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William WALTON (1902-1983)
Coronation Te Deum (1937) [10:33]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)

Sea Pictures (1900) [22:37]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)

November Woods (1917) [19:44]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1945) [16:48]
Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo)
Choristers of Winchester Cathedral/Andrew Lumsden
Winchester College Quiristers/Christopher Tolley
BBC Singer, BBC Symphony Chorus/Stephen Jackson
BBC SO/Andrew Davis
rec. Live Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 30 July 2003 in the presence of HRH Queen Elizabeth II and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. BBC
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61550-2 [69:42]


Warners have blitzed the market with their economy Apex series covering much of the mainstream repertoire and a great deal beyond. Their latest foray (not on Apex) is a sequence of 2003 Proms broadcasts licensed from the BBC. This disc is from that series.

The CD is presented without corner-cutting. Notes by Daniel Jaffé are good, the odd typo aside, and the photographs are not from the usual suspects. Playing times are not exceptional but are respectable enough.

While the RAH is hardly the technician's acoustic of choice the recording here conveys atmosphere and the sense of space. In addition the fact that these performances are live and have been broadcast internationally removes any suggestion of tameness - you cannot avoid risk in that context. The players, singers and soloists know that retakes are not possible.

This British programme omits only Vaughan Williams and Tippett from the mighty 20th century 'handful' - OK six fingers!

The Walton Coronation Te Deum is a little cracker. In the space of ten minutes Walton bridges the vaulting skies with images of the heavenly hosts streaming into battle. The great congregation of believers raise paeans of praise with one voice. Louis Frémaux and the CBSO in a 1977 EMI sounds even more imposing than Davis if only because that was a studio recording. All the same this is good and some of the soft singing from the semi-chorus impresses by its reticence. It would not be my first choice but the performance does the work no disservice.

Wyn-Rogers has a mild tremble in her voice but presents an emotionally well-stocked and coloured version of Elgar's Sea Pictures. I liked greatly her sensual way with the words 'Kiss my lips ...' in In Haven (the setting of Carol Alice Elgar's poem). Davis adds crashing theatrical emphasis to the start of The Swimmer. This is a good version sung in the Janet Baker manner. It is a mark of Warner's care that the words are printed in full with translation into German and French. If you are looking for an intelligently sung reading then look no further.

November Woods belongs in any list of the 'Essential Bax' alongside Symphony No. 6, Winter Legends and the Piano Quintet. Davis is fairly relaxed but tautens from time to time. Rather as with the Marriner recording (Philips), I detected a certain lassitude in a work that really demands a powerhouse drive. This flaccid element arrives intermittently. The many fff episodes are delivered with a mailed fist by the brass - especially the billowy horns. The rest of the brass rasp and roar. The orchestra excels in a score that is dense with a luxuriance of textures. This ultimately is very good rather than great; for that you must turn to Boult and Lyrita Recorded Edition. While its companions on that Boult/LPO disc are less than perfect, the 1968 November Woods is a reference version perfectly catching the moments that bask in ecstasy as well as those that rage in fury. Boult's savage Northern Ballad No. 1 is superb as well.

The Britten is in a single track. It is a pity that there is not a separate band for each variation. The BBCSO responds with character to each variation. Davis injects some very unBritten-like hushed romance into the harp variation. He relishes the Dies Irae allusion at 10.02 and the Serenade-style roar of the horns at 10.14. Amid all the Prokofiev-style brilliance and sheer fun (Davis is wonderful in putting this across) there is also the stunning ardour (brass at 15:20, 15:31) and grandeur of the arched counterpoint that boils its way through the final pages. No wonder the audience loved it.

This disc operates as both an imaginative and largely unhackneyed anthology of British works as well as a souvenir of what must surely have been a memorable concert.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Kevin Sutton

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