> The Three Elizabeths - A Musical Celebration of Britain through the Centuries [WH]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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A Musical Celebration of Britain through the Centuries


CD 1 [45.58] Elizabeth I
Eric COATES: "Halcyon days" from The Three Elizabeths (a)
Robert FARRANT: Ah, alas, you salt sea gods (b) (*)
John DOWLAND: His Golden Locks (c)
Robert PARSONS: De la court (b)
Thomas ROBINSON : The Queen’s Goodnight (d)
Thomas TALLIS : A Solfing Song (e)
William BYRD: Fair Britain Isle (f)
Orlando GIBBONS: The Silver Swan (f)
John WILBYE: Weep, weep, mine eyes (g)
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: "Poet" from The England of Elizabeth (h)

CD2 [74.44]
Elizabeth of Glamis "The Queen Mother"
Eric COATES: "Spring Time in Angus" from The Three Elizabeths (a)
Henry WOOD: Fantasia on British Sea Songs (i)
Robert FARNON: Derby Day (j)
William WALTON: Spitfire Prelude and Fugue (k)
Eric COATES: The Dam Busters March (a)
Elizabeth II

Eric COATES: "Youth of Britain" from The Three Elizabeths (a)
William WALTON: Coronation Te Deum (l)
Hubert PARRY: I was glad (i)
Haydn WOOD: A State Ball at Buckingham Palace (j)
Robert FARNON: State Occasion (j)
William WALTON: Orb and Sceptre (kj)

  1. Royal Artillery Band directed by Major Geoffrey Kingston
  2. Rose Consort of Viols
  3. Steven Rickards, counter-tenor/Dorothy Linell, lute
  4. Christopher Wilson, lute
  5. Rose Consort of Viols/with *Catherine King
  6. Rose Consort of Viols/Red Byrd
  7. Oxford Camerata directed by Jeremy Summerly
  8. RTE Concert Orchestra conducted by Andrew Penny
  9. Leeds Festival Chorus, English Northern Philharmonia conducted by Paul Daniel
  10. Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adrian Leaper
  11. English Northern Philharmonia conducted by Paul Daniel
  12. Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge/Christopher Whitton, organ, directed by Christopher Robinson

NAXOS 8.557032/3 [74.44] [45.58]

The basic idea of this compilation is beautifully simple. It is a collection of works, most of them fairly short, each associated with one of the three Elizabeths who dominate English regal history: Elizabeth I, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and the present Queen. The works have been carefully chosen, even down to the order in which they appear, making a programme which is pleasing to listen to from beginning to end. The performances are naturally drawn from the Naxos catalogue: there is not a dud amongst them and many of them are exceptionally fine. I can certainly imagine listeners being persuaded to buy the disc from which this or that work is taken, and Naxos cannily helps out here by provided the catalogue numbers of all the original discs.

The unity of the theme is helped by the presence of Eric Coates’ suite The Three Elizabeths, each one of the three movements depicting one of the three queens, and Naxos just happened to have an excellent recorded version in its vaults played by the Royal Artillery Band. This is first class light music, most tuneful and enjoyable, even if less well-known than the Dam Busters March which also appears in this collection. Both works are stirringly played. The final piece in the selection dedicated to Elizabeth I is taken from Vaughan Williams’ music for the film The England of Elizabeth, and though it is not the finest Vaughan Williams it is characteristic of him both in its sound and in its use of melodies from the period. It may seem obvious to say that the rest of the first disc is taken from the repertoire of Elizabethan composers, but it does at least help to place the lesser known names such as Farrant and Robinson. The performances of this music, an equal mixture of vocal and instrumental pieces, are uniformly excellent, which says a lot for the quality of the early music specialists to be found nowadays on the Naxos label. I particularly enjoyed Wilbye’s famous madrigal as sung by the Oxford Camerata and Jeremy Summerly.

Many of the works on these two discs have been chosen because they are representative of the period rather than because they carry any direct association with one or other of the Elizabeths, and the Queen Mother’s music, in particular, brings with it a vivid evocation of the times. All the same, Farnon’s Derby Day – great fun – as well as the Spitfire Prelude and Fugue and the Dam Busters March would have been irresistible choices I think. Again, the performances are excellent, and the Walton, in particular, is an absolute winner.

Walton features twice in the selection celebrating the present Queen, and indeed the Coronation Te Deum was composed for the coronation in 1953. This superb performance is taken from the recent Walton disc in Naxos’ distinguished series with St. John’s Choir and Christopher Robinson. Then there is Parry’s famous anthem and a couple of jolly light music items before the selection ends with another obvious choice, Orb and Sceptre, exceptionally well played and conducted once again.

With the Golden Jubilee and the sad death of the Queen Mother still very much in the mind this is of course a highly topical issue which cannot fail to give pleasure to those who enjoy this kind of compilation. I suppose there will be listeners who prefer Walton to Wilbye, and not everyone who enjoys an Elizabethan lute song will warm to English twentieth century light music, but that kind of discovery seems to me the attraction of this kind of thing. The booklet is very well documented with an informative and entertaining essay by Keith Anderson. A minor error and one omission in the credits have been corrected above.

William Hedley

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