English Classics

Hallé/Sir Mark Elder/***John Wilson
Full track-listing and recording details at the end of this review
HALLÉ CD HLD 7532 [4 CDs: 62:47 + 71:40 + 74:30 + 69:32]
This is an outstandingly generous compilation. Not only does it offer a treasure trove of Hallé recordings made over the last few years but also it includes, in full, the contents of one very fine disc that was released as recently as 2011. In fact there are the full contents of three CDs included here while the fourth is made up from several releases. I’m pleased to see that the overall programme includes a number of works that are not from the standard repertoire. This is another great attraction to the set.
All the recordings included here have been appraised by various knowledgeable colleagues on MusicWeb International. In the track-listing at the end of this review I’ve included links to their original reviews. I will limit myself to brief comments.
CD1 includes some very fine performances of Butterworth. The playing in A Shropshire Lad is sensitive, though the climax has strength. The superfine pianissimi are especially noteworthy. The two short Delius pieces fare well. I like the idea of a Brigg Fair segment to the programme though I found it was rewarding to play the Grainger arrangement of the folksong - James Gilchrist a plangent soloist - before rather than after the Delius rhapsody. The rhapsody Brigg Fair, though it sounds an expansive piece – and it is – is also a minor miracle of compression in that Delius packs in no less than seventeen variations as well as an Introduction, an Interlude and the Coda all within the span of some sixteen minutes. Elder leads a very fine performance: the Interlude is especially lovely while the climax of the piece, when we get there, is ardent with bells and horns well to the fore. It was a nice touch to tag onto the end of the disc a snippet of Joseph Taylor, the Lincolnshire folk singer whose version of the song, first heard by Grainger in 1905, fired the composer’s imagination.
CD2 is informed by a sense of place. Elder’s Tintagel is one of the best I’ve heard; he captures the majesty and the fantasy of Bax’s great score. The Hallé brass is superb, especially the exultant horns. This is rich, passionate music and it’s splendidly played but Elder’s performance, though properly expansive, is also taut; there’s no romantic wallowing. The pastoral beauty of The Lark Ascending offers a striking contrast to the Bax. Lyn Fletcher, the Hallé’s leader, is a poetic soloist whose line soars effortlessly above the sensitive orchestra. It’s good to hear the Hallé Choir on excellent form at the end of the disc. Often one hears As Torrent in Summer sung by a smallish chamber choir but it’s perfectly appropriate for a full-sized choir to sing it; after all, this is how it would be done in a complete performance of King Olaf. John Ireland’s short piece is also done well; we shall encounter very different music by him later in this collection.
CD3 offers the most imaginative programming in the collection with a selection of less familiar English pieces saluting Spring. Bax’s Spring Fire is a great rarity and it receives a splendid performance in a ‘live’ recording before an appreciative audience. As Spring Fire unfolds the orchestration is increasingly colourful, detailed and brilliant. The third of the five movements, ‘Woodland Love’, is particularly gorgeous: This spacious, erotically charged music is superbly realised by Elder and the Hallé; the playing has delicacy and refinement and the various solos are delivered excellently. Sir Mark also gives us a Delius rarity in the shape of Idylle de Printemps. Though this is early Delius it was scarcely heard until the 1990s but, as the present, very fine reading demonstrates, it’s well worth hearing. So is Frank Bridge’s Enter Spring. This is at least the fourth recording of the work, though you won’t come across it very often in the concert hall, and it’s as fine as any I’ve heard and quite possibly the finest of all. Elder’s is an expansive but not indulgent reading. He’s particularly successful, I think, in balancing the often teeming detail of the score. The Hallé’s playing is absolutely superb, as is the recorded sound.
CD4 is something of a mixed bag – but only in the sense that the recordings are drawn from several Hallé discs. Elder’s credentials as an Elgar conductor are very firmly established and they’re on display in a colourful and vibrant performance of Cockaigne. In Michael Kennedy’s note we read that the composer described the work to Hans Richter as ‘honest, healthy, humorous and strong but not vulgar’. All that can be heard in this performance to which I’d add that the reflective passages in the piece are also well done. The performance is full of flair and dash – not for the first time in this collection the playing of the Hallé brass is strikingly good – and the organ of the Bridgewater Hall, separately recorded, makes its presence felt at the end. It’s a long time since I listened to Elder’s revelatory recording of the complete incidental music that Vaughan Williams wrote for The Wasps and the excepts included here are a reminder of the excellence – and importance - of that recorded project. In the celebrated overture there’s abundant brio and deftness in the faster music while the memorable Big Tune is admirably paced. Sample also the ‘March Past of the Witnesses’, more familiarly known by the title RVW gave it for the orchestral suite, ‘March Past of the Kitchen Utensils’. This is a really cheeky-sounding performance and the pots-and-pans percussion is delightful.
For the last couple of pieces the baton is taken over by John Wilson. He’s particularly noted for his work with Broadway and Film Music scores (review) but here he proves equally adept in John Ireland’s music. He generates excellent atmosphere in The Forgotten Rite and leads a stirring performance of the Epic March. The latter piece, to coin a phrase, does what it says on the tin. It can stand proudly in the lineage of Pomp and Circumstance and Crown Imperial and here it provides a rousing finale to this set that celebrates English music at its best.
I haven’t mentioned every piece that’s included here. Please don’t take that as an indication that either the music or the performances are on a lesser level compared with the items that I’ve mentioned. Nothing could be further from the truth. Performances and music are consistently excellent throughout this collection. In fact, there isn’t a dud anywhere to be heard. I said at the outset that this is a generous compilation. That generosity extends to the presentation. So far as I can see the original booklet notes have been retained. All are excellent but since the majority are by Michael Kennedy, doughty champion both of English music and of the Hallé over so many years, one would expect nothing less. The recorded sound is consistently excellent.
Even if you have some or most of these pieces in other recordings I would urge you to hear Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé. I don’t believe that, currently, this partnership can be bettered as champions of English music. This outstanding compilation shows them at their considerable best.
John Quinn

An outstandingly generous compilation of English music
See also review by Rob Barnett

Full track-listing

CD 1 (from CD HLL 7503 – see review by Gwyn Parry-Jones )
George BUTTERWORTH* (1885-1916)
A Shropshire Lad: Rhapsody for Orchestra (1911) [11:36]
Two English Idylls (1910-1911) [9:08]
The Banks of Green Willow (1914) [5:51]
Frederick DELIUS * (1862-1934)
Irmelin: Prelude (1931) [5:22]
The Walk to the Paradise Garden (1907) [9:52]
Brigg Fair: An English Rhapsody (1907) [16:43]
Percy GRAINGER(1882-1961)
Brigg Fair (1906)* [2:45]
Trad. Brigg Fair (rec. 1908) ** [0:39]
*James Gilchrist, tenor, **Joseph Taylor, singer
*Hallé Choir
Hallé Orchestra/Mark Elder
Recorded 11-12th October 2002, BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, UK (*), 17th October 2002, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (†)

CD 2 (from CD HLL 7512 – see review by Em Marshall)
Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Tintagel [16.57]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) The Lark Ascending [15.18]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956) The Fall of the Leaf [11.08]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Norfolk Rhapsody no. 1 [10.23]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934) Summer Night on the River [6.06]; On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring [6.03]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) As Torrent in Summer (from King Olaf) [2.11]
John IRELAND (1879-1962) The Hills [2.54]
Lyn Fletcher (violin)
The Halle Choir
Halle Orchestra/Sir Mark Elder,
rec. 5-6 November 2005, BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester

CD 3 (from CD HLL 7528 – see review by Rob Barnett
Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Spring Fire (1. In the Forest before Dawn; 2. Daybreak; and Sunrise; 3. Full Day; 4. Woodland Love (Romance); 5. Maenads) (1913) [32:33]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934) Idylle de Printemps (1889) [10:45]; North Country Sketches: The March of Spring (1914) [10:08]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) Enter Spring (1927) [20:50]
rec. 18 March 2010, 14 October 2010, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (Bax; Idylle); 23-24 June 2010, BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester (March; Bridge).

CD 4 (from CD HLL 7501; *from CD HLL 7509; **from CD HLL 7530; ***from CD HLL 7523 – see reviews by Christopher Fifield, Gwyn Parry-Jones, Rob Barnett and John France)
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Cockaigne Op.40 (1901) [14.45]
Serenade for Strings Op.20 (1892) [12.47]
Chanson de matin Op.15 No.2 (1899) [3.26]
rec Bridgewater Hall/BBC Studio 7, Manchester in July/October 2002
Dream Children, op.43 [6:50]
rec. 22-24 March 2005, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester.
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The Wasps (1909)
No. 1: Overture [9:43]
No. 9: Entr’acte and Introduction [2:51]
No. 11: March Past of the Witnesses [1:38]
No 13: Entr’acte [4:36]
rec. 26-28 July 2005, Albert Halls, Bolton
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
The Forgotten Rite (1913-1918) [7:09]
Epic March (1942) [8:18]
The Hallé Orchestra/John Wilson
rec. 24-25 March 2007, BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester