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Song of the Birds - English Music for Cello and Orchestra
Herbert MURRILL (1909-1952)

Cello Concerto No. 2 The Song of the Birds (1951) [15:41]
George DYSON (1883-1964)

Prelude, Fantasy and Chaconne for cello and orchestra (1936) [23:27]
Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)

Soliloquy for cello and orchestra (1943-44) [13:48]
Haydn WOOD (1882-1959)

Philharmonic Variations for cello and orchestra (1939) [16:36]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Rec. BBC Studio 1, Maida Vale, London, 19-20 May 2003. DDD

Here’s a quartet of British concertante-cum-concertos written between 1936 and 1951. Three, moreover, are premiere recordings, though close listeners to Radio 3 will remember there have been several broadcasts of the Wallfisch’s Haydn Wood with the Ulster Orchestra. Librarian-collectors will doubtless have filed that one away under Concertante-Orchestral (British C20) or some other combination. Which brings us back to bulky nomenclature and this disc.

Murrill’s 1951 Concerto, his second, was dedicated to Casals and enshrines some fine Spanishry amidst its quarter hour length. It opens in Bachian fashion, another specific link to Casals, much in the same way Ysaÿe enshrined some favourite Bach in the solo violin sonata he dedicated to Thibaud. Murrill makes demands in alt as well as a mini cadenza before moving to more explicit Spanish rhythms, employing tremolo and introducing Casals’ own Song of the Birds – heard first on the winds.The heart of the work is the Andante section where noble writing for the cello’s middle register fuses with beautifully - and acutely–judged writing for the orchestral strings. From 11.30 we have more evocation of a Spanish bolero.

Dyson’s Prelude, Fantasy and Chaconne (1936) has never been recorded in toto in this form. This is a fine work, though one in the Prelude at least, audibly indebted to Delius. There’s a dreamy stasis here which is gripping in its quiet intensity and from seven minutes on a strongly Delian introspection. Dyson’s scoring in the Fantasy is charmingly and appositely light and the solo line is both capricious and whimsically vibrant. The Chaconne draws on nobler hues, rears up but ends with a certain degree of elliptical distance.

Rubbra’s Soliloquy is the best known of this quartet. The de Saram version is around as is a subfusc but intense Du Pré on Cello Classics (live). Handley and Wallfisch keep a close eye on architecture here, not allowing it in any way to sprawl. This is a cogent, compact reading, alive and tensely argued. There’s no slacking for the lyric sections as there can be with Du Pré. This is a recording that provides real spine as well as intensity of expression.

It’s good to welcome Wallfisch’s Haydn Wood in all its Elgarian-Tchaikovskian splendour. The blend of lighter French influences is here as well, as it was of course in Elgar but the temperature is always equable. There’s plenty of pert humour and indeed a tongue-in-cheek fugue as we come to the close.

The recording has plenty of bloom to it and the star, Wallfisch, plays with considerable distinction, seconded by Handley. Notes are by Lewis Foreman and up to his standard. Listen to this alongside Cello Classics’ release of British Cellists’ recordings and you’ll get a strong picture of healthy cellistic life in composition and execution.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett


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