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
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
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.
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
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
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.
For reviews of other Naxos releases of British composers, see