Let it be said straightaway: this is a cleverly planned
programme mixing highly popular works and four presumably recent, unrecorded
pieces which receive their première recording here.
Elgar’s Serenade Op.20, Vaughan Williams’s
Fantasia on Greensleeves and Walton’s Two Pieces
from ‘Henry V’ are well known and established standards for
small string ensembles and do not call for any particular comments.
Christopher Ball’s name and music are, I must admit,
completely new to me. The two pieces of his recorded here clearly belong
to what is generally referred to as the British pastoral school. The
music obviously breathes the same air as some Delius, Vaughan Williams
and Moeran, and none the worse for that. Both pieces are tuneful, beautifully
nostalgic miniatures of great charm. On a Summer Day is
scored for flute, oboe and strings whereas Celtic Moods
opts for alto flute and cor anglais.
John Marsh’s works (also new to me) obviously share
the same musical preoccupations, particularly – and appropriately –
so in the very fine Fantasy on "David of the White Rock"
for organ and strings based on the Welsh tune also used by Vaughan Williams
in one of his late organ works. The Suite: The Quantocks,
for violin and string orchestra, sometimes brings Finzi to mind.
John Marsh’s pieces as well as Christopher Ball’s might
find their way into Naxos’s English Miniatures for Strings series.
This is a very attractive release well worth having
for the novelties by Christopher Ball and John Marsh; and the whole
programme is played with obvious enjoyment of the music. Emerald Ensemble
is a comparatively young ensemble which I for one look forward to hearing
again soon, especially in such attractive programmes.
My only complaint is that the insert notes are reduced
to a bare minimum, and even less than that, for we are not told who
Christopher Ball and John Marsh are, when they were born and when their
works were written. Judging from the music, I presume that this John
Marsh is a contemporary composer and has nothing to do with the composer
John Marsh (1752 – 1828); but I would welcome any further information
concerning his works and Christopher Ball’s.