George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916)
A Shropshire Lad (1911) [10:21]
Two English Idylls (1910/11):
English Idyll No. 1 [4:47]
English Idyll No. 2 [4:19]
The Banks of Green Willow (1913) [5:58]
Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
Lady Radnor's Suite (1894) [15:27]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Suite for String Orchestra (1909/10) [19:50]
English String Orchestra/William Boughton
rec. 27-2 June 1986, Great Hall, University of Birmingham, England
NIMBUS NI 5068 [60:40]
What a delightful disc this is: English string and orchestral music from Butterworth, Parry and Bridge. The English String Orchestra was founded in 1978 by conductor William Boughton. On this release it is augmented by woodwind and brass contingents.
All three composers here have connections to the Royal College of Music where Parry and Stanford were leading lights in the so-called English Music Renaissance. Both taught and molded more than two generations of pupils from Britain and the Commonwealth.
English folk-dancing was George Butterworth’s hobby as well as collecting folk songs. As a student at the RCM for a short time he may have studied under Stanford; certainly he would have been influenced by the great Irishman’s circle. In the Great War Butterworth enlisted as a Private, progressed to 2nd Lieutenant and was awarded the Military Cross. Sadly he was killed by a sniper’s bullet at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. With his life ending tragically before its time aged only 31 Butterworth’s output, mainly songs, is relatively small though of high quality. All of his orchestral music is contained here; some twenty-five minutes of it in total.
After some indecision Butterworth finally settled on A Shropshire Lad as the title for his 1911rhapsody for orchestra. The principal theme in this compellingly beautiful score is taken from Butterworth’s own song Loveliest of Threes. The writing is evocative of cool early morning mist over fenland. I admire the way a surge of weighty string sound covers and disperses the mist. Composed in 1910/11 both the English Idyll No. 1 and the English Idyll No. 2 use Sussex folk songs; some of which Butterworth had himself collected. It was Hugh Allen who conducted the first performance of the Two English Idylls at Oxford in 1912. Undemanding and rather bland in truth the First English Idyll could easily be a depiction of village life in his beloved Sussex. Highly melodic, the Second English Idyll feels like a relaxing stroll through a tree-lined country lane. The idyll The Banks of Green Willow is a highly evocative work from 1913. It was Butterworth’s last completed score. A year later a young Adrian Boult introduced the work at West Kirby on the Wirral. Overflowing with folk themes this highly accomplished and inventive score is Butterworth’s finest work. I especially enjoyed the verdant colours from the accomplished woodwind.
There is much to admire in the beautifully played accounts of the Butterworth works from the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. Recorded in 1975 the disc is available on Lyrita SRCD245 (c/w Warlock An old song, Hadley One morning in spring, Howells Procession; Elegy; Music for a Prince).
A quintessential English gentleman Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry was steeped in the Austro-German symphonic tradition. Renowned for his connection with the RCM Parry taught at the college from its foundation in 1883 and became its director in 1895. He served there until his death. He wrote the Lady Radnor Suite as a commission for his close friend Helen, Countess of Radnor for the chamber orchestra that she conducted. Countess Helen introduced the six movement Suite in 1894 at St. James Hall, London. The neo-baroque Lady Radnor Suite is a dignified score strong on polished elegance. Notable is the affectionate and generally lively Prelude. Stately in feel the Bourrée has a degree of reserve while warmly convivial Gigue is briskly spirited.
Frank Bridge is best known today as the teacher of Benjamin Britten a factor that greatly overlooks his prowess as a composer. It was at the RCM that Bridge took composition lessons with Stanford. At the College Bridge was a contemporary of Vaughan Williams, Butterworth, Holst, Howells and Gurney. Cast in four movements the Suite for Strings in E minor from 1909/10 received little attention until the composer conducted the score at a Henry Wood Promenade Concert at the Queen’s Hall, London. I particularly admire the melodically rich Intermezzo movement - reassuring and engaging music. The Nocturne radiates a calm disposition on the surface but has shadowy undertones. By far the stand-out piece is the memorably appealing and sunlit Finale. The Finale inhabits a very similar sound world to string masterpieces from two other Stanford protégées: the Elegy from Edgar Bainton’s Three Pieces for Orchestra (1918) and the Minuet from John Ireland’s A Downland Suite (1932), the latter arranged for strings by Geoffrey Bush.
There’s a splendidly expressive account of the Suite for Strings from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Richard Hickox. It was recorded in 2003 at the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea and is available on Chandos CHAN 10246 (c/w The Hag; Two Songs of Robert Bridges; Two Intermezzi from 'Threads'; Two Old English Songs; Valse Intermezzo à cordes; Todessehnsucht; Sir Roger de Coverley).
Beautifully played and recorded this disc of English music offers fine performances of sympathy and expression. The players of the English String Orchestra under William Boughton have an appealing timbre and impressive unison. This winning Nimbus CD should be in the collection of every lover of English music.
Michael Cookson
Should be in the collection of every lover of English music.