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Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950)
Sinfonietta (1944) [23:16]
Symphony in G minor (1934-7) [44:24]
Overture for a Masque (1944) [10:36]
London Philharmonic Orchestra (Sinfonietta and Overture for a Masque); New Philharmonia Orchestra (Symphony in G minor)/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. no place of recording is mentioned; Originally recorded 1968, 1975, 1970. 2007. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.247 [78:55]


My original exposure to British music of the 20th century came from the Lyrita releases during the 1970s here in the United States. I bought them sight unseen - or ear unheard - because of the consistently high quality of both the performances and the physical sound. Lyrita then went under in the early 1980s, leaving the standard of British music to be carried mostly by Chandos and to some degree by EMI. At the time, hardly anyone did British music better than the folks at Lyrita, but since then, quite a few conductors, orchestras, and labels have matched or excelled in quality the original Lyrita recordings. Still, you canít go wrong with Lyrita, especially now in a market where recordings come into and go out of print with astonishing and frustrating frequency. Thankfully, the heirs to the Lyrita catalog have begun to release more of their back catalog, after a spate of releases a decade ago: the stunning releases of Alwyn, Rawsthorne, and Wordsworth. I welcome them all.

This disc contains two of the best works by composer E.J. Moeran, who wrote unabashedly ó or unavoidably ó in the shadow of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Sir Adrian Boult, Vaughan Williamsí most able interpreter, does bring out the languorousness in this music, but he also sacrifices some of the aggressiveness that other conductors have brought out since Sir Adrianís days. Iím thinking here of Norman Del Mar and Vernon Handley of Chandos who have done wonders with this very same music. What Boult does is to bring out the stunning melancholy of these works with very even-handed takes on each of the works here.

This is especially true in the Sinfonietta (1944). Norman Del Marís version of the Sinfonietta (Chandos 8456) is more audacious in the opening bars than Sir Adrian is here and some of the tonal framing is much less crisp, but Boultís calculation is always to err on the side of conservatism. This makes for a very consistent Delius-like atmosphere - as opposed to a revelatory Holstian mood Ė and depending on the orchestra under Boultís baton, can be a real delight. I must confess, however, that the LPO has always struck me as a bit too staid, almost to the point of sleep-walking through some passages. But giving this performance its due, the LPO does capture the soul of this beautiful music and the physical sound - realized from its original analog source - is just robust enough to give the work the energy it needs.

The Symphony in G minor (1934-7), I think, is a more heart-felt and dramatic work and itís here that you can see the more overt influences of Vaughan Williams ó which is either good or bad, depending on your tastes. What redeems Moeran in the Symphony in G minor is his rendering of this workís internal harmonic forces in a more kinetic manner. Vaughan Williams takes a mood and wrings it for all itís worth; Moeran declares his theme then goes about efficiently unfolding it. He then moves on, something Vaughan Williams couldnít do. I also found this recording - here with the New Philharmonia Orchestra, recorded in 1975 - to be a much tighter performance than the Vernon Handley (on Chandos 8577). Though to give Handley credit, his touch with the Ulster Orchestra brings out the more luminous aspects of this music by comparison with those Sir Adrian gets out of his New Philharmonia forces. Sir Adrian brings the Symphony in a full two minutes faster than Handley and that makes for greater cohesion.

Perhaps the disappointment here is the Overture for a Masque (recorded by the LPO in 1968) with a real botch of an opening. The declaratory opening flounders for several measures and the work never seems to regain its footing from there. Handley (on Chandos 8577), again with the Ulster Orchestra, fairly bursts into the work, splattering color everywhere, setting a truly celebratory mood. Itís a masque, after all, and should be both showy and graceful, neither of which, sad to say, Boult brings out of the LPO.

Yet, I think Boult shows us how this music can be performed and in places he does get it absolutely right. Iíd just refer the reader to the various Chandos recordings for performances of E.J. Moeran that improve on the already superior performances Boult gets here.

Paul Cook

see also review by Rob Barnett March RECORDING OF THE MONTH

The Lyrita Catalogue

NOTE: Hear the Moeran Symphony live with the Ealing Symphony Orchestra/John Gibbons on Saturday 12 May 2007 at 7.30pm in St Barnabas Church, Pitshanger Lane, Ealing. London W5. John Gardner Half-Holiday Overture Moeran Symphony in G minor Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3. Tickets from Richard Partridge, Hon. Secretary 020 8567 4075
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