We have just published a new interview with John Wilson on
this site link
This is a wonderful collection of little-known, long-forgotten
British music. But what approachable, melodic, evocative, dramatic
works they are. In John Wilson, Dutton Epoch has a young enthusiastic
conductor who is committed to British music. He indulges this
music’s often overt romanticism but with sincerity and naturalness.
In the case of the Alwyn works, Wilson who is a keen film music
aficionado, appreciates and underlines its cinematic qualities.
Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Heroic Elegy &
Triumphant Epilogue was a student work, one that RVW did
not want performed until he had found a more mature style. This
attitude is quite understandable but, as Lewis Foreman, in his
notes suggests, now that his mature works have been extensively
recorded, “… it is appropriate that we investigate those early
scores. And what enjoyable early works they are, not infrequently
displaying flashes of what was to come …” Indeed; and this marvellous
work is worth the price of this CD alone. The Heroic Elegy
is a noble, heartfelt piece one that must have been influenced,
one feels, by the events of the Boer War. It has a haunting
solo trombone part. The trombone was Holst’s instrument - it
will be remembered that the two composers were on friendly terms
and offered each other constructive criticism of their works.
The Triumphal Epilogue is just that; riveting and affecting.
Brass fanfares sound across the audio-stage over soft drum-taps
heralding an extensive mournful, deeply felt Allegro moderato
middle section. The Epilogue ends in triumph with jubilant
brass and organ pedal. There may be bombast here and there and
the music occasionally totters a little towards bathos but this
is hyper-criticism of what is, after all, a youthful work. Even
so, the overall effect is simply terrific.
William Alwyn’s music comprises the greatest proportion
of this album. The first work we encounter is Overture in
the Form of a Serenade for soprano solo, wordless choir
(SATB) and small orchestra. It was written in tribute to Vaughan
Williams and Holst. In fact Holst’s The Perfect Fool
and RVW’s Pastoral Symphony are quoted. The influence
of Martinu and Alwyn’s love of Czech music is evident throughout
this joyous, strongly rhythmic work. It is dedicated to Muir
Matheson who conducted many of Alwyn’s film scores. Alwyn’s
Prelude is in the form of a dramatic waltz. Ravel can
also be heard in the mix but the work is intensely dramatic
and mysterious; redolent of British cinema of the 1940s. Incredibly
this dynamic piece was never performed in Alwyn’s lifetime.
Blackdown – a Tone Poem of the Surrey Hills is
a beautiful pastoral evocation beginning serenely but with developing
storm-clouds that recall Bax’s November Woods. The Peter
Pan suite is spellbinding - an amazing achievement for an
18-year old. Even then Alwyn’s ear for dramatic and evocative
effect and orchestral colour was acute. Peter Pan is
otherworldly but lively and skittish. Tinker Bell’s waltz
is all downy charm. The Lost Boys in Never-Never Land
is poignant and Captain Hook is a sardonic sea shanty.
Underpinning all four vignettes is a delightful sense of nostalgia
for childhood lost. The remaining Alwyn item is Ad Infinitum
– a Satire for Orchestra inspired by a Czech satirical
play in which the characters are insects. The music is accordingly
biting and colourfully characterized.
York Bowen’s Orchestral Poem, Eventide, is a real
find - a jewel. It surely is a disgrace that this lovely work
has not been heard since the 1920s. Its inspiration is Keats’s
first sonnet. Lines of the poem are quoted at the head of the
score. Eventide is a reverie full of rapture so beautifully
evocative of a sultry summer’s evening ‘when streams of light
pour down the golden west …’ The woodwind writing is luscious
with intertwining birdsong-like figures. Its passionate outpouring
is reminiscent of Bowen’s contemporary, and fellow RAM student,
Arnold Bax’s Tintagel.
Sir Hubert Parry wrote the incidental music for Stuart
Ogilvie’s dramatization of Charles Kingsley’s novel Hypatia.
This was staged at London’s Haymarket Theatre in 1893 in a lavish
production by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Briefly it told of
the young neo-platonic philosopher Hypatia and her clash with
Christian zealots. Parry’s music is very typical of his style
and it is akin to that of Elgar. Hypatia and Philammon –
the latter a young Christian monk who falls under Hypatia’s
spell - begins with gentle pleading music that is remarkably
like Elgar especially in works like Dream Children. It
progresses to more stately material. The tender Ruth and
Orestes movement is scored in waltz time and underscores
Ruth’s hopeless love for a stern unrelenting Orestes who is
characterized by a proud imperial march, again quite Elgarian.
Full marks to the Dutton team, John Wilson and not least to
Lewis Foreman for his scholarly work in unearthing these treasures.
One of the best compilations of British music I have heard for
a very long time. It will be paying repeated visits to my CD
player and I am confident that it will figure in my 2010 Choice