English String Miniatures Volume 2
Frank Bridge (1879 - 1941)
'Sally in our Alley'; 'Cherry Ripe' & 'Sir Roger de
Sir Edward Elgar (1857 - 1934)
Haydn Wood (1882 - 1959)
Fantasy-Concerto (1905: 1949)
John Ireland (1879 - 1962)
The Holy Boy (1913: 1941)
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 - 1958)
Charterhouse Suite (c.1923)
Frederick Delius (1862 - 1934)
Air & Dance (c. 1920)
Peter Warlock (1894 - 1930)
Serenade for the 60th birthday of Frederick Delius
Geoffrey Bush (1920 - 1998)
Consort Music (1989)
Rec. 21/22 March 2000
English Northern Philharmonia
When you are jaded with the complexities of Boulez, bored by the repetitiveness
of Reich and overwhelmed by the massive constructions of Mahler and Bruckner,
turn to English String Miniatures - Volume 2
on Naxos. However, do not imagine that somehow this recording lacks depth
or technical accomplishment - for it is chock full of masterpieces. The programme
charts a course from Sir Edward Elgar to the lesser-known Geoffrey Bush via
John Ireland and Frank Bridge.
Let us dispose of the formalities. We are given a good 70 minutes playing
time. It is an excellent and imaginative 'across the board' programme with
typically fine playing. The programme notes, whilst sufficient, could have
been more detailed. I would have liked to have a few more facts about Haydn
Wood and Geoffrey Bush.
The first thing to consider is what the word 'miniature' means. First and
foremost any thought of 'miniature' necessarily equalling lightweight
or trite is a non-starter. For example, the depth and passion underlying
Elgar's Sospiri is heartbreaking. Secondly we must not
necessarily confuse 'miniature' with 'light music.' This is harder
to do especially as Haydn Wood is noted as one of the finest exponents of
that particular genre. 'Miniature' must simply be regarded as short pieces
that do not brook a great deal of musical development. They naturally tend
to have a short duration or to consist of a number of linked movements of
extremely short duration. The primary material of a 'miniature' has
to be of exceptional quality and the technical and compositional skills of
the composer has to be as such to express meaningful musical ideas in relatively
few bars. Every detail is apparent - for most peoples' 'time span' can
concentrate quite intensely for the full duration of the piece. Therefore
every note and chord must 'tell'. In other words the writing of 'miniatures'
tests a composer's skill - it is not an easy way out. As for the term 'light'
music, it is one we should never despise. It is simply another genre, which
requires very different skills. We would never belittle an artist for working
in pastels rather than oils.
Elgar's 'Sospiri' needs little introduction. There are a number of
excellent recordings made of this piece stretching back through the years.
The first recording I heard was from old 78s I found in the school music
room. Boult was conducting. The sadness of the piece - the feelings of the
end of an era - 'a wounded heart cry', to quote Michael Kennedy, is well
brought out in the present recording. This is a 'big' piece, a masterpiece
-notwithstanding the fact it lasts only four minutes and 28 seconds.
The popular estimation of Frank Bridge
- where he is known at all - is probably completely represented on this disc.
'Sally in Our Alley' and 'Cherry Ripe' are based on two 'old
English' songs. These were originally written for string quartet and were
later re-scored for string orchestra. It is obvious from the string part
writing that Frank Bridge fully understood and sympathised with this medium.
He was a competent viola player which has happily resulted in quite a catalogue
of pieces written or arranged for that neglected instrument.
'Sally' is full of 'a wistful looking back over the shoulder' - to a 'Land
of Lost Content'. The intensity of some of the part writing and the 'Delian'
harmonies are well studied by David-Lloyd Jones and the orchestra.
Cherry Ripe is just fun - but jolly well written fun. It is technically perfect.
A great composer was indulging his love of melody without falling into the
trap of writing 'cow-pat' music.
The last piece on this disc is 'Roger de Coverley'. Once again Bridge
conceived this for string quartet, and it was later 'dished up' for strings.
'Roger' is a charming piece, well scored, technically well wrought - but
I have always had reservations about the 'counter subject' - Auld Lang Syne?
Bridge is a complex composer. He changed his style to a large extent as a
result of the horrors of the First World War. So many of his friends and
pupils had been slaughtered in the Trenches. The three pieces presented here
belie the sheer range and power of this 'great' British composer. Let us
hope that listeners are encouraged to explore his works in detail. Naxos
has recorded a number of his chamber works
8.553718). The String Quartets are available as are a number of
other chamber works. The orchestral suites 'The Sea' and 'Enter
Spring' are available on EMI.
Unfortunately his star has, to a certain extent set. After a spurt of interest
in the seventies and eighties, there seems to be comparatively little available
on CD. Hunting around second-hand record shops will bring to light a number
of treasures - especially on the highly sought after Lyrita label.
Ireland wrote his miniature masterpiece,
the 'Holy Boy' as the first of his Four Preludes for Piano
- not a song as suggested in the sleeve notes. It was arranged and re-arranged
for piano, for cello & piano and even brass band. Once again it is well
known to 'English Music buffs' and is well recorded both here and elsewhere.
It is a well-known fact that Ralph Vaughan Williams had assistance from a
number of competent musicians in the preparation and editing of his scores.
The Charterhouse Suite started life as a Suite of Six Short Pieces
for Pianoforte. They were composed prior to 1920 and were published in
1921. James Brown, who was at that time the editor of the Polychordia String
Library, arranged the six pieces for string orchestra - with the composer's
blessing. Brown's competence has resulted in a short suite that is 'pure
' RVW. It epitomised all that is best in the composer's toolkit. However,
it is not just a pure transcription of the pieces - an academic exercise
- but a re-presentation of this exquisite material. For listeners who wish
there were more pieces like the Fantasia on Greensleves this is a
Delius wrote a number 'small piece's. There are the Two Aquarelles,
Sleigh Ride, and La Calinda. And a few others. However the
miniatures shade off into small-scale tone poems. Once again I am amazed
at the technical perfection of Air & Dance.
I must confess that this is for me a first 'conscious' hearing of this piece.
Peter Warlock who was looking for 'Delian' obscurities found the piece in
manuscript form. It was written round about the time of the Great War - but
somehow remained un-played and unpublished. Delius' champion, Sir Thomas
Beecham, first recorded it. Look out for the re-iteration of the 'Air' just
before the end of the contrasting 'Dance'.
Peter Warlock is best known for his contribution to the English Song repertoire.
However, strange as it may seem, his most popular work is in fact orchestral
-the evergreen Capriol Suite. There are one or two other works for
this medium. However I think his best is the present work - the 'Serenade
for the 60th Birthday of Frederick Delius.' Somehow everyone
realises that this is pastiche - more 'Delius than Delius'. The harmonies,
form and melodic flow reflect the master's achievement with an unbelievable
accuracy. Yet somehow the work stands on its own. It is a beautiful tribute
to a great composer.
Geoffrey Bush is a comparatively little known composer. He has composed a
number of works including an opera and a piano concerto. However there is
little available on CD. Consort Music originally began life as a series
of pastiche songs. They were composed in a style that Prince Albert would
have recognised. Hence the title 'Consort'. These are miniatures indeed -
the shortest, 'Caprice' lasting only 1 minute 7 seconds. However they are
well written and played to perfection. I must 'mug up' on Bush.
Most people who know the music of Haydn Wood will do so because they have
purchased the excellent Marco Polo recordings of his 'light' music.
(Marco Polo 8.223402 & 8.223605.) A previous
generation was enthralled by the melody of 'Roses of Picardy' written
when the Great War was at its height. Many people remember the theme from
the BBC programme 'Down your Way' - the March: Horseguards, Whitehall.
However, before the success of the 'Rose' Haydn Wood had been marked out
as a 'serious' composer. He studied with Charles Villiers Stanford at the
RCM. His catalogue includes an excellent Piano Concerto in D minor
(Hyperion 67127) that was published in 1947
and a Concerto for Violin from
1933. There was an early set of 'Variations on an Original Theme'
which appeared in 1903. Quite obviously Elgar was the 'model'.
The Fantasy -Concerto on the CD started life as a chamber work. Originally
produced for the Cobbett Chamber Music Competition it began life as
Phantasie in F minor. It was written in 1905. He was successful in
winning a prize in this very first of these prodigious competitions. How
many works have been composed for this annual event? Fortunately many have
survived into the current repertoire. Vaughan Williams, Bridge and Britten
to name three.
The original work was composed for string quartet and was dusted down by
the composer in 1949. It was recast into a shorter time frame - 14 minutes
as opposed to the original 23 minutes.
It is a wonderful piece. Technically involved - demanding a fine string technique
from all the players - which is certainly given by the English Philharmonia.
There is a touch of Elgar here - one is reminded of the Introduction and
Allegro, there are harmonic constructions worthy of Delius. But so what.
This is my first 'big discovery' of the present year. I am left wishing that
Haydn Wood had written more music in the 'classical' vein - and let it be
hastily added that I am a great fan of his 'light' music. For me he is generally
on a par with Eric Coates -if slightly more 'old-fashioned'.
This is a stunning CD. Never be put off simply by the fact that it is described
as 'miniatures'. The works on this disk are all miniature masterpieces and
deserve to be firmly entrenched in the orchestral repertoire - and not
necessarily just as 'encores.'
I hope Naxos will continue the good work. If they are looking for suggestions
for volumes three and four then -Naxos, email me!
See review of Volume