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Seen & Heard
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| By the River in Spring
Hamilton Harty (1879-1941)
In Ireland (1918) [07:36]
Edward German (1862-1936)
Intermezzo (1894) [03:17]
Suite for Flute (1889) [13:43]
Michael Head (1900-1976)
By the River in Spring (1950 rev.1962) [8:48]
William Alwyn (1905-1985)
Flute Sonata (1948) [8:56]
Havelock Nelson (1917-1996)
Eirie Cherie (1990) [2:06] In Venezuela (?)[2:56]
Thomas Dunhill (1877-1946)
Valse Fantasia (1900?) [8:02]
Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988)
Flute Sonata (1949) [19:03]
Stanford Robinson (1904-1984)
The Moon-maiden's Dance (?) [07:36]
Kenneth Smith (flute); Paul Rhodes
rec. August 1972 (Robinson); April 1996 (Leighton); April 2007 (German, Alwyn,
Nelson); August 2007 (Harty, Head, Dunhill), St Swithun’s School Winchester.
ART DDA25069 [77:34]
I have had a soft spot for the music of
Sir Hamilton Harty ever since my late-father told me how
he had once met him. My father had come home from school
one afternoon in the 1930s and was ceremoniously ushered
into the drawing-room to be introduced to the great conductor
and composer. Why he was at my grandfather’s house was
never really explained, but I guess it was to do with some
performance of Elijah or Messiah. My grandfather
was, amongst other things, a choirmaster and ‘fixer’ of
musical events in the Manchester area. It was relatively
late in his life that my father told me this little gem – I
think he felt that I would not be interested!
Shortly after this tale was told, Chandos
brought out their stunning CD of Harty’s Piano Concerto.
Coupled with this impressive and romantically-charged piece
was his equally fine In Ireland. This was in a revision
which the composer had made for flute, harp and orchestra.
However, the original piece was written in 1918, shortly
before Harty was appointed as principal conductor of the
Hallé: it was for flute and piano. Interestingly, the work
presented on this CD is something of a composite or hybrid
version – utilising a number of the more intricate ‘arabesque
style passages used...in the orchestral version’. It is
a great opening piece that succeeds in creating a fine
impressionistic picture of the Emerald Isle.
Edward German is a composer who is usually
remembered - where he is remembered at all - for one work
- the opera Merrie England. However, he was a prolific
composer, who wrote in a number of genres – including symphonies,
tone poems, incidental music, piano pieces and chamber
works. The programme notes are correct in pointing out
that German composed in a style that was fashionable at
that time (late Victorian/Edwardian) – he was not a mould-breaker
or musical prophet. Yet, he was a first-rate craftsman
and had an uncanny ability to write good melodies – even
if they tended to be a little sentimental. The Intermezzo is
a fine example of this achievement. The melody and subsequent
elaborations seem to unfold like a summer flower.
The Suite is a good example of English
music at its best. I have noted elsewhere that there are
definite touches of Sir Arthur Sullivan about this music.
Yet German is not content simply to replicate the older
man’s successes. This is a short, but beautifully constructed
piece that well deserves its new-found place in the flute
repertoire. Furthermore, and I know this may seem rather
perverse, there are one or two phrases from the opening Valse
gracieuse (and elsewhere) that seem to anticipate none
other than Malcolm Arnold! The middle movement, a Souvenir,
is quite a considerable piece. It certainly challenges
any suggestion that German is simply a ‘light music’ composer.
This is a reflective and often introverted meditation.
We do not know what it was a ‘souvenir’ of, but it is certainly
an attractive and thoughtful piece. The final Gypsy
Dance is a tour-de-force, which seems to nod more to
a theatrical presentation of what imagined life was like
in a Romany community, rather than any genuine quotation
of folk tunes or pastiche. Nonetheless, like the rest of
the piece it is thoroughly enjoyable. The work was composed
One piece on this CD that I felt I ought
to enjoy is Michael Head’s By the River in Spring.
Its very title suggests a piece of English pastoralism,
which would normally attract me. However I am not sure
whether I like this piece. The overriding impression is
of a catena of folk tunes, loosely strung together: there
is no sense of development. It has been well described
song without words interrupted by a flute cadenza and a
short vivace section.” I note
the ‘rusticity’ of the flute melodies being accompanied
by ‘late romantic pianism’ which leads me to feel that
the work is a little imbalanced. It never quite seems to
settle into the mood that the title implies. Michael
Head wrote this piece in 1950: it was dedicated to the
flautist Gareth Morris.
I am on more familiar territory with William
Alwyn’s short, but perfectly balanced Flute Sonata. It
is, perhaps, not widely understood that the composer gave
flute lessons at the Royal Academy of Music as well as
his better known role as a teacher of composition. The
Sonata was composed in 1948 and was given its first performance
by one of Alwyn’s pupils, Gareth Morris. The work was then
effectively lost. Mary Alwyn has related how she found
the flute part amongst her late-husband’s music, but not
the piano part. There were, however, two pencil copies
located which were largely similar, save for one particular
passage. The flautist Christopher Hyde-Smith edited the
piece and created the performing edition.
The Sonata, which lasts less than eight
minutes, is much more involved than its length would suggest.
It is presented in one continuous movement, but is clearly
divided into three contrasting sections followed by a short
coda. The work opens with a slow piano introduction, which
is well described as austere. The flute adds its comment
before the music develops into a more dramatic utterance.
The heart of the work is the beautiful ‘adagio tranquillo’ which
is cast aside by the ‘acerbic fugue’ of the ‘allegro ritmico
e feroce’. This is both complex and technically difficult
music. The Sonata is an impressive work in which Alwyn
manages to balance his neo-classical ideas with a considerable
degree of neo-romantic interest.
I have never come across the composer
Havelock Nelson before. However, the programme notes explain
that was a “leading light on the Irish musical scene from
the 1950s [onwards]”. In addition to working as an accompanist,
conductor and broadcaster for the BBC in Belfast, he founded
the Studio Opera Group. Nelson composed a number of songs,
choral works and incidental music for radio, TV and films.
The two little pieces recorded here look
across the Atlantic for their inspiration. The first, Eirie
Cherie is based on a Trinidadian folksong and has all
the mood of the Caribbean gently crafted onto a traditional
musical framework. However, the second piece, In Venezuela,
is subtitled ‘Improvisation on a South American Theme’ yet,
to my ear this is somewhat wishful thinking. Much of this
music, especially the flute solo part, seems to be closer
to Kilkenny rather than Caracas!
Thomas Dunhill was a composer who seemed
to have his career divided into two distinct parts by critics.
There was the ‘light’ music exemplified by the operetta Tantivy
Towers, which is really a German or Sullivan-esque
confection and the ballet score Dick Whittington.
On the other hand he was the serious composer who wrote,
amongst other things, a great Symphony (long underrated)
and a fine Piano Quintet. His song The Cloths of Heaven is
near perfect. Thomas Dunhill is a composer who desperately
needs to be rediscovered- especially his chamber and orchestral
However the present Valse
Fantasia belongs to his ‘light’ music credentials and is none the
worse for that. The programme notes point out that the
exact date of this work is unknown and could have been
composed any time between 1900 and the end of the Great
War. This is a lovely, extrovert piece that surely challenges
the flautist in every direction. It is a summery work that
is a product of Dunhill’s desire “that music should be
easily accessible to the listener without the composer
having to compromise his desire for personal expression
or feeling obliged to follow the vagaries of some current
This work is not ground-breaking or even
important in Dunhill’s catalogue. But it is thoroughly
enjoyable. What more can a listener ask for?
Another composer who is unfamiliar to
me is Stanford Robinson although I do know of his
sterling work as a conductor at the BBC and with the Queensland
Symphony Orchestra. His Moon-Maiden’s Dance is a
languorous little piece that is quite timeless in its sound-world.
Quite who this particular lady was, the programme notes
do not tell, however she appears to have been an engaging
Kenneth Leighton is a composer who is
often ignored or sidelined in any musical discussion. Fortunately,
a number of his works are now beginning to appear on Chandos
and other record labels.
The present Sonata is the longest and
most involved work on this CD – it is certainly the most
challenging. The programme notes point out that this present
recording is in fact a “slightly adapted version of the
composer’s first Violin Sonata…” I do not know enough about
Leighton’s music to know if this was an ‘official’ transcription
or something that has been contrived posthumously. Whatever
the case, it certainly works in this format. The Sonata
(Violin) was originally composed in 1949 and was first
performed in France at the Grand Theatre in Bordeaux. The
work is in three movements, played without a break. The
heart of the piece is the absolutely gorgeous ‘lento e
liberamente’ which is an introspective, yet ultimately
positive exploration of some depth. The work is complex,
profound and satisfying. Along with the William Alwyn Sonata,
it is probably the most important piece on this disc.
This is an engaging CD that is both well-planned
and beautifully played. The two soloists have contrived
an important and interesting programme of British flute
and piano music that ought to be in the repertory. The
programme notes are helpful and the sound quality is excellent.
I suggest that listeners explore this
CD slowly but surely: take each work separately and enjoy!
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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