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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Robin MILFORD (1903-1959)
Fishing by Moonlight for piano and strings (1949/1958 orch. version)
Miniature Concerto in G for string Orchestra (1933)
Elegiac Meditation for viola and string orchestra (1946-47?)
Two Orchestral Interludes (1930): (a) Mr John Peel Passes By (b) Mr Ben Jonson’s Pleasure for flute, strings and piano;
Go, little Brook – Suite for flute, soprano and strings (1930)
Elegy for James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch for strings (1939)
Interlude for flute and strings (1944, orch. 1951?)
Festival Suite for strings (1950)
Clare Finnimore (viola); Carys Lane (soprano); Julian Sperry (flute), Julian Milford (piano)
Guildhall Strings/Robert Salter (violin)
Rec. Big School, Christ’s Hospital, Horsham, West Sussex, 26-28 May 2003
HYPERION CDA67444 [69:48]

 

As Lewis Foreman relates in his scholarly notes to this album, "Robin Milford is one of those distinctive minor voices who seemed to proliferate in English music between the wars, but whose reputation did not fare well in the face of the avant-garde establishment briefly in favour in his last years and the years following his death."

Milford died tragically by his own hand, at the age of only 56. He had studied with Holst and Vaughan Williams and both influenced his music. He was a close friend and working colleague of Gerald Finzi. Milford’s style is neo-classical, genial and gently pastoral

For Fishing by Moonlight, Robin Milford drew inspiration from the Dutch artist, Aernout van der Neer’s (1603-1677) nocturnal picture of the same title showing fishing boats in a river estuary, nets drying in the foreground, and a village church in the background. It is probably Milford’s best known work. Apart from being the most immediately appealing piece in this compilation it also has the strongest melodic lines. It opens with gently rocking figures (almost a lullaby) that are later stated in much stronger rhythms. In between there is faster folk-like material which at the same time is quite reminiscent of John Ireland.

The neo-classical Miniature Concerto for string orchestra, from 1933, begins with a jolly, rollicking Allegro that also has a brief, melancholy, central episode. The central Adagio movement has very much the atmosphere of Warlock in Capriol Suite mode, while the Allegro vivace finale, especially beautifully crafted, is jaunty and full of sunshine.

The score of the deeply-felt Elegiac Meditation (1946-7?) for viola and strings is prefaced by two lines from Wordsworth’s ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ from the Lyrical Ballads of 1789: ‘Have I not reason to lament, What man has made of man.’

The music moves between defiance and despondency with material of great refinement and delicacy. It is not difficult to imagine the composer mourning the death of his young son Barnaby killed in a road accident in 1941 as well as the waste of World War II just ended. A little gem that the Guildhall Strings burnish to perfection.

The brief  Two Orchestral Interludes (pub. 1930) are slighter but most charming fare featuring traditional tunes: ‘D’ye ken John Peel’ and ‘Drink to me only with thy eyes’.

Go, Little Brook Suite (pub. 1930) is based on lines by Robert Louis Stevenson that are at once declaimed by the soprano soloist. There follow seven delicious little musical vignettes: a flowery ‘Thy Garden’, a jolly evocative ‘Meat in the Hall’, while ‘Thy Bin of Wine’ is a merry (but not too merry) dance, ‘Thy Wit’ is genteel and modest , ‘Thy House and Lawns’ and ‘Thy Living River’ both evoke rural peace and calm, the latter with flute emulating birdsong; ‘Thy Nightingale’ rounds it all off with a gentle tripping dance. An enchanting little suite.

Another deeply-felt composition, the Elegy for James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch, was composed in 1939 and is influenced by the string writing of Ralph Vaughan Williams. In fact, the score has allusions to the latter’s Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis.

The beautiful and wistful Interlude for flute and strings was developed from the composer’s 1944 Flute Sonata. Again the influence of RVW is clear and one is reminded, in the concluding pages, of RVW’s The Lark Ascending

The compilation ends with Milford’s Festival Suite dating from 1950 and clearly intended for the Festival of Britain in 1951. As usual the atmosphere is gently pastoral, the style neo-classical. This music celebrates a cosy past that was hardly conducive to the required thrusting spirit of modern post-war optimism for the 1951 celebration. No doubt this was the difficulty that Milford faced – his music was simply out-of-joint with the times.

Glowing performances of charming, undemanding music by a minor British composer who deserves to be much better known.

Ian Lace

see also review by Rob Barnett



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