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Lyrita Classics
Michael BALFE (1808-1870)
The Bohemian Girl: Galop (1843) [1:26]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Variations on an Original Theme ‘Enigma’ Op. 36: X. Dorabella (1899) [2:41]
Pomp and Circumstance March No. 5 in C Op. 39 (1930) [5:41]
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Andrew Davis
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
A Village Romeo and Juliet: The Walk to the Paradise Garden (1905) [10:49]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Myer Fredman
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Shepherd’s Hey; The Immovable Do (1908-13; 1933-42) [2:11; 5:04]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
Sir Hamilton HARTY (1879-1941)
An Irish Symphony: The Fair-Day (1904) [3:01]
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
Capriol, Suite for full orchestra (1926-28) [9:47]
London Symphony Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
Lord BERNERS (1883-1950)
The Triumph of Neptune: Hornpipe (1926) [1:50]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
St. Paul’s Suite for strings Op. 29 No. 2 (1913) [13:28]
English Chamber Orchestra/Imogen Holst
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) [16:08]
rec. Jan 1979, Kingsway Hall (Balfe); Jan 1974, Walthamstow Assembly Hall (Elgar); Jan 1970, Walthamstow Assembly Hall (Delius); Aug 1978, Kingsway Hall (Grainger; Berners); April 1976, Kingsway Hall (Harty); Sept 1978, Watford Town Hall (Warlock); Jan 1968, Walthamstow Assembly Hall (RVW)
LYRITA SRCD336 [72.15]


When I first saw the advert for this CD I assumed that it was the ‘sweepings up’ from the floor of the Lyrita studios: it was all the bits and pieces from their vinyl pressings that could not find a home elsewhere. Yet two things made me modify that view. Firstly I know that there is a vast amount of material awaiting re-release (the mono recordings of Jacob, White, Ireland and Wordsworth, for example) and secondly, as I listened to this CD I realised that it made a fine introduction to Musical Britain. I remember as a child books called the ‘Boy’s Guide to’ … Field-craft, Trains, Racing Cars et al. Perhaps this, in a more PC age, could be referred to as the "Individual’s Guide to British Music"?

The CD opens with a piece that was written when Great Britain was a ‘land without music.’ The Galop is probably the most famous excerpt from Michael Balfe’s best known opera: The Bohemian Girl. And of course it was once a Tommy Beecham ‘Lollipop’. Perhaps Balfe’s twenty-nine operas do not signify in the early 21st century when compared to G&S, Tippett or Benjamin Britten, but in his day he was a seriously popular composer. And Ireland – Balfe was born in Dublin - was at that time part of the United Kingdom!

I usually baulk at excerpting from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. My exception is the annual outing of Nimrod at the Cenotaph: I can forgive anything in those circumstances. So I suppose I am not really happy about one short variation being given here. Yet here it is - Dorabella which follows on from Nimrod and is a complete change of tone, mood and emotion. We hear the ‘stammering lightness’ and ‘merry chatter’ of Elgar’s helper and admired Dora Penny. It is a lovely piece that actually does stand alone … just about … although I feel that it is much more telling and effective following that great Beethovenian variation in the complete work.

And how often do we hear the P&C March No.5? Even enthusiasts of ‘Grunge’ cannot have avoided ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ in their lives’ journey. But how many know the other four (five)? I guess most people over the age of thirty-five will recall No. 4 in G being played as the recessional at the Prince and Princess of Wales’s wedding. The rest are little known and rarely heard. But please note that this late - it was composed four years before Elgar’s death - march is rather good. And the interesting thing is that most of us come to it afresh. It has not accrued the baggage - good, bad and indifferent - of being an alternative National Anthem played at the Proms.

I am not an opera fan, but I have always loved The Walk to Paradise Garden by Fred Delius. I know the opera A Village Romeo and Juliet and realise that it has a tragic context in that work. However, I got to know the piece on an old Beecham release of Delius orchestral works on Decca Eclipse and have had my own programme for this work ever since! So I suggest that listeners dump the libretto and see this piece as a nature poem – descriptive of whatever landscape or mindscape moves them most.

Percy Grainger is a rare personality. He wrote a vast amount of music that is little played these days. I am not a fan of his, yet I do appreciate that he was probably a wayward genius. And a few of his works do have the capacity to move me: most I find entertaining. The majority of listeners will know his ubiquitous Country Gardens which was arranged for just about every instrumental combination possible. Yet Shepherd’s Hey and the Immovable Do presented here deserve greater popularity. The latter piece was inspired by a leaking harmonium which continually sounded a ‘high C’ throughout the performance of whatever Grainger was playing. Shepherd’s Hey is based on the folk tune ‘The Keel Row’. Incidentally, the score was dedicated to Edvard Grieg. Both miniatures are worthy additions to the repertoire and would make excellent encores - if given the chance.

Our musical exploration moves back to Ireland. This time it is the second movement of Sir Hamilton Harty’s fine Irish Symphony – subtitled The Fair-Day. Most people will associate Harty with the Hallé Orchestra which he conducted between 1920 and 1933. Yet he was also an accomplished composer who wrote not only the present work but a wonderful piano concerto, a violin concerto and a number of other excellent pieces. Fortunately, most of these were released on Chandos a number of years ago and are still available. Additionally, Naxos has contributed their recordings of the Symphony and the Piano Concerto. Harty is a composer well worth investigating. The present piece is a fine evocation of a ‘Fair Day’ in Ireland that must have been familiar to the composer as a young man. Look out for the fiddler tuning up and the fine reel!

Everyone knows that Peter Warlock was a pseudonym. His real name was Philip Heseltine. He took the name of Warlock after some involvement with occult mysteries after time spent in Ireland during the Great War. More often noted for his superb songs, Warlock composed a mere handful of works for orchestral forces – including An Old Song, the Serenade for Frederick Delius and the Capriol Suite. Best known in its string orchestra incarnation, this latter work was originally given as a piano duet. Latterly it was arranged for full orchestra – this is the version we hear on this CD. The Suite is based on tunes found in an antique dissertation called ‘Orchesography’ which was supposedly penned by a certain ‘Capriol’. The programme notes inform us that the Suite was rejected by a number of publishers: this is hard to imagine since we now regard the work as one of the minor masterpieces of 20th century music. Apparently Warlock sold the work for a mere 25 guineas!

Lord Berners’ real name is much more impressive – Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson: it sounds as if it were straight out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel. He was an artist and a ballet producer whose day-job appeared to be that of a diplomat. Moving in the rarefied atmosphere of the Sitwells it is not surprising that he was an eccentric. The Triumphs of Neptune was conceived by Sacheverell and eventually became a successful feature for the Ballets Russes. The Hornpipe does not press on to the limits of musical invention, but it is attractive and does justice to its nautical origins. It is well worth discovering other music by this fascinating, if somewhat odd, composer.

Gustav Holst’s St Paul’s Suite surely needs no introduction or recommendation to readers of these pages. Yet sometimes it is easy to forget that this work comes from the same pen as The Planets. The work is conducted here by the composer’s daughter Imogen: to my ear it is one of the best recordings of this work in the repertoire. It is a Suite that must be listened to in its entirety and not excerpted.

The last piece is a major masterpiece. Along with Tippett’s Double Concerto and Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro it is one of the most important essays in string writing in British musical literature. The Tallis Fantasia is a work that seems to gather up the whole tradition of England – its landscape, its literature and its religion. It is impossible to listen to this work without being aware of the whole sweep of history – both musical and otherwise. In one sense it is a timeless work, yet in another it is as much a part of twentieth century music as Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue or Berg’s Violin Concerto. The Fantasia is a visionary score which marked its composer out as a major figure in the British musical scene.

Most cognoscenti of British music will have all these works in their CD collections. This release is a bit of a pot-pourri. Yet consider this. It is good to take the opportunity of listening to a variety of pieces played end to end - now and again; it reminds us of our whole musical heritage. And lastly if you know anyone who is edging towards an appreciation of the native music of the British Isles – this is the present for them. In either case – Buy it!

John France

See also review by Rob Barnett







 


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