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Stanley BATE (1911-1959)
Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1944-46) [39:10]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) [5:56]
Romance (originally for viola and piano, orchestrated by Roger Chase)
William Henry BELL (1873-1946)
Rosa Mystica, Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1916) [29:17]
Roger Chase (viola)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Steve Bell
rec. 1-3 July 2008, The Colosseum, Watford, England. DDD
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7216 [74:54]

 

Experience Classicsonline


 

 
The Dutton label is certainly giving tremendous service to rare British music, very much in the way we have been used to from Chandos and Hyperion. Dutton’s repertoire of recordings has been adventurous and many of them mouth-watering. Clearly not all of this rare music has been outstandingly memorable. On this release the works from William Henry Bell and Ralph Vaughan Williams are certainly well crafted and worth getting to know. The score by Stanley Bate is of particularly high quality. Played here by soloist Roger Chase, using Lionel Tertis’s celebrated Montagnana viola, all the scores are claimed to be world premiere recordings. I note that all three composers are connected in that they all attended the Royal College of Music (RCM), London.
 
Stanley Bate was a new name to me. None of my friends seemed to have heard of him either. Suddenly there are now two important Bate releases available on Dutton as the Symphony No.3 (1940) has just been issued on CDLX 7239. As a pupil at the RCM, Bate’s impressive list of teachers included Ralph Vaughan Williams, Arthur Benjamin, Reginald Owen (R.O.) Morris and Gordon Jacob, all of whom had studied with Stanford. Bate later studied privately in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and also with Hindemith in Berlin at the Hochschüle für Musik.
 
Bate was one of a group of British composers who stayed in the USA during the Second World War years; an absence that undoubtedly harmed his career in Britain. Returning to London in 1949 Bate’s music was for the most part ignored. Significantly at this time the BBC had embarked on a cultural repositioning in favour of modernist composers. Experiencing severe personal difficulties Bate committed suicide in 1959. Bate’s entry in Grove Music Online ends with the rather pointed comment, “Bate was highly prolific, but his music, with a few exceptions, lacks enduring quality.” It would be interesting to know how much of Bate’s work the Grove biographer had actually heard. On the evidence of this recording of the Viola Concerto and the subsequent Dutton recording of the Third Symphony I am hopeful that the music of Bate will be judged more positively.
 
The Concerto for Viola and Orchestra from 1944/46 is cast in four movements and was composed in the USA. The concerto’s printed score bears a dedication to Vaughan Williams and was written for the famous violist William Primrose. As indicated by the short score it seems that Primrose was the original dedicatee. Violist Emanuel Vardi gave the premiere with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1947 at New York for a radio broadcast. Almost immediately Bate’s Viola Concerto fell into obscurity.
 
In 2005 Hyperion released a splendid disc of rare late-Romantic English Viola Concertos from York Bowen and Cecil Forsyth on CDA67546. The Bowen and Forsyth concertos are fine works, however, I feel that the quality of the Bate Viola Concerto occupies a more elevated league rather akin to the William Walton Viola Concerto and Max Bruch’s Viola Romance in F major.
 
The opening measures of the first movement of the Viola Concerto immediately cast a spell over the listener with a beautiful cantabile line for the soloist. There is a sense of isolation conveyed suggesting desolate landscapes. Here I was reminded of the sound-world of Vaughan Williams’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’. The mood quickly changes to one of generally robust writing, communicating copious amounts of tension and edginess. This is certainly powerful and affecting music that must surely be influenced by the horrors of war. The brief contrasting episodes of relative calm are appealing providing a glimpse of how different events might have been. Overall the orchestration is evocative of Vaughan Williams infused with lashings of Waltonesque rhythms and harmonies.
 
The splendid Andante Sostenuto has an uncertain calm permeated with gently swaying rhythms of a dark and intense sadness. The solo viola enters at 2:10 with a mournful cry. Throughout the movement the music plumbs considerable emotional depths. Again it is difficult not to be reminded of Vaughan Williams together with hints of Samuel Barber and Walton. One can easily imagine the late autumnal chill of an English marshland scene inhabited by frenzied bird migration activity. This is surely a nostalgic cry from the American-based composer for his home country.
 
Marked Allegro vivace the Scherzo is hurried and agitated, almost frantic music. It sparkles with freshness and wilful energy. I was left wanting more of this brief yet urgent movement. On occasions the sound world, especially the haunting and lyrical repetitions, reminded me of the distinctive approach that Philip Glass employs today.
 
Powerful and memorable the final movement concentrates more on mood painting than killer themes. Not too dissimilar to the opening movement the solo writing
utilises long Romantic lines and the warmly colourful orchestration is lush and opulent. A sensuous Waltonesque style is present overlying rich and dense orchestral scoring in the stormy manner of Vaughan Williams.
 
There can be few classical music lovers who have not heard of Ralph Vaughan Williams, a composer whose eminence has travelled worldwide with an appeal that has been enduring. The short Romance was originally a composition for Viola and Piano dating from around the 1930s. It may have been intended as an encore for the renowned violist Lionel Tertis but for some reason was consigned to the drawer. The Romance was edited for performance by violist Bernard Shore who gave the premiere in 1962 with Eric Gritton at the Arts Council Drawing Room at St. James’s Square, London. Roger Chase the violist on this release has prepared a sympathetic orchestration of the Romance for small orchestra. One wonders what the master himself would have created. Characteristically pastoral in feel the Romance is attractive rather than vintage Vaughan Williams.
 
William Henry Bell (usually know as W.H. Bell) was another budding composer to study with Stanford at the RCM. In fact, Bell also studied for a time with Frederick Corder at the Royal Academy of Music. Sadly Bell is one of a large number of Stanford pupils and associates who, although achieving a modicum of success during their careers, have faded almost completely from the radar; with commercial recordings of their scores a distinct rarity.
 
Probably frustrated by the limited opportunities afforded by the fierce competition for work several former RCM students from this era searched abroad to improve their professional prospects. Like several of his contemporaries Bell took advantage of British colonial links by emigrating to South Africa in 1912. There he made a highly successful career becoming director of the South African College of Music; it later became part of the University of Cape Town. A tribute to his memory is the W.H. Bell Music Library at the University of Cape Town.
 
Bell wrote his three movement Rosa Mystica, Concerto for Viola and Orchestra in 1916 receiving its premiere the next year in Cape Town. It is not known for certain why Bell appended the title Rosa Mystica (Mystical Rose), usually a sacred reference to the Virgin Mary, to his Viola Concerto. The score is prefaced by a couple of verses from The Flower Of Jesse from Martha Edith Rickert’s collection Ancient English Christmas Carols - 1400-1700.
 
Four horns playing in unison herald a martial preface to the first movement. This mainly sweet and fluid music contains episodes that convey a sense of fear and excitement. Written in the midst of the horrors of the Great War one can easily imagine Bell depicting a scene of crowds of young men responding to Kitchener’s call to enlist to serve King and Country. At times in the viola passagework I was reminded of the lyricism of the Delius Violin Concerto.
 
The Adagio is gentle and gloriously tender writing of mood rather than melody. These passionate outpourings must unquestionably be Bell’s musical depiction of a love affair. There is a stirring contrasting episode of storm and tension from about 5:02 which soon subsides.
 
The Finale feels similar in many ways to the opening movement especially the very brief suggestions of a martial character that commences the movement. The general atmosphere is a peaceful one, almost idyllic, that feels a million miles away from the horrors of war. There are light undercurrents of tension present in the music but only rarely felt. From around 5:00 the music develops a robust quality of forward momentum that gradually fades in intensity.

Soloist Roger Chase and the BBC Concert Orchestra under Steve Bell are to be congratulated for their admirable endeavours in bringing these three premiere recordings from project to fruition. Their playing is sympathetic, alert and consistently well judged. Beautifully recorded with a fine warm bloom and a splendid balance from the Colosseum in Watford the release also has the benefit of two splendid essays.
 
This is a fine recording from Dutton that will help promote these forgotten works. I believe the Stanley Bate Viola Concerto to be an outstanding score deserving of acclaim.
 
Michael Cookson
 

 


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