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British String Miniatures – Volume 3
Gilbert VINTER (1909 – 1969)

Entertainments (1966)a
Edward ELGAR (1857 – 1934)

Sospiri Op.70 (1914)
Peter WARLOCK (1894 – 1930)

Four Folksong Preludes (1917/23)
John FOX (born 1926)

Countryside Suite (1975)
Haigh MARSHALL (1914 – 1999)

Elegy (1948)
Cyril SCOTT (1879 – 1970)

First Suite for Strings (1931)
Gareth WALTERS (born 1928)

Sinfonia Breve (1998)
Helen Kamminga (viola)a; Royal Ballet Sinfonia; Gavin Sutherland
Recorded: Sony Music Studios, London, September 2001 (Vinter); February 2002 (Elgar, Warlock, Fox, Marshall, Scott) and November 2001 (Walters)
ASV WHITE LINE CD WHL 2139 [75:04]

If you already know the previous volumes of British String Miniatures, you know what to expect from the present Volume 3, i.e. an attractive collection of works, some fairly well known, some rather less so, but all engaging, superbly crafted and well worth more than the occasional hearing.

Vinter was well known as a brilliant and resourceful composer for brass. His Entertainments actually started its life as a piece for brass band, but the version for strings, presumably by the composer, is quite successful and idiomatic. Light music of great charm, no doubt, but with some unexpected twists, such as in the third movement Taproom Ballad in which "an inebriated singer (viola, superbly played by Helen Kamminga) leads a pub sing-song with whistling effects (string harmonics)".

Elgar’s Sospiri Op.70 written on the eve of World War I is in fact the only well-known piece here and thus does not call for any particular comments. Suffice it to say that I found this performance moving indeed. Being Warlock’s only piano piece, the Five Folksong Preludes are somewhat lesser known than, say, Capriol Suite or the Serenade for Strings (in Volume 2 – WHL 2136), though some may remember John McCabe’s recording made many years ago (DECCA SDD 444 nla). What we have here, is Philip Lane’s expert orchestration of four of them, in a slightly different order. The fifth prelude Largo maestoso found too pianistic was dropped.

Cyril Scott was, among many other things, a prolific composer whose music is still underrated, though some of it has been recorded (piano concertos on Lyrita, some piano music on Etcetera and several orchestral works on Marco Polo 8.23485). His First Suite for Strings based on a Victorian ballad, a folk-song and a nursery rhyme respectively is a most attractive trifle of great charm.

Both Haigh Marshall and John Fox are, I confess, new to me. Marshall’s beautiful Elegy dedicated to Sir John Barbirolli is a real gem and a most welcome novelty. I also greatly enjoyed John Fox’s Countryside Suite for strings and harp. Another refreshing rarity.

Since I first heard Gareth Walters’ delightful Divertimento (once available on DECCA SXL 6468 and now available in Volume 1 [WHL 2134]), I have been on the look-out for any other pieces of his. Though as attractive and as superbly written as any other work here, his marvellous Sinfonia Breve (that none the less plays for a little over twenty minutes) is in a quite different league. In spite of its title, this is a major work cast in a rather more astringent idiom, redolent of Bartok and Honegger rather than of Vaughan Williams or Delius. It is a deeply serious work with much virile string writing, tensely dramatic at times. A minor masterpiece that definitely deserves to be better known.

Excellent performances throughout, well recorded. We certainly look forward to hearing more of music such as this. Thoroughly enjoyable with the added bonus of a wonderful work, Walters’ Sinfonia Breve.

Hubert Culot

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