A compilation of works sharing the theme of lamentation,
this CD offers a captivating selection for those wishing to wallow
in melancholia. Recorded live from St John’s Smith Square,
the Chamber Orchestra of Europe gives top quality performances
of some wonderful pieces.… if, that is, one can ignore the
compulsive sniffer whose heavy sighs pervade the disc…
Purcell commences the proceedings with the Chacony
in G minor, arranged by Benjamin Britten. Richard Egarr conducts
a dynamic and sensitive performance, characterful, well paced
and with good intonation.
Britten's Lachrymae, from which the disc takes
its title, is a set of variations on the opening part of Dowland’s
song If my complaints could passions move. Conducted by William
Conway, and with Nicolas Bone as viola soloist, it is here played
in its later version, the piano part rearranged by Britten for
strings. This is where the sniffer really comes into his own -
the sobs of the score are compounded by his deep intakes of breath,
amplifying the sense of disconsolation and depression in the listener!
If one can ignore these rather infuriating interruptions, the
piece is admirably performed – it is suitably chilling with
good contrasts, especially when the earthy pizzicato is played
off against the ethereal string sound. Britten’s prolific
use of pizzicato throughout encapsulates a sense of falling tears,
true to the title, and this is here effectively intimated.
This followed by Arvo Pärt's gorgeous Cantus
In Memoriam Benjamin Britten, which is aptly throbbing and vibrant,
concluding with the bell beautifully resonant but discreet. Richard
Egarr conducts a strong and rather touching rendition.
Arrangements such as the ensuing Stokowski’s
version of Dido's Lament (from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas
– “When I am laid in earth”) have become rather
unfashionable recently, but this is rather good version albeit
possibly slightly too lengthy. The playing, conducted this time
by Douglas Boyd, as for the rest of the tracks, is moving and
spirited; tender without being over-emotional.
Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a theme of
Thomas Tallis next. Howells and Gurney were ecstatic at the first
performance of this in Gloucester in 1910 and it is easy to see
why. This is the classic RVW sound, with reverberant modal harmonies
and a soaring melody. Unfortunately, this piece is also marred
by our friend the heavy sniffer. It is otherwise a luscious and
resonant interpretation. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe avoid
the trap of taking it too slow but play at a good pace, and capture
the open shimmering string sound effectively.
Walton features with two pieces - the Passacaglia:
The Death of Falstaff from Henry V and Touch Her Soft Lips and
Part, from the same work. These are slightly laboured performances
of both works and not enhanced by the ponderous inhalations of
Mr Snuffles, yet the intonation is good and rich.
The disc concludes with Tippett's Fantasia concertante
on a Theme Of Corelli, a fiendishly difficult work, which the
Chamber Orchestra of Europe seem to have mastered with ease and
accomplishment giving a dashing and proficient delivery to conclude
These pieces work well together, as does the
idea of collating similar threnodies. One hopes that the fact
that all these lachrymosal pieces, bar the Part, are English is
not meant to be a reflection upon the character of the British
(!), but it is good to have a disc bringing together such a delightful
selection of works to show off the world-class standard of British
composition. However, it would have been even better had the compilation
included some unknown or lesser-known English music rather than
just including the well-known works. I would certainly recommend
this to anyone of lugubrious disposition or to those interested
in exploring the exciting world of English music.