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English String Miniatures – 6
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
A Moorside Suite (1928) (arr. Philip Lane) [14:02]
Scherzo [3:13]; Nocturne [6:30]; March [4:20]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Chacony in G minor, Z.730 (ed. Benjamin Britten) [7:07]
Paul LEWIS (b.1943)
Rosa Mundi (2003) [3:36]
Adam CARSE (1878-1958)
The Winton Suite (1933) [12:40]
Prelude [2:22]; Air [2:17]; Dance [1:34]; Song [3:39]; Finale [2:47]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
Bethlehem Down (1927) (A carol for strings arr. Philip Lane) [4:07]
Paul CARR (b.1961)
A Very English Music (2002) [7:42]
Cuckmere Haven [2:39]; Cornish Air [3:08]; The Hunt Gathering [1:55]
William Lloyd WEBBER (1914-1982)
Waltz in E minor (1939) [4:36]
Lionel SAINSBURY (b.1958)
Two Nocturnes (1990) [4:49]
Molto lento [2:23]; Mesto e semplice [2:26]
Malcolm LIPKIN (b.1932)
From Across La Manche (1998) [15:34]
Overture [4:34]; Ballade [5:23]; Dance-finale [5:37]
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland
rec. (tracks 1 – 17): Phoenix Sound, Wembley , London, UK. 10-11 November 2003; (tracks 18-20): Sony Studios London UK, 12 August 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557753 [74:15]

I had no idea what to expect, not having heard the Royal Ballet Orchestra, live or recorded, away from its usual task of providing music for the on-stage action.  But I needn’t have worried, for the playing and the corporate sound they produce is of a highly satisfactory standard.  The music on this disc, unassuming though most of it is, still needs to be ‘sold’, to be projected with character and style, and this Gavin Sutherland and his forces undoubtedly manage to do.
Philip Lane’s version for string orchestra of Holst’s splendid Moorside Suite makes an excellent opening item.  It was originally composed for brass band, and it has established itself as a classic of that repertoire.  However, Holst did make a much simplified version, as Philip Lane explains in his interesting notes for the recording, for St.Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith, though even that proved too tough for the youngsters.  In this arrangement, it makes an excellent addition to the string orchestra repertoire, a sort of companion piece to the famous St. Paul’s Suite.  It has a similarly vigorous opening movement, a haunting central Nocturne, and a vigorous final March.  It’s packed with great tunes too, notably the smooth second theme of the first movement, or the grandiose ‘trio’ of the March.
Doing this reviewing job is an odd, unpredictable business; who would have thought that I’d get no less than three recordings of the Purcell Chacony dropping onto my doormat in one go … and, come to think of it, two of the next track, Rosa Mundi, which is probably an even more remarkable event!  I’ve already reviewed the version by the Northern Chamber orchestra (on ASC CD86) which suffered from a too loud harpsichord.  No such problem here, as in Britten’s edition there is no harpsichord anyway.  And it’s beautifully done by the RBS.
The aforementioned Rosa Mundi of Paul Lewis is a pleasantly wistful little piece (review to follow later on the Chamber Ensemble of London’s version on the Campion Cameo label).  Adam Carse is a name that might well strike fear and loathing into the hearts of those who suffered in school orchestras in their formative years – according to your point of view, he was responsible either for rendering accessible to inexperienced players or for utterly debasing dozens of defenceless masterpieces! Less well-known is that he was a distinguished organologist – expert on the history of musical instruments to you and me! These tracks prove that he was a competent if unimaginative composer, with a genuine instinct for instrumental texture.
Paul Carr’s A Very English Music is far more interesting, and the central movement, Cornish Air, is especially attractive, with a spacious melody expanding upwards from the lower strings.  William Lloyd-Webber’s little Waltz is a delight, demonstrating what a genuine talent his was.  Lionel Sainsbury’s Two Nocturnes are lovely miniatures, unmistakably English in character. They are also unusually beautifully written for this medium, with great richness and variety of texture, prompting me to wonder if Sainsbury is a string player.  I can’t tell you, though he has, as the notes tell us, recently had a Violin Concerto commissioned and performed at the Three Choirs Festival.
Malcolm Lipkin’s is at once the most interesting piece on the disc - with the possible and understandable exception of the Holst - and the most demanding for the players, a challenge they clearly relish,  This is an imaginative, highly individual piece – still basically light in character, though the lovely central Ballade has a certain dignified introspective quality which is striking.  Again, the writing for the strings is very fine, as it is in the pleasantly grotesque finale, with its cheeky though fleeting Vivaldi quotation.
I hope this isn’t the last in what is proving to be an astonishingly rich series from Naxos. The recording is typically excellent, the playing committed, the conducting by Gavin Sutherland assured and stylish.

Gwyn Parry-Jones
… and Rob Barnett adds:-
Philip Lane's arrangement of A Moorside Suite (originally for brass band) creates a Holstian trinity when counted with the Brook Green and St Paul's suites. Without taking away at all from Philip Lane's considerable and sensitive artistry this 1928 brass band suite lies very adroitly with string instruments. The Nocturne in particular is nothing short of a masterpiece and it is performed with a sustained trembling hushed tension. Not to be missed. The flanking Scherzo and March skip along with their edge only slightly blunted by the warm recorded ambience.
Philip Lane's eminent skills as an arranger are in evidence again for Warlock's Bethlehem Down like an anhang to Capriol. It would fit in the company of any of the Capriol movements.
I have reviewed Cornishman Paul Carr's music before. His A Very English Music shows much more heart without mawkishness. It is in three movements. Cuckmere Haven looking towards Beachy Head must here have caught the composer on a sunny and serene day. Cornish Air is perhaps a little too like its predecessor - such liltingly beautiful tender writing, the shiver of bees flitting, the summer warmth but interestingly none of Cornwall's buffeting winds. The finale, Hunt Gathering is a portrait of the Boxing Day meet at the Yorkshire village of Laycock. It's an affable affair and no blood is spilt. Altogether a lovely triple part suite.
William Lloyd Webber's waltz is from the first year of the war. It's a grand and sometimes sunnily impressionistic affair with psychological undercurrents. I detect the odd nod towards Ravel's La Valse.
Lionel Sainsbury is a name I have long recommendded not least for his full-scale Violin Concerto. There is a cello concerto in the works too. His two nocturnes are damask dark and marmoreal - richly laid out and at times developing a Mahlerian heat. Steam rises at the end of the first of these before the lapping motion of the Mesto e semplice with a grand melody, often piercingly emotional.  If the Carse is light baggage this work carries a trunkload of passion.
Liverpudlian Malcolm Lipkin used to have the occasional performance on Radio 3 but no more – more’s the pity. His three part suite From Across La Manche comprises a determined and slightly acidic proto-Shostakovichian Overture. There's a central Ballade of some emotional complexity and gentle meandering dissonance. There 's some Bach in there but also something of his teachers Seiber and Bernard Stevens. The Dance-finale has the punch of Bartók's fast string writing and a stabbing Herrmann-like determination. There's also some gratingly satisfying macabre writing in the high harmonics of the violins. Lipkin has three symphonies and an oboe concerto to his name. Let's have them recorded.
The Purcell/Britten Chacony marches slightly too quickly for my liking. Paul Lewis's Rosa Mundi is too sentimental to be anything other than light music - classy and with a tear forming. It was written as a lament for the passing of the single flower in the composer's room. Towards the end it leans on the example of the great melting melody in Malcolm Arnold's fifth symphony.
The Adam Carse suite is unsentimental across its five cleanly laid-out movements drawing on the spirit of eighteenth century dance suites. This is especially apparent in the Song movement which although fleet of foot recalls the famous Bach Air. This is music that in general is busy, skilled, flowing and athletic.
This is a classic collection and varied enough to be listenable at a single sitting. Outstanding in this company are the Holst, Carr and Sainsbury. There’s quite a bit of subtlety in this writing and the RBS and Gavin Sutherland happily catch the half-lights as well as the dazzle and the dark.
Rob Barnett


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