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Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875Ė1912)
Violin Concerto in G minor Op. 80 (1912) [31'55]
(1 Allegro maestoso ó Vivace ó Allegro molto [11'39] 2 Andante semplice ó Andantino [8'28] 3 Allegro molto ó Moderato [11'41])
Arthur SOMERVELL (1863Ė1937)

Violin Concerto in G minor (1930) [32'59] (First Recording)
(1 Allegro moderato e con grazia [18'21] 2 Adagio [6'44] 3 Allegro giocoso [7'47])
Anthony Marwood (violin)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
rec. 24-25 Feb 2004, Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh. DDD
The Romantic Violin Concerto Ė 5
HYPERION CDA67420 [65:03]

 

Itís often said of buses that you wait ages for one and then two come along together. Well, thatís not quite true of Samuel Coleridge-Taylorís Violin Concerto but itís still quite remarkable that after the work has suffered decades of almost complete neglect two CD recordings have appeared within the space of about a year.

The first to appear was the pioneering effort on Avie by Philippe Graffin and the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Hankinson. My colleague, Rob Barnett gave that recording a warm welcome and I refer readers to his review for a full discussion of the recorded performance history of the work and much well-informed comment about the music itself.

Now Anthony Marwood enters the lists for Hyperion. Itís been fascinating to compare the two versions. One big difference, which markedly affected my appreciation of the performances, comes in the recorded sound itself. Graffin and his colleagues have been recorded in a studio. This results in a more forward, but not unmusical balance and as a consequence much more detail is audible. I think the sound also contributes to the impression that in the Avie recording the music is more strongly projected. By contrast, Marwood has been recorded in a church, where the acoustic is warmer but more resonant. The orchestra in particular is placed noticeably further back in the aural perspective. Some may prefer this as a more natural, "concert hall" balance. Initially I quite liked the sound but when I came to play each movement first by Marwood and then by Graffin I quickly came to feel that the choice of venue was something of a miscalculation on Hyperionís part. But, as Iíve implied, thatís a matter of personal taste and some listeners may well appreciate the Hyperion sound.

Anthony Marwood is a fine, eloquent violinist, possessed of an outstanding technique. In Martyn Brabbins he has a sympathetic partner. However, Graffin and Hankinson make a notable team as well. Marwoodís account of the concerto is sensitive and enjoyable and so far as I could tell without access to a score the performance is accurate and idiomatic. I have to say, however, that on balance I found Graffin to be just that bit more imaginative. To my ears he seems to find more light and shade, more expressive nuances, more fantasy in the music. For instance, Marwoodís very first entry is ear-catching, as it should be, but I like the way Graffin just holds back slightly at the very top of that entry: a point is made subtly but tellingly. The thematic material of the first movement has its weaknesses (the slightly martial first theme wears a bit thin, I find) but Graffin and Hankinson constantly lead the listener on in a way that Marwood and Brabbins, for all their many excellent qualities, donít quite match.

The slow movement is an enchanting creation. Much of the music is ruminative and itís full of melodic interest. It is, I think, the highlight of the work. Marwood spins a lovely line and Brabbins supports him sensitively. The last couple of minutes of the movement are quite lovely. We hear a reprise of the material from the opening. At the start of the movement this was given to the orchestral violins. Now, for the reprise the soloist joins them (track 2, 7í31" Ė 8í12"). It's a passage of gently aching nostalgia which Marwood and Brabbins perform quite magically. Graffin isnít quite as inward at this point. Overall, however, I liked his account of the movement just as much as Marwoodís. In the middle of the movement Graffin and Hankinson choose a slightly broader pace and their account gains somewhat over Marwood and Brabbins as a result by being more warmly romantic.

The main burden of the finale is a catchy, scampering rondo into which Coleridge-Taylor weaves reminiscences of both the preceding movements. Thereís little to choose between the two performances except that for the faster music the speed in the Graffin version is a little bit brisker, This and the closer recording means that the Johannesburg orchestral players sound as if they impart more punch to the rhythms than do their Scottish colleagues.

On balance, despite the many merits of the newcomer, I have a definite preference for the Avie version, both as a performance and as a recording. However, heard in isolation the Hyperion performance will give much pleasure for it is a fine account in its own right. Therefore choice may be determined by the coupling. Avie provide a fine performance of the concerto by DvořŠk, which makes a most apposite partner for the Coleridge-Taylor. Hyperion, however, give us something much more rare and enterprising.

Iíll come clean at once and say that I donít recall ever before hearing an orchestral work by Sir Arthur Somervell. Like most music-lovers, I guess, I have previously heard only his songs, on which his posthumous reputation now rests. His Violin Concerto dates from 1930 and he wrote it for Adila Fachiri, the sister of Jelly díAranyi. This information comes from the typically informative and interesting notes by Lewis Foreman. It would appear from his essay that the concerto has not been heard at all since about 1933 until the sessions for this, its première recording, took place. Thatís a great shame for while I donít think itís as fine a work as the Coleridge-Taylor it is, as Lewis Foreman says, a "straightforward and heart-warming work."

Structurally I think itís rather unbalanced. The work lasts for 33 minutes in this performance, and the first movement occupies 18í21" of this time. There is a broad, confident, rather Elgarian feel to the music though, ultimately, it lacks the distinction of Elgar. I think in all honesty that the movement would have been better if it had been shorter by about five minutes. That said, there is much engaging and enjoyable music in the movement and Anthony Marwood plays it with feeling and commitment. One interesting feature occurs in the substantial cadenza. Midway through this section the soloist is joined for a while by the (muted?) orchestral violins. Iím not quite sure what the idea of this was but itís an interesting and original touch.

The slow movement is the calm lyrical heart of the work. The music has a lovely melodic flow and Marwoodís playing is most poetic. The whole movement is nicely and unaffectedly done both by soloist and orchestra. Lewis Foreman aptly describes the finale as a "bucolic dance." This is open, uncomplicated music and Marwood and Brabbins seem to find delight in it.

I must be careful in "rating" the Somervell concerto. I came to the Coleridge-Taylor work with the great advantage of knowing the piece already through an existing recording whereas the Somervell was entirely new to me. Notwithstanding this, my sense is that the Somervell piece is not as distinctive as the Coleridge-Taylor. That said, itís a most enjoyable work and I think itís a very good thing indeed that a recording is at last available so that it can be evaluated properly and be enjoyed by a wide audience. Yet another great example of Hyperion enterprise.

I was impressed with Coleridge-Taylor concerto when I first heard it through the Avie CD but itís been a joy to appreciate it still further by comparing and contrasting. two fine recordings. If you buy the Hyperion disc you will acquire an excellent reading of the Coleridge-Taylor coupled with another unjustly neglected English concerto, which deserves attention but is unlikely to be recorded again in the foreseeable future, if ever. The Hyperion release comes with notes by Lewis Foreman, which are in the best tradition of the label Ė interesting, well written and informative. There is one small, most uncharacteristic error on the jewel case where the Coleridge-Taylor work is variously described as being in G major and in G minor. The latter is correct.

If I were obliged to choose one version of the Coleridge-Taylor Iíd have to opt for the Graffin account. However, Iím in the very fortunate position of owning both versions. As the couplings are very different I donít think itís a cop-out to say on this occasion that the ideal would be to have both CDs in your collection. But anyone limited to one version and opting for an all-English programme is unlikely to be disappointed with this Hyperion CD, which Iím happy to recommend warmly.

John Quinn


HYPERIONíS ROMANTIC VIOLIN CONCERTO SERIES

Volume 1: SAINT-SAËNS The Three Violin Concertos Philippe Graffin violin, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins Compact Disc CDA67074
Volume 2: STANFORD Suite for Violin and Orchestra, Op 32; Violin Concerto in D major, Op 74; Anthony Marwood violin, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins Compact Disc CDA67208
Volume 3: HUBAY Violin Concerto No 3, Op 99; Violin Concerto No 4, Op 101; Variations on a Hungarian Theme, Op 72 Hagai Shaham violin, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins Compact Disc CDA67367
Volume 4: MOSZKOWSKI Violin Concerto, Op 30; Ballade, Op 16 No 1; KARLOWICZ Violin Concerto, Op 8 Tasmin Little violin, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins Compact Disc CDA67389



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