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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


RECORDING OF THE MONTH

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The choral and orchestral music of Patrick Hadley and Philip Sainton
CD1
Philip SAINTON (1891-1967)

The Island - Symphonic Poem for Full Orchestra [16:58]
(Dedicated to my very good friend, Ernest Hall)
Patrick HADLEY (1899-1973)

The Trees so High* - Symphonic Ballad for large orchestra with baritone solo and chorus [34:33]
CD2
Philip SAINTON (1891-1967)

Nadir - Symphonic Elegy for Orchestra [13:40]
The Dream of the Marionette (The Sadness of the Marionette; The Sleep of the Marionette; The Dream of the Marionette; March; Epilogue
Patrick HADLEY (1899-1973)

La Belle Dame sans merci† [10:00]
One Morning in Spring - Sketch for Orchestra [4:15]
Lenten Meditations‡ 18:57
Leslie Pearson organ
Neill Archer tenor†‡
David Wilson-Johnson baritone*
Stephen Richardson bass‡
Philharmonia Chorus *†‡
Philharmonia Orchestra/Matthias Bamert
rec. All Saints' Church, Tooting, London; 3-4 August 1992 (The Island, The Trees So High) and 18-19 March 1996 (Nadir, La Belle Dame sans merci, One Morning in Spring, Lenten Meditations); Blackheath Halls, London, 20 September 1996 (The Dream of the Marionette) DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 241-22 [51:43 + 65:49]

 


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". Wow!

On to disc 2.

Sainton's Nadir 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 Decembrists!

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 delayed renaissance.

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.

Rob Barnett


 



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