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CD: Cameo Classics


Dorothy HOWELL (1898-1982)
Tone Poem - Lamia (1919) [15:00]
Maurice BLOWER (1894-1982)
Symphony in C (1939) [35:27]
Joseph HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)
Variations on The Girl I Left Behind Me (1900s) [12:38]
Karelia Philharmonic Orchestra/Marius Stravinsky
rec. 24-27 August 2008, Concert Hall, Karelia Philharmonic, Petrozavodsk. DDD
English Composers Premiere Collection Vol. 1
Experience Classicsonline

David Kent-Watson's Cameo Classics label has been around, to my knowledge, since the 1970s. He was behind the startling series of LPs made by Geoffrey Heald-Smith and the City of Hull Youth Symphony Orchestra in the 1970s. It was through these recordings that many of us were introduced, via those Gough and Davey LPs, to Bantock's Hebridean, Holbrooke's Gwyn ap Nudd, German's Symphony No. 2 Norwich and Bantock's Sapphic Poem played by Gillian Thoday (cello). Most of these vinyls surfaced around 1978 which was centenary year for Holbrooke. Those albums were made at the giddy vanguard of a renaissance for melodic orchestral music lying at a periphery too remote even for Lyrita. I wonder if they will ever re-surface. If they do perhaps we can also hear for the first time their unissued Cowen Idyllic Symphony. DK-W also collaborated with the Havergal Brian Society in systematically recording with Heald-Smith and the young Hull players all of Brian's extant early orchestral music. Enthusiasts queued up for the latest release and there was a hum and buzz about the label's activity even if the bravery of all concerned had to triumph over the very young players' technical shortcomings. For some years you have been able to get some sense of the Hull adventure on a two CD set of the Brian works although it is not one that I have heard. I still have the LPs on storage shelving upstairs. Hull must have been proud of Heald-Smith which in an initiative perhaps comparable with Venezuela's ‘La Sistema’ engaged young people in a challenging enterprise that caught the imagination of collectors and enthusiasts worldwide. Cameo issued the occasional LP and then CD but were otherwise dormant until a few years ago. Now they have the makings of an ambitious and irresistible catalogue: Pabst Piano Concerto (CC9021CD); Jadassohn Symphony 1 and Piano Concerto (CC9026CD) and Brüll Symphony and Serenade 1 (CC9027CD). More details at

Their latest disc features accomplished and enthusiastic playing from an East European orchestra and a Kazakhstan-born conductor who is a British citizen. Four days of rehearsal has lent a polish and fluency to these revivals of three fascinating British orchestral scores from the latterly neglected generation born 1878-98. Their middle to old age was blackened by a change in musical fashion that left their music seemingly unwanted. Unplayed - certainly unrecorded. The number of concert performances of these works was nil in the case of the Blower, none in living memory for the Holbrooke and the last outing for the Howell appears to have been a concert in November 1950 by the Croydon Symphony Orchestra under Ralph Nicolson.

While these three tonal-romantic scores share a disc they are not all cut from the same cloth. They are unwaveringly loyal to melodic values but the Howell is most transparently scored and beguilingly atmospheric, the Blower is a major British symphony with similarities in sound to RVW and Bax and the Holbrooke is a fantastically orchestrated yet compact plaything which revels in its subject tune and throws in a few others for good measure. This is Holbrooke the showman rather than Holbrooke the poetic dreamer - for the latter we must encounter Ulalume and Queen Mab … if only.

Dorothy Howell's works were feted and performed. They had Prom premieres in the inter-war years. Henry Wood and Dan Godfrey championed her scores. Her Lamia - a subject that years before had also attracted Macdowell in another fine tone poem (recorded by Kenneth Klein on Albany and by Karl Krueger on Bridge's SPAMH revival series) - is based on Keats. Its fascination and enthralling power lies in its diaphanous scoring which is luminously put across in this performance. The transparency of the writing has the delicacy of Berlioz but the real redolence is of the Diaghilev scores of the 1900s - lush yet pointillistic. One can imagine the Ballet Russe making hay with this in much the same way that they did with Balakirev's Tamara. The music at other times reminded me of Bantock's Pierrot of the Minute and at others of Rimsky's Sadko, Liadov's Enchanted Lake, Biarent's Contes Russes and closer to home of Bax's Garden of Fand. This is music expertly and transparently scored and vicaciously coloured.

I know that Holbrooke is a composer Cameo have some hopes to record more ambitiously still. They will need to keep an eye on a parallel enterprise by CPO and the conductor Howard Griffiths. Let's hope that Cameo's plans will be fulfilled for this disc is evidence that with rehearsal and preparation this splendid music can enjoy new and vibrant life. While we wait we can be impressed with the Variations on an Irish tune. They are a companion piece to another Henry Wood favourite which he recorded in acoustic days (and now sounds like a gigantic wheezing squeeze-box), the orchestral variations on Three Blind Mice. These works represent the lighter Holbrooke - continued in the 1920s when he wrote dance-band pieces. They nonetheless reflect his brilliance and his predilection for borrowing from the popular culture of the times. His galley years in the drudgery of the music-hall left their mark. Across 12½ minutes Holbrooke gives us a great romp of a piece in which he has his orchestra turning metaphorical cartwheels and somersaults. It's more densely scored than the other two pieces - so much is going on. This might well be a weakness. The impression that remains though is of exuberance and mastery.

The Blower Symphony is an impressive major piece with its roots struck deep into the inspiration that brought the Moeran symphony and Bax symphonies 5 and 6 into being. While he never sounds like Moeran the splendour of his finale does in the stately slowly unfurlng fanfares parallel that of Bax 5. Several times I was also reminded of Bax's earlier Irish works. Earlier movements occasionally inhabit the same region as Vaughan Williams in his symphonies 3 and 5. This is a grand romantic British symphony here receiving its first fully professional recording. You need to hear this if you have any time for the stylistic references I have given.

As for Blower I hope we can hear in future the Horn Concerto which he wrote for Dennis Brain. Then again the queue is still long: Holbrooke's Queen Mab, Violin Concerto, Saxophone Concerto and Apollo and the Seaman, Alfred Corum's Symphony, Howell's Piano Concerto, The Rock and Koong Shee, Balfour Gardiner's Berkshire Idyll, Sam Braithwaite's Carnegie award-winning orchestral scores, Baines's Thoughtdrift and Isle of the Fey, Coke's three Symphonies and, most clamant among these scores, Benjamin Dale's powerful tone poem The Turning Tide - once broadcast in 1990s by Vernon Handley.

The extensive and fine liner-notes are by that new champion of the Holbrooke cause: Gareth Vaughan. There's also a memoir by Blower's son, Thomas who with the conductor Peter Craddock put hours into making the Blower symphony a viable performing reality. Another triumph for Sibelius software.

The concert premiere of the Blower Symphony has been issued on CD by the Havant SO. It's still available from their site.

Do seek out these remarkably attractive and thoroughly enjoyable revivals and ponder what else awaits.

Rob Barnett


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