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Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950)
Violin Sonata in E minor (1923) [19:36]
Lonely Waters; Whythorne's Shadow (1931) [7:01; 6:34]
Symphony in G minor (1937) [45:46]
Geraldine O'Grady (violin); Charles Lynch (piano)
English Sinfonia/Neville Dilkes
rec. Aisling Studios, Dublin, 16-17 Dec 1974 (sonata); No. 1 Studio Abbey Road, London, 2 June 1971 (Two Pieces); 12-13 Mar 1973 (Symphony). ADD
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 85154 2 8 [79:21]


This is the first appearance on CD of a rare recording of Moeran's early violin sonata. It is spiritedly done although Geraldine' O'Grady's bounteous intakes of breath are an obbligato some may find distracting. The sonata has something of John Ireland about it especially in the slow movement. There is more of Bax and the ‘Irish’ Moeran in the jig (pallidly recalling the spark-flying middle movement of the Violin Concerto) and march finale. Likeable but not compelling stuff.

The Two Pieces show two sides of Moeran. Lonely Waters reflects the love of the lonely places in Norfolk and Ireland - Sibelian, chilly, bleak yet not devoid of a warmly curdled harmony (Warlock, Goossens and Van Dieren). The Shadow is a small step away from the pewter-precious of Warlock's Capriol. Perfect little mood miniatures each.

The Symphony was commissioned by Harty in 1924 but not completed in final form until 1937. After the famed Leslie Heward recording, the Symphony remained unrecorded until these Dilkes-EMI sessions. It was through this recording first issued on LP in 1973 (ASD2913), reissued on EMI Greensleeves LP (ED 29 0187 4) and then issued on CD in 1988 (CDM7 69419-2). I cannot deal with this recording dispassionately. It was the version through which I came to know the piece, played a cassette of it to death, accompanied me plugged into a small Philips cassette recorder in the back of my beat-up Austin 1100 on car journeys between Bristol and Torquay. It is spectacularly recorded and the English Sinfonia play up a storm even if they were soon trounced by the princely version (still vinyl-incarcerated) by Boult and the ‘New Philharmonia Orchestra of London’. Boult's horns have never been equalled. Of course since then Heward has been reissued by both Dutton and EMI and Vernon Handley on Chandos has turned in an exemplary performance. David Lloyd Jones conducts a very fine version issued on Naxos.

Dilkes' short-lived orchestra gave their all for these sessions. The Sibelian Lento (momentarily recalling the Walton Symphony) is chilly. The scherzo has not been bettered as a poetic statement. The music is allowed to proceed at a more languid pace than usual and the oboe and clarinet are given the chance to shine. David Mottley and Neville Boyling captured the open textures with purity and richness as well as with unflinching impact especially in the cracking climaxes of the two outer movements. The harp at 4.08 is caught with lovely intimacy and the flute glows with a Provençal light.

The finale perhaps looks in part to Bax's November woods, to Sibelius's Fifth Symphony and Tapiola. However it is not difficult simply to enjoy this gorgeous music - intermittently derivative it may be but ultimately this is one of the sensationally enjoyable glories of British symphonic output.

Good brief notes from Calum Macdonald round out a successful reissue in EMI's ‘British Composers’ series.

Whatever happened to Neville Dilkes? I would like to know. It would be good to hear more about his feeling for the Moeran and how this recording came about.

Rob Barnett

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