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MusicWeb Reviewer’s Log: April 2007 

Reviewer: Patrick C Waller 

Last month I expressed enthusiasm for Peter Lieberson’s Neruda songs performed live in Boston by his wife not long before her premature death last year. John Quinn has since written a further review of this marvellous disc and he also alerted me to a very fine Wigmore Hall recital by given Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Roger Vignoles in 1998 (WHLive0013). This also contains music by her husband – two of the Rilke Songs and Triraksha’s aria from Ashoka’s Dream plus Mahler’s Rückert Lieder, and two Handel arias.

Some dust has now settled after last October’s first English Music Festival and there can be little doubt that it was an artistic success although Mr. Pickwick would have been feeling pretty miserable. Not so Festival Director and fellow MusicWeb reviewer Em Marshall who is already planning the next event in May 2008 but really requires more support next time round. So, if you are interested in English Music, please become a friend of the Festival and also make sure to go to some of the concerts next time. 

English music is certainly doing quite well on record at the moment and most notable is the recent release on Dutton of symphonies by Bainton and Boughton. This has just been reviewed by Rob Barnett and was a recording of the month in March. The former composer was completely new to me and his third symphony is simply marvellous. The Boughton first symphony, which was inspired by Oliver Cromwell, is an early work which was only premiered in 2005. I was delighted to learn that there was sufficient enthusiasm about it to warrant a recording conducted by Vernon Handley no less with Roderick Williams singing the baritone solo in the finale.

Cecil Coles was one of the composers lost in the First World War and I was alerted to a 2002 Hyperion disc of his music called Behind the Lines when Rob Cowan played the Scherzo in A minor on the new (and much improved) Radio 3 breakfast show. Not much of Coles’s music survives and some of it was spattered with blood and mud as he worked on it in the trenches. A disc which will be of great interest to musical historians, this contains an interesting selection of songs and orchestral music, and is well-worth hearing.

Another good place to find worthwhile English music is the Dunelm label which has several discs of John R. Williamson. I have recently heard his Piano Music Volume 2 which includes the 12 Palindromic preludes and fourth sonata played by Murray McLachlan. I have particularly enjoyed his Housman songs sung by Nigel Shaw with the composer at the piano. There are enthusiastic reviews on MusicWeb of volume 1 and volume 2 and the good news is that all 24 are now collected on one disc (DRD0257). There are more Housman settings on a disc entitled Shropshire Lads (DRD0262) deriving from a live recital given in Bath in 2006 to mark the 110th anniversary of the publication of Housman’s collection. Baritone Stephen Foulkes does a fine job in settings by Somervell, Burrows, Moeran, Bax and five composers who were winners of a songwriting competition. First prize deservedly went to Stephen Duro for Is my team ploughing? Another worthwhile disc on the same label which Jonathan Woolf enjoyed is called Aspirations and features the piano music of Marcus Blunt expertly played by Murray McLachlan.

Lest I am getting too parochial here, a musical trip north of the border in the shape of a record on the Delphian label called Cold Dancer has also proved interesting. Len Mullenger alerted me to this one – four works for string quartet from contemporary Scottish composers. If you’ve ever wondered what MusicWeb’s founder listens to on his iPod whilst walking the dog – now you know! The work which gives the disc its title is the fourth quartet of Kenneth Dempster. There follows The Great Divorce by James Clapperton, Judith Weir’s 1990 quartet and the third quartet of William Sweeney. This music will take some time to get to know properly but certainly grabs the attention.

Part of my daily ritual now is to log on to the Naxos Music Library and see what has been added. Over a period of a couple of days recently they put up considerable chunks of the old Vox and Vanguard catalogues which I hadn’t heard since borrowing LPs from library days. For example this includes Alfred Brendel’s first Beethoven sonata recordings and some of Mozart Piano Concertos, and Walter Klien’s Schubert Piano Sonata series – my original introduction to this music. But as well as these oldies, there is the question of which brand new discs have been added. Eagerly awaited was Richard Hickox’s feted recording of Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony on Chandos – and it duly appeared.

Another fine disc is the recording of Brahms’ third symphony in Marin Alsop’s series for Naxos. This is a glowing account and the finest of the cycle so far. Naxos continues to be amazingly productive and it was a pleasure to review three very different discs from this label – symphonies by contemporary US composer Hailstork, another volume in their Scarlatti sonata series on the piano and the final volume of the Kodály Quartet’s Schubert cycle. A rather different reviewing experience was a DVD documentary by Melvyn Bragg about pianist David Helfgott who came to general attention through the film Shine. This is coupled with some recital items from 1997 which you are guaranteed to love or hate.

Well, that’s what I have been hearing recently. My immediate future listening is going to be dominated by Beethoven since Len has persuaded me to review one of EMI’s Collector’s editions – the other composers are Mozart and Schubert. I am not sure who these 50 CD boxes are aimed at – something I guess I will have to work out before writing the review. But at hardly more than £1 per disc their value cannot be denied and they occupy surprisingly little space. If one takes your fancy, make sure you get it through MusicWeb.

Patrick C Waller



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