One of the most grown-up review sites around
One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here


International mailing

Up to 40% off

  Founder: Len Mullenger


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Frederic CLIFFE (1857-1931)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor (1889)
Orchestral picture: Cloud and Sunshine (1890)
Malmö Opera Orchestra/Christopher Fifield
Recorded at St Johannes Church, Malmö, Sweden, 6th-7th May 2003
STERLING CDS-1055-2 [57:54]

Here is another extraordinary find. A significant British symphony, enthusiastically hailed by 1889 audiences and critics alike, so much so that the musical establishment took fright and froze out the promising talent of the retiring Frederic Cliffe. It appeared some twenty years before Elgar’s First, and some twenty-two after Sullivan’s Irish Symphony. Although it ploughs a well-worn furrow, it is wrought with considerable power and skill, influences include Beethoven, Wagner, Bruckner and Mendelssohn.

Certainly the huge impact of those two fierily-stated chords that open the symphony and that are so brilliantly developed throughout this Op. No. 1 symphony must have made a deep impression on those who were present at the Symphony’s premiere. Such arresting music must have made them wonder if they were present at the arrival of a second Beethoven – it does not take too much imagination to make a link between the beginning of this work and the opening ‘Fate’ chords of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. The audience will have been impressed, too, with the brilliance of the brass writing, the wide vistas of Cliffe’s concept (he had been deeply impressed by the rugged Norwegian scenery), and the lyricism as well as the power of that opening movement.

It is a shame, then, that the Scherzo second movement does not sustain this high quality. It is a strange mix of Brucknerian solemnity with a pinch of Brahms and rather bucolic Vienna Woods waltz stuff displaced to the Tyrol.

Much better is the Ballade slow movement, the most significant at 15:28. Fifield sensitively allows the portamenti and sentimental instrumental slidings and flutterings that were the accepted style of performance in the Victorian England of 1889. The lovely affecting melody so revealed is reminiscent of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Certainly the Wagnerian influence here is very strong, and the eruption of passion, when it comes in the middle of the movement, is quite shattering. The recorded sound in the Malmö hall is full-blooded.

The closing movement is busy and Mendelssohnian effervescent before the music slows and broadens to tenderness and nobility, and a majestic finale – again I was reminded of Bruckner.

Frederic Cliffe’s Orchestral Picture: Cloud and Sunshine remains unpublished. It is cast in similar mould to the Symphony. It ‘depicts the sorrows of life under the simile of a cloud and its pleasures under the figure of sunshine.’ An impressive concert overture, it contrasts the power and passion of Wagner with the lighter spirit of Mendelssohn. My ears were particularly attracted to some imaginative harp figurations and string writing and, as in the Symphony, the brass have some very striking material.

Amazing how music of such power and lyricism can lie lost and unperformed for so many years. It is to be hoped that Sterling will allow us to hear more of Frederic Cliffe.

Ian Lace

see also review by Rob Barnett

We are currently offering in excess of 52,619 reviews

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.