances, as Helen relates:

"On the day of the performance, father would be studying his score, or reading Spitta's J.S.Bach right up to the moment when he left for the Conservatorium. On arrival he always went backstage with his tuning-fork to test each player, after the custom of Sir Henry Wood. Orchestral players often play cards before concerts, or when they have long waiting periods. Father was horrified on entering the bandroom to find a game of cards in progress his own mind was far removed from such mundane things. He stopped and said to the players in tones of extreme sorrow: 'Gentlemen, not before Bach."' 4

The climax of his career was the premiere production by the Conservatorium Opera School of The Pearl Tree in 1944; this received unanimous acclaim from press and public, so much so that an extra night's performance had to be given. A bust sculpted by Arthur Fleishmann in Bainton's honour was unveiled in the foyer at the Conservatorium on this occasion. In 1946 the opera was repeated, but this was the year he had to retire, owing to regulations stipulating compulsory retirement at 65; Bainton was unhappy at this ruling as he had so much more to give to his work. In the event, he was as much in demand as previously, taking over temporary conductorship of the New Zealand Orchestra, on the retirement of Anderson Tyrer, and giving further lecture tours in Canada, at the invitation of Sir Ernest Macmillan, who had gained his D Mus in Ruhleben with Bainton's help. His composing continued, culminating in the Third Symphony, though he also ventured into film music with a score for a short documentary film on the Australian Bush Police. However, a heart attack which followed the death of his wife, put his health under strain; he died while taking his morning swim on Point Piper beach on December 8th 1956. After his death his collection of manuscripts and personal papers were presented to the Mitchell Library, Sydney, by his daughter Helen; these form the largest part of his remaining MSS., though several of his works are preserved at the Conservatorium, the ABC Federal Library and the Australian Music Centre.

Of her father's musical personality, Helen says:

"He felt deeply and emotionally, but it was hidden behind a somewhat reticent exterior. His music does not readily reveal itself." 5.

As Bainton travelled in life, so his music travels across the private world of the spiritual imagination which his knowledge of literature helped to create. The orchestral scores I have been able to study show a richness of melody, a clarity and fastidiousness of thought and an exceptional sensitivity and harmonic fluidity which is the hallmark of his style and which lifts his best work to a particularly heightened state of imagination. Although Bainton was very much in close contact with contemporary musical events at the turn of the century-he was one of the first musicians in England to study Schoenberg scores, including Gurrelieder which was sent to him by Edward Clark, then a student of Schoenberg in Berlin, and he introduced his friend W.G. Whittaker to Holst's Hymns from the Rig Veda straight from the manuscript-nevertheless he is still to be regarded as a composer who represents a maturing of tendencies, rather than striking out in bold and new ways. This is seen above all in his lifelong love and reverence for the music of J.S.Bach: as Hans Forst, a friend of Bainton's in Australia for many years, has written:

"...he was a valiant fighter for his English contemporary composers, particularly Vaughan Williams, but everything was rooted in his dedication to Bach...What, however, I shall never forget was when approaching his home, I heard him play Bach on the piano-just for himself. That was fulfilment for this extremely shy man... "6

Bainton had published nearly 100 solo songs and 114 part-songs. Many were written as presents for his wife, and his vast knowledge of literature meant that a wide range of poets were set by him; certainly the greater part of his output is based on literature, either as vocal settings or as instrumental works with a literary programme of some kind. Bainton set classic poets - Shelley, Browning (both Robert and Elizabeth), Blake, Tennyson, Ben Jonson, Milton and Coleridge; but it is the extraordinary number of minor figures from the Georgian period and beyond, many forgotten today, that figure most often in his work. Eva Gore-Booth, Alice Meynell, Lascelles Abercrombie and Thomas Lovell Beddoes, to name just a few, may be shadowy figures, but this is not to say that they should not be rediscovered and re-evaluated; this is certainly the case with the poets he knew best of all - Gordon Bottomley and Wilfred Wilson Gibson, who figure most frequently in his vocal output. Of the solo songs, Slow, slow, fresh fount, Ring out, wild Bells, and Valley Moonlight with its modal leanings towards C minor while the key is G minor, seem to have been reasonably well-known. Of the part-songs, The Ballad of Semmerwater was particularly famous; perhaps a change of fashion may re-introduce some of these to the repertoire. There are surprisingly few settings for voice and orchestra-two Yeats settings: The Cap and Bells and The Fiddler of Dooney were conducted by Bainton for the British Musical League Festival at Birmingham in 1913 but I have found no trace of them. In 1910 he set two Edward Carpenter poems, Christmas Eve and Little Bird within thy Cage for baritone and a sizeable but economically-scored orchestra (assigned to the Mitchell collection from the Rutland Boughton Trust), but these are juvenilia in comparison to An English Idyll, to words by Neville Cardus, which was premiered at Bainton's retirement concert in 1946 by Harold Williams (baritone) with the ABC Symphony Orchestra. This is a setting of several poems, evoking the English scenery of Shrewsbury, a London evening in June looking up to Ludgate Hill, the lights of Piccadilly and the chattering birds of St Martin's-in-the-Fields, and a description of St Paul's Cathedral. The poet was also the critic and described the work as: "...poetry and pageantry changed to music, in which a ripe orchestral culture is warmed by imagination, and an Englishman's sense of language, cadence and atmosphere." 7 The work is kept at the ABC Library and also exists in a broadcast recording; Cardus went on to describe it as "without doubt a contribution by Dr Bainton to English song of lasting importance", 8 for that reason alone it surely deserves a hearing in this country.

Of Bainton's church music, there is very little. And I Saw A New Heaven (completed June 13th 1928) takes pride of place in keeping his name alive at all today; of his other anthems, Open thy Gates (Herrick) and In the Wilderness (Robert Graves) retain the spiritual detachment of his more famous piece. They are available from Oxford Music Archive Service, York, and both deserve more frequent hearings. Other anthems are Fiat Lux from Novello and The Heavens Declare thy Glory, but as the latter was originally published by Curwen, as were so many of Bainton's works, it is now very difficult to obtain. Mention should also be made here of his only organ work, the Fantasia on 'Vexilla Regis', completed in 1925 but only published in 1973 by Albert's of Sydney; a modest four minutes but nevertheless showing Bainton's fluency at the instrument, it rises to a powerful climax at the end and makes a suitable and effective voluntary for Passiontide.

Considering Bainton's acknowledged skills as a pianist, it is disappointing to discover only miniatures for the instrument. Many of these, such as From "Faery" and Four Tone Pictures (both from Augener) probably had reasonable sales, though they were very much regarded as "bread and butter music" by the rest of the family. More interesting and worthwhile are the Capriccio in G minor (Ascherberg), Visions (Allan's of Melbourne) and White Hyacinth (OUP) which is a brilliant caprice with an element of fantasy and requires exceptional technique. There is also a Miniature Suite and Dance for piano duet. His most important and substantial work for piano is undoubtedly the Concerto Fantasia for piano and orchestra, his second work to receive a Carnegie Trust award in 1920, though he had started on it in 1917. At a performance given in Birmingham in 1921, with the composer as soloist, the critic Alfred Sheldon wrote "...the event introduced to Birmingham the most considerable contribution to the repertory of music for piano in combination with orchestra we have had from a composer for many years." 9 Its four movements and Epilogue are dominated by a cadenza which is no mere decoration, but an integral part of the thematic material; it appears throughout in various guises linking its original form together. The first orchestral entry opens with one of the most crucial themes of the whole work. The tempo increases to double speed and a new theme is introduced that appears to bear no relation to the previous theme, but this is soon dispelled as the original theme sounds out in bars of 3/2 crossing over the 4/4 bars of the soloist. The major climax of the first movement is for orchestra alone, which is certainly unusual for a piano concerto and enhances the symphonic nature of the work. The second movement is a light-hearted scherzo, poking fun in a style typical of Richard Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel; this gives way to the third movement (Improvisation) in which the cadenza leads us by means of a beautifully woven harmonic sequence on the piano, into the slow movement proper, presenting new themes against piano arpeggios and sumptuous harmonies, which nevertheless work together in perfect proportion. In the Finale the original first movement theme seems to appear from underground in the texture before leading to the final climax and Epilogue. The concerto has been broadcast three times on BBC Radio 3 in recent years and performing materials are available from Stainer & Bell. At 26 minutes (Bainton's official timing) it should easily find a place in concert programmes.

It was inevitable that Bainton, with his natural desire for word-setting, would have been drawn towards the challenge of the operatic form. Because of his interest in the Bayreuth festivals, he wished to use the music drama as his model, in which the poem, music and general stage effect form a complete picture. Bainton's notebook describes such a music-drama being composed between January 1905 and October 1906; this must have been Oithona, to a libretto based on the poems of Ossian. Oithona, beloved of Gaul, has been carried off by Dunromath, Lord of Uthal, to a deserted island. Gaul learns of this in a dream and finds her. Determined to seek revenge, Gaul prepares to do battle with Dunromath and his warriors. Unknown to him, Oithona though told to hide away from the hostilities, takes up arms herself to defeat Dunromath and is wounded, dying in Gaul's arms.

   Photographs 1915

(supplied by Michael Jones)

Through his close friendship with Rutland Boughton, Bainton was closely involved with the Glastonbury festivals. His opera for children, Walooki the Bear (Curwen 1912) was considered for the first of these festivals but it was Oithona which was performed at the 1915 Festival in two matinee and evening performances on August 11th and 12th, sharing the bill with Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. The three main characters were Oithona-Marjorie Ffrangcon-Davies, Gaul-Frank Mullings (a famous Othello) and Dunromath-Herbert Langley. It is thought that the Wookey Hole Male-voice Choir were used for the Hymn to the Sun, and the performances were directed from the piano by Clarence Raybould. Bainton was unable to hear the work as he was interned in Germany; it was not thought to have been orchestrated and all traces of any material relating to the score have disappeared, implying perhaps that Bainton later withdrew the work.

Through his association with Gordon Bottomley, Bainton started work on another music-drama, The Crier by Night, in July 1911, completing the vocal score in June 1912, though the full score was not finished until January 1919. Helen tells us of a private performance of the work in Newcastle, with an "orchestra-filled room" 8 and soloists who included such distinguished names as Dorothy Silk as Blanid and Norman Allin as the Crier. Bainton was later privileged to conduct the ABC Symphony Orchestra in a studio performance of the opera on Saturday evening, 8th August 1942, with soloists Evelyn Lynch (Blanid), Isolde Hill (Thorgerd), Harold Williams (Hialti), and Stanley Clarkson (The Old Strange Man). Bottomley's dramatic poem draws upon Celtic and Nordic legend, and two of the characters, Blanid and the Old Man, contain elements of the supernatural in their natures. The opera is set at the time when the Danes have conquered Western Britain and taken even high-born women as slaves, such as Blanid a " jewelled queen", at present the slave of Hialti and his wife Thorgerd, who treats her cruelly. In the first scene, Blanid is preparing the meal when she is taunted by Thorgerd about singing her songs of "faery and nameless kings, and things that NEVER happened" Thorgerd also taunts her husband, accusing him of a secret liaison with Blanid, which he quietly but firmly denies. During these arguments a distant cry is heard from outside-the warning call for "The Crier of the Ford", who lures wayfarers to their death in the lake. Scene 2 follows after a brief pause. Blanid sings of her past life of riches, and opens the door to call the Crier for the Ford, the old "father of many waters" to help her. An old strange man appears, singing of old joys but warning her that he will bring "neither joy or misery, but only rest." He goes out and shortly afterwards a cry for help is heard; Hialti rushes out to help but drowns in the lake. The Old Strange Man appears at the door telling Blanid that he has come for her too; she beseeches Thorgerd to punish her but Thorgerd is unmoved, even when Blanid says that if she goes with the Crier, it will be "to Hialti's arms for evermore". Blanid then rushes into the night, a scream is heard from her as the curtain falls.

It is clear why such a story appealed to Bainton, for it portrays the oppression of the free spirit by earthly materialistic forces as epitomised by the slavery of Blanid and her captors. Bainton is intensely sympathetic towards Blanid, and her characterisation is marked with much imagination in the orchestral texture, particularly at the beginning of Scene 2 where she sings longingly of her former days; Bainton's writing for the strings here creates a delicate, almost sensuous range of sound, closely mirroring the words she sings. This opera therefore needs orchestral backing to bring out the dramatic colouring; although scored for a large orchestra this expense could be offset by the fact that the production would only require one set of scenery. It would make an effective and dramatic half of a double-bill, and as no chorus is required, could be presented with Holst's The Wandering Scholar or a similar work. A full score and vocal score are held by BMS Archives, though the orchestral parts from the 1942 broadcast are still in Australia; it still awaits its premiere production.

But surely, the Bainton opera most in need of a modern production is The Pearl Tree: an opera-phantasy in two acts, written to a libretto by Robert Calverley Trevelyan (originally conceived as a stage play) and completed in August 1925 (the full score in November 1927). It had to wait until 1944 for its premiere, at the New South Wales Conservatorium Opera School, with a cast which included such established local names as Harold Williams (the Rishi), Dorothy Helmrich (Radha) and Raymond Nillson (Krishna); the stage designs were by Harold Abbott (Bainton's son-in-law), though it was left to Guenda to carry them out, as her husband was called up for military duties. The four nights were totally sold-out. An extra night had to be put on to accommodate people turned away previously. The entire production was repeated in 1946. Neville Cardus, at that time writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, described the opera as "spontaneously and sensitively composed," and went on to say:

"The fusion of vocal melody and recitative into a continuously flowing orchestral tissue is a constant delight to the practised ear, and there are resource and invention throughout. The orchestration produces as sustained a succession of beautiful sound as any I have heard in the theatre since I attended an opera by Richard Strauss."10

The story is based on an Indian legend and takes place in a Hindu village and later in the jungle near the Jumna river. The story revolves around the love of Krishna, a God in human incarnation, for Radha, a humble cow-girl. His love-song in Act I forms the musical apotheosis to the whole opera, but at this point he plays his flute to attract the attention of the Rishi, an ancient hermit and yogi, who sings (in one of the published songs) of his final discovery of God in Krishna himself, after twenty years of waiting. (The spiritual allegory in this work seem to have appealed to one lady observer, who is reported to have commented to the composer that she enjoyed The Pearl Tree as if were an oratorio!). Sudama, a cowman and friend of Krishna, wishes to adorn his cattle with pearl necklaces to make them more attractive. In the first appearance of the 'pearl theme' Krishna asks Sudama to be his messenger to Radha, to request a single pearl in order to grow a pearl tree. Radha indignantly refuses this request. Yashoda, Krishna's mother, hears of this and gives him a pearl from her own necklaces which he plants in the ground. As he plays his flute, the Pearl Tree starts to grow, bearing thousands of pearls, to the delighted astonishment of all onlookers. This is the climax and end of Act I. At the beginning of Act II Lalita, one of Radha's friends, has witnessed unnoticed the scene of the Pearl Tree and relates the event to Radha, who refuses to believe her. Then, left alone, she begins to regret her selfish pride and unbelief and resolves to seek the Rishi's guidance. On finding him alone in the forest, she asks, "How may I find Krishna?" "That, thou alone canst know," he says. Slowly the great lights of a celestial city are revealed, their gates guarded by the Asparas, the celestial dancing-maidens. Radha approaches, seeking Krishna, but the Asparas rebuke her for her lack of faith in her divine lover and refuse to admit her. The city vanishes, and in its place the Pearl Tree appears in a radiant light. Radha is greatly humbled by this spectacle and seeks forgiveness from Krishna, who appears (at the sound of Ex 1 in the orchestra) and sings his original love-song. As they walk into the forest, Radha offers Krishna her own pearl necklace, but he refuses it, saying, "I need none, for love's pearl once more is mine."

In view of Bainton's occasional visits to Bayreuth it is not surprising that this opera is built securely on various thematic motifs, as we have just seen; this was the practice with several contemporaries. including Josef Holbrooke and Bainton's friend, Rutland Boughton. The ending, which is reminiscent of Parsifal and even in the same key, with its deeply beautiful and sublime progression of harmonies, is totally equal in power and effect to the sunset ending of Delius's A Village Romeo and Juliet, and is certainly among the finest music written by any British composer this century. Although three songs were published separately (by Nicholson's of Sydney, 1945), they are not suitable to stand alone and really do need to be heard as part of the entire structure. For this reason one wonders if the concert performance of mere excerpts, given in Sydney in October 1987, by Australian Opera, with only piano accompaniment and shorn of its stage decor, could have made any impact at all. There are fine vocal opportunities for the two main characters, but the chorus, consisting exclusively of Radha's and Krishna's friends (girls and boys respectively) are never on stage together as a full chorus. Modern stage technology would make light work of the growing Pearl Tree and the celestial city lights, and a set of performing materials are available from the BMS Archive.

A number of unpublished orchestral works which form a very important part of Bainton's output received occasional performances during the first half of this century; in this respect he was especially fortunate in receiving the support of both Sir Dan Godfrey of the Bournemouth Municipal orchestra, and Sir Henry Wood for the Proms at Queen's Hall, London, as did many aspiring young British composers. His first orchestral piece was Pompilia, which received its premiere at the 1903 Proms on October 8th conducted by Henry Wood who thought that it "... portrayed so admirably the fundamental idea underlying the narrative in The Ring and the Book...". Again we see the inspiration that Bainton derived from literature. We next hear of the premiere at Bournemouth on October 15th of his early Symphony in B Flat, subtitled A Phantasy of Life and Progress, Op.9. From the programme note we read that the first movement is prefaced by Job 38, verse 7, "When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." The note goes on to give a good analysis of the music and I am somewhat amused by the remark: "The composer is evidently quite in touch and sympathy with modern art, and does not pin his faith to classical models''(!) 12. The second and third movements are prefaced by quotations from Whitman, Byron and Nietzsche; the note also describes the orchestration as requiring extra woodwind (cor anglais, bass clarinet and double bassoon) and "...showing high imaginative powers."' Alas, I suspect this rather ambitious work was probably disowned by the composer, as only Pompilia survives of these two works in the Mitchell collection.

The next work to be performed was the Suite, The Golden River Op. 16, which was premiered at Bournemouth with the composer conducting, on March 1 5th, 1909. The story tells of three brothers, the two elder of whom were ugly and evil, while the youngest brother, Gluck, was a beautiful innocent child. It is in four movements, the third of which depicts the two "black brothers" trying to reach the Golden River (a kind of fairy Eldorado) and being turned into black stones. The score and parts are in the Sydney Conservatorium Library and the work is scored for conventional forces with harp and double bassoon. Shortly after The Golden River Bainton composed the Overture-Phantasy, Prometheus, a commission for the 1909 Newcastle Festival where it received its first performance on October 20th, and was repeated at Bournemouth on December 23rd. Again we read of scoring for "a large orchestra" (50 players at Bournemouth) and also that the themes representing Prometheus and his yearning for freedom "are developed with much skill and elaboration, the rhythmic combinations being both interesting and original", (score in the Mitchell Library). The premiere of Four Dances also took place in Bournemouth, in December 1910. They were scored for small orchestra and possibly no longer survive. This may also be the case with the Celtic Sketches premiered by the Newcastle Philharmonic Society Orchestra and the composer in February 1912 and then at Bournemouth in March 1912 and finally at the Proms on October 10th. that year. While in Ruhleben, Bainton wrote some incidental music for the camp productions of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor and Twelfth Night; an Intermezzo from the former and a Humoresque from the latter were later to become part of the Three Pieces for Orchestra of 1919, together with an opening Elegy. This piece and the Intermezzo were first performed at the 1919 Proms, on September 20th, conducted by the composer and the first complete performance was at Bournemouth on January 6th 1921, and subsequently for Bainton's first appearance at the Three Choirs Festivals, at Hereford that year. The 1921 Prom season saw the premiere of Paracelsus (after Browning) conducted by the composer on August 31st and repeated at Bournemouth in January 1922. This had been written in 1904 but was later re-written and rescored. His next piece, Eclogue, was completed in May 1923, premiered at Bournemouth on January 5th, 1928 and repeated at the 1928 Proms but its score and parts are at present is missing. His last tone-poem, Epithalamion, (from Spenser's Poem) was first performed at the Three Choirs Festival on August 11th 1929. It also featured at the 1932 Proms, and as part of the prestigious BBC British Music Festival of 1931, conducted by (Sir) Adrian Boult. Performing materials are held by ABC Sydney and there is also a broadcast recording which reveals a lively, colourful and cleanly-scored piece, with a lovely middle section based on a duet-interplay for two violins soaring in the fashion of " their merry musick that resounds from far." Bainton's only published orchestral work is the Pavane, Idyll and Bacchanal for strings with flute solo in the Idyll and additional tambourine in the Bacchanal; this was completed in 1924 and published by Oxford University Press in 1925. These and the earlier three pieces for orchestra have been recorded in Australia, but of these two works, the Pavane, Idyll and Bacchanal is the most immediately attractive and memorable, if lightweight. Sensitively and imaginatively scored, they fully deserve occasional performance as part of a light music programme. The Bacchanal is in 514 with occasional shift 2+3 and 3+2, with a well-contrasted and quite beautiful middle section enhanced by the metric alternation. Bainton's notebook lists very few chamber works. An early Piano Quintet in A of 1904 and a String Quartet, listed as Op.26, of 1911, which received a performance at the Dunhill Chamber Concerts during that period, may no longer survive. We immediately pass on to his three most important works in this genre. The String Quartet in A was completed in Ruhleben in October 1915 and originally stood as a three movement work in which the opening theme formed the basis of the essential material which returned at the end; in this form it was premiered by the Philharmonic Quartet at the De Lara Chamber Music Concerts Series, on June 25th 1919. Bainton subsequently withdrew the work and by July 1920 it had been thoroughly revised, condensed and a Finale added, which further reworked the opening material. It has been known for a long time in Australia in a recording by the Austral Quartet, but has now been newly recorded for the BBC by the Alberni Quartet for future transmission on Radio 3. In 1924 Bainton wrote a Cello and Piano Sonata in four movements. He had in mind Carl Fuchs, principal cellist of the Halle Orchestra and a fellow internee in Ruhleben, when he worked on the piece, and it is believed that the premiere given by them took place in Manchester at about that time. The weight of musical interest is directed to the last two movements: the third movement (Lento) although very beautiful, is almost too short, it ends with a most original cadence in Db major. The finale recapitulates the opening first movement material to unify the work. It was available for some years on an Australian Columbia recording by John Kennedy and the composer in 1951 (LOX 811/2,78 rpm); this is possibly the only known recording of Bainton as pianist and shows him as a first-class interpreter.

This sonata, however, is relatively lighter fare when placed beside Bainton's Sonata for Viola and Piano of 1922; not only is this original and powerful work one of the very finest of Bainton's whole output, it is also one of the greatest viola sonatas of its time. The initial idea of writing such a work come from the late Lionel Tertis (1876-1975), whose artistic example did a very great deal to establish the viola as a solo instrument during the first half of this century, and for whom many works were written by the rising generation of British composers. In Remembered on Waking Helen describes Tertis's visit to the family home in Newcastle to try over the sonata, which she describes as "..a beautiful work, having that song-like quality which is so much a part of the composer's creative sense."'3 Sadly, Tertis never played the sonata, and its first performance was given by Helen and her father on Monday, 12th October 1942 (9.30pm) on the ABC Radio National Programme "The Composer Performs", at which time Helen was a viola-player with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Its first public performance was given at a concert at the Birmingham and Midland Institute on Thursday 4th.May 1989, by Martin Outram, viola and Michael Jones, piano.

The sonata is in three movements and is written in progressive tonality (E minor-A minor-D minor). The "song-like quality" dominates much of the viola writing which covers a wide range, both technically (frequently going up to third position) and expressively. Bainton captures a unique mood in the work-part autumnal, part elegiac, and deeply reminiscent of past experiences. This is expressed in a passionately intense and fast-moving harmonic language. I would like to see this remarkable 25 minute work take its place in the repertoire.

Considering the exceptionally high standard of the northern choral societies at the turn of the century, it is inevitable that Bainton would be drawn towards writing for them. We get a glimpse of their achievements in the autobiography of Sir Henry Coward, published by Curwen in 1919. Perhaps the greatest choral conductor of his time, he has this to say of the Newcastle and Gateshead Choral Union Festival of 1909:

"Every work went magnificently. Every composer was in raptures. The whole festival was a triumph musically, financially and socially. The choral singing was as remarkable in its way as the first Sheffield festival, and if the edge of wonderment had not been forestalled by that epoch-making event, it would have called forth as great an outburst of surprise and congratulation from the press."'4

From this it seems likely that The Blessed Damozel was given an ideal performance at the Newcastle concert on the 22nd November 1907, conducted by the composer, with Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius conducted by Coward in the second half. The text by Dante Gabriel Rossetti was hardly unknown to British Composers. Bainton's setting for mezzo-soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra, was worked over from June 1906 until the following March, and it is his first important work in this medium. (His notebook lists a Mignon's Requiem for boys' voices, chorus and orchestra of March 1904, but this was probably withdrawn). One is already aware, even in such an early work, of great flexibility and sensitivity of harmonic flow in the vocal texture with its sub-divided parts for the male voices and occasional high tenor parts-a typical characteristic of Bainton's tenor writing. Bainton also keeps the chorus on their toes rhythmically with a section of varying 9/8 and 12/8 bars, (at "We two, she said, will seek the groves where the Lady Mary is"). Although his melodic lines have an Elgarian feel to them, any element of derivativeness is guarded against by the overall level of inspiration and onward sweep of imagination. The performance probably lasted in the region of 30 minutes and I see no reason why this work should not compare well with other contemporary settings as the product of a young, highly-gifted and promising composer beginning to find his feet. Dorking Performing Arts Library have a set of vocal scores available, but the full score and parts are now part of the Mitchell Library collection. 1907 also saw the completion (between 3rd April and 16th December) of the vast and rather ambitious choral symphony Before Sunrise, for contralto solo, chorus and orchestra (from Swinburne's Songs Before Sunrise) which was published by Stainer and Bell in 1920. It was the first of Bainton's work to receive a prestigious Carnegie Trust award in 1917, the first year of these awards. Other presentations included Vaughan Williams's A London Symphony, Frank Bridge's suite, The Sea, Howells's Piano Quartet in A Minor and Rutland Boughton's opera, The Immortal Hour. The work is in four movements, Genesis-Tenebrae-A Watch In The Night-Hymn of Man, the first movement is purely orchestral, acting as a prelude which presents several themes heard throughout the symphony, ending in a fanfare-like idea which will re-appear significantly in the Finale. The Tenebrae movement includes the first contralto solo, "At the chill tide of the night," which is accompanied by material from the opening section of Genesis; this leads to a very Elgarian theme for the first chorus entry of the work, "O Spirit of man" which will return in the finale. After the stormy opening of the third movement, the basses declaim, "Watchman, what of the night?" "Storm, thunder and rain," answer the chorus, setting the tone of the movement. In the Hymn of Man, the fanfare motif rings out like a fanfare in triumphal glory, and the 47-bar orchestral opening brings in other themes form the first movement and rises to a climax before diminishing to the first chorus entry (pp) "In the grey beginning of years". Eventually the Genesis theme re-appears, and the Elgarian theme is the setting for "For his face is set to the East. Eventually we arrive at the Coda, a bracing allegro molto in contrapuntal style with the sopranos declaiming "Glory to Man in the highest," which is taken up by the rest of the chorus, the fanfare motif having, expectedly, the final word. By the time of the symphony's first performance, by the Newcastle and Gateshead Choral Union, on 6th April 1921 I have the impression that it must have already begun to sound dated. I feel that such a work, having been finished fourteen years earlier, was too ambitious a project to undertake successfully at that time. Although well constructed and effectively written for the chorus, the thematic ideas are not amongst Bainton's finest inspirations: also, the general thematic development is highly sequential and formula-bound, perhaps in the way that his former professor, Stanford, to whom the work is dedicated, would have approved. The shadows of Elgar, and even Mendelssohn, found there detract from its being seriously considered as a work of promising originality; by the time of its completion it would have had to compete with Vaughan Williams's A Sea Symphony, destined for the 1910 Leeds Festival, Delius's A Mass of Life, and Holst's Hymns from the Rig Veda. After 1921, competition with Holst's Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasia, Constant Lambert's The Rio Grande and Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, and with the highly imaginative, original and enterprising Psalm 139 and Requiem Aeternam of his friend W G Whittaker, would surely have relegated Before Sunrise to a distant backwater. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to hear a modern performance (performing materials readily available), but the low tessitura of the solo part requires a real contralto, not a present-day mezzo soprano, and this would add further difficulties to a modern performance.

1908 saw Bainton's less ambitious attempt at a large-scale choral work, The Transfiguration of Dante, Op.18. Started in May that year, it had reached vocal-score form by December and is now part of the Library of the Birmingham Conservatoire. It opens with a choral prologue, Spirit of Flame, for unaccompanied double chorus of 3-4 minutes duration, and shows the confidence Bainton had in the choirs at his disposal. Even in this form, the themes and motifs for the principal characters, Dante Beatrice, Angelo, Prior and Death, are clearly delineated and thoroughly worked out though I suspect some modifications would have been made in subsequent revisions The next choral works were Sunset at Sea, Op.20, and The Vindictive Staircase both published by Stainer and Bell, 1912 and 1913) who held performing materials on hire. Both these works were premiered in London by the enterprising Edward Mason Choir and Orchestra conducted by Edward Mason; Sunset at Sea was given on March 25th 1912 and the Vindictive Staircase on March 18th 1914. Bainton would clearly have known the librettist of the first, Reginald Buckley, through his friendship with Rutland Boughton; his second librettist, Wilfred Wilson Gibson was a personal friend. Gibson wrote two 'choral humoreskes' for Bainton and their element of imaginative fantasy produced some of his most colourful music. By 1910 he had sketched ideas for a work based on excerpts form Edward Carpenter's Song of Democracy, a piece also set by Boughton. but it was not until 1920 that these found their final form as A Song of Freedom and Joy, published by Curwen in 1919 and premiered in Newcastle that year. As the full scores of these three works are missing it is impossible to give a full account of the choral and orchestral texture.

Bainton's appearance at the Three Choirs Festival of 1921 led to a commission from Dr.Percy Hull for a choral work for the 1924 Festival. This was The Tower, to words of Robert Nichols, setting the scene of The Last Supper; it was completed on 17th September and published by Curwen; its full score is now in the British Library. We are now entering the greatest period of Bainton's work, and I would consider this and the next two choral works, The Dancing Seal, another humoreske of Gibson's and A Hymn to God the Father, to words of John Donne, (his only overtly religious choral work) to be three of his very finest works. Both were published by Oxford University Press in 1925 and 1926. The Dancing Seal might seem a little dated in its narrative today, but the choral writing is brilliant and demanding, with intense harmonic activity and wide range of tessitura, particularly for the tenors. The scoring is clear and economical, but nevertheless highly colourful and effective especially in the Debussyesque middle section, a real fantastic rout. Compared to this A Hymn seems almost a confession of sins! First performed at the Worcester Festival in 1926, this is a short though effective and dramatic piece, seemingly restrained in emotion yet deeply powerful in sound. On the words "I have a sin of fear", the choir divides into eight parts with a canonic avalanche of one part after another; this builds to an imposing climax for double choir with further additional parts and a final tranquil ending. At under 10 minutes it is a very under-rated work which deserves more frequent performance; both full scores are now in the Mitchell Library, but copies are available for study from the Edgar Bainton (UK) Society.

After this high point, Bainton left two more choral works complete but unpublished; To the Name above Every Name, to words of Richard Crashaw (1928), and The Veteran of Heaven (Francis Thompson) of 1931, both in the Mitchell library. It is not known if they were orchestrated, perhaps by this time he was already looking towards a more purely orchestral means of expression. During his summer holiday in 1933 when he heard the news of his appointment to the New South Wales Conservatorium, Bainton had been working on a tone-poem based on Swinburne's Thalassa,- this was put aside in the turmoil of moving to a new and exciting future. During a holiday at Bundenoon in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales in 1939, he took up the sketches once more and expanded them into his Symphony no. 2 in D Minor which received its premiere with the Sydney Symphony orchestra, conducted by the composer, on September 11th 1941. It was well received and Neville Cardus regarded the work as a tribute to the apotheosis of a great period in English culture. It consists of three main sections played without a break and lasts 26 minutes. The opening chorale, played on a quartet of horns against bass pizzicato, has a sense of anguish which establishes the mood for the whole work. it gradually builds up to a stormy climax, followed by an allegro section in a rather windswept vein which then subsides into the mood of the opening in the manner of a triumphal chorale which we shall hear again at the end of the symphony. This is immediately followed by a scherzo in a dotted 6/8 rhythm; the outline of the theme used here is in slower tempo in the Trio and is a reminder of the opening chorale of the symphony. There is a famous family story connected with the extraordinarily beautiful opening of the slow introduction to the Finale, with its sustained strings in D major, its swirling woodwind harmonies and ethereal flute theme. Bainton loved listening to bird-song (hints of Messiaen?) and, during the holiday at Bundenoon, heard the most ravishingly beautiful example of this, but was unable to trace the elusive bird, much, to his annoyance and that of his family who were dragged into the adventure! This opening, a brief glimpse of heavenly light, soon subsides as the basses begin to re-create the original mood and the opening material which has bound the work together from the start, returns.

This symphony, cleanly and colourfully scored, is very accessible at first hearing, and yields up further treasures on later experience. It deserves to be heard more frequently in Britain, as it has been in Australia, with broadcasts by various conductors over the last 35 years, including Joseph Post, Myer Fredman and the composer himself. Its MS score and parts are held by the ABC Federal Library at Sydney. It is one of Bainton's most important works and there is still more to come: the Symphony No. 3 in C Minor very nearly remained unfinished. Bainton began it in 1952 and was working on the slow movement in 1954 when his wife became ill and died unexpectedly. His deep distress made him put the symphony away and it was nearly forgotten. Gradually, however, with the support of family and friends he came back to the work and was finally able to release his anguish by completing it. The last sixteen bars took months to satisfy his always fastidious mind and the work was finished by 1956; he knew it was amongst his very finest work and wrote nothing else after it. He did not live to hear the premiere which was given by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Sir Bernard Heinze in 1957, a performance recorded and issued on the BROLGA label (LP). Helen has described it as "a model of rich and immaculate orchestration-almost Renoiresque in its searching out of orchestral colour." 15 The harmonic language is more advanced than the second symphony and the overall intensity and sense of imaginative fantasy greater. The dawn-like opening chords, molto adagio, have solos for woodwind and horns over sustained strings which give way very quickly to a stormy allegro con brio in which a rhythmical phrase from the bassoon is tossed about among all the instruments and the movement progresses. The tempo slows to andante with many interesting and beautiful effects before changing to 12/8 time and gradually building up to allegro vivace. Thereafter various sections are well contrasted with each other and leads to a con fuoco passage which dies away to the mood of the opening. The second movement follows 'attacca' and is an allegretto grazioso described by Helen as a "chuckling scherzo"'6, beginning with a sequential theme on clarinet taken up by the flute. The mood is still very much that of the first movement, indeed this mood is sustained throughout the symphony. The pace slows to molto piu lento with another theme on the clarinet, developed with rich treatment until the shades of the first theme recur in the strings. Everything becomes more animated again and ends fortissimo. The slow movement has been described by the writer and poet Franz Holford as Bainton's Sea Drift and is a deeply emotional piece of writing, opening with a pensive figure sounded on low strings, repeated on bass clarinet and treated as a dialogue between strings, woodwind and horns. Halfway through, a beautiful theme, marked tempo di pavane is introduced by the strings; Helen remarks that her father "makes the interesting experiment of scoring the violas at an octave above the violins, to achieve a greater sonority'',16 but I maintain that Bainton knew full well what effect he wished to achieve, having already done this in A Hymn to God the Father when the violas and cellos sound out an octave above the violins in the first section, 30 years earlier. The last movement is built on "a heavily marked and rhythmical motif in 3/2" with powerfully scored climaxes. A poco lento section in 3/4 time is a good contrast in the middle section and the melodic material has a pentatonic feel to it. We also hear reminiscences from earlier material in the symphony, and a noble and sonorous theme played towards the conclusion by the strings, leads to the final climactic molto maestoso, adagio, ending on a note of triumph.

Helen Bainton has described her father's Third Symphony as "the epitome of his whole life and thought", and with it, Bainton came to the end of a rich and fulfilled life of music; a life in which he was constantly giving without seeking for personal gain, and in which he strove to create profound and beautiful expressions which he was content to put aside for performance at some future time. As so much of his most significant output remains in Australia, it has only been possible to give a partial assessment here; furthermore, the climate of opinion that has prevailed throughout this century, with its obsession with materialism and scientific progress, has seen fit to obscure the real value of the creative artist as exemplified by Bainton and so many of his British and continental contemporaries who represent a maturing of tendencies. In 1990, the 110th Anniversary of his birth, we should endeavour to take stock of what he, and they, have left us, in order to enrich our understanding of a great and glorious period of British and Western music of which, to date, only a relatively small proportion has been uncovered.


Special acknowledgements to:

Miss Helen Bainton,
Mr Denis Dodds,
Professor David Tunley of Western Australia,
Dr Hans Forst, Australian Music Centre (Angela Lenehan),
Mitchell Library (Paul Brunton),
New South Wales Conservatorium Library (Claire McCoy)
ABC Federal Library (Daphne Maguire, Greg Nathan),
National Film and Sound Archive),
Bournemouth Music Library (W J S Date),
Newcastle Library (F W Manders),
Michael Hurd and the Rutland Boughton Trust,
British Library,
the late Lady Hull.


1. Stanford, the Cambridge Jubilee and Tschaikovsky, Gerald Norris (Publ. David and Charles, 1980 p. 545).

2. Musical Notes, (Ruhleben Musical Society) pp. 48-9 courtesy Roger Noble.

3. Remembered on Waking, Helen Bainton (Currawong Press, 1960 pp. 66-7).

4. ibid. pp 77-8.

5. ibid. p.41

6. Letter from Dr Hans Forst to the author, March 9th, 1989.

7. Remembered on Waking pp 98-9.

8. ibid.

9. ibid. p. 38.

10. ibid. p. 91.

11. My Life of Music, Sir Henry Wood (Gollancz, 1938, p. 229).

12. Programme Note to the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra Symphony Concert No 4, October 1903, courtesy of Bournemouth Music Library.

13. Remembered on Waking p.38.

14. The Reminiscences of Henry Coward (Curwen, 1919).

15. Helen Bainton-programme note for the 1957 premiere of the Third Symphony.

16. ibid.

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