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John FOULDS (1880-1939)
Dynamic Triptych for piano and orchestra Op. 88 (1927-29) [25:38]
April - England (Impressions of Time and Place No. 1) for orchestra Op. 48 No. 1 (1926 orch. 1932) [7:56]
Music-Pictures Group III op. 33 (1912) [19:06]
The Song of Ram Dass (1935) [3:13]
Keltic Lament Op. 29 No. 2 (Keltic Suite) (1911) [4:38]
Peter Donohoe (piano)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
rec. Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 11, 13, 15-16 Jan 2006. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 62999-2 [61:05]
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Since Sakari Oramo’s arrival in England’s second capital the programmes of the CBSO have taken on the glamour of enterprise and adventure. I recall attending a very rare performance of Constant Lambert’s Summer’s Last Will and Testament in Symphony Hall about five years ago and since then Oramo has caught the Foulds’ bug. Foulds pieces have found a home alongside less exotic repertoire. My impression is that audiences have responded positively.

The Foulds discography is gradually filling out. The present disc, while disappointingly shorter than the first Warner salvo, is a valuable addition. It is such a pity that the other two movements of the Celtic Suite and the effervescent Gallophile exuberance the Le Cabaret overture could not have found a home on this disc. There is space.

Oramo revels in the exultant and subtle April - England. It’s a stunning piece and is stunningly performed and recorded. It should be played and recorded at least as often as Bridge’s Summer and Butterworth’s Shropshire Lad. There is competition in the shape of the Lyrita version - available still from Harold Moores - which has the LPO conducted by Barry Wordsworth [7:09 against 7:56 with Oramo]. Wordsworth adopted the same approach in his 1994 broadcast with the BBC Phil. Peter Jacobs’ recording of the piano only version can still be had on Altarus but even more valuable is a BBC broadcast of the piece by Ronald Stevenson from 1981. This is a concise work beautifully expressing the headiness of the life-enhancing English spring; its fleecy, wind-buffeted, greenery and the first plangent intimations of summer’s warmth. This is reflected in the folk-like stem-theme which later surfaces as part benediction-chorale and part pavane. As a piece it has its fellows in Bridge’s Two Jefferies Poems and Enter Spring. The jazzy counterpoint at 3:20 recalls both the tricky cross-rhythms of Tippett’s Concerto for Double String Orchestra as well as Britten’s Sea Interludes. The proto-Handelian grandeur of the climax (5:50) also reminded me of Lambert’s Music for Orchestra - whose case I will continue to plead until a worthy modern recording surfaces.
The Lyrita April-England disc is reviewed at:-

Just as stunning as the Lyrita recording of the Dynamic Triptych is this one from Peter Donohoe who is single-handedly tackling the British piano concerto genre for Naxos. How to describe the Triptych? It is like a piano concerto with a typical fast-slow-fast template. Like all Foulds the orchestration is of pellucid and sharply etched clarity. The work is not dissonant but parts of it are passingly strange including Foulds’ hallmark slithering tonality as in the hypnotically otherworldly Dynamic Timbre central movement (5:40, 7:40 tr. 2) - which is like a trade-off between Rachmaninov, Ravel and Vaughan Williams. The start of that movement will inevitably remind you of the slippery high harmonics at the start of Vaughan Williams’s song Bredon Hill in its orchestral version. Foulds is triumphant in writing of the utmost brilliance and fascination. This extends to the tight-tense jazziness of the finale Dynamic Rhythm which has the swaying upheaval of Ravel, the headiness of Walton and the wildness of Grainger’s The Warriors. This is exciting music played for all it’s worth. One can imagine Previn and Bernstein revelling in this music; as it is, Oramo takes the laurels. There is nothing of compromise in these performances nor in Tim Oldham’s recordings in the sometimes recalcitrant acoustic of Symphony Hall, Birmingham. Glorious ... glorious!

The Dynamic Triptych was premiered by Frank Merrick with the Reid Orchestra conducted by Donald Tovey in Edinburgh on 15 October 1931 and then first broadcast by the same pianist with Dan Godfrey conducting the BBC Orchestra on 4 August 1933. That the Foulds work was favoured by Merrick and Tovey may perhaps be taken as surprising - at least at a superficial level. As composers neither Tovey not Merrick were members of the avant-garde. Tovey’s solidly Brahmsian Symphony, tawny and epic-heroic has a density of orchestration and manner completely different from Foulds (Toccata Records). As for that fascinating pianist Frank Merrick his two piano concertos recorded on Rare Recorded Edition LPs seem anchored in convention - as far as one can tell from those amateur orchestra performances.

The alternative Lyrita Dynamic Triptych played by Howard Shelley is slightly less explosively vertiginous than Donohoe and Sakari Oramo. The Lyrita is reviewed at:-

The four movements of Music-Pictures Group III on the Warner disc receive their world premiere recordings. That slithery-slippery mystical harmony is again encountered in the Colombine movement where it forms a contrast with elfin playfulness. The Ancient of Days - for woodwind, brass and percussion - is a grave cortege of a piece designed to conjure up Blake’s engraving of the same name - the one that used to grace the cover of the Boult recording of RVW’s Job. A similar mood reappears in Old Greek Legend - the longest of the four movements. The climactic outburst will have most listeners flattened against the wall such is its power. The Tocsin - alarm bell - is the final movement. This movement has the racy brilliance of the Enigma Variations. As Malcolm Macdonald says this suite is Foulds’ counterpart to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Each of the four movements is inspired by a painting.

Finally two short pieces. The first The Song of Ram Dass is a mood-typical but extremely inventive Middle Eastern essay written in 1935 following his move to India. The winds and strings carry an exotic drone, the pace is erotically slow, and the tambourines provide a silvery allusive shimmer. The second carried Foulds name through the black years of obscurity from 1940 to the early 1980s. It is his single hit: the sentimentally sticky Keltic Lament. We already know from his masterful Lyra Celtica (on the first Warner Foulds disc) that Foulds had a sympathetic fascination with things Scottish. This piece makes play with the singing cello and the gentle harp. It is an essentially monothematic piece the peak of which is a statement in full sumptuous Fiona MacLeod-ery linking with the big theme from McCunn’s The Land of the Mountain and the Flood and across the seas to Eire’s Danny Boy. There are also moments which suggest that Foulds knew of the unison violin orchestras for which Scotland is famed. Keltic Lament is the central anchor of a three movement Keltic Suite. It is a pity that the flanking two movements were not included; a missed opportunity on a 61 minute disc.
The first Foulds-Oramo-CBSO-Warner disc is reviewed at:-

The delightfully relentless tread of Warner’s Foulds Edition takes another step forward. Miss it if you dare. This is not just for British music enthusiasts but for any music lover who values music of stunning originality and otherworldly beauty.

Rob Barnett


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