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