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Nicholas MAW (b.1935)
Scenes and Arias for Soprano, Mezzo, Contralto and Orchestra (1962) [34:12]†
Anthony MILNER (1925-2002)

Salutatio Angelica Op. 1 Cantata for Contralto Solo, Choir and Chamber Orchestra (1948) [22:21]*
Roman Spring Cantata for Soprano and Tenor Soli, Chorus and Orchestra (1969) () [22:38]**
† Jane Manning (soprano); Anne Howells (mezzo); Norma Proctor (contralto)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Norman Del Mar
* Alfreda Hodgson (contralto); ** Felicity Palmer (soprano); Robert Tear (tenor)
London Sinfonietta Chorus/Clive Wearing
London Sinfonietta/David Atherton
rec. November 1968, Kingsway Hall, originally released on Argo ZRG 622 (Maw) with Lutyens’ Quincunx; February 1973, January 1974, Kingsway Hall, Originally released on Decca SXL 6699 (Milner). ADD
LYRITA SRCD.267 [79.39]


 



Long before the recent renaissance of the label Lyrita showed a canny tendency to track down and license recordings issued by other labels and reissue them. Examples include the Tippett opera Midsummer Marriage licensed from Philips but they have also netted invaluable Welsh orchestral material – Daniel Jones, William Mathias and Grace Williams - from Decca, EMI and BBC Regium. That trend continues here with unequalled generosity and featuring two English composers.

Nicholas Maws Scenes and Arias is a big work of voluptuous beauty in which erotic stormy and eruptive urgency melds with music of curvaceous Szymanowskian subtlety. This is however Szymanowski (Song of the Night; King Roger) out of Berg out of Tippett. That Norman Del Mar – himself an authority on Richard Strauss and an occasional champion of Szymanowski should be conducting – is fitting given the lavishly Straussian tone of the writing. Its fleshy celebratory tone may also recall Carmina Burana. Written as a BBC Proms commission it is rich in allusion and impression and is a remarkable piece for a 26 year old. Laid out for orchestra with three intertwining female voices it was the key to the sustained recognition now enjoyed by this composer. The Argo LP of Scenes and Arias quite properly carried Maw’s name internationally. Hearing the stereo analogue recording now in this transfer is a tribute to the work of the original engineer Ted Burkett in London’s Kingsway Hall. The sound is rounded, well defined yet smooth and without glare so far as the strings are concerned. On the other hand the exuberant raspberry blast of the brass (tr. 6) and the whip-sharp skirl and wood-dove shuttling of birdsong remains uncompromised. In fact I doubt that this work has ever been heard with such gripping clarity since those long past sessions in a hall now demolished.

Milner was a Bristolian, educated at Douai School and the RCM with Herbert Fryer (piano) and R.O. Morris (theory) for whom, Toccata promise to do much. He also studied composition privately with Matyas Seiber. He held various teaching posts until his retirement in 1980 (Morley College, King’s College London, Goldsmiths College and the RCM. Milner’s work for the Roman Catholic church was extensive and included congregational hymns and Mass settings. He was made a Knight of St Gregory by Pope John Paul II. A well regarded teacher, lecturer and writer, in the USA as well as UK he lectured extensively. His last work, an Oboe Concerto, was written under the shadow of multiple sclerosis which made composition an uphill battle. He died in Spain.

Hugh Wood wrote of Salutatio angelica: ‘Working in a strongly conservative idiom, but with wide and humane musical interests, Milner has succeeded in bringing an enlightened and refreshing breath of life to the English choral tradition.’ It is a lyrical work of patent unflamboyant integrity projecting head-bowed devoutness. One example among many in this work is the meditative-reflective Aria III – Mater Misericordiae. However there is rhythmic playfulness too though indebted to Tippett. Even so the work contrasts with the Maw’s volcanic carnality. Roman Spring is more extrovert and shares bird-song voices with the Maw. He writing is more lush and accessible than the devotional Salutatio angelica. Again the nature-ecstatic tone reaches towards the warmer less rhythmically unsubtle parts of Orff’s Catulli Carmina trilogy. Tear is in young voice projecting a wholly apt Italianate Puccinian virility. His voice later dried considerably. Felicity Palmer is in her usual radiant voice. Both Palmer and Tear are here most impressive. The final surging choral-orchestral bow-wave sets the seal on a work in which Milner turns from introspection to climactic statement.

Of Roman Spring let me quote Paul Conway who puts the matter far better than I ever could: "a beautifully evocative setting of Latin poems on the themes of spring, the renewal of love and the transitory nature of life. The work marked a significant change in direction for Milner's music, which became more and more expressively dramatic, unlike the Chamber Symphony of 1968."

Milner has enjoyed few commercial recordings. Famously there was a single LP of his First Symphony and a set of Variations. This has been reissued on Claudio so don’t forget it. That Hyperion vinyl was a victim of being issued a couple of years before the CD revolution. Long before that in 1972 Decca issued this LP financed as was the Maw/Lutyens Argo by funding from the British Council.

The CD could hardly be more full and the notes (Calum Macdonald) and texts and translations are all provided in handsome detail.

A generous offering: Maw’s early verismo-lyrical triumph and two less flamboyant works from the lower key but grandly rewarding Milner.

Rob Barnett

 


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