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Robin MILFORD (1903-1959)
Fishing by Moonlight Op. 96a for piano and strings [6'33]
Miniature Concerto in G Op. 35 for string orchestra [9'09] 2 Allegro [3'12] 3 Adagio [3'31] 4 Allegro vivace [2'23]
Elegiac Meditation Op. 83 for viola and string orchestra [8'23]
Two Orchestral Interludes Op. 19e for flute, strings and piano: [3'49] Mr John Peel Passes By [1'52]; Mr Ben Jonson’s Pleasure [1'53]
Go, little book – Suite Op. 18 for flute, soprano and strings [14'55]: Introduction [1'00]; Thy Garden [2'42]; Meat in Thy Hall [2'49]; Thy Bin of Wine [0'40]; Thy Wit [2'50]; Thy House and Lawns [1'45]; Thy Living River [1'30]; Thy Nightingale [1'37]
Elegy for James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch Op. 50 for string orchestra [7'06]
Interlude for flute and strings Op. 69a [5'10]
Festival Suite Op. 97 for string orchestra [14'27]: Overture [2'55]; Siciliana [3'34]; Slow Minuet and Trio [4'26]; Scherzo [3'29]
Julian Sperry, flute; Julian Milford, piano; Clare Finnimore, viola; Carys Lane, soprano
Guildhall Strings/Robert Salter
Rec. Big School, Christ’s Hospital, Horsham, West Sussex, 26-28 May 2003. DDD
HYPERION CDA67444 [69:48]



 

In the mists of the early 1980s, on the cusp of the CD era, the bud that is now a forest, Hyperion, issued an LP called 'Fishing by Moonlight'. It was an anthology of Robin Milford's music, songs, chamber, choral and orchestral. I remember that LP (A66048) and its unassumingly gentle charm. That quality carried over into the present CD but with a more professional polish to the playing. The LP had Christopher Finzi conducting the Southern Pro Arte in sessions on 2 September 1982. I had half been expecting a reissue of that LP but no such thing and here the mix is entirely chamber-orchestral.

The Guildhall Strings and Robert Salter here continue the fine-toned work they have already done for Armstrong Gibbs (CDA 67093) and also in a mixed recital of pieces for piano and orchestra by Milford (Concertino in E major), Gibbs, Rootham and Dring (Hyperion CDA 67316).

Fishing by Moonlight was inspired a picture of the same name by Dutch artist Aernout van der Neer (1603-1677) displayed on the cover of the original Hyperion LP. In the present case the adroitly designed booklet cover carries The Three Brothers (c.1897) by Frederick Cayley Robinson (1862–1927).

There is nothing declamatory about Fishing by Moonlight; nothing that shouts. The music has a Finzian curve and sigh. It is neither belligerent nor intense. There are passing similarities to Finzi's Eclogue (2.01 - those trills!) but Milford adds a fine mist of Elizabethan sensibility: Finzi meets Warlock. Much the same can be said of the Capriol capers of the Miniature Concerto. Milford's way is soft and modest. Self-promotion is completely alien to this music and its composer. More of the same can be heard in the Two Orchestral Interludes.

Go Little Book is for flute, soprano and strings. Carys Lane's soprano is well nigh perfect in its innocence. We return to the Finzian repose of works such as Eclogue and Love’s Labours Lost in the strolling contemplation of trs. 9 and 13. Otherwise we are caught in a hinterland between Warlock and Respighi.

The Elegiac Meditation is very different. Its pastoral Dvořákian textures contrast with the poignant discourse of the solo viola. If this lacks the ecstasy of sorrow found in the Elgar Introduction and Allegro or in Howells' Elegy it certainly seems to speak out for Milford's soul made eloquent by loss and given voice here by Clare Finnimore's solo viola. Whether the loss of which it speaks is of Milford’s son Barnaby or of friends killed during the Second World War we do not know. Flush with similar serious melancholic moods, the James Scott Elegy moves between Warlock, Wirén (Serenade) and Vaughan Williams (Tallis Fantasia).

The beautiful Interlude, here done rather breathily by Julian Sperry, deserves to be played often and surely would do well on Classic FM if given a chance. It is the slow movement of Milford's large-scale flute sonata.

The Festival Suite for strings was written for Reginald Jacques and his orchestra. Its pastel shades place it close to Grieg's Holberg and Dvořák's Serenade and to the gentler movements of the Serenades by Moeran and Warlock's. It is not a cousin to Holst's Brook Green or Vaughan Williams' Concerto Grosso.

Milford is portrayed here as a miniaturist but there are grander works which we must hope to hear. Let's not forget the Symphony, the oratorio Prophet in the Land and the Violin Concerto. His Hardy-inspired piece for violin and orchestra, The Darkling Thrush would go well in a mixed recital with similar pieces by Finzi (Introit), Foulds, Goossens and Julius Harrison.

The notes are by Lewis Foreman so we know all is well on this front.

A gentle and modest addition to the catalogue of English music.

Rob Barnett



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