> ENGLISH BASSOON CONCERTOS [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Eric FOGG (1903-1939)

Bassoon Concerto (1930)
John ADDISON (1920-1998)

Bassoon Concertino (1998)
Peter HOPE (b.1930)

Bassoon Concertino (2000)
Arthur BUTTERWORTH (b.1923)

Summer Music (1985)
Graham Salvage (bassoon)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland (Butterworth conducted by composer)
Rec 26/27 Feb 2001, Whitfield Street Studios, London
ASV CD WHL 2132 [75.21]


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ASV and Naxos have individually done more than any of the majors to reignite the flame of British light music. In recent years it has been ASV that has been the standard-bearer with a constant flow of releases. Look at what they have done for Binge, Horovitz and Gardner. Their catalogue is endlessly rewarding and their design attitude and practice is full of individuality. And now to the present disc.

The bassoon does not have the glamour of the trumpet or the violin or the mercurial celerity of the oboe. Nevertheless it is an instrument of character, capable of scatological humour, burly romance and mournful reverie. Composers can surprise us as Vaughan Williams did for the Tuba in his concerto in which the central romance has nothing of the pawky humour usually associated with the instrument; instead we are given one of the most treasurable and lovely soliloquies.

The ASV selection is from the works of two composers dead and two composers living. The Fogg has been on the cognoscenti's want-list for years. Apart from a 1990s BBC broadcast there have been few performances in recent years. Robert Gough's 1980s version with the Windsor Sinfonia conducted by Robert Tucker at Broadheath was a very welcome exception. The work was premiered by Archie Camden with the BBCSO conducted by the composer on 20 August 1931 at the Queen's Hall. Its popularity was suffocated by the Second World War and was then largely forgotten. The Fogg is a work of jollity with almost-quotes from The Rite and The Firebird. The writing is carefree. It reminded me of Bax in his lighter and later vein - viz the Woodwind Concertante of 1949 and earlier works including the still unrecorded overture Work in Progress. The lumbering and then swiftly skittish finale recalls Chabrier's España and contrasts with the treacly burble of the Grave middle movement. Constant Lambert must surely have loved this work.

Addison is extremely well known for A Bridge Too Far (in which he trounces Walton) and for signature tunes like that to Murder She Wrote. The Concertino (there are two on this disc) evokes summer days and the South of France. His craftsmanship was learnt from work on films in the 1940s and 1950s; a school of hard knocks. Addison reminded me of Paul Carr (whose wonderful Claudio disc I reviewed here). There is also a touch of Richard Rodney Bennett in his lightish vein. The music glints brightly. It is classy and wanders adroitly into tongue in cheek Grand Guignol. This is likeable music with a wink and a smile in the same vein as Barber's Souvenirs. The Concertino ends with the bassoon settling deep into the sable regions of the basso register.

Peter Hope is much more eclectic. You may know his name from his Ring of Kerry suite for orchestra. This won the Ivor Novello award in 1968/69. Like Addison there is a shiver and a smile in the music. Remarkable episodes abound. There is some lovely writing for the strings high above the bassoon. The tom-toms reminded me of Malcolm Arnold's Fourth Symphony and the Commonwealth Christmas Overture. There is a bluesy second movement with a hint of the Motherless Child spiritual. The finale is dazzlingly sunny music which sways and rumbas along in delight. Perhaps the Sinfonia's string section are not as plush in tone as the music requires but this is a momentary impression.

The final work is a complete contrast to the other three. Arthur Butterworth, spurned by the London-based establishment, has yet to secure the regard he deserves although things have improved. I had hoped that the 1998 ClassicO CD of his First Symphony would put that right. I was wrong. He has four seriously-intentioned and executed symphonies to his name. He is influenced by the Nordic composers, especially Sibelius, although he is no mere 'tribute' composer. In my view he merits being counted in the same company as Vagn Holmboe and Roy Harris. His violin concerto was premiered by the young Nigel Kennedy (who has not returned to the work since then) and his smashing concert overture Mancunians (written for the Lowry centenary and given a Bluitz of a run-through by the Hallé several years ago) is every bit the equal of Elgar's Cockaigne but with its sights fixed on the bustle and industry of Manchester rather than bellicose and vainglorious Edwardian London.

Butterworth is one of the world's strongest composers. Summer Music (a Concerto in all but name) is a work of lugubrious gravity - an intriguing choice of title. The music is tonal and the language is comparable with Delius in his North Country Sketches matched with Sibelius's Fourth Symphony and with orchestral lines from Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus. Butterworth has produced a chilly Egdon Heath of a work with emphasis on the lonely, the plaintive and the melancholic. This is not light music (though there is brilliance in the Sibelian chatter of the finale) and no harm in that. Summer Music was written for Alison Birkinshaw and premiered by her with the Settle Orchestra in Yorkshire in 1987.

Humour, burly romance and mournful reverie are on display here in Graham Salvage's hands: three light works and Butterworth's concentrated mood picture of the Northern hills. A disc to cherish and a disc you must have if you already have ASV's earlier volumes in the light music series..

Rob Barnett

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