This superb disc of music from the First World War period opens with John Ansell’s Overture Plymouth Hoe
. Light-hearted and jaunty, the piece draws upon popular nautical melodies, has a moving and lyrical middle section and ends with a rousing inclusion in Rule Britannia
– a most appropriate and promising start to the CD.
The most significant work is the first fully professional recording for over ninety years of Elgar’s Fringes of the Fleet
, here in a new performing edition by Tom Higgins, in which performance practices gleaned from manuscripts and Elgar’s own 1917 recording have been added to the score. The recording also includes the additional fifth song, Inside the Bar
, to words by Sir Gilbert Parker - since Kipling had, for reasons likely to do with the fact that his son had gone missing in the war, withdrawn his support for the project to the extent that he actually banned further performances. It is an excellent – if at times rather genteel - performance – Roderick Williams’s rich, powerful, resonant voice suits the piece perfectly, and he is extremely well accompanied by his fellow baritones and the orchestra. Fringes of the Fleet
is followed by an arrangement for four baritones (also by Tom Higgins) of Elgar’s setting of Kipling’s Big Steamers
. This is a real gem – the arrangement most attractive, and the performance impressive. Higgins has also taken it upon himself to arrange Ireland’s two songs for orchestra, which are here given premiere performances. The other premiere recording on the disc is Haydn Wood’s A Manx Overture – The Isle of Mountains and Glens
- a sparkling piece, played here with tremendous vivacity and spirit. Another ebullient setting of Big Steamers
, this time by Elgar’s contemporary, Edward German, precedes another nautical overture by Ansell - Windjammer
(19th century slang for a sailing ship). A spry and dashing piece, it again includes folk-song references, most notably and touchingly, Shenandoah
Some of the works on the disc are unremarkable, but all work well in a carefully-compiled programme of both lighter and more serious war music. This version of Fringes of the Fleet
is certainly a welcome addition to the catalogue – and the disc has the further benefit of including an extremely sensitive and poignant performance of Elgar’s Elegy for Strings
. All in all, well worth a listen!