This is the first Robert Still recording on compact
disc. That it is here at all is down to the industry, skill
and dedication of J Martin Stafford whose Ismeron label has
already made its distinctive mark.
You can read a lot more about Robert Still at a webpage devoted
to his life and works.
In summary, Still was a British composer of the Cheltenham generation.
suffered neglect as did so many during the period 1945
to his death in 1971. His works include concertos and four
symphonies two of which were issued by Lyrita.
The record industry did some work for Still but just
as with Frankel, Stevens, Wordsworth and Searle there was
vanishingly little. In the early 1960s Saga recorded the
Third Symphony with the ailing Eugene Goossens. That recording
resurfaced on a Lyrita LP in the early 1970s coupled with
Fredmanís version of the Still Fourth Symphony. Years before
that the recordings on this disc were issued on LP in small
circulation runs on Argo - would that some company would
rescue the impossibly rare LP of Balfour Gardiner choral-orchestral
music! - and the Record Society. The latter also included
songs by Goossens and Finzi. Still commissioned and paid
for all these recordings.
The four movement Quintet is for three flutes, violin
and cello. This makes for a very full-lipped and warmly pressurised
sound. Accentuated by the enclosed recorded ambience it almost
inevitably sounds steamily Gallic even when the music is
in repose. The final movement is cooler, emotionally speaking,
but playful. With Gilbert, Pougnet and Gabarro in the quintet
Still was clearly well respected by the best musicians of
his day. For that reason it is no surprise to find Frederick
Riddle as violist in the Viola Sonata No. 2 - one of three
such sonatas for the instrument. This is a likeable, fairly
sombre and subdued work. It is dignified rather than exuberant.
There is however an outgoing finale Ghiribizzoso (whimsically)
which is something of a tour de force for both players.
It ends, I think, in a rather perfunctory way.
Stillís songs make up the other half of the disc; seven
each for soprano and baritone. The soprano for all but one
is the young Heather Harper recorded in 1958 or 1959 when
she was 28 or 29. Her voice is rather more blustery and undifferentiated
in dynamics than we are accustomed to from the mature and
glorious voice that emerged in the late 1960s and throughout
the 1970s. The songs are variously dramatic, touching and
playful. They will appeal to anyone who enjoys British song
writing in the classic Finzi and Warlock styles. It is not
a facsimile of either composer but is certainly in their
vicinity. There is nothing of dissonance and much of warm
lyricism in this writing. If Harper sounds a mite tremulous
then John Carol Case is admirably in character. He is so
much more stable in his hold on the notes than when he was
caught in the 1970s Lyrita sessions for the Finzi Shakespeare
Songs. His voice marks out the words with pleasing definition
and a real sense of handsome engagement with the meaning
of what he sings. His tone is that of a stentor without the
shouting. Awaiting Execution and Sunset on the
Morea brings Still very close to the gloomier Warlock
songs. The latter has a warm and valedictory Delian quality.
There are two more songs recorded at a Wigmore Hall
concert in 1959. First Jessica Cash sings The Sea Hath
Many Thousand Sands - another subdued song. Gordon Clinton
regales us with Shall I, wasting in Despair - a ringing
and skipping Stanfordian ballad.
After this splendid revival I do hope that someone
will throw a lifebelt to Decca SXL6281 which was issued in
the early 1960s. It included works by Still and Rubbra. The
conductor, Myer Fredman, a friend of the composer conducted
a performance of Stillís Concerto
for Strings in
Wigmore Hall on 19 February 1965 and recorded it at the Kingsway
Hall in November 1966. The orchestra, on both occasions,
was The Jacques Orchestra. The Still coupling was his Elegie where
Fredman and the orchestra are joined by John Carol Case and
the Ambrosian Singers. These artists also perform Rubbraís Inscape on the reverse side of the LP. Once again
the recording sessions were financed by Still.
There you have it: a generously loaded disc representing
the chamber music and songs of Robert Still. This is pleasing
music-making and the very unusual quintet is more than that.
Lovers of British music will need this: Stillís only representation
on compact disc.
have the following discs in their list:-
1 Thurston Dart plays English Organ Music on four historic
organs - 1958 recordings - reissued by arrangement with EMI
2 E.J. Moeran complete piano works - Eric Parkin
3 Geoffrey Bush piano works - Eric Parkin (on offer currently
- April 2006 - at £6 each, p&p included, direct from
4 & 5 Thurston Dart Clavichord Collection - Bach etc (rec.
1954, 1958, 1961) reissued by arrangement with Decca
6-7 William Croft complete harpsichord works played by Julian