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English String Miniatures 5
Pamela HARRISON (1915-1990)
Suite for Timothy (1948) [18.13]
Francis CHAGRIN (1905-1972)
Renaissance Suite (1969) [7.03]
Percy FLETCHER (1879-1932)
Folksong and Fiddle Dance (1914) [9.01]
Paul LEWIS (b.1943)
Suite navarraise (2002) [10.55]
Albert CAZABON (1883-1970)
Giocoso (1950s) [2.56]
Thomas ROSEINGRAVE (1690-1766)
Three Pieces arranged by Humphrey SEARLE (1915-1982)
Fugue I [4.26]
Voluntary IV [2.49]
Fugue III [2.29]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
A Downland Suite (1932, revised 1941, completed by Geoffrey BUSH, 1978) [17.50]
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland
rec. The Warehouse, London, September 2002
NAXOS 8.557752 [75.43]

This is the first of the Naxos series Iíve encountered Ė though itís no surprise to see that weíve reached volume five so prolific have the English been in this genre. And, with one exception, it really is a case of English; no interlopers from principality or north of the border, much less Ireland. The exception naturally is Chagrin, whose French name reflected wartime trauma in his escape from his native Romania Ė he was born Alexander Paucker.
Letís start with Pamela Harrison, born in 1915 and a student of Gordon Jacob and Arthur Benjamin. She married in 1943, the notes state, though in his brief autobiography Harvey Phillips, her first husband, claims it was 1944 Ė thatís marriage for you. Her Suite for Timothy (a son) certainly dates from 1948. Itís a neo-classical confection with fizzy fun in the third movement presto suffused with folksy lilt and an affectionately warm Lento. Shades of Capriol, maybe, in part, but a well crafted, likeable work.
Chagrinís 1969 Renaissance Suite adopts a peaceable compromise between Old-Worlde and interventionist trickery. Itís not as Village Green as Rubbraís Farnaby pieces or as affectionate as Barbirolliís Purcell arrangements. And certainly not as explicit as Beechamís Handelian dress. But itís discreetly scored, and has a warmly textured and attractive Pavana.
Percy Fletcher gives us a Greensleeves paraphrase; Dan Godfrey-lite is the style if I can put it that way, a collection of tunes enticingly paraded and topped by a Fiddle Dance Ė ŗ la Rustic Revels. Albert Cazabonís little Giocoso is rather generic though crafted with warmth. And Humphrey Searle sleepwalks his way through Roseingraveís pieces, with the possible exception of some harmonic deftness in the first of the three, a Fugue.
John Irelandís A Downland Suite is doubtless the best known of all, and is heard here in Geoffrey Bushís 1978 completion, which shortened the Minuet and Prelude and lengthened the Elegy. It makes for sympathetic listening in this string arrangement but itís not merely nostalgia that leads me, by some way, to prefer the original brass band test-piece composition. Finally thereís the most recent work, Paul Lewisís 2002 Suite navarraise, cast in three movements. This is a songful work and one without the pageantry of pastiche. Itís warmly and expertly scored with well-distributed string solos and has a jaunty final movement. A splendid addition to the roll call of English string miniatures, in fact, and worthy to take its place here.

I dare say the Royal Ballet Sinfonia is now well versed in the genre. It sounds as if rehearsal time, such as there was, must have been put to decent effect. Sutherland invariably gets the best out of his bands, and so it proves here, even if not everything is from either the top or even middle drawers.
Jonathan Woolf


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Reviews of other releases in this series on Musicweb
Volume 1 (8.554186) - reviews by Ian Lace & Colin Scott-Sutherland
Volume 2 (8.555068) - reviews by John France and Adrian Smith
Volume 3 (8.555069) - reviews by Rob Barnett & Terry Barfoot


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