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Cecil Armstrong GIBBS (1889-1960) Dale and Fell - Music for Strings   Guildhall Strings directed by Robert Salter Hyperion CDA67093 [65:00]

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Introduction - The Guildhall Strings

Those who have admired the fine ensemble playing of the Guildhall Strings over the years, especially in the various music festivals up and down the country, will welcome this their first (but hopefully not last) appearance on the Hyperion label. The Guildhall Strings play standing up (except for the three cellists) in a semi-circle creating a freedom of communication impossible in traditional orchestral seating. Since there is no conductor, all the players contribute to the overall shape of the music, as members of a string quartet do. As a Daily Telegraph critic has written, "They are as much a pleasure to watch as to listen to."

Armstrong Gibbs string works on this album

The collection commences with the Prelude, Andante and Finale. This work was originally written by the composer for string orchestra but this version was lost (the only surviving copy is for piano, four hands.) The version on this CD is Lawrence Ashmore's version for Gibbs's original forces in which he underlines the grandeur and scale of Gibbs's music with his rich scoring. Having just returned from leading a Holiday Fellowship (walkers) special interest holiday on Music Appreciation, I very much appreciated Gibbs's music of the Prelude with its marching music. You can hear the pattern of the walkers' feet: the leader striding along purposely and the varied patterns of the other (perhaps not quite so committed) walkers tread. Included on an earlier Marco Polo album of Armstrong Gibbs's music, was the composer's Westmoreland Symphony (1944), a highly personal musical outpouring of personal grief. That mood is sustained through the Andante - a coming to terms with wartime trauma and personal loss culminating, here, in a tormented final climax. The Finale returns us to the bracing outdoors with music marked by constantly changing accents that reminds one of Holst.

Dale and Fell is a short evocative suite. The opening Prelude: The Beck Climb, is appropriately evocative and has a memorable long-breathed tune; the central movement Rest at Noon is a lullaby as the walkers doze under the hot mid-day sun; and the final Over the High Fells is a sturdy descending marching bass with a no-nonsense marching tune.

In 1919, Gibbs was working as a teacher at his old preparatory school in Brighton when he grasped a chance to switch to a full time music career. He was asked to organise a celebration for the retiring headmaster. He hit on the idea of a play with music composed by himself. For the text he turned to Walter de la Mare. De la Mare agreed to write the play and two months later a script called Crossings arrived. Clearly then, Walter de la Mare figured prominently in Gibbs' creative life. When the poet died in June 1956, Gibbs immediately responded with his Thenody for Walter de la Mare - a deeply felt paean that looks back to the sound world of Vaughan Williams's Tallis Fantasia but also to Herbert Howells in similar mood.

A Spring Garland (1937) is a collection of five, two-minute miniatures recalling Peter Warlock's Capriol Suite in style. Each movement is named after country flowers: Kingcup, Dog Violet, Daffodil, Windflower and Tulip. Almayne, the earliest Gibbs work in the programme is a similar work written in an older style. In fact the tune comes from Elizabeth Rogers' Virginal Book of 1656.

The album concludes with the most substantial work in this collection - Suite for Strings completed just one year before Gibbs's death. Containing some of his most sonorous and rich string textures, it is notably lacking in angst. The opening music is strongly reminiscent of Gerald Finzi. His middle movement, A Song of Sleep allows untroubled slumber and his finale, The Promise of Spring, is all ebullience and celebration.

A collection to treasure, proving (if any were necessary) the worth of this unjustly neglected British composer. The Guildhall players deliver performances full of vigour and sensitivity. More Armstrong Gibbs, please, Hyperion.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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