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The Story of British Classical Music
see end of review for details
NAXOS 8.558193-94 [78:20 + 79:02]
Experience Classicsonline

This set is effectively the Naxos equivalent of the superb “Fairest Isle” compilation that BBC Music Magazine brought out in 1995. It too charts the history of British music from the thirteenth century up to the present day. This Naxos set represents the period up to the turn of the last century on the first disc, and covers the whole of the twentieth century on the second disc. Thus, disc 1 opens with a few mediaeval Anons, and includes Dunstable, and Carver’s glorious Missa Dun Sacrum Mysterium, before expounding the Jacobean and Elizabethan composers Tallis, Byrd, Dowland, Taverner, Bull, Gibbons and Lawes. Purcell (extracts from Dido and Aeneas) represents the Restoration period; Avison and Boyce the eighteenth century and Field, Sterndale Bennett, Wesley and Sullivan the nineteenth century. As a fair portrayal of pre-twentieth century British music, this certainly refutes the too-oft-held-notion that England was a “land without music”, or that there was a “musical ice-age” between Purcell and Elgar. I was disappointed, however, not to see any Arne, Eccles or Linley – since the latter of whom showed, according to contemporary reports, “stronger proof of original genius” than even his contemporary Mozart. On the other hand, it was good to have the inclusion of Carver, Cornysh and Avison. Performances, taken mainly – but not exclusively – from Naxos recordings, are all exemplary and feature such artists as the Orlando Consort, Oxford Camerata, Tonus Peregrinus, The Sixteen and, in the overture to Yeomen of the Guard, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.
 
Disc 2 opens with Parry’s astounding and revelatory I was Glad (with the Scholars Baroque Ensemble) which is followed by a meltingly tender performance of Stanford’s The Blue Bird (with the Oxford Camerata again, and Jeremy Summerly). The disc then features all the major twentieth century composers – Elgar (third movement from the Second Symphony); Delius (A Song Before Sunrise); Bax (A Country Tune by Ashley Wass); Vaughan Williams (an extract from Job); Holst (Uranus from The Planets); Walton (the second movement of the violin concerto) and Britten (Winter Words with the wonderful Philip Langridge). Tippett and Malcolm Arnold are also represented. It is good to have some of the less-well-known works (such as Job and the Winter Words); alongside the utterly familiar (Planets); although the choice is arguably not always that which showcases the best of the composer. I also find the mix slightly curious in that it sets out neither to chart the major events of British composition by featuring the masterpieces of each composer or the works that made his name; nor to take the opportunity to bring less familiar pieces to the audience. Similarly, I find it a bit of a shame that none of the less famous – but nonetheless brilliant and highly innovative – twentieth century composers are featured, such as Foulds, Bowen, Howells or Moeran, nor any of the composers of English solo song (such as Quilter, Gurney and Warlock) – since solo song is such an important part of British music. And where, too, is Finzi? There is also no inclusion of the large-scale choral works at which we so excelled (just think of the War Requiem, of Elgar’s oratorios, of Vaughan Williams’s Sancta Civitas or Holst’s Hymn of Jesus, Howells’s Stabat Mater or Hymnus Paradisi, Finzi’s Intimations of Immortality) – or, even, operas. The final part of the disc is given over to modern composers – Peter Maxwell Davies, Judith Weir, Tavener and Colin Matthews. Again, all performances (with top artists, including the BBC Philharmonic with Edward Downes, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Maggini Quartet, and conductors including Paul Daniel and David Lloyd-Jones) are of the highest quality.
 
It is as much for the excellent booklet, with a wonderfully comprehensive and detailed, well-written and interesting history of British music by Antony Burton, as for the sometimes rather eclectic choices of works (particularly on the second disc) that I think one should purchase this set.
 
Em Marshall

see also review by Raymond Walker

Track details
CD 1
ANONYMOUS (c.1300) Thomas gemma Cantuarie/Thomas cessum in Doveria [2:11]
ANONYMOUS (15th century) Ave Maria [2:45]
John DUNSTABLE (c. 1390-1453)  Veni Sancte Spiritus/Veni Creator [6:55]
Robert CARVER (c. 1490-after 1546) Missa Dum sacrum mysterium Sanctus: beginning [2:52]
William CORNYSH (d. 1523) Ah Robin, gentle Robin [2:15]
John TAVERNER (c. 1490-1545) Missa Gloria tibi trinitas Benedictus [2:56]
Thomas TALLIS (c. 1505-1585) Salvator mundi [3:53]
William BYRD (c. 1540-1623) Ye sacred Muses [3:46]
Thomas WEELKES (c. 1575-1623) As Vesta was from Latmos hill descending [3:46]
John BULL (1562/3-1628) Pavan - St Thomas Wake! [2:30]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626) In darkness let me dwell [3:35]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625) Hosanna to the son of David [2:50]
Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656) Above the stars my Saviour dwells [3:50]
William LAWES (1602-1645) Consort Set a 5 in A minor Fantazy [2:59]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) Dido and Aeneas, Act I - Overture [1:54] - Shake the cloud from off your brow (Belinda, Chorus) [1:04] - Ah! Belinda, I am press'd with torment (Dido) [3:52]
Charles AVISON (1709-1770) Concerto in D major, Op. 6 No. 4 - Movement 1: Andante [1:43] - Movement 2: Allegro assai [1:51]
William BOYCE (1711-1779) Symphony in F major, Op. 2 No. 4 - Movement 1: Allegro [3:27]
John FIELD (1782-1837)  Nocturne No. 10 in E minor [3:09]
William Sterndale BENNETT (1816-1875) Impromptu in F sharp minor, Op. 12 No. 3 [3:21]
Samuel Sebastian WESLEY (1810-1876)  Wash me thoroughly [4:04]
Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900) The Yeomen of the Guard - Overture [5:23]
Orlando Consort (track 1); Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly (track 2); Tonus Peregrinus/Antony Pitts (track 3); Cappella Nova/Alan Tavener (track 4); Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly (track 5); The Sixteen/Harry Christophers (track 6); Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly (track 7); Catherine King, mezzo/Rose Consort of Viols (track 8); Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly (track 9); Joseph Payne, harpsichord (track 10); Steven Rickards, counter-tenor/Dorothy Linell, lute (track 11); Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly (track 12); Red Byrd/Rose Consort of Viols (track 13); Rose Consort of Viols/Timothy Roberts, organ (track 14); Kym Amps, soprano (Dido)/Anna Crookes, soprano (Belinda)/Scholars Baroque Ensemble (tracks 15 – 16 – 17); Avison Ensemble/Pavlo Beznosiuk (tracks 18 – 19); Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon (track 20); Benjamin Frith, piano (track 21); II'mii I'Minyi, piano (track 22); Emily Gray, soprano/Jeffrey Makinson, organ/Manchester Cathedral Choir/Christopher Stokes (track 23); Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Andrew Penny (track 24).
CD 2
Hubert PARRY (1848-1918) I was glad [4:45]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924) The blue bird [3:44]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Symphony No. 2 in E flat major Movement 3: Rondo: Presto [8:09]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934) A Song Before Sunrise [5:23]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Country-Tune [2:14]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Job - A Masque for Dancing Scene 8: Galliard of the Sons of the Morning, Altar Dance and Heavenly Pavane [5:16]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) The Planets Suite: Uranus, the Magician [6:07]
William WALTON (1902-1983) Violin Concerto - Movement 2: Presto capriccioso alia napolitana [6:21]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)Winter Words: VI: Proud Songsters [1:07] - VII: At the Railway Station, Upway [2:39] - VIII: Before Life and After [2:54]
Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998) A Child of Our Time, Part Two: The Narrator: And a time came... [0:18]; Double Chorus of Persecutors and Persecuted: Away with them! [0:59]; The Narrator: Where they could... [0:28]; Chorus of the Self-Righteous: We cannot have them... [0:48]; The Narrator: And the boy's mother... [0:16]; Scena: O my son!... [1:23]; A Spiritual: Nobody knows... [1:38]
Malcolm ARNOLD (b. 1921) English Dances, Set 1 No. 1: Andantino [2:51]
Peter MAXWELL DAVIES (b. 1934) Naxos Quartet No. 2 - Movement 3: Allegro [4:45]
John TAVENER (b. 1944) As one who has slept [4:18]
Judith WEIR (b. 1954) Piano Concerto: Movement 2: The Sweet Primroses [4:31]
Colin MATTHEWS (b. 1946) Pluto, The Renewer [7:01]
Scholars Baroque Ensemble (track 1); Carys-Anne Lane, soprano/Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly (track 2); BBC Philharmonic/Edward Downes (track 3); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones (track 4); Ashley Wass, piano (track 5); English National Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones (track 6); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones (track 7); Dong Suk Kang, violin/English Northern Philharmonia/Paul Daniel (track 8); Philip Langridge, tenor/Stuart Bedford, piano (tracks 9–11); Faye Robinson, soprano/Sarah Walker, mezzo/Jon Garrison, tenor/John Cheek, bass/City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus and Orchestra/Michael Tippett (tracks 12–18); Queensland Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Penny (track 19); Maggini Quartet (track 20); Choir of St John's College, Cambridge/Christopher Robinson (track 21); William Howard, piano/The Schubert Ensemble (track 22); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Ladies of RSNO Chorus/David Lloyd-Jones (track 23). DDD

 


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