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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Grace WILLIAMS (1906-1977)
Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunesa (1940) [11’03]. Carillons for Oboe and Orchestrab (1965, rev. 1973) [10’31]. Penillionc (1955) [15’49]. Trumpet Concertod (1963) [13’27]. Sea Sketchese (1944) [18’55].
bAnthony Camden (oboe); dHoward Snell (trumpets); abdLondon Symphony Orchestra, cRoyal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves; eEnglish Chamber Orchestra/David Atherton.
Rec. abdAbbey Road Studios, London on November 21st-22nd, 1973 (originally issued on ASD3006), cAfan Lido, Port Talbot, Glamorgan, on May 22nd-23rd, 1971 (ASD2739), eKingsway Hall, London, in January 1970 (Decca SXL6468). ADD
LYRITA RECORDED EDITION SRCD323 [69’45]

 

Perhaps a little more bitty in programme than SRCD327 , this disc nevertheless provides much entertainment, not least in the Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes of 1940. Unsurprisingly, this work brought Williams’ name to the attention of a larger audience. Whether or not this work is consciously modelled on Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs (as Malcolm Boyd suggests in his notes), the fact remains that the combination of wit and a generally suave outlook is most appealing. It is certainly a cheeky way to begin a disc of shorter pieces (the longest is the Sea Sketches, of around twenty minutes).

Anthony Camden is a well-loved oboist, well known from his days as Principal with the LSO (which orchestra here accompanies). The very opening of Carillons is unexpected, the soloist sounding a bit like a Welsh snake-charmer. But the influence of Richard Strauss’s essay in this field soon becomes apparent (the structural placement of the cadenza is similar; note also the seemingly endless melodies of the solo part). The piece was commissioned by the BBC, who asked for a ‘light-weight, entertaining work’. It is all of this, yet it is also a composition of considerable sophistication. All movements are short (both inner movements are under two minutes each). The finale in particular is delightful – playfully spiky and rhythmically alive. Perhaps this work is best viewed as the Strauss Oboe Concerto’s gentler half-sister.

‘Penillion’ means ‘Stanzas’. The inspiration comes from the ancient Welsh practice of improvised vocal counter-melodies to a traditional melody (played originally on the harp). So in the present instance a melody first heard on trumpet (superbly played by Ray Allan) is repeated with various orchestrations and accompaniments. The third movement, Andante con tristezza, is a moving elegy. Apparently Williams makes no recourse to true folk melodies during the course of this piece, yet their essence can be heard throughout.

Howard Snell is the superb, sure-footed soloist in the inventive Trumpet Concerto of 1963. The work was written at the request of Bram Gay, then principal trumpeter of the Hallé Orchestra. Snell captures the spirit of the work perfectly, playing with supreme confidence. The first movement is generally ruminative while the slow movement an impressive slow processional, a passacaglia based on a twelve-note theme. The virtuoso side of the solo instrument is reserved for the finale.

The Sea Sketches reflect the pull of the sea on Williams. Each of the five movements paints a scene: High Wind; Sailing Song; Channel Sirens; Breakers; Calm Sea in Summer. This strikes me as one of Williams’ more minor works, however. It is pretty and approachable, but the gestures of ‘High Wind’ seem obvious and over-worked. ‘Breakers’ is the best movement, a Presto of involving unpredictability. The mysterious ‘Channel Sirens’ is also impressive.

If this disc does not quite have the pulling power of SRCD327, it remains fully worthy of investigation. The clarity of the recording is simply marvellous, yet there is enough ambient warmth to reflect the humanity of Williams’ music.

Colin Clarke

 

see also

GRACE WILLIAMS Welsh Composer by Pamela Blevins

GRACE WILLIAMS by David C. F. Wright

The Lyrita catalogue

 



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