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
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
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.