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Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912) Legend (Concertstück) Op. 14 (1897) [7:12] Romance in G Op. 39 (1899) [9:35]
Violin Concerto in G minor Op. 80 (1912) [32:53] Julius HARRISON (1885-1963) Bredon Hill - a rhapsody for violin and orchestra (1941) [11:54]
Lorraine McAslan (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
rec. Watford Town Hall, 10-12 January 1994, (Legend, Concerto,
Bredon Hill); 20 January 1994 (Romance) DDD LYRITA
years ago all I knew about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was that
he wrote Hiawatha. My father told me he had heard
it in Manchester during the nineteen thirties; in fact my
grandfather may have been conducting it. I knew a few piano
pieces and the ubiquitous Demande et Réponse from
the Petite Suite de Concert. That was it. A few years
later I was browsing some old music magazines and was amazed
to read that Coleridge-Taylor had written a Symphony:
I was convinced that I would never get the chance of hearing
it. It was some time during the mid ’nineties that I was
chatting to the manager of a well known provincial record
shop. We were enthusing about rare English music: he rather
confidentially told me that a recording - this one - had
just been made of Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto.
However he could not tell me when it was about to hit the
guess that I forgot all about it until one day I heard the ‘Andante
semplice’ on Classic FM. This was from the Philippe Graffin
version with the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Unfortunately
I had not heard the presenter’s introduction and had eight
or nine minutes of guessing what the work was – but I was
impressed. When announcer announced I was amazed that such
a gorgeous piece had lain dormant for so long – and immediately
went out and bought the CD (Avie AV0044 - see review)!
Two subsequent recordings later I have not changed my view.
In fact having
versions of this Concerto I am convinced that this
is an essential addition to the repertoire – both for the
violin and for English Music.
be fair there is no way that it can be compared to Elgar’s
masterwork: and I do have to admit that I personally prefer
the Somervell Concerto that is coupled on the Hyperion
release (CDA67420- see review). However, Coleridge-Taylor’s Concerto is
a work that is full of sunshine and light and colour: it
a descriptive work, not a confessional one. It must rate
as one of the composer’s masterpieces.
work is written in three contrasting, yet well balanced and
consistent movements. The opening ‘allegro’ is a modified
sonata form and commands our attention and our interest from
the first bar to the last. Perhaps Dvorak and Mendelssohn
are never too far away but Coleridge-Taylor has made this
music his own. This is not a pastiche: it is an impressive
exploration of the violinist’s technique and expression using
a musical language that was appropriate to the period.
slow movement is lovely – and although I loathe excerpting
movements from symphonies and concertos I can see that this
one will be heard ‘stand alone’ for some time to come. The
programme notes point out that it is in the nature of a ‘love
poem’ – which nods back to Hiawatha.
last movement is perhaps the best – although I can hear some
people saying that it is derivative. There is a good balance
between the various episodes of the ‘rondo’ – including some
wistful or reflective moments. However, the work concludes
with an “impressive peroration [and] a triumphant conclusion.”
would be wrong to regard the Legend and the Romance as
makeweights – they are not. Both pieces are delightful miniatures
that are definitely ‘children of their time’, but have a
sufficient air of timelessness about them to make them worthy
of the occasional airing in the concert hall and on CD.
The Romance shares
the same melody as the posthumous Sonata for Violin and
pianoin D minor – and I imagine that musicologists
will have their views on precedence – although the present
work would appear to be a reworking of the Sonata which
is likely to be a ‘student’ work.
the Romance and the Legend are easy on the
mind and the ear and are well written and totally memorable.
am delighted that Bredon Hill - a rhapsody for violin
and orchestra has been given another outing on this CD:
recently Dutton issued a fine performance of this work on CDLX 7174. I have written extensively about this work elsewhere
on MusicWeb so I will make just a few comments here.
is quite definitely - and deliberately - a ‘retro’ work – harking
back to an earlier English Pastoral tradition exemplified
by Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending and George
Butterworth’s Shropshire Lad Rhapsody. However, the
reason why Julius Harrison chose to evoke a musical landscape
from the past is complex. It had much to do with the wartime
mood of nostalgia – seeking to preserve an icon of an England
that probably never existed – except in the mind of poets,
musicians and filmmakers – but was important to the concept
of a country that was worth fighting for. It was widely broadcast
to service people across the world with considerable success.
is a work that demands our attention and certainly will appeal
to all listeners who enjoy ‘landscape in music’. A beautiful
meditation that explores considerable depths of feeling,
it is introspective but at the same time inspiring. Bredon
Hill must count as one of the finest musical portrayals
of the English countryside. It is unbelievable that it remained
unheard for so many years.
the last word ought to go to Gordon Bottomley. Commenting
on this piece, he wrote that “the dew was so fresh and undimmed
by footsteps. Some of the harmonies came from further off
than Bredon: perhaps there had been footsteps on them that
did not show on the dew.”
is a rare treasure and deserves due respect.
question is begged as to what version of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin
Concerto to buy. The short answer is that it depends!
I feel that all three recordings are impressive and provide
first class performances of this work. However I do have
a sneaking preference for this present interpretation that
is hard to put into words. Perhaps I feel that Lorraine McAslan
manages to get to the core of the piece and to sympathise
with the Edwardian musical language?
deciding on the disc to buy devolves to other considerations.
Firstly, couplings. The Avie disc has the Dvorak Concerto as
its stable mate. The Hyperion introduces the listener to
the fine Violin Concerto by Arthur Somervell. The
present disc includes the two minor works (unheard by most
listeners for nearly a century) by Coleridge-Taylor and what
is probably Julius Harrison’s orchestral masterpiece. It
is horses for courses – but my personal choice would be to
own all three!
if I was pushed, well the Somervell is too important a work
for me to ignore.
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