John FOULDS (1880-1939)
Keltic Overture op.28 (1930)
Keltic Suite op.29 (1911) (The Clans; A Lament; The Call)
Sicilian Aubade (1927)
Isles of Greece op.48 no.2 (Impressions of time and place no.2) (1927)
Holiday Sketches op.16 (1908) (Festival in Nuremberg; Romany from Bohemia; Evening in the Odenwald; Bells at Coblentz)
An Arabian Night (1936-37)
Suite Fantastique op.72 (from the music to a French Pierrot play) (1924) (Pierrette and Pierrot; Chanson Plaintive; The Wayside Cross; Carnival Procession)
Katharine Wood (cello solo); Cynthia Fleming (violin solo); Roderick Elms (organ)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Ronald Corp
rec. The Colosseum, Town Hall, Watford, 8-10 March 2010
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7252 [68:06]

The music of Manchester-born John Foulds has had a steady revival. It can be charted from Malcolm Macdonald’s Triad press book and since the British Music Society first gave sponsorship to Pearl for the Endellion recording of the Quartetto Intimo in the early 1980s. Lyrita and Warner have done well by his orchestral music. The Proms have seen revival of a number of his works including the Mantras and the Dynamic Triptych, both fantastically imaginative and revolutionary scores. His enthusiasms for Celtic and Greek cultures are well enough known, paralleling those of Granville Bantock. He later took a strong interest in Indian culture and his last years were spent as Music Director of All-India Radio. Amongst his last and lost work is the Symphony of East and West.

Dutton and its select band of pilgrims now present a splendid collection of his lighter music. This is not the experimental Foulds of Avatara, Intimo, Cello Sonata, Meditations, Dynamic Triptych, Lyra Celtica or Mirage. But it's still beguiling.

The wide-ranging romance of the Keltic Overture is distinctive with its clan horn-calls, whirlwind grandiloquence and the odd jig thrown in to reflect a union of Gaeldom across Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The three-movement Keltic Suite dates from 19 years earlier and includes the swooning Keltic Lament here swayed with mastery by cello principal Katharine Wood. As a suite it has a certain kinship in mood and ambition with Gustave Charpentier's Impressions d'Italie. The Clans is brash, a shade bombastic and those flute skirls suggest the bagpipes. A Lament is the very same Keltic Lament that made Foulds' name in tens of different arrangements from seaside bandstand to salon, to front room to concert hall. It stays just this side of sentimental and can be counted with the populistic side of Elgar, Harty and Bantock. Indeed it would be surprising if Paxton who recorded lots of Bantock fantasy-exotica 'postcards' had not done the same for this adeptly shaped piece of misty-eyed Celticism. The finale is redolent of Dvorák in his Slavonic Dances and of Harty at his most ersatz Irish in the Irish Symphony.

Sicilian Aubade again can be thought of as a sort of craftsmanly cross between Charpentier's Impressions, Massenet's orchestral suites including the one from El Cid and Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Italien. It is a sun-warmed mood piece, a relaxed serenade and nothing too profound.

One of Foulds' most captivating pieces, whether in the toweringly difficult piano solo or in the lissom and spring-fresh orchestral version, is his April-England. That work is Op. 48 No.1. Isles of Greece is Op. 48 No. 2. It's an idyllic, wave-lapping picture with an undertow of emotion. This Mediterranean essay would pair nicely with Bantock's Pagan Symphony, Nielsen's Helios and Sibelius's Oceanides.

Holiday Sketches is an early memento of holidays in Germany. It reflects the carefree innocence of Elgar's Bavarian Dances and From the Bavarian Highlands. This was a time from before the Great War when holidays in Germany among the aristocracy and upper middle classes were not unusual. The Festival in Nuremberg movement is brash and whoopingly confident. Romany from Bohemia adds some gypsy violin fire - here vouchsafed by Cynthia Fleming. In truth this is not the strongest movement of the Sketches. Katharine Wood returns for the cello solo in Evening in the Odenwald. All is at peace and the callow traveller gazes out over the still woodlands contentedly with his arm around his light of love. Bells at Coblentz has the bells ringing out across the town in celebration of some feast or saints day. There's even time for some wistful yet not languid banter suggested by woodwind in flickering dialogue before those brazen Wagnerian farewells.

An Arabian Night delivers on the title with a sinuous sway and scimitar-moon images. The solo cello again gives voice to the amorous and is joined by solo violin with the suggestion of exotic tinkling and shivering percussion.

The Suite Fantastique recycles incidental music Foulds wrote for Sacha Guitry's play Debureau. He had already mined it for the flouncy overture Le Cabaret which you can hear on Lyrita. There are four movements to the Suite. The first is Pierrette and Pierrot. These fairytale lovers were the subject of several musical works around the turn of the century. Bantock's impressionistic Pierrot of the Minute (Chandos and Hyperion) and Joseph Holbrooke's little opera Pierrot and Pierrette are other examples. Foulds' sequence is graceful yet shallow. They skate over the surface of the emotions - facile rather than probing or profound. The whole sequence is a sort of floaty 1920s equivalent of the Britten-Rossini Matinees Musicales or Soirees Musicales.

The BBC Concert Orchestra have known some of these pieces since the days of the late lamented Ashley Lawrence. They have this music well under their skin. As for Ronald Corp he is an adept of British light music as his set of four Hyperion CDs (which included Keltic Lament) indicates.

Now that we have this invaluable Foulds disc I hope that someone will turn up the performing materials for Joseph Holbrooke's 1920s dance-band music. Nothing profound I am sure but still likely, going by his Pandora, to be well worth the necessary archaeology.

This disc is a splendid addition to the light music catalogue, enjoyable in general and remarkable for The Isles of Greece.

Rob Barnett

A splendid and enjoyable addition to the light music catalogue.