> BURROWS Sonatas and songs [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Benjamin BURROWS (1891-1966)
Violin Sonata (1927)
Viola Sonata (1934)
Songs: How should I your true love know (D.G. Rossetti); Queen Djenira; Three Cherry Trees; Mistress Fell (de la Mare); Cam' ye by; One and Twenty; Somebody; The Dusty Miller (Burns)
Pieces for solo piano: Leicester Tunes No. 1; Rumba; Autumn; Arabesque; Tango
Kenneth Page (violin/viola)
James Walker (piano)
songs: Catherine Martin (sop); Brian Blyth Daubney (piano)
rec. Benjamin Burrows Centenary Concert, Fraser Noble Concert Hall, Leicester University, 23 Oct 1991. AAD
available to BMS Members only


These recordings were first issued on cassette in the early 1990s. They represent one of the products of the advocacy of Brian Blyth Daubney and Ronald Reah for a British composer usually thought of (if thought of at all!) as a dismissable provincial. After all, what we 'knowledgeably' dismiss need not distract us from continual dissection and adulation of the familiar.

Burrows was a quiet and modest man who made his career in Leicester, his birthplace, and never drifted from that city apart, that is, for army service in the Great War. He came from a musical family, his sister being a violist and the presumed dedicatee of his 1933 Viola Sonata. He wrote songs, solo piano and organ pieces, chamber music and orchestral pieces, and published many of them under his own imprint - the Bodnant Press. His collection of scores and memorabilia is held by the University of Leicester.

The British Music Society issued several Burrows recordings on cassette. BMS403 presents a selection of Burrows' songs while ENV026 (for BMS members only) has some of his organ music and the very strong Five Psalms alongside his other choral music. Details of BMS membership and of these and other recordings can be obtained from this website or from Stephen Trowell, 7 Tudor Gardens, Upminster, ESSEX RM14 3DE, UK, 01708 224795. No email I am afraid.

While these tapes are late analogue they present a very strong and well defined sound image. In the two duo sonatas the instruments are assertively balanced without being aggressively forward. A nice balance is also achieved for the songs and solos.

The Viola Sonata is passionate and bathed in Delian warmth. It is nowhere near as dark as Bax's daemon-haunted Viola Sonata or as turbulent as Arthur Benjamin's 1945 Viola Sonata. It has more in common with Cyril Rootham's Violin Sonata (once recorded on a private LP alongside the Flute Sonata). The Burrows is in almost constant song - steering clear of folk influence except at a very subliminal level. The other parallels are Howells' first two sonatas, the first Ireland and Dunhill's first. It is a strong work and one to which you will want to return. Of similar mindset is the Violin Sonata which has the sunset quality of the Delius Violin Concerto, violin sonatas and, perhaps most clearly, the Cello Sonata. It ends in an approximation of a Baxian jig.

In the songs the soprano Catherine Roberts seems set back a little in comparison with Brian Blyth Daubney. She has a strong voice - thankfully not too operatic - and the placement works well though words are lost from time to time. This loss is a pity given the lack of texts from the otherwise pretty exemplary booklet - an unaffectedly well designed article blessedly free from design coups. Nothing reads quite so well as black print on white paper!

The songs can best be thought of as in the Howells and Michael Head 'school'. This is simply to give you some impression of style. Word choice is good and is it simple coincidence that de la Mare was also strongly favoured by Howells? The Rossetti song is most beautiful with a touch of Gurney's song 'Here lies a most beautiful lady'. Queen Djenira is all warm exotic nights - a touch of Szymanowski and Sorabji in Leicester. I can easily imagine this and the Three Cherry Trees (a kindly cradling of a song) being sung by the young Janet Baker as in the classic 1960s SAGA recording of Howells’ King David. The expressionist nightmare of Mistress Fell reminds me of John Foulds' The Rider. It has the same eldritch air tracing all the way back to Schubert's Erlkönig. Then come the simpler Burns brevities. These are songs showing that Burns could be set very adroitly by other composers than F.G. Scott. Thankfully Burrows has far too much taste and inherent subtlety to sprinkle his inventions with tartan tat. This is not a criticism of Scott - an extremely fine composer. The de la Mare and Rossetti songs should be in the collection of every lover of British song as should the songs of Margaret Wegener, John Williamson and C.W. Orr.

The piano solos are varied and all are subtle. Leicester Tune No 1 is gentle in manner modeled on that undemonstrative Palmgren charmer - the West Finnish Dance (itself recorded by Moiseiwitsch). The Rumba is a tensely chiming piece and bubbling with echoes of Ravel's Cakewalk. Autumn and Arabesque (liquid and Lisztian) are complex mood sketches. These pieces date from the 1940s and 1950s.

The reviewer declares his interest (non-financial) as a member of the BMS and the editor of the BMS newsletter. Len Mullenger declares his interest as one of the sponsors of the original recording.

Rob Barnett

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