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CD: Crotchet


Land of Hope and Glory: The Ultimate Classical Celebration
see end of review for details
rec. 1963-2009. ADD/DDD.
DECCA 476 3615 [57:51+67:57]
Experience Classicsonline


This is not one for the unpatriotic or those allergic to the bagpipe - two tracks of the latter, totalling over 12 minutes - but it could be just the thing for those who would like to celebrate The Last Night of the Proms all year round.

I could be critical and point out that Holst never wrote a piece entitled ‘I vow to thee my country’ and that he disliked the words which others set to his music - I know several people who go much further than that and abhor the jingoism - or that Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ are really two different things. Nor did Kenneth Alford write music for The Bridge on the River Kwai - his ‘Colonel Bogey’ was merely arranged for the film - but I suspect that such nit-picking would cut little ice with those likely to buy these CDs.

Let me say, then, that if the programme appeals, the performances are all pretty good, as are the recordings, despite their wide age-range. If I were given the run of the Universal Classics back-catalogue, I doubt that I could come up with a much better selection of performances, though I might have gone for something a little more distinctive than some of the Barry Wordsworth items which form the backbone of the collection.

I’d be happy to hear these tracks on BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night is Music Night, but I’m glad that Decca have gone, for example, for the ASMF/Marriner version of the Greensleeves Fantasia in preference to Wordsworth’s. The version of Walton’s Orb and Sceptre from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and David Hill, too, has much more swagger than Wordsworth’s account of Crown Imperial two tracks earlier on CD2.

As for ‘Danny Boy’, the one item from Bryn Terfel Sings Favourites included here, I’d be a little, but only a little less harsh than Tony Haywood was when reviewing the parent CD: “Too many of the small items, particularly the traditional and folksongs, are given the Hollywood treatment by producer Chris Hazell ... One for Granny’s birthday present, I think.” (DG 474 438 2 - see review). It’s over-sweet, another one for the Friday Night slot - but I guess that’s the audience at which these CDs are aimed.

The engineers have done an excellent job of matching the levels and ambiance of one track to another - all too often collections of this kind have the listener constantly reaching for the volume control. One of the earliest items, the 1966 Fennell recording of Coates’ Halcyon Days, sounds just as good as some of the more recent DDD tracks - but, then, it was a Mercury recording originally. The abrupt cut-off of the ambiance at the end of the Fantasia on Sea Songs, however, makes an unpleasant lead-in to the Greensleeves Fantasia, which follows all too hard upon its heels.

Collections of this kind abound; another branch of the Universal Empire, for example, has a rival collection entitled The Best Ever British Music Collection. Who dreams up these overblown titles? The sub-title of the present collection is not even accurate: this is not a general survey of classical music, merely of a particular branch of it. Who decides on the ‘best’?

I’d like to think that those who buy this set would be likely to wish to explore some of the music further, but I understand that the evidence is all to the contrary - those who buy discs of gobbets like this rarely move on to buy a complete CD devoted to a single composer. Why go for this recording of just two of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Marches, for example, when excellent complete recordings of the whole set are available, often at super-budget price. For around £5, for example, Naxos can offer very acceptable performances of the complete Pomp and Circumstance Marches, Polonia and the Coronation March (8.557273) and EMI British Composers have complete recordings by Boult (7640152, with the complete Enigma Variations, not just ‘Nimrod’, divorced from context on this new Decca set) and, perhaps best of all, Barbirolli (5663232, with the Froissart and Cockaigne Overtures).

You may think that you won’t like Elgar’s other music on offer here; how will you know unless you try? Remember that Walt Disney’s Dopey ended up not speaking because he never tried.

If you like the three items by Eric Coates, why not investigate the rest of his very tuneful music on an inexpensive double Classics for Pleasure album (3523562) or try some more of Percy Grainger’s music on a budget-price Chandos sampler for their complete series of his music (CHAN2029 - my Bargain of the Month in August 2008 and 77 minutes of delight - see review)?

If much of this music is duplicated on other collections, there are not too many choices when it comes to Sir Henry Wood’s Fantasia on Sea Songs, a work for which I must admit to having a soft spot. There are rival versions on a 2-CD Warner set offering the Last Night of the Proms 2004 at a lower price than the new collection (2564 19562, around £8) and the Hornpipe only on an even less expensive collection on Classics for Pleasure entitled Rule Britannia and duplicating many of the pieces on the new release for around £5.50 (3524072).

I don’t understand why Decca chose the Wordsworth recording of the Wood Fantasia, good as it is, when they have an even better performance in their catalogue, from the same disc as the Stanford item, conducted by Sir Roger Norrington. (And why, when the booklet is generally scrupulous about including titles, including Sir Thomas Allen, is Sir Roger deprived of his?)

The other problem, as so often with collections of this kind, concerns the lack of information provided, information which the novice collector badly needs. How is he or she to know, for example, that the Jeremiah Clarke piece is still better known, incorrectly, as Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary? (Remember the Peter Sellers LP about the teenage idol’s swinging version of the Trumpet Volunteer.) How is he or she to know that the so-called ‘I vow to thee’ is actually an arrangement of a movement from The Planets suite, the whole of which offers some rather wonderful music, again available in very good performances at budget price? (Warner Apex 8573 89087-2, BBCSO/Sir Andrew Davis, with Egdon Heath to name just one.)

The one item here from Frederick Fennell, Eric Coates’ Halcyon Days, makes me want to hear the complete CD from which the track is taken; it includes the other two items from The Three Elizabeths and some Percy Grainger, but it seems not to be available currently in the UK, except as a multi-CD download, available from passionato.com (475 6851).

By all means buy these new CDs, then, if they appeal, but I would urge potential buyers to be a little more adventurous and to trade up from this kind of collection to something more substantial; use the pages of MusicWeb to guide you. Soon you’ll also find yourself moving on from collections of arias by your favourite singer to single-CD excerpts from complete operas and then to the complete operas themselves.

Brian Wilson 

Details
CD1
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Land of Hope and Glory - arr. from ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ March No.11 [5:52]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Zadok the Priest (Coronation Anthem No.1, HWV 258)1 [5:05]
Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918) Jerusalem1 [2:34]
Thomas ARNE (1710-1778) Rule Britannia1, 2 [4:48]
Sir Edward ELGAR ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ Op.39: March, No.4 in G1 [4:52]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) I Vow to Thee, my Country1, 2 [4:40]
Sir Edward ELGAR Variations on an Original Theme, Op.36 ‘Enigma’ - 9. Nimrod (Adagio)1 [4:05]
Eric COATES (1186-1957) The Dam Busters3 [3:52]
Kenneth J ALFORD (1881-1945) arr. Sir Malcolm ARNOLD Colonel Bogey - From the film ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’(1914) (1957)4 [4:35]
Sir William WALTON (1902-1983) Henry V - The Battle of Agincourt4 [3:34]
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) Shepherd’s Hey5 [2:15]
George Frideric HANDEL Joshua / Part 3 - O had I Jubal’s lyre6 [2:33]
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924) Songs of the Sea - No. 1 Drake’s Drum7 [2:49]
Sir Hubert PARRY I Was Glad8 [5:37]
CD2
Sir Henry WOOD (1869-1944) Fantasia on British Sea Songs9 [12:43]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Fantasia on Greensleeves10 [4:24]
Sir William WALTON Crown Imperial: A Coronation March11 [5:54]
Jeremiah CLARKE (c.1674-1707) Trumpet Voluntary11, 12 [2:31]
Sir William WALTON Orb and Sceptre13 [7:36]
Eric COATES The Three Elizabeths - Halcyon Days14 [7:23]
Scottish Medley15 [7:27]
arr.: Chris HAZELL ‘Danny Boy’ (Traditional) Irish tune from County Derry16 [4:32]
Land of My Fathers17 [1:55]
Sir Edward ELGAR Chanson de Matin, Op.15, No.211 [2:59]
Amazing Grace 200715 [4:56]
Eric COATES London Suite - 3. Knightsbridge (March)11 [4:07]
God Save The Queen1 [0:55]
The Royal Choral Society; BBC Concert Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth1; Della Jones (mezzo)2; Philip Jones Ensemble/Elgar Howarth3; The London Festival Orchestra/Stanley Black4; English Chamber Orchestra/Benjamin Britten5; Dame Janet Baker (mezzo); English Chamber Orchestra/Raymond Leppard6; Sir Thomas Allen (Baritone); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Roger Norrington7; The Sixteen/Harry Christophers8; Martin Loveday (Violin); Nigel Blomiley (cello); Ileana Ruhemann (flute); Linden Harris (oboe); Michael Pearce (clarinet); Simon Gunton (euphonium); BBC Concert Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth9; The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner10; BBC Concert Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth11; Robert Ferriman (trumpet)12; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Hill13; London ‘Pops’ Orchestra/Frederick Fennell14; Royal Scots Dragoon Guards15; Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone); London Symphony Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth16; Fron Male Voice Choir17

 


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