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John FOULDS (1880-1939)
Le Cabaret, Op. 72a (1921) [3’31]. April – England, Op. 48 No. 1. Hellas, A Suite of Ancient Greece, Op. 45 (1932) [18’03]. Three Mantras, Op. 61b (1919-1930) [25’49].
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth.
No rec. information given. DDD
LYRITA SRCD212 [61’07]


Lyrita’s varied discography includes many refreshing discoveries. High on this list is the music of John Foulds, a Mancunian composer, son of a Hallé bassoonist. Foulds himself became a cellist with that orchestra in the 1900s. Though there is much lighter music in his output, Foulds also had a decidedly mystical streak, and that can clearly be heard in the most impressive item on this disc, the Three Mantras. The mantras in question are – Mantra of Activity; Mantra of Bliss; Mantra of Will. The second includes a wordless female chorus (thankfully un-Star Trek-like) which appears to be uncredited on the present release!.

The Three Mantras are in fact the Preludes to each act of his discarded opera, Avatara (1919 onwards). The title Avatara refers to earth incarnations of deities and the term Mantra refers to repeated verbal formulae that are intended to induce trance/mystic states of consciousness. Possibly the most high-profile work (and a remarkable work of genius) on this subject is Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Mantra of 1970. The esoteric subject matter represents Foulds’ personal take on Theosophy (see for a short article by the mystic Helena Blavatsky). Foulds’ first Mantra, properly called ‘Of Action and Vision of Terrestrial Avataras’ is a colourful and busy piece. The heaving textures are almost Scriabinesque in effect yet never become overloaded (this is probably due in no small measure to the LPO’s playing and Wordsworth’s keen ear). True, high strings do show a definite sense of strain on occasion (how much rehearsal and session time was allocated for this complex score, I wonder?). Yet the outburst of energy towards the close of this first movement is remarkably exciting.

The second Mantra (fully, ‘Of Bliss and Vision of Celestial Avataras’) includes the above-mentioned wordless female chorus. This really does sound like Scriabin in its hyper-delicacy. Sound is present often more as a trace than as a true sonic event and, as the longest movement of the three by far (13’01) it really does go some way towards a meditative statement in the most literal sense (its marking is ‘beatamente’). The final Mantra (‘Will’) is a dark and rhythmically exuberant march with a definite tinge of Holstian Mars about it (the instruction here is ‘inesorabile’). Replete with imposing orchestral aggregates of sound and of themes superimposed on one another, there is a distinctly awe-inspiring side to this. For the Mantras alone, this disc deserves the highest recommendation possible.

Much of the rest of the music does not live up to these standards, it has to be admitted, but then again it does not try to. The Overture, ‘Le Cabaret’ was once popular and is a typical example of Foulds’ lighter style. It fizzes along in the most approachable of fashions complete with an echt-English passage of breezy jollity. The Pasquinade Symphonique No. 2, Op. 98 is one of Foulds’ last compositions for orchestra and was written during his first year in India. It is unashamedly Romantic in intent (No. 1 was Classical; the never-completed No. 3 was to be modernist) – Foulds revels in his orchestral forces, ideas darting about the sound-image elusively. If the Mantras represent the pinnacle of the music offered here, the Pasquinade Symphonique No. 2 is a close half-brother.

April-England is light-hearted – Malcolm MacDonald’s booklet notes make reference to the work of Percy Grainger in respect of this piece, and it is easy to see what he means. The scoring is transparent and masterly, the sound world entirely of this isle.

Hellas (‘A Suite of Ancient Greece’) is in six movements and scored for strings, harp and percussion. It is true that there is a Vaughan Williams-ish element to this Suite, which was originally in five movements and for solo piano (Foulds added the sixth and final movement when he came to orchestrate them). Civility in sound, Wordsworth encourages the LPO to moments of the utmost sensitivity. The ‘Dirge for a Hero’ (the third movement) carries enormous dignity here.

A remarkable disc, and an essential introduction to a composer whose music cries out for greater recognition. Along with other Lyrita discs, this is only available via Harold Moores .

Colin Clarke

see Lyrita Catalogue


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