RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Heroic Elegy & Triumphal Epilogue (1901 rev. 1902) [20:03]
Roderick Elms (organ)
William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Overture in the Form of a Serenade (1946) [5:55]
Micaela Haslam (soprano) and the London Chorus
Prelude (1925) [2:31]
Blackdown – A Tone Poem from the Surrey Hills (1926) [5:00]
Peter Pan Suite (Peter Pan; Tinker Bell; The Lost Boys in Never-Never Land; Captain Hook) (1923) [12:26]
Ad Infinitum – A Satire for Orchestra (1929) [7:02]
Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
Hypatia – Incidental Music (Hypatia and Philammon; Ruth and Orestes; Orestes’ March) (1892) [13:08]
York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Orchestral Poem: Eventide (1922) [13:10]
Roderick Elms (organ)
BBC Concert Orchestra/John Wilson
rec. The Colosseum, Town Hall, Watford, England, 12-14 July 2009
World premiere recordings
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7237 [72:52]
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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 list.
One of the best compilations of British music I have heard for a very long time. ... see Full Review