English String Miniatures
(Music by John Rutter, C W Orr, George Melachrino,
Peter Dodd, Armstrong Gibbs, Frank Cordell, David Lyon, Roy Douglas
Royal Ballet Sinfonia cond David Lloyd Jones
This is a delightful album and an adventurous programme for which Naxos should
be applauded. David Lloyd-Jones is sympathetically attuned to this idiom
and these performances are well nigh perfect.
The concert commences with John Rutters Suite (for Strings), based on English
folk songs, and written in 1973. Both the opening and closing movements have
additional counter melodies: the joyful and racy 'A-Rovin' with the more
delicate I sowed the seeds of love in the first; and the breezy 'Dashing
away with the smoothing iron' with 'The Bailiff's Daughter of Islington'
in the last Handelian-like number. In between there is 'I have a bonnet trimmed
with blue' - all fluffy, fussy feminine elegance; and the haunting poignancy
of 'O Waly, Waly'.
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs is represented by his gentle parody of 18th
century and erlier forms, Miniature Dance Suite. There is the mock
pomposity of the 'March'; a terribly correct 'Quick Minuet'; a 'Graceful
Dance'; mournful 'Sarabande' and a lively 'Jig'.
I have written enthusiastically, elsewhere, about the work of David Lyon
an important voice in English Light Music who has skill and imagination in
abundance. His Short Suite (1971) is thoroughly engaging, full of vivacity
and colour, striking and twisting rhythms and generally novel and exciting
harmonic writing. His suite opens with an arresting 'Rustic Dance' proceeds
to a 'Gavotte' that cheekily mimics Prokofiev, thence to a spellbindingly
beautiful and pensive 'Aria'; and concludes with breezy 'Moto perpetuo' that
is a richly complex virtuoso showpiece with some novel pizzicato effects.
Orr's A Cotswold Hill Tune owes much to Delius; while Peter Dodd's
Irish Idyll is a lovely treatment of the Irish folk tune, The Lark
in the Clear Air. Frank Cordell's King Charles's Galliard, comes
from his music for the film Cromwell parodies the music of the time and Peter
Warlock seems close-by. George Melachrino, remembered as a sort of British
Glenn Miller, is represented by his memorable Les Jeux that is a jolly
scamper but with a yearning, sweet sentimental centre. Roy Douglas's
Cantilena (1957) has a long serenely flowing tune with some fleeting
shadows. Concluding the concert, Philip Lane's student work Pantomime
(1971) enchants. The opening 'Alla marcia' is a jolly swagger, the Andante
is sweetly wrapped elegance and nostalgia and the Vivace number is a vivacious
and playfully scatty cantering.
and Colin Scott-Sutherland adds:
The composers represented in this attractive programme of light music in
the guise of 'English String Miniatures' (in which the enterprising Naxos
nicely complements the same orchestra's Scottish selection on ASV WHL 2123
'The Land of the Mountain and the Flood'
see review (*) range from the forty
year old Philip Lane (acting also as producer and compiler of the excellent
programme notes) to the respectably nonagenarian Roy Douglas. Their combined
musical experience therefore covers well over a half century of British music,
in which writing for strings has been almost as characteristic of the English
scene as the choral tradition.
There is a common thread running through this music - from the folk-song
element and the quasi-pastiche of 18th century dance rhythms (suitably
embellished in harmony from Grieg via Delius)to the Delian "Cotswold Tune"
of Wilfred Orr (the sole instrumental work of that musically reclusive writer
of a mere thirty six superb songs) and the long-breathed Cantilena of Roy
Douglas, with its darker more introspective moods, whose 'Englishness' needs
no reliance on folk or dance elements. For this work alone the disc is highly
The common thread is singable melody - the tone set at the outset by John
Rutter's Suite of well known tunes and pursued in Peter Dodds' quietly evocative
rendering of the Irish 'The Lark in the Clear Air' (a timely reminder that
farming policies have all but banished the bird from our fields) It is a
delight to hear again the music of George Melachrino, whose very name evokes
the 'Light' programme of the 'forties - the piece so familiar yet I can't
recall when I last heard it - but the memory begins to evoke other names
like Rose's 'Holiday for Strings' and Frederick Curzon's 'The Boulevardier'
- universal appeal that was the 'pop' of its day.
The spice of the mixture comes from the comparative youngsters David Lyon
and Philip Lane - the first with his perky Suite (unashamedly showing its
antecedents in the Gavotte and in the Aria's sultry 'chanson du midi'): the
latter with his three-movement 'Pantomime' - a chirpy March with its catchy
melody, an indolent Andante that sings of summer days in deck-chairs; the
Suite - and the disc -rounded off by a bustling Vivace. One could not wish
for a cheerier 'Au'voir' than this.
In this light-hearted world of English pastoral water-colours the conductor
David Lloyd Jones shows himself as much at home as he is in the spacious
firmament of the first three Bax Symphonies.
A disc to lighten the darkest days!
(*) How about a Welsh selection~ John Jeff reys, Mervyn Roberts, Morfydd
Owen, Grace Williams