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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Beni Mora (1909-10)
London Symphony Orchestra/Gustav Holst recorded February 1924
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)

The Sea (1910-11)
London Symphony Orchestra/Frank Bridge recorded July 1923
Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)

Conversations (1920)
The Symphony Orchestra/Arthur Bliss recorded February 1923
Ralph VAUGHAN-WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Overture - The Wasps (1909)
The Aeolian Orchestra/Ralph Vaughan Williams recorded 1922
Hamilton HARTY (1879-1941)

With the Wild Geese (1910)
Hallé Orchestra/Hamilton Harty recorded March 1926
Ethel SMYTH (1858-1944)

The Wreckers - Overture (1906)
The British Symphony Orchestra/Ethel Smyth recorded May 1930
SYMPOSIUM 1202 [75.05]


British recording studios were busy places in the 1920s. An earlier generation of senior composers, among them Elgar, German, Mackenzie and Stanford had made recordings in the teens of the century but the younger generation also proved attractive to HMV, Columbia and the newcomer Aeolian Vocalion. The imprimatur of a composer-led recording was obviously a selling point during this time, as now, and despite the relative limitations of recording technology – four of the six works were recorded under the acoustic system – these are documents of lasting value.

Symposium lead off with the Holst, which as far as I know has never appeared on CD before. Columbia were making some fine sounding "new process" records in 1924 but even they couldn’t quite do justice to a work of diffuse colour such as Beni Mora. Holst’s ingenious instrumental layering doesn’t reproduce with any degree of precision in the recording but what does come across is the characteristically taut Holst hand on the tiller – brisk tempi, tight rhythms and a powerful sense of momentum. Frank Bridge was not a keen student of the recording studio and his conducting was certainly not universally admired. He complained about the crudity of the recording process and this recording, of The Sea, in particular. I suspect it was some balancing exigencies that irked him – the harp is deliberately over recorded so that it can sound in the balance – as well as a sense of urgency in matters of tempi. Nevertheless I have to say that whatever the reduction in the strings the piece still manages to exert its magic, the portamenti in the Sea Foam movement being succulently liquid.

Bliss’s Conversations is probably the least well known of the performances and indeed of the pieces (has it ever been re-released since its original 78 inscription?) Its very cosmopolitan wit seldom palls – not least because we hear it so infrequently– and there is an idiomatic freshness in this performance. The grandly named symphony orchestra is actually a quintet but an anonymous one. The original performers back in 1921 were a redoubtable collection of the wise and the youthful – Charles Woodhouse, Raymond Jeremy, Cedric Sharpe, Gordon Walker and Leon Goossens and I’ve a feeling that a few of them are here. VW’s Wasps gets a fine 100-yard dash of a reading. Vocalion’s pick-up house band was on hand to supply the thrust and nobility – and rippling harp near the acoustic horn alongside bass reinforcements for "downstairs" Pity about the imperfect side join. Hamilton Harty was no stranger to the recording studios of course, as soloist, accompanist, chamber player and, not least, conductor. This is the first of the two electrics and is a passionate and vibrant reading of this noble score. One can admire the very distinctive timbres of many of the Hallé’s principals as well as the stirring portamenti of the violin section whose playing of Harty’s cantilena is memorable. Ethel Smyth recorded the overture to The Wreckers in 1930 – a typo has her as ‘Smythe’ in the booklet. She may have been an utter pain to Thomas Beecham, Adrian Boult and anyone else who conducted her music but she proves a bold and imaginative conductor of her own music – presumably after ticking herself off a few dozen times. Saturated though it is in Wagnerian power it strikes a lyrical and forward moving note in this incisive and well-recorded performance.

The copies used are pretty good. Engineering has been discreetly applied. In the days of the LP Pearl issued a few of these performances, along with a number of other conductor led works, but Symposium’s transfers are comfortable and easy to listen to.

Jonathan Woolf


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