This reissue couples,
as a twofer, CDs first issued by Chandos
in the early-mid 1990s.
The two composers represented
share a fine feeling for the orchestra.
Sainton is more of a dramatist and a
poet of atmosphere. He is quite Baxian
and The Island is a classic tone
poem. The sea is a strong presence,
subtle in poetry but unmistakable in
allusion. Green depths and the surge
and swell of the main are clearly conveyed.
A Tintagel-like pulse can be
heard at 4.34. The trumpet sings out
strongly above the orchestra, heroic
and determined. This is a fine work
- I have always thought so since encountering
it in an outstanding performance conducted
by Charles Groves in a 1951 BBC broadcast.
Patrick Hadley was
a scion of the Royal College of Music
rather than the Sainton's Royal Academy.
Hadley had a gentle and pellucid orchestrational
hand. When combined with the pastoral
tradition, as here, his music can be
powerful indeed. As a symphonic ballad
the work seems caught between symphonic
gravity and the piercing emotionalism
of song. The work has been written of
as ‘problematic’. I do not see the problem.
It is a work of Ravelian clarity, with
the power to vibrate the heart strings,
to draw tears. As Lewis Foreman says,
it has the grip of a piece written from
internal compulsion rather than conscious
contrivance. Mr Foreman links it with
Hadley’s experience of the Great War,
a war which brought about amputation
of a leg below the knee. The same war
also killed Hadley’s brother - a parallel
here with Arthur Bliss whose own brother
Kennard was killed in the trenches and
with Eugene Goossens whose brother Adolf
was also killed. Can anyone resist the
gentle Delian flute song at 3.00. It
is superbly nurtured and caressed through
to the solo violin at 3.25 in tr. 4.
These earlier movements (trs 2-3) touch
on another Haldey composition, the deeply
moving Scene from ‘The Woodlanders’.
Hardy's power is certainly a presence
here. The heaving tortured climax at
1.33 in the penultimate track has a
bombshell power that recalls the rousing
eruptive brass ‘shout’ in Shostakovich
15. The piercing shriek of the strings
thrusts the message home with a power
that transcends gentle and soft-edged
landscapes. David Wilson-Johnson enters
at 3.10 in the final track. He is joined
by the choir at 4.20. The lilt is not
as strong as that on the old Handley
conducted version on Lyrita SRCS 106
The tolling sway of the choir with bell-and-swing
recalls Vaughan Williams’ ‘Sparrow’
march in his Tudor Portraits (in
fact written after the Hadley). However
there is an added element - something
more catastrophic and modern. When the
choir ascend dizzyingly high above the
stave at 10.24 most listeners will feel
a frisson of emotion as the singing
becomes entwined with woodwind and solo
violin. There can be few moments in
British music of such delicacy such
yielding potency as the singing of the
last few words: "so fare you well
my own true love ...." The choir
counterpoint each other and ‘forever’
sung by David Wilson-Johnson is shivered
out. With the basses singing "forever"
and "farewell", the choirs
sustain the words "so high".
On to disc 2.
shares the darkness of Bax's Northern
Ballad No. 2. The Sibelius Fourth
Symphony is in there somewhere too.
The piece was inspired by personal grief
springing from Sainton witnessing the
death of a child during the Second World
War bombing of Bristol. Bernard Benoliel,
himself a composer, writes a fine note.
The flow of the music seems instinctive
and spontaneous - recalling Novák
(In the Tatras and About The
Eternal Longing) and Suk (Ripening
and Asrael). The Dream
Of The Marionette is more Delian
still, delicate, and playful and balletic,
as you might expect. It is a surprisingly
thoughtful piece of writing. Echoes
of Ma Mère l'Oye can be
heard in the epilogue.
La Belle Dame Sans
Merci sets the poem by Keats. There
is Delian air about this piece, think
of Once I Passed Through A Populous
City but the harmonies are more
spicy than we might expect. It was written
only four years after The Trees So
High so we should not be surprised
by the reappearance of very high tessitura
for the choir. Hadley captures the nightmare
in Keats’ tale. He also links us with
Tamara and with Tolkien's deathly
phantom armies. There is another and
even more poignant allusion. It is to
the desolation of Warlock's setting
of Yeats poems in The Curlew.
The solo role is superbly sustained
by Neill Archer.
The little orchestral
nicety, One Morning in Spring,
hiccups, cuckoos and chirps with vernal
joy; closer to Moeran than to Delius
this time. It reminded me of the In
taxal woods from The Hills.
It was written for RVW’s seventieth
birthday in 1942.
The Lenten Meditation
was written contra torrentum.
It is 1962 and the composer has another
eleven years left to him. The world
has turned on its dark-side so far as
musical fashion is concerned. Dissonance
and fragmentation possess the field.
As far as Hadley was concerned he must
have wondered what future there was
for his music. For him there was no
Bridge-like compromise with dissonance.
The Lenten Meidtation may be
more inward but the idiom is as strongly
lyrical as his works from the 1930s
and 1940s. Listen to the carol-based
chorus at tr. 10. Yes there is an acidic
burning pain but the contours of the
writing are rounded and heart-easeful.
The tenor solo in My Song Is Love
Unknown (also set by John Ireland)
is notably sweet. The whole work suits
Hadley and very adroitly mixes spiritual
joy with piercing pain: the Passion
of Christ and the redemption for sinners.
There is in this regard a peculiarly
good read-across to the melting ecstasy-agony
in Howells' Hymnus Paradisi and
the Missa Sabrinensis. There
is a touch of Anglican christian soldiery
at 4.13 but the emotional punch of the
music transcends orthodoxy. Completely
incongruous, I know, but the last section
reminded me suddenly of the triumphant
massed marches in Yuri Shaporin's The
Sainton's music has
in large part been presented through
this set or the two individual CDs from
which it has been drawn. We should not
forget the Marco Polo recording of Sainton’s
complete score for Moby Dick.
Hadley has a much larger catalogue.
From this it is essential that we hear
such fine works as the Yeats-based Ephemera,
Kinder Scout, an early
orchestral tone poem, major choral orchestral
pieces such as Mariana 1937,
Travellers, 1942, and Fen
and Flood 1955. Also waiting in
the wings is the orchestral version
of Scene from Hardy's ‘The Woodlanders’,
Marty South's heartbreaking graveside
lament running close in overpowering
emotional impact to Michael Henchard's
last testament from The Mayor of
Casterbridge. Should Chandos be
drawn to tackle these well thought of
scores then let them by all means couple
them with Maurice Jacobson's choral
and orchestral psychological-devotional
masterwork The Hound of Heaven -
another work awaiting a too long
The notes are full.
All sung texts are printed and translated
into French and German. All we might
expect of Chandos is fulfilled.
Do not miss this. Recording
of the Month.