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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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John FOULDS (1880-1939)
Dynamic Triptych for piano and orchestra Op. 88 (1927-29) (I. Dynamic Mode [8:28]; II. Dynamic Timbre [11:46]; III. Dynamic Rhythm [5:24]) [25:38]
April - England (Impressions of Time and Place No. 1) for orchestra Op. 48 No. 1 (1926 orch. 1932) [7:56]
Music-Pictures Group III Op. 33 (1912) (I. The Ancient of Days [5:39]; II. Colombine [3:31]; III. Old Greek Legend [6:20]; IV. The Tocsin [3:36])[19:06]
The Song of Ram Dass (1935) [3:13]
Keltic Lament Op. 29 No. 2 (Keltic Suite) (1911) [4:38]
Peter Donohoe (piano)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
rec. Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 11, 13, 15-16 Jan 2006. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 62999-2 [61:05]
 


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.

Em Marshall

see also reviews by Rob Barnett and John France (both Recordings of the Month)

 



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