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CD: Crotchet

Stanley BATE (1911-1959)
Symphony no.3 (1940) [28:26]
Richard ARNELL (b.1917)
Prelude ‘Black Mountain’ op.46 (1946) [2:50]
Robert Flaherty Impression op.87 (1958) [20:43]
Erik CHISHOLM (1904-1965)
Pictures from Dante (after Doré) (1948) [21:51]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates
rec. Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, 17-18 September 2009
World premiere recordings
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7239 [74:15]


Experience Classicsonline

With the exception of the wartime symphonies of Alfred Corum, Stanley Wilson and Walter Gaze Cooper the generous production of British world war two symphonies is gradually becoming accessible. Such once obscure wonders as the symphonies of Arnell, Benjamin and Clifford can now be heard in their full glory. At long last Stanley Bate puts in an appearance with his finest work
I say finest as if I knew them all! I don’t but I am going by ancient broadcast tapes cherished since the early 1980s. I am also working on the assumption that they are fair representations - always a provisional judgement - the Third appears to be his most emotionally stricken and passionately compelling major piece. The second and third piano concertos (1940, 1957) are entertaining but do not aspire to these heights. I owe my knowledge of the Third Piano Concerto to an archive performance with the composer at the piano and the City of Oklahoma orchestra conducted by Guy Fraser Harrison. It is a superbly entertaining work; not without sentiment. The Fourth Symphony (1955) seems lower key and more diffuse than its predecessor though still well worth hearing.
The life of Plymouth-born English composer Stanley Bate was a deeply troubled yet prolifically productive one. Michael Barlow’s article on this site recounts the details. Like Britten and Arnell, Bate sent the war years in the USA achieving performances and broadcasts but storing up a freight of neglect and resentment for their return. That neglect was in the case of Bate and Arnell accentuated by the movement of establishment-favoured fashion towards dissonance.
The passion-torn pages of the Third Symphony are a very grown-up testament to the tragedy and violence of the Second World War. It’s a work I have known since the mid 1980s from a tape of Adrian Boult’s 12 July 1965 broadcast by the CBSO. It’s a shame that this was not coupled with the contemporaneous Havergal Brian Gothic broadcast just issued by Testament on SBT2 1454. For Dutton Epoch Martin Yates allows the turbulence of this work full power. It’s a potent piece which is racked with conflict. Its brothers in mood are the Walton First Symphony (stunning echoes at the start of Bate’s third movement), the Arthur Benjamin Symphony, the Symphony by Hubert Clifford, RVW symphonies 4 and 6. When the brass chorale rings out heroically in the first movement at 10:02 Bate and Yates leave us in no doubt as to the enduring power of this writing and of what we have been missing these years. In the second movement there is some searingly stratospheric music for the violins (4:13). It seems to carry the burden of tragedy. That burden is lofted in gloriously etched rhythmic work from the brass at the start of the finale. We have already had the Viola Concerto from Dutton Epoch wonderfully projected and shaped by Roger Chase. I do hope that we will soon hear the Piano Concertos 2 and 3 and the Fourth Symphony. As things stand Dutton and a number of other companies make one think that anything is possible.
Arnell is at long last - and deservedly - well represented on Dutton. On the present disc we have world premiere recordings of Black Mountain and the Robert Flaherty Impression. The first is a succinct murmuring mood miniature – chilly, tonal and referring to the film-maker Robert Flaherty’s Vermont home in all its imposing jagged-bleak wintry harshness. Then the Flaherty Impression sings out at much greater length, tender and caring, poetic and yielding, but also riven with conflict at 6:00. It’s quite a romantic piece – effectively a personal tone-poem blessed with a Copland-style nobility. Arnell must have admired Flaherty no end. The grand arc of this piece curves down into a not untroubled quietude presided over by the valedictory harp.
Erik Chisholm’s impressive music is making a steady recovery revival aided by the well informed and dedicated energy of his daughter. Her work and that of other Chisholm champions is reflected in the Chisholm website. The Pictures from Dante (after Doré) date from 1948. the piece is in two panels: (i) Inferno and (ii) Paradisio. The Inferno broods and hums with the elemental murmuring force of a black storm barely held back and eventually unleashed in all its spleen over the fragments of the Dies Irae. The sound-world recalls a sort of modernised Francesca da Rimini crossed with the inky waters of Bax’s Northern Ballad No. 2 and Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead. If only Bernard Herrmann had heard this score. He would surely have recorded it and probably coupled it with Josef Holbrooke’s The Pit and the Pendulum. The second and longer panel is the Paradisio. This is temperate music, with gleaming strings, chant-inflected woodwind, blessed with peace yet still having the spectral outline of the Dies Irae moving in bleached colours in the background. The ominous presence fades and gradually the music walks thorough realms of birdsong - shades of Messiaen, Griffes and RVW’s The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains - and beatific visions that rise in an arch of triumph.
Four glorious revivals, superbly performed, recorded and documented. Unmissable.

Rob Barnett



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