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Lachrymae – Music for strings
Henry PURCELL (arr. BRITTEN) Chacony in G minor [6.42]
Benjamin BRITTEN Lachrymae [14.49]
Arvo PÄRT Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten [6.09]
Henry PURCELL (arr. STOKOWSKI) Dido’s Lament [4.18]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis [16.16]
William WALTON Passacaglia: Death of Falstaff [3.05]; Touch her soft lips and part [1.56]
Michael TIPPETT Fantasia concertante on a Them of Corelli [18.46] Douglas Boyd, William Conway, Richard Egarr (conductors), Nicolas Bone (viola)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe Recorded live at St. Johns’ Smith Square, 24th and 31st March 2003 WARNER CLASSICS 2564 60190-2 [72.02]

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 the disc.

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.

Em Marshall

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