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Frederic COWEN (1852-1935)
Symphony No.6 in E major The Idyllic (1897) [35:22]
Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912)

Symphony in A minor (1896) [36:44]
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Douglas Bostock
rec. Frichsparken, Aarhus, 20-23 September 2005
CLASSICO CLASSCD684 [71:50]



Two substantial symphonies running to 35-minutes-plus by British composers and both to all intents and purposes unknown even to enthusiasts and without any performing tradition.

Unlike those of Stanford and Parry, Frederic Cowen's six symphonies have received little attention. Things did not start auspiciously for them. The first recording was an heroic effort recorded at Kosice in 1989 on Marco Polo 8.223273. This was the version of the Symphony No. 3 The Scandinavian by Adrian Leaper with the CSR State Philharmonic Orchestra. The whole impression conveyed was predominantly flat and without zest. At least that's the way I remember it. There was at least one false start on Symphony No. 6 as well. Shortly after Gough and Davey, the Hull record shop of yore, had issued three LPs of rare British music (German Symphony 2, Bantock Hebridean, Holbrooke Song of Gwyn ap Nudd) there were published rumours that they had recorded the very same Cowen work issued here. In fact the fearless City of Hull Youth Symphony Orchestra under Geoffrey Heald-Smith had performed the symphony in concert in 1979 but if a recording was made by them none was issued.

Lewis Foreman in his notes for this invaluable issue tells us that the scores for Cowen's first two symphonies (1870, 1875) have been lost but the other four are available still so I hope that this venture signals early world premiere recordings of The Fourth (Cambrian, 1883) and Fifth (The Cambridge) (1887).

In a performance brimming with life Douglas Bostock introduces us to Cowen's well-named Idyllic. Like the other symphony here it is in four movements. It recalls in style and mood the Bohemian lyricism of Dvořák's Seventh and Eight symphonies and the Serenade for Strings. It has also has a most engaging lightness of orchestration that is part-Mendelssohn and Schubert and part predictive of Sibelius. The writing is athletic and often sunny as you might expect from the title. Without being at all shallow the material avoids the tragic altogether. This is a reading glowing with bonhommie and resilient tunefulness.

There are two recordings of Coleridge-Taylor's Violin Concerto (Avie and Hyperion). In many reviews the similarities to Dvořák are commented on. It is no wonder that British works should carry such accents since Dvořák was well-loved and much in demand for England's gargantuan choral festivals in the nineteenth century.

C-T's Dvořák heritage can be discerned clearly enough in the singing graces of the allegro appassionato first movement of his only symphony. There were a few moments when he had me thinking of Hamish MacCunn but for the most part the expressive language approximates to Dvořák's late symphonic manner with touches of Othello and the Symphonic Variations. There is plenty of woodland delight in this work which also sounds a little like the orchestral suites of Ludolf Nielsen rather any barnstorming symphonic stuff. It's an affable work dating from the composer’s student days. An RCM concert conducted by Stanford saw its first airing and then it appeared at Bournemouth on 30 April 1900. Its next outing came in 2005 at a workshop performance in Cornwall conducted by David Kendall.

A Croydon man, Coleridge-Taylor was from a later generation than Jamaican-born Cowen. He was a favourite of Stanford at the RCM whose crippling ire C-T was spared except in relation to the admittedly rambling but tunefully affable finale. Bostock and the Aarhus players lend it a sunset grandeur intensely so in the final few moments.

There are many more British symphonies needing the attention of Douglas Bostock, ClassicO and friends. We still need the Cliffe Second, the two from Chisholm, Dunhill, William Baines, Alfred Corum and the Somervell. I hope that the questing spirit and enterprising gleam of Douglas Bostock and ClassicO has not yet been exhausted. This delightful disc is clear evidence that there is plenty of vitality in this series, and I hope much more to come.

Rob Barnett


see also review by Jonathan Woolf


Postscript

I read your review of the ClassicO label release of Cowen's 6th Symphony with great interest, particularly since the first recording of a symphony by Frederick Cowen was actually made by the Hull Youth Orchestra conducted by Geoffrey Heald-Smith after their concert performance in 1979. It was a recording made by me for a Cameo Classics LP release, and that recording had no association with Gough & Davy.
 
I had started my association with Geoffrey Heald-Smith as a recording engineer for the three Gough & Davy releases you mention. This continued when the Havergal Brian Society sponsored the recordings of HB's complete orchestral works, released on three Cameo Classics LPs, and subsequently licensed to Campion.
 
However the symphony was not No. 6, but the Symphony No. 4 ("The Welsh" as it is called on my Novello score), so the world premiere recording of the "Cambrian" was made nearly twenty years ago.
 
You are correct in stating that it was not issued. It was the last recording made by me with the HYSO, which was not at its prime at that time, as Geoffrey was the first to admit, and we reluctantly decided it should not be released.
 
Geoffrey retired from his position as Music Advisor to Humberside in order to teach music in Oban. Last year he suffered a stroke, paralysing his left side. Following encouraging rehabilitation he has returned to Yorkshire to live in Harrogate. Though aged 76, he is still full of enthusiasm for the task of promoting neglected British composers, and will recommence conducting this year. In fact we are to re-record the Cowen Symphony No. 4 (?) this summer in the North.
 
We shall of course be looking at a comparable work to pair with it for the CD. Geoffrey has suggested the Piano Concerto by Leslie Bridgewater. This suits my aim of making CDs which might approximate to a concert programme, rather than the more usual recording company projects of pairing, say, concertos. Rarely would I as a music listener wish to hear two like concertos one after the other on one CD.
 
Cameo Classics will continue, in the main, to record British music from the Romantic era, and welcomes worthy suggestions. Contact from the Raff Forums has resulted in the next project in Belarus, of works by the German Romantic, Ignaz Brull.
 
Later, Geoffrey will also be travelling to Minsk with us to record Holbrooke. The Belarusian State Academic Symphony Orchestra is planned as a centre-piece for new recordings after the success of our world premiere concert recording there of the Pavel Pabst Piano Concerto (see review).
 
Following the termination of Cameo Classics as an LP label (there were just too many returns of faulty pressings, even though they were manufactured by EMI) I used my early background in music recording, and my years at BBC Television in London and Granada TV in Manchester, to go into independent television drama production. So when Cameo Classics resurfaced as a concept four years ago it would be backed up by filming all recordings for TV/DVD/Documentaries. We will shortly have the documentary for "The Pavel Pabst Lost Concerto" ready.
 
Near-future projects include:
Summer 2007
* Ignaz Brull: the Violin Concerto op. 41 (soloist Ilya: Hoffman) and his Symphony op. 31.
* Holbrooke: "The Bells" op.50 and "Queen Mab" op. 45 for chorus and orchestra. 
 
Autumn 2007
* Holbrooke: "Dramatic Choral Symphony" No.1 op. 48 for baritone and orchestra. 
 
Spring 2008
* Gernsheim: Violin Concerto and David: Violin Concerto No.5 (soloist: Ilya Hoffman)
 
Other works include:
* Cowan: Symphony No.4 (Welsh)
* Ignaz Brull: Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra
* Havergal Brian: Symphony No.5
 
Individually our choices of music for future programmes seem daunting - en masse, they frighten the life out of me.
 
The conductorship will be shared by Marius Stravinsky and Geoffrey Heald-Smith, with a mere fifty years separating their ages!
 
76 years of age is not so great for a conductor I guess, but, during the last few days I have had several hours of conversations with Geoffrey, and his boundless enthusiasm and knowledge of British music is just amazing. Sir Adrian Boult presented him with his score of The Gothic, autographed. Conductor for the Pabst CD, and some of this years productions, Marius Stravinsky, though British, speaks Russian, and will assist him with the Russian-speaking Belarusian orchestra.
 
Gareth Vaughan has taken a very pro-active role in our current projects. He stressed the special interest you (RB) and Phil Scowcroft have shown in Holbrooke. I have longed to return to his music since Geoffrey and I recorded his Piano Concerto with Philip Challis, the last of our recordings together at that time.
 
Next year we plan to record the Gothic Symphony by Havergal Brian - it was always our dream. It will not be the premiere but it will be a dream fulfilled. That is what life should be about.
 
I think it will also be most beneficial to the cause, to produce a documentary series about the recording of the works of neglected composers, principally British. I do not find it at all surprising that new recordings by the big record companies have all but dried up when one of them, German, boasts of having all the Beethoven symphonies and concertos recorded on its own label by seven or eight different conductors. Through the Joachim Raff Society Forums, I have recently learnt of large numbers of German Romantic-era concertos which had never been recorded. As the pianist Panagiotis says in the DVD, it is refreshing to record a new (old) work that has not been played thousands of times. ClassicFM have played the last movement of the Pabst Concerto several times now, and customers for the CD e-mail us in glowing terms about it. Such a shame it was his only work for the orchestra. But we have discovered some original piano compositions of his which Panos will be recording shortly for his second solo CD. (His first all-Russian CD is due for release shortly - Stravinsky's Petrouchka - Rachmaninov's op.23 Preludes - and some Scriabin and Arensky). We also have recordings made from the original private wax cylinders made in 1885 of Pabst playing for his friends. He was after all admired as a pianist even by Franz Liszt.
 
We moved to the French countryside two years ago, and we run Cameo Classics from here, one of the big benefits provided by the internet evolution. We produce everything here.
 
David Kent-Watson

Cameo Classics
 


 


 


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