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Through Gold and Silver Clouds
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Serenade for Strings (1892) [13:27]
Elegy (1909) [4:57]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1911) [7:06]
Summer Night on the River (1912) [6:17]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
St Paul’s Suite (1913) [12:08]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
Capriol Suite (1926) [10:23]
ARWEL HUGHES (1909-1988)
Fantasia in A minor (1936) [11:20]
Camerata Wales/Owain Arwel Hughes
rec. (Elgar, Hughes, Warlock) December 2005, Parish Church of St Jude-on-the-Hill, London NW11; (Delius, Holst) April 2006, The Warehouse, London SE1
BIS CD-1589 [67:33]



Clearly this is a favourite British Music collection. All the items save that by the conductor’s father Arwel Hughes are very well known and all oft times recorded.
 
Perhaps the most interesting item in this programme is the conductor’s father’s Fantasia in A minor based on an old Welsh ecclesiastical melody. Arwel Hughes (1909-1988) was a Welsh composer and conductor. A pupil of Vaughan Williams - and this work demonstrates that composer’s influence - Arwel Hughes composed two operas and became Head of Music for BBC Wales in 1965.
 
This Fantasia is predominantly pastorally serene and mystical, sometimes bracing, with a beautifully phrased violin solo. As might be expected, Owain Arwel Hughes reading does his father’s music proud.
 
The reading of Gustav Holst’s St Paul’s Suite is the best of the better-known music on this very variable collection. The opening ‘Jig’ is strongly rhythmic, the ‘Ostinato’ trips along nicely, the ‘Intermezzo’ is snappy with some sensual violin and viola solos in the central ‘Arabian’ episode and the concluding Finale (the Dargason) is attractively merry with a warm ‘Greensleeves’ counterpoint.
 
As far as the Elgar pieces are concerned things are less successful. The competition, of course, is numerous and stiff. Starting with the Serenade for Strings, Arwel Hughes’ opening, Allegro piacevole, movement is tentative and, to this reviewer’s ears, quite unemotional and uninvolving; the lovely central ‘Larghetto’ is slow and lethargic, the emotional temperature hardly any higher, the strings may sob tearfully, but it all sounds too sorry for itself. The concluding ‘Allegretto’ fares slightly better; Hughes also delivers a respectful reading of Elgar’s less well-known sombre-toned Elegy. But, on the celebrated recording ‘Barbirolli conducts English String Music’ (EMI 5672402) Barbirolli’s Elegy comes in at in 4:22 against Arwel Hughes’s 4:57; need I say more? And that wonderful Barbirolli CD also has Sir John’s affecting reading of Elgar’s Serenade for Strings - together with his first rate performances of Elgar’s Sospiri and Introduction and Allegro for Strings - and an unforgettable reading of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis and RVW’s ‘Greensleeves’ Fantasia.
 
The opening Basse-Danse of Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite is here sturdily bucolic. The Pavane drags its feet, the Tordion’s phrasing is pleasing but it too treads rather heavily, Bransles is livelier, quite jolly. Pieds-en-l’air has a rather detached coyness while the concluding Mattachins might have been more joyful. There are altogether livelier and graceful readings available especially by Vernon Handley conducting the Ulster Orchestra in a Chandos English music concert that includes Moeran’s Serenade (CHAN 8808).
 
Owain Arwel Hughes maintains his slow deliberations through Delius’s On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. His cuckoo sings for 7:06 as compared to Sir Thomas Beecham’s 6:57 on EMI, Charles Mackerras’s 6:55 on Argo, and David Lloyd-Jones’s speedy, no-nonsense 5:53 on Naxos; I only remember Sir John Barbirolli slower at 7:27 – all these rival versions more evocative and poetic to my ears. Arwel Hughes’ dallies less on his Summer Night on the River at 6:17 compared with Beecham’s 6:33 (Mackerras 5:52 and Lloyd-Jones 6:19); his reading is languid and summery with lazy insect flutterings but I prefer the extra sensitivity evident elsewhere.
 
The Arwel Hughes composition is interesting but look elsewhere for the rest.
 
Ian Lace
 



 


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