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Revisiting Louisville
British Modern - The Louisville Orchestra

Arthur BLISS (1891-1975) Discourse for Orchestra (first version) (1957) [19:41]
Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986) Improvisation for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 89 (1955) [12:35]
Malcolm ARNOLD (b. 1921) Concerto for Two Violins and Strings (1962) [17:25]
John ADDISON (1920-1998) Concerto for Trumpet, Strings and Percussion (1949) [17:48]
Sidney Harth (violin) (Rubbra)
Peter McHugh and Paul Kling (violins) (Arnold);
Leon Rapier (trumpet) (Addison)
The Louisville Orchestra/Robert Whitney (Bliss, Rubbra, mono); Jorge Mester (Arnold, Addison, 3, 4, stereo).
rec. Louisville, 1955-1973
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Proudly subtitled ‘a collection for connoisseurs’ the Louisville series of subscription LPs of first recordings of new orchestral music, usually supervised by the composers themselves, and much of it specially commissioned, was a notable feature of the LP era. These were collected in volumes, of which unfortunately I only have one, but it tells me that by 1960 there had been forty-two issues containing 98 works including six full-length operas. Among those pioneering recordings were the Bliss and Rubbra recordings reissued here, both Louisville commissions and the only British composers then represented. Eventually Louisville would record over 400 works.

It is good to discover this series of CD reissues from the Louisville source, and to find that according to their web site ( there are now 38 CDs available. Many of these have been arranged in composer volumes, notable titles - I have not yet heard the reissues - being Blacher, Malipiero, Toch, Tcherepnin, Panufnik and Peter Mennin. Much of the music issued then has not been recorded again, and thus this constitutes a remarkable historical archive of music in the third quarter of the twentieth century. The tapes seem perfectly preserved and even the mono recordings, nearly fifty years old, have a presence which belies their age. Thank goodness there has been no attempt to process the mono in any way.

The four British composers represented here wrote these works between 1949 and 1962. These are all fine performances. There is nothing routine about them; at the time they must have each been an event. The Bliss is perhaps most interesting because Bliss later withdrew the score as recorded here and revised it, deleting the second section entitled "a more disturbing view", which although it only runs a minute and three quarters, gives the whole even more energy and pace. The later version was recorded by Vernon Handley, but if you are a Bliss fan this is a unique opportunity.

For me the most cherishable music of this British collection is Rubbra’s soaring meditation which he simply called Improvisation. Rubbra tells us for this he returned to his Fantasia for violin and orchestra written in the early 1930s and, re-using the long opening cadenza – invocation would be a better word – more or less as it originally stood, produced this new work. The music - which runs 12½ minutes - falls into five sections, broadly slow – fast – slow – fast – slow, and is a classic example of Rubbra’s continuous evolution in which the soloist’s soaring flight is pitted against the controlling orchestra.

Malcolm Arnold’s eloquent double violin concerto is one of his more serious works, written to a commission from Yehudi Menuhin for the 1962 Bath Festival. We now know its inspiration was informed by the death of Arnold’s brothers, though he did not disclose this at the time. There are at least four other recordings and my preference would probably be for the Prom performance conducted by Arnold himself (BBC 1565 91817-2), but Peter McHugh and Paul Kling here eloquently project the dialogue between each other and the string orchestra, in a performance that once surfaced on an RCA LP (GL 25018, 1977) alongside the next work.

John Addison’s trumpet concerto is a substantial and brilliant work, which I have to say I did not know. The music dates from 1949 (not 1958 as given in the booklet and original notes), was first performed in 1950 and in New York in 1953. Addison was, of course, a celebrated film composer (including A Bridge Too Far, Carte Blanche and Reach for the Sky), and whether he is being energetic or lyrical, elegiac (as in the slow movement, trumpet muted) and expressive or fizzing as in his finale, his invention is always likeable. The syncopations in the finale are catchy, the trumpet writing dazzling. Trumpeter Leon Rapier is brilliant in the demanding solo part and plangently expressive in the deeper quiet slow music. But why such a sparkling score should be so little played that we are unaware of it is beyond me. In fact it is the only work included here which was actually recorded long after it was first written. If you like the programme don’t hesitate; the two mono items need be no barrier.

Lewis Foreman



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