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English Landscapes
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Tintagel [16.57]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) The Lark Ascending [15.18]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956) The Fall of the Leaf [11.08]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Norfolk Rhapsody no. 1 [10.23]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934) Summer Night on the River [6.06]; On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring [6.03]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) As Torrent in Summer (from King Olaf) [2.11]
John IRELAND (1879-1962) The Hills [2.54]
Lyn Fletcher (violin)
The Halle Choir
Halle Orchestra/Sir Mark Elder,
rec. 5-6 November 2005, BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester
HALLE CD HLL 7512 [71.40]

Experience Classicsonline

I must confess to having been slightly disappointed by the new "English landscapes" disc from Sir Mark Elder and the Halle - on their own label. I say this given the orchestra's tremendous reputation, and the splendid performances by both that I have seen live. The disc aims to present English works that have links with the landscape. The playing is of a good quality - the tempi and moods generally appropriate, yet these are all atmospheric pieces and there is somehow a lack of atmosphere on the disc.

It opens with Bax's Tintagel. The balance between sections in the orchestra is not quite right, as one cannot hear all the parts clearly enough at the beginning - they are too indistinct and muddy. I also find that it is not shaped as well as, for example, Handley's version, and is on the slow side- at 16.57 compared to Boult at 13.28 (Lyrita 1972), Bostock at 14.37 (Classico, 1998), or Goossens at 12.06 (Dutton, 1928). On the whole - not as clear or comprehensive, not as well communicated as other conductor's versions. It is followed by a rather prosaic The Lark Ascending - not quite enough subtlety or luminescence; a little lacking in ethereal beauty.

Finzi's The Fall of the Leaf is generally good - the playing itself cannot be faulted, and there is a nice balance of sensitivity and passion overall. Yet when we reach the overwhelming climax, it just doesn't grab one - they don't go that final mile.

The Vaughan Williams Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 is nicely played, but is yet again missing that secret ingredient. It is rather telling that the best bit is the lively, jolly, rumbustious section just over half way in - and that the more moving moments don't have the emotional appeal that they could do.

The Delius Two Small Piece for Orchestra - Summer Night on the River and On hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring seem to me to lack subtlety, fluency and empathy. On hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring also has little rhythmic freedom - the beat is too strictly enforced, the music not really allowed to flow or breath enough, and the work consequently isn't as luscious as it can be.

The disc concludes with two choral works, with the Halle Choir - an extract from Elgar's King Olaf - As Torrents in Summer, and The Hills, John Ireland's contribution to A Garland for the Queen: a collection of settings by ten British composers to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. Again - singing fine, but lacking the emotional clout needed.

If someone new to English music listened to these pieces, they would probably enjoy the recording as, I must stress, the disc isn't in itself bad, nor is the playing poor by any means. But to one who has heard performances or recordings of these works by Handley, Beecham, Boult, Hickox, or the composers themselves it would inevitably make an invidious comparison. This disc simply does not present the passion and spirit that is needed to bring these gorgeous works to life, and to communicate them as both small masterpieces of composition and as works of the utmost intensity and beauty.

Em Marshall





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