Maurice Johnstone essay by Phil Scowcroft
This set is built of
two CDs - one generously timed anthology
of Bournemouth recordings; the other
a briefer thing of attractive rags and
The first disc has
the Bournemouth Sinfonietta as its focus
and draws on LPs at first issued by
Polydor and RCA (the viola works). The
dapper and undervalued Hurst (he was
the conductor of the first orchestral
concert I attended at Paignton's Festival
Theatre) delivers vivacious versions
of various short pieces. The Poisoned
Kiss has now been recorded complete
by Chandos. However for years this ebulliently
performed version of the overture was
the only shred of the work in the catalogue.
Much the same applies to The Running
Set which is not that far from Arnold
and Grainger and to the rumbustious
Sea Songs (which I know from
a wind-band version) and which inhabit
similar territory to the Folk Song
Suite. Hurst also turns in nicely
paced and glisteningly textured versions
of the piano-originals - Hymn Tune
Preludes. Brian Culverhouse did
a slap-up job on these recordings now
more than a quarter century old.
It is wonderful to
hear all these Bournemouth recordings
again. They were made in the period
1975-77 some (the viola items) under
the sponsorship of Harveys of Bristol.
Sponsorship was far from uncommon in
those days. Let's not forget that many
CFP LPs of those days were sponsored
by W.D. and H.O. Wills - the cigarette
manufacturers. It is good to hear Frederick
Riddle's assertively recorded readings
again. This was the suite's second recording,
John Snashall had recorded it with Robert
Starer's Concerto on an old Pye GSGC
LP in the 1960s. Hiss is deeply subsumed
yet without blunting Riddle's nasally
accented wormwood-and-tears viola. Flos
Campi is projected and recorded
with great immediacy although Roger
Best (Nimbus) and Cecil Aronowitz are
more taut and respond with greater alacrity
in the Moderato alla marcia.
The notable ecstasy is however very
well telegraphed by everyone especially
the choir in the andante quasi lento.
The Suite for viola
and orchestra is still fairly rare.
It is not really top-drawer Vaughan
Williams but has plenty going for it.
The Prelude for instance recalls the
flow of the Bach solo cello suites and
Riddle is wonderful in this as he also
is in the rasping Christmas Dance.
There is more mileage in this suite
perhaps in a mixed recital with Arthur
Benjamin's Viola Concerto and Romantic
Fantasy. There is a touching Ballad
(which seems to dream on some Shropshire
or Cotswold hill in a shimmer of heat.
The Galop bowls along with an
unaccountably Hungarian Tzigane accent.
The second disc has
a core made up half of a Delius/RVW
collection conducted by Handley and
of shreds of other RVW material from
corners of the Chandos catalogue. The
recordings here are more up to date
although the first disc does sound splendid.
Handley, Boult pupil that he is, delivers
a lissom and brilliant version of the
Wasps Overture - it really is a gem
of the repertoire belonging up there
with standards such as The Hebrides,
The Bartered Bride and The
Marriage of Figaro. The Fantasia
on Greensleeves moves forward with
pace and poetry juxtaposing Greensleeves
and Lovely Joan. It was originally
written as an entr'acte for the opera
Sir John in Love. Hearing this
purely orchestral version of The
Serenade to Music shorn of its sixteen
solo voices can be a disorientating
experience but it works smoothly and
(1900-1976) was a composer as well
as a BBC administrator. He orchestrated
three of the songs from the Pre-Raphaelite
song-cycle The House of Life.
Varcoe is rather wobbly of voice here
though his tone is attractive if a little
mournful. I know some of Johnstone's
compositions from tapes of old broadcasts.
I hope that we will in due course get
recordings of his these including Dover
Beach, Welsh Rhapsody, Ballade
and The Oak and Ash and of
his swashbuckling brass-band pieces.
We already have his superb Tarn Howes
- A Cumbrian Rhapsody on ASV - it
belongs up there with Butterworth’s
A Shropshire Lad and RVW’s Lark
Rather like the Viola
Suite, the Six Studies in English
Folk Song, here in the version for
clarinet and piano are piquant miniature
mood and song pieces - all too brief
to admit even the possibility of boredom.
They would go well with Finzi's Bagatelles.
The lento is a lovely calming
piece with no clods of soil stuck to
Vaughan Williams was
well known for his interest in the timbres
of unusual instruments and wrote many
pieces for ‘outlandish’ combinations.
While not as methodically comprehensive
as Hindemith or Holmboe or Arnold or
Creston, there are works here such as
the lovely Tuba Concerto (the Romance
is a hands-down winner in any company)
and this Romance for harmonica
and orchestra. It was originally written
for Larry Adler - who else - but is
here despatched with style and resonance
by Tommy Reilly - Crown Prince to Adler's
‘king’; royalty nonetheless.
Brian Kay conducts
the Huddersfield Choral society in Arthur
Somervell's arrangement of Linden
Lea. There is a danger with this
song of it being delivered in a rather
heartless sing-song manner. Certainly
Brian Kay tempts fate at this speed
but such is the flexible yield-and-take
of this version that he brings it off
The notes are borrowed
from the original issues. The words
of the sung items are not printed.
A resplendent if rather
idiosyncratic collection with plenty
of surprises and not a few discoveries.