Lyrita’s varied discography
includes many refreshing discoveries.
High on this list is the music of John
Foulds, a Mancunian composer, son of
a Hallé bassoonist. Foulds himself
became a cellist with that orchestra
in the 1900s. Though there is much lighter
music in his output, Foulds also had
a decidedly mystical streak, and that
can clearly be heard in the most impressive
item on this disc, the Three Mantras.
The mantras in question are – Mantra
of Activity; Mantra of Bliss; Mantra
of Will. The second includes a wordless
female chorus (thankfully un-Star
Trek-like) which appears to be uncredited
on the present release!.
The Three Mantras
are in fact the Preludes to each act
of his discarded opera, Avatara
(1919 onwards). The title Avatara
refers to earth incarnations of deities
and the term Mantra refers to
repeated verbal formulae that are intended
to induce trance/mystic states of consciousness.
Possibly the most high-profile work
(and a remarkable work of genius) on
this subject is Karlheinz Stockhausen’s
Mantra of 1970. The esoteric
subject matter represents Foulds’ personal
take on Theosophy (see http://www.theosophy.org/tlodocs/WhatIsTheosophy.htm
for a short article by the mystic Helena
Blavatsky). Foulds’ first Mantra, properly
called ‘Of Action and Vision of Terrestrial
Avataras’ is a colourful and busy piece.
The heaving textures are almost Scriabinesque
in effect yet never become overloaded
(this is probably due in no small measure
to the LPO’s playing and Wordsworth’s
keen ear). True, high strings do show
a definite sense of strain on occasion
(how much rehearsal and session time
was allocated for this complex score,
I wonder?). Yet the outburst of energy
towards the close of this first movement
is remarkably exciting.
The second Mantra (fully,
‘Of Bliss and Vision of Celestial Avataras’)
includes the above-mentioned wordless
female chorus. This really does sound
like Scriabin in its hyper-delicacy.
Sound is present often more as a trace
than as a true sonic event and, as the
longest movement of the three by far
(13’01) it really does go some way towards
a meditative statement in the most literal
sense (its marking is ‘beatamente’).
The final Mantra (‘Will’) is a dark
and rhythmically exuberant march with
a definite tinge of Holstian Mars about
it (the instruction here is ‘inesorabile’).
Replete with imposing orchestral aggregates
of sound and of themes superimposed
on one another, there is a distinctly
awe-inspiring side to this. For the
Mantras alone, this disc deserves
the highest recommendation possible.
Much of the rest of
the music does not live up to these
standards, it has to be admitted, but
then again it does not try to. The Overture,
‘Le Cabaret’ was once popular and is
a typical example of Foulds’ lighter
style. It fizzes along in the most approachable
of fashions complete with an echt-English
passage of breezy jollity. The Pasquinade
Symphonique No. 2, Op. 98 is one
of Foulds’ last compositions for orchestra
and was written during his first year
in India. It is unashamedly Romantic
in intent (No. 1 was Classical; the
never-completed No. 3 was to be modernist)
– Foulds revels in his orchestral forces,
ideas darting about the sound-image
elusively. If the Mantras represent
the pinnacle of the music offered here,
the Pasquinade Symphonique No.
2 is a close half-brother.
is light-hearted – Malcolm MacDonald’s
booklet notes make reference to the
work of Percy Grainger in respect of
this piece, and it is easy to see what
he means. The scoring is transparent
and masterly, the sound world entirely
of this isle.
Hellas (‘A Suite
of Ancient Greece’) is in six movements
and scored for strings, harp and percussion.
It is true that there is a Vaughan Williams-ish
element to this Suite, which was originally
in five movements and for solo piano
(Foulds added the sixth and final movement
when he came to orchestrate them). Civility
in sound, Wordsworth encourages the
LPO to moments of the utmost sensitivity.
The ‘Dirge for a Hero’ (the third movement)
carries enormous dignity here.
A remarkable disc,
and an essential introduction to a composer
whose music cries out for greater recognition.
Along with other Lyrita discs, this
is only available via Harold