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George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916) Two English Idylls [4:58 + 4:32] The Banks of Green Willow [5:33] A ‘Shropshire Lad’ Rhapsody [8:35] Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930) An Old Song for small orchestra [5:56] Patrick HADLEY (1899-1973) One Morning in Spring - Rhapsody for small orchestra
[3:54] Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Procession [4:51] Merry-eye* [8:50] Elegy for viola, string quartet and string orchestra*
[9:05] Music for a Prince*: Corydon’s
Dance [7:11]; Scherzo in Arden [5:17]
Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Herbert Downes (viola)*; Desmond Bradley, Gillian Eastwood (violins); Albert
Cayzer (viola); Norman Jones (cello)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. 1970, 1979, 1977. ADD LYRITA SRCD.245 [68.46]
This lovely CD assembles recordings from a number
of LPs that Sir Adrian made for Lyrita in the 1970s. The pieces
that are included might be described as miniatures. However,
if that term is used it should not be employed in any pejorative
sense since the only thing that’s miniature about most of
these works is their length.
The collection begins with George Butterworth, often claimed
to have been the most significant composer casualty of the
Great War His Two English Idylls are both based on
folk songs. The first uses no less than three, whereas there
is but one in the second, which is a little more serious
in tone than its companion. Both pieces integrate the folk
songs effectively and in Boult’s hands both come up with
The Banks of Green Willow has a special association
with Boult. He included it in the very first concert that
he gave with a professional symphony
orchestra, in 1914. Not only that, but this was the work’s
very first performance so it has the distinction of being
the first in a very long line of works whose performing tradition
began with Sir Adrian. Typically, he gives a scrupulously
prepared and nicely detailed performance here. The passage
where flute and harp combine for the tune ‘Green Bushes’ has
a special magic.
And then there’s the orchestral work by which Butterworth
will be principally remembered, A ‘Shropshire Lad’ Rhapsody – note
that the title, about which apparently Butterworth was very
particular, is given in full and correctly by Lyrita. Boult
distils a very special atmosphere in the hauntingly evocative
opening bars. Throughout he ensures that every detail of
the orchestral canvass is placed properly and naturally.
This is a Big Piece in everything but duration: it’s far
more than a musing on a melodic fragment from a Butterworth
song – ‘Loveliest of Trees ‘ from his A Cycle of Songs
from ‘A Shropshire Lad’ – this is a lament for the lost
innocence of youth and at times there’s real passion in the
writing. Boult gets the balance between passion and poetry
just right, it seems to me, in a wise and perceptive reading.
As the end of the work approaches the return to the opening
woodwind calls over tremolando strings is quite beautifully
managed. The return to general circulation of this outstanding
performance is cause enough to rejoice and the disc is an
essential purchase for this alone.
But there’s much more to enjoy. The Warlock piece, which
is the earliest of the three orchestral works that he composed,
is a nice little creation though it carries perhaps too strong
a Delian imprint. Patrick Hadley’s One Morning in Spring was
one of a number of pieces written by various English composers
in celebration of the 70th birthday of Hadley’s
teacher, Vaughan Williams, in October 1942. Another such
work, and the one that has commended itself most to posterity,
was the marvellous Shakespeare song cycle, Let Us Garland
Bring by Gerald Finzi. In her definitive biography of
Finzi Diana McVeagh comments that Finzi didn’t think much
of Hadley’s piece but Boult makes a good case for it here.
And then the spotlight shifts to Herbert Howells with the
inclusion of some orchestral works, one of which at least
may surprise listeners who know his music through his more
frequently performed church music. This is Procession. Stephen
Lloyd speculates in his notes that this piece, originally
for solo piano, may have been inspired by ‘Bydlo’ from Mussorgsky’s Pictures
at an Exhibition I’ve not heard the piano version but
its orchestral guise it seems as if there may well be something
in Lloyd’s idea. The music is, like Mussorgsky’s, relentless
in its tread and Boult makes it sound almost brazen. It’s
certainly a far cry from English pastoralism, even more so
from Cathedral choir stalls.
not be more different. Howells wrote it while on honeymoon – one
wonders what Dorothy Howells thought of that! In parts it’s
exuberant and elsewhere it’s gossamer light. Above all, it’s
self-evidently the music of a happy man and Boult’s effervescent
performance is a delight.
The next piece presents yet another contrast. Elegy was
composed in 1917 in memory of Francis Purcell Warren, universally
known as ‘Bunny’, who had been a student with Howells and
who had recently fallen in action in the trenches in France.
The prominence given to a solo viola – here superbly played
by Herbert Downes – reflects the fact that this was Warren’s
own instrument. In his biography of Howells Paul Spicer quotes
a story told by Alan Ridout. Ridout relates that at a lecture
at the Royal College of Music a few days after the death
of King George VI in 1951 Howells played to his students
a recording of a piece that he did not identify. He introduced
it thus: “If there is a better expression of the music of
mourning, I have yet to hear it.” Alone among Howells’s audience
Ridout recognised that the music in question was this Elegy.
It’s a most affecting piece of music, one that is quite clearly
the product of great feeling. It’s right in the mainstream
of the English tradition of writing for string orchestra.
Here the piece receives a dedicated and eloquent reading.
This is music that deserves to be far better known and I
hope that the advent onto CD of this masterly performance
will advance its cause.
There’s also a connection with Warren in one of the pair
of pieces that constitute Music for a Prince. Commissioned
by the BBC to write music to celebrate the birth of Prince
Charles in 1948, Howells revisited music that he’d written
as long ago as 1914. Then he’d composed a suite of five pieces
for orchestra which he’d entitled The B’s This consisted
of five short, affectionate portraits of Howells himself
and his four closest student friends at the Royal College
of Music: Ivor Gurney, Arthur Bliss, Arthur Benjamin and ‘Bunny’ Warren.
For the 1948 work Howells abstracted the Warren music, originally
a Mazurka and now re-titled ‘Corydon’s Dance’ and also what
was originally called ‘Blissy’ for Arthur Bliss and which
now became ‘Scherzo in Arden.’ These are engaging pieces.
Once one knows the Warren connection one listens out for
the viola and, sure enough, Howells gives it some occasional
prominence. The Scherzo is an interesting composition in
which quiet, more reflective passages are interspersed with
more quicksilver fast music. Boult’s performances of these
two little nuggets are winning.
The notes by Stephen Lloyd are very interesting but I’m afraid
they contain a few factual slips. He appears to confuse the
two Butterworth Idylls, describing the one that is actually
the shorter of them – at least in Boult’s hands - as the
longer of them. More seriously, the name of Howells’s teacher
at Gloucester Cathedral is given as A.H.Herbert whereas,
of course, it was Sir Herbert Brewer. The date of the death
in action of ‘Bunny’ Warren is given as 1916 but in both
of the standard biographical works about Howells – by Christopher
Palmer and Paul Spicer – the date is given as 1917 and that’s
surely correct since Elegy was written that year – and
soon after Warren’s death, as Mr. Lloyd confirms - as a memorial
to Warren. I’m sorry if this appears nit picking but these
are important details.
The recordings were made at various times in the 1970s and
all are consistently excellent – a splendid demonstration
of the quality of good analogue recordings. I’m glad the
engineers did such fine work for they have captured here
a series of marvellous performances by a great conductor.
This is a super disc, which deserves a place of honour in
the collection of all lovers of English music, as it now
will have in mine.
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