Gordon JACOB (1895-1984)
Viola Concerto No. 1 (1925 rev. 1976) [19:37]
Concert Piece for viola and orchestra (ed. John White) (1977) [19:52]
Three Pieces for viola and orchestra (orch. Graham Parlett) (1930 orch. 2010) [11:53]
Viola Concerto No. 2 with string orchestra (1979) [18:29]
Passacaglia Stereophonica (1960) [3:05]
Helen Callus (viola)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Stephen Bell
rec. St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, 13-15 July 2010. DDD
world premiere recordings
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7258 [73:36]

Two works heard by chance and taped speculatively off the radio circa 1975-77 resulted in my adding Jacob to my want-and-consider list. The first oddly enough was the very romantic Rhapsody for piano and brass band. It's still magnificent yet remain unrecorded more's the grievous pity.

Next and relevant to the present disc is the Viola Concerto No. 1 which I heard in a no-holds-barred broadcast by the fiery Harry Danks. The present reading by Helen Callus who has already recorded this category of repertoire for the now defunct ASV. Hearing it again after all these years simply brought home to me how strong this work is. Did the flame ever burn as high in his later works with viola and orchestra. We shall see. The First Concerto is in a single movement with a defiant Baxian call to arms. A surging sunrise of a climax is placed alongside writing that often suggests that Jacob had an affinity with Delius's Violin Concerto and Vaughan Williams' Lark Ascending. This concerto impulsively traces the mercury between pastoral dream and heroic attitudinising. Leafy greenways and Korngoldian serenity are one thing but Jacob comes back to true north with the return of the tripping writing, hoarse calls to arms and regal Moeran-style triumph. Sensational.

The Concert Piece is in eight separately tracked segments. This is from the 1970s like the Second Concerto and while the textures are not as sumptuous as those of the First Concerto the music is affluent in sentiment and generous in expression. This is an affable and romantically-inclined work. Its Allegro moderato (tr. 7) pays tribute to Arthur Bliss and the Colour Symphony. It is a work of episodes but is diverting in the way it arrogates moods and expresses them with every semblance of confidence. Part of the picture is the Elgarian outburst in the final expostulating bars.

The Three Pieces are from five years after the First Concerto. The soulfully eloquent Elegy casts its mind back to the Great War and bereavements too close to Jacob's heart and still having the capacity to surprise and move. Then comes a chilly Moderato which might conceivably have been inspired by Frank Bridge's Oration for cello and orchestra. The Scherzo bustles busily but is the least effective movement.

The Second Concerto sleep walks its way into a dreamy Lento setting the scene for a buzzing bumble-bee of an Allegro molto. There's a chastened and chill Adagio - with winter drawing in. The longish Allegro finale carries some shadows of the first concerto and that throatily exciting tone so well put across by Callus is again in evidence.

Lastly we have the fleet-footed Passacaglia Stereophonica for orchestra - no solo viola this time. It starts with a windy uber-Reger-like flourish after which follows a mercurial fantasy in lapidary glistering colours designed to test out the stereo broadcasts rolled out by the BBC in 1960.

While the gem is the romantic Viola Concerto No. 1 there is much here to discover and in which to take delight.

Rob Barnett

While the gem is the romantic Viola Concerto No. 1 there is much here to discover and in which to take delight.