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Spring: A Collection of Seasonal Classics
Antonio VIVALDI Spring from The Four Seasons, Op.8
Robert SCHUMANN Spring's Awakening 1st movement from Symphony No. 1 in B flat, Op.38 (1841)
Frederick DELIUS On Hearing The First Cuckoo In Spring from Two Pieces For Small Orchestra
Frank BRIDGE Spring Song (1912) (transcribed for viola and piano by Veronica Leigh Jacobs)
Benjamin BRITTEN Spring Carol, from A Ceremony Of Carols, Op. 28 (1942)
Christopher GUNNING Spring Morning from Yorkshire Glory
Edvard GRIEG Last Spring from Two Elegiac Melodies, Op.34 No.2 (1881); To Spring from Lyric Pieces, Book 3, Op.43 No.6 (1886)
Eric COATES Springtime Suite (1937) (Fresh Morning; Noonday Song; Dance in the Twilight)
Igor STRAVINSKY Spring Rounds from The Rite Of Spring - ballet (1913)
Aaron COPLAND Buckaroo Spring from Rodeo - ballet (1942)
Moscow Virtuosi/Vladimir Spivakov (violin); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Marek Janowski, Vernon Handley; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Alan Barlow; Louise Williams (viola); David Owen Norris (piano); Edward Harris, Andrew Olleson (trebles), Frances Kelly (harp); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley, Raphael Wallisch (cello); BBC Concert Orchestra/John Wilson; National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain/Simon Rattle; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/John Farrer.
rec. 1977-2001. ADD. DDD
RESONANCE CD RSN 3068 [69:12]

This thematic collection is a series of excerpts and short works, in what may be described as 'Classic FM style'. The music is predominantly from the first half of the twentieth century. It is played by various performers and the recordings date from between 1977 and 2001. The use of the word 'classics' is not entirely conventional as the works vary from those which are extremely well known to some which are relatively obscure or little performed.
 
The disc opens with Vivaldi's Spring in a crisp, bright, thoughtful account, from the Moscow Virtuosi, of this sadly now hackneyed work. A good sense of dramatic tension develops in the opening 'Allegro'. Although the following slow movement provides an effective contrast its pace is a little too slow for my liking, almost meandering. It does in fact pick up in preparation for Vladimir Spivakov's first violin solo, which is played well - as is the shorter second solo later in the following Allegro, the well known 'Pastoral Dance' - and adds a vibrant urgency to the section.
 
Overall, this is a lively quality performance which reminds the listener that there is more to this work than 'on-hold' music; a selection which I found surprisingly enjoyable.
 
Schumann Spring's Awakening is from the first movement of the Symphony No. 1. The recording quality (1987 as compared to 1997) of this track is at once noticeable as inferior to the preceding tracks. Otherwise, it is a competent brisk account from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Janowski. It sits a little awkwardly between its more delicate neighbouring works (Vivaldi and Delius). It might risk seeming overly portentous in this setting; a fault of the programming rather than of the playing. Particular mention is deserved by the piccolo and triangle around half way through the excerpt, after which the movement then builds to round out to an exciting close.
                       
Although I am not wholly convinced about the placing of this section at this point on the disc, the Liverpudlian account is pleasant and might interest a listener new to the work in hearing the whole symphony either live in the concert hall or on disc.
 
The very lovely work by Delius, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, which I have always had a soft spot for, returns to the tempo of the opening track. However, I do not like this lusher account from the RPO in 1988 under Alan Barlow as much as the budget Polydor recording from the ECO under Barenboim (an anthology under the title 'Greensleeves' where it is paired with the composer's accompanying Summer Night on the River as well as the title track from Vaughan Williams which I find crisper, more dramatic and benefiting from its somewhat brisker pace despite its earlier recording date of 1975.
 
The work speaks for itself and is a very apt choice for the disc’s seasonal theme. If it serves to introduce the listener to Delius, or to renew interest in his works, it will have achieved a fine purpose.
 
The next two tracks give an interesting opportunity to listen to Britten and then his first composition teacher in immediate succession. There is dramatically improved recording quality in the 1999 account of the Bridge, ably played by Louise Williams and David Owen Norris in this lyrical short arrangement by Veronica Leigh Jacobs. Britten's Spring Carol is the first and only choral work to appear here and is in a minor key in all senses. It presents a different facet of the theme (one which is not followed up or maintained) as there is a return to exuberance in the next track. This is a vigorous and lively Spring Morning from Christopher Gunning's Morning Glory again from the RLPO. This time they are under Vernon Handley who also conducts the RPO in the following track. This is pleasant and lively, and might perhaps have been a good opener, but sits oddly between the Britten Carol and two works by Grieg of a more melancholic tone. The first of the Grieg miniatures looks back nostalgically to the previous year, and the second yearns for spring from afar.
 
In the Grieg, Raphael Wallfisch is good, as one would expect, and the recording quality is fair though not exceptional given its date (2001). This pair of tracks might interest me in finding out more about Grieg's smaller-scale writing. He is better known for large works like Peer Gynt, and it would certainly interest me to hear or re-hear Wallfisch in a full-length work, although I am not sure his considerable powers are shown to their full here.
 
Simple cheerful exuberance returns in Coates’ Springtime Suite with the BBC Concert Orchestra under John Wilson. Theirs is a crisp and lively account well recorded in 1998. There is a good contrast between the programmatic movements 'Fresh Morning' and 'Noonday Song', the latter building effectively to a climax before melting away lyrically. The players warm into the work as it progresses. 'Dance in the Twilight' concludes this mini-suite from 1937, which incidentally is the only work performed in its entirety on the disc. It bursts upon the listener with a pace and energy reminiscent of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which in fact follows it (in excerpt) and then mellowing slightly whilst maintaining a lively speed. Overall, this is a lively and effective performance of a relatively little-known work which, although not breaking new ground in its musical vocabulary, might merit more widespread performance.
 
An all-too-brief section of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring is then given by the National Youth Orchestra - who have performed this work live at the Proms - under Simon Rattle who is a noted interpreter of the piece. In this surprisingly mature performance there is a restrained opening, a good dramatic build up as the track unfolds and contrast between sections of differing tempos. It all made me wish for a recording of this performance in its entirety and reminded me how much I like Rattle's CBSO account.
 
The question here is whether this excerpt - which cannot do justice to the full work, whose scale is one of its defining characteristics - is sufficient to do more than tease the listener. In fact it emphasises the limitations of such short excerpts. It is regrettable that a potentially meritorious account is used in a way where it cannot really achieve more than provide a taster for the complete work.
 
Copland's Rodeo suffers less from its extraction from its parent work than the Stravinsky which precedes it. It perhaps benefits from being more 'episodic' from this pint of view than the more linear Rite of Spring. The Bournemouth players are lively and vigorous under John Farrer in this 1998 recording. However, it still lacks the impact characteristic of the entire work and again may be insufficient to impart to the listener the full excitement of the piece. This also makes it less than satisfactory as a conclusion to the disc.
 
Overall, the disc provides a patchy selection of very variable recording quality assembled in such a way as to lack logical thematic or musical development. An opportunity has been lost to introduce this simply by not ordering the tracks better, leaving the music jumping around between recital, full orchestra and chamber ensemble as well as between pace, musical style and interpretative approach. A re-ordering would improve not only its intrinsic merit and interest, but its value as a gift for someone new to classical music or wanting something light - perhaps to listen to in the car. I imagine this to be the disc's intended audience, as the short extract format is unlikely to be of interest to serious music lovers. The quality of recording and performance is not consistently high enough for it to be a showcase sampler.
 
Even for this purpose, I can think of preferable choices, for example the previously mentioned Polydor Greensleeves; Deutsche Grammophon's Flight of the Bumblebee compilation - which has better thematic development, a wider ranging selection of short works and excerpts, and the benefits of Deutsche Grammophon recording and Berlin Philharmonic playing - or perhaps the Philips-Universal/Marriner ‘through-the-seasons’ compilation which interestingly includes Enter Spring an under-rated work by Frank Bridge. For a younger listener, perhaps interested in jazz, world or popular music, one could also consider Eight Seasons or one of Joanna McGregor's Sound Circus discs.
 
This disc is not without interest though; the Russian account of the opening Vivaldi and the arrangement of the Bridge Song for viola merit particular mention, as do the Youth Orchestra in the all-too-brief extract from The Rite of Spring. Listening to this disc will stimulate me to listen to more Bridge, to look out for Louise Williams (no relation!) as a viola soloist, and to become a Friend of the National Youth Orchestra. I am also likely to re-play Simon Rattle's excellent CBSO account of The Rite of Spring. I am also reminded that the RLPO are a good regional orchestra - showing perhaps some aspirations beyond that in their recent concert programming - whose base is not very far away from me.
 
The listener would be better advised to obtain a full length disc devoted to any one of these items than to purchase this compilation. Should you wish a thematic compilation there remain better choices.
 
Julie Williams
 

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