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British String Miniatures

Gareth WALTERS (b. 1928)
Divertimento (1960)
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Elegy, op.58 (1909)
Michael ROBERTS (1927-96)
Suite (c.1960s-1970s)
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Two Aquarelles (1917 arr. E. Fenby 1938)
Anthony HEDGES (b.1931)
Fiddler’s Green (2001)
Sir William WALTON (1902-83)
Two Pieces from Henry V (1944): a) The Death of Falstaff; b) Touch her soft lips and part
John ADDISON (1920-98)
Partita (1961)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland
Recorded 5-6 July 2001, Sony Music Studios, London DDD
ASV WHITE LINE CD WHL 2134 [71:37]

 

This is an appealing release of ‘British String Miniatures’ played by the now well recorded Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the baton of Gavin Sutherland on ASV’s White Line label. I am familiar with the compositions from the three giants of English music Elgar, Delius and Walton but unfamiliar with the remaining composers on the disc Walters, Roberts, Hedges and Addison whose music I was hearing for the first time.

The ‘Elegy’ by Elgar was composed in 1909 for a memorial service and was composed between such masterworks as the first symphony and the violin concerto. Short and muted it is a popular and often recorded work and Sutherland captures its lyricism and reflective qualities with consummate ease.

Delius’s ‘Two Aquarelles’ were originally composed as wordless Part Songs in 1917 and were arranged for strings after his death so proficiently by his amanuensis Eric Fenby. The masterly control of the phrase lengths and harmonic pace is sympathetically interpreted by Gavin Sutherland.

Even though he found composing a long and laborious process William Walton could certainly write memorable tunes. The two pieces chosen from his film score Henry V are brief in length but extremely high in quality. I would say the ‘Touch My Soft Lips And Part’ is one of my most favourite episodes in music. I wonder if Sir William who was renowned for his wicked sense of humour was being rude with the title here? Sutherland takes the Royal Ballet Sinfonia through finely paced accounts of both works resisting the temptation to wallow in sentimentality.

Welsh born composer Gavin Walters credentials include having studied at the Royal Academy of Music and at the Paris Conservatoire. The five movement ‘Divertimento’ composed in 1960 originated as a commisssion by the BBC for a work based on Welsh folk music. In actual fact the work is said to contain only two traditional Welsh melodies with the remainder being Walters’ own. The work is pleasant, rather appealing and does not outstay its welcome with the lento cantabile sounding uncannily like a typical John Barry score.

The ‘Suite’ from composer Michael Roberts is a blend of several pieces that were constructed together for this recording. Several of the tunes we are informed were composed as signature tunes from children’s television series which in one case accompanied a ‘test card’. This suite of ‘light music’ composed in a classical vein, to use Robert’s own explanation, undoubtedly works extremely well. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia treat these works seriously giving ample demonstration of Roberts’ innate flair for melody.

‘Fiddler’s Green’ was written as recently as 2001. Composer Anthony Hedges shows a real flair for light string music, providing a most appealing and contrasting work with real melodic interest.

The final work on the disc is the ‘Partita’ from 1961 by Grammy-winning film composer John Addison. Although I found the ‘Partita’ fairly entertaining my interest soon waned, leaving me rather disappointed. Perhaps I expected more from a composer with such eminent credentials.

Not every listener will be enthusiastic for a release which contrasts music which sounds one minute like the light-hearted theme from the TV series ‘Doctor Finlay’s Casebook’ and the next minute having the seriousness of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’.

If it hadn’t been for the inclusion of short but substantial works by the master composers Walton, Elgar and Delius I would have given this release a miss. But combined with the lesser known compositions the CD seems to work and is for the most part extremely pleasurable.

This was the first time that I had heard the Royal Ballet Sinfonia on record and I was most impressed with their smooth tone and effortlessly expressive string playing. Conductor Gavin Sutherland is in fine form displaying an effective mixture of authority and sensitivity. Together with a warm and vivid sound quality, which is a credit to the sound engineers, this release is worth considering.
Michael Cookson

 



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