John Foulds is one of very many
English composers who, despite being brilliant and highly
regarded during his lifetime, had fallen into neglected and
is only now being re-discovered. He was fascinated by both
Indian and Celtic ideas, sounds and thoughts, and by “alternative
worlds”. Interestingly enough, his son, in the introductory
notes to this disc, calls his father “clairaudient” – hearing
things that are beyond most people’s hearing. Certainly,
many of the sounds that Foulds creates have an “other-worldly” air.
Some of Foulds’ most important
works were composed in Paris, and this includes the Dynamic
Triptych. He had been working on modal compositions and
was into India ragas. The première was given in 1931 in Edinburgh
with Tovey conducting the Reid Orchestra and Frank Merrick
as soloist. Each movement represents one of the three main
aspects, or elements, of music. The first movement, Dynamic Mode, depicting modes, uses
only the seven pitches of the mode and octaves, while the
second, Dynamic Timbre, is about colour and uses,
for example, “colourful” quarter-tones in the strings. The
final movement is entitled Dynamic Rhythm and employs changing
time signatures and rhythmic styles. This is a mind-blowing
work, fiery and virtuosic, scintillatingly vivid, and often
quite noisy! It contains stunning, audacious innovative touches,
which are brilliantly communicated by soloist and orchestra
in a sparkling blaze of orchestral colour.
April-England was composed on the
Vernal Equinox in 1926 as a piano piece, the first one of
an intended series of Impressions of Times and Place -
Foulds said that Solstices and Equinoxes made him particularly
creative. He transcribed it for orchestra in 1932. A complete
contrast to the preceding Dynamic Triptych, it is
surprisingly – but delightfully – pastoral, full of the joys
of spring, with a gorgeous folk-song-like tune. It is here
given a luxurious and exuberant performance, bringing out
its almost ecstatic air.
Foulds was an amateur artist and
interested in the relationship between art and music. He
wrote suites of Music Pictures for different instrumental
combinations – the third one (here) is for full orchestra
and was premièred by Henry Wood at the 1912 Proms to tremendous
acclaim. The work presents Foulds’ reaction to various paintings.
The opening movement The Ancient of Days represents
Blake’s famous painting of God as the architect of the world,
and is for woodwind, brass and percussion only. It opens
with quiet solemn grandeur and builds up to a dramatic, bombastic
grandiloquence with almost Holstian chords. The delicate,
lilting dance-like Colombine depicts
Alfred Brunet’s painting of a dancing Columbine
and uses whole, half and quarter tones to thrilling but almost
disorientating effect. The lyrical third movement, Old
Greek Legend, is written entirely in the Phrygian mode,
following Foulds’ interest in Ancient Greek modes. The picture
is a sketch of a sage by John Martin. The last movement, The Tocsin, after a painting by Boutigny of the rousing effect ringing the church
bells has on mediaeval French village life, is flashy, spirited
and almost martial.
The Song of Ram Dass was composed in 1935,
shortly after Foulds arrived in in India. Based on an Indian
theme that his wife had improvised, it is suitably romantic,
luscious and exotic.
The disc concludes with the Keltic Lament.
Perhaps Foulds’ best
known work, this is the slow movement of the “Keltic Suite”.
It is a beautifully rich, wistful and nostalgic piece, here
given a fine performance.
This is sensational, often exhilarating,
music, given sensational, sensitive and radiant performances.
There is no more that I can say but that Foulds is a genius.
Buy this disc – you won’t be disappointed.
see also reviews by Rob
Barnett and John
France (both Recordings of the Month)