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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
work speaks for itself and is a very apt choice for the
seasonal theme. If it serves to introduce the listener
to Delius, or to renew interest in his works, it will have
a fine purpose.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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.