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Heritage and Legacy 2; Elgar, his forebears and successors
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)

In the South (Alassio) Concert Overture Op. 50 (1904)
Hamish MACCUNN (1868-1916)

The Land of the Mountain and the Flood; Overture Op. 3 (1887)
Frederic AUSTIN (1872-1952)

Symphony in E major (1913)
Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)

Pyanepsion (final movement of A Colour Symphony 1921-22)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Douglas Bostock
Recorded at Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, October 2001
CLASSICO CD 1501 [69.52]


Classico extend their Heritage and Legacy series under Douglas Bostock ever onwards with the second volume. That said only one work here will be unfamiliar; Blissís Pyanepsion is actually the final movement of his A Colour Symphony, which was separately published. Only the Austin will be unfamiliar and his Symphony represents the heart of this enterprising if occasionally flawed disc.

Flawed because the surrounding performances donít quite measure up and the Austin reveals only too well the accumulation of source material that has seeped into its thematic construction. Fascinating to hear and to reflect upon them but ultimately unsatisfactory in strictly musical terms. But if we begin with the Elgar one has to concede that there is a huge amount of orchestral detail audible in Bostockís In the South from the harp and trombone rasps onwards. His is a very pliant and rubato-rich performance with a very slow second subject; the heat haze is eventful and the nature painting emerges well. The lower brass are caught in all richness in their pounding passages and the Canto Popolare is not at all overtly expressive; rather itís understated and touching. But overall things do hang fire a bit and the sense of journeying and cumulative power is never really conveyed. Much the same is true of MacCunnís The Land of the Mountain and the Flood, which has rightly garnered a fair few recordings now. Attractively cast, quite discreetly avuncular and sporting excellent lower string shading this also holds back just a mite. The Bliss receives a strong and convincing reading, the two fugues clearly and objectively played.

Austinís Symphony was premiered in 1913 but was only recently rediscovered Ė the fascinating details are in the well-informed and extensive booklet notes majorly by Lewis Foreman and with additions by Martin Lee-Browne. Baritone, arranger, administrator and composer Austin was acquainted with the up and coming British composers of the time, meeting the Frankfurt Gang members, teaching Beecham in Liverpool, giving the British premiere of Deliusís Sea Drift and singing much more contemporary music (Debussy, Strauss, Schoenberg). The symphony is cast in one movement but it falls into four distinct sections and plays for some half an hour. It opens with Debussian wash and fine work for the winds, the oboe and string writing from 4.00 onwards strongly suggestive of Delius. The compound of impressionism and Scriabinesque intensity is fruitful and attractive though the transition section (7.08) is quite abrupt and rather stout of cast. In the Allegro moderato section the wind arabesques and louring lower brass and percussion take on an increasingly verveful animation Ė some strong quasi-Holstian elements at play here. But the string cantilena of the Andante con moto section is beautiful (was it this to which Percy Grainger was referring when in 1911 he wrote to Balfour Gardiner "Austin has just come back from Ireland very fit, with splendid sketches for what he calls a Symphonic Lark, and a tune in it is ravishing.") The string waves, cuckoo calls and Delian haze are all finely orchestrated, as is the finale section. This however has VWís A London Symphony (1911) etched all over it from the brass and chimes to the occasionally rather tritely worked out conclusion, for which only Austin can take responsibility.

If the Austin is more a tapestry of influences than a coherent symphonic statement it loses little in subjective interest. Many admirers of this period in British music making will want to hear it and they will, irrespective of other considerations, find it a fascinating listen.

Jonathan Woolf

 

See Volume 1

This disc is also available on the RLPO's own label RLPOLive RLCD501 Crotchet

 

 



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