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William Yeates HURLSTONE (1876-1906)
Variations on an Original Theme (1896) [20’50]. The Magic Mirror, Suite (1900) [24’44]. Variations on a Hungarian Air (c.1899) [10’38].
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite.
No rec. info. DDD


William Hurlstone is another of those ‘What if?’ composers. A mere thirty years young at the time of his death, he was a composition pupil of Stanford (at the Royal College in London). He was a promising pianist, too, but precarious health precluded a full-time concert career. His music is immediate in its appeal, partly because of Hurlstone’s assured craftsmanship, partly because of his obvious delight in orchestral colour. Conductor Nicholas Braithwaite inspires the LPO to lavish affection over these scores.

Lyrita’s programme begins with the Variations on an Original Theme. Hurlstone was only twenty at the time of writing and still at the Royal College, yet he shows great flair in producing a contrasted and assured set of variations. The theme itself is positively luscious and of the Variations, the more stately sections are the most impressive. Lyrita’s recording is fully up to their famous standard – it is amazing how one can hear all the detail, yet the sound-picture is warm and imbued with just the right amount of resonance. Diana McVeagh (who wrote the booklet notes) puts her finger on it when she refers to a Schubertian mood for the fifth variation (4’27 – it is the Schubert of Rosamunde). Despite the many changes of colour and outlook of the various variations, the piece coheres as a whole, the longer finale (Variation 16) acting as a gatherer and reconciler of the various strands.

The other set of variations here is that on a ‘Hungarian Air’. No date of composition is given, but this work received its première on March 22nd, 1899 (a mere three months before Elgar’s much more famous Enigma Variations was performed at St James’ Hall). Only half as long as the Variations on an Original Theme, the Variations on a Hungarian Air is light and breezy. If the Brahms of the St Anthony Variations was lurking in the shadows of the Original Theme Variations, here it is Brahms of the Hungarian Dances that is the influence.

Hurlstone’s music for The Magic Mirror is consistently dance-worthy. It is based on the story of Snow White (each of its seven movements has a title that refers to this story except for the sixth, ‘Interlude’). The second movement in particular (‘Snow White in the Wood’) has a spring in its step and ends with the cheekiest cuckoo you will ever hear. The ‘March of the Dwarfs’ is as sweet as one could imagine, while ‘Snow White’s Death-sleep’ (movement four) is magically performed in orchestral half-voice. Although the other two works on this disc are more overtly ambitious in intent if not in duration, it is this Suite that remains the highlight of a disc stock full of delights..

One of the unsung glories of the Lyrita catalogue, this programme of Hurlstone is recommended with the utmost enthusiasm. Incidentally, Hurlstone wrote a Piano Concerto in 1896 – given his excellence as a pianist and his obvious affinity for the orchestra, it would be fascinating to hear it … any enterprising record companies reading this? …

Colin Clarke

The Lyrita catalogue


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