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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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Arwel Hughes composition is interesting but look elsewhere
for the rest.
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