Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Eclogue (1957) [10.01]*
Charles Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
An English Suite (1921) [19.19]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Sir Roger de Coverley (1922) [4.53]
An Irish melody (1908) [8.06]
There is a willow grows aslant a brook (1927) [9.37]
Rosemary (1906) [3.31]
Canzonetta (1926) [2.58]
Sally in our alley (1916) [3.42]
Cherry ripe (1916) [3.32]
Lament (1915) [4.52]
Martin Jones (piano)*
English String Orchestra/William Boughton
rec. Great Hall, Birmingham University, 6-7 June and 11 October 1992
NIMBUS NI 5366 [70.31]
The three composers represented on this compilation have little in common with each other apart from their nationality and the fact that they were largely neglected during the latter part of their lives and after their deaths. Of the three, Parry always kept a foothold on the repertory because of his choral music - although much of this substantial body of work remains unrecorded to this day - but the English Suite was a posthumous work edited after the composer’s death for performance by his pupil Emily Daymond and not performed until four years after his death, in a Prom outing after which it promptly sank without trace. Some of the ideas in the music date back to Parry’s heyday in 1894 but Daymond did her mentor no favours when she suggested that two of the seven movements of the suite could be omitted if the Suite was thought to be too long, and here the Caprice movement is indeed not given – as it was in Boult’s earlier 1971 recording for Lyrita. The work is hardly over-extended at under twenty minutes, and there would have been plenty of room for the additional movement. The later recordings in the catalogue, conducted by Richard Hickox and Adrian Leaper, also include the work complete and under the circumstances there seems little to recommend this cut version under Boughton unless the other works on the disc appeal.
Like Parry’s Suite, Finzi’s Eclogue was not published or performed until after the composer’s death, and the title was supplied by his editors. It was originally written in the 1920s as the slow movement of a piano concerto, but was revised some twenty years later to the form we now know. The first recording was made in 1977 under the indefatigable Vernon Handley and Peter Katin, but since then there have been a number of others. Martin Jones gives a very cool reading which emphasises the almost neo-classical style of the writing; one can imagine the work being played with more heated romantic fervour, but it nevertheless reveals all its crystalline beauty in this reading and the playing of the strings is beautifully refined. This is probably the best track on the disc; but the greater part of the collection really rests on the shoulders of Frank Bridge.
After his death, Bridge was even more neglected than Parry or Finzi; indeed, for many years he was only remembered for the fact that he had supplied the theme for Britten’s Variations, and there were more recordings of that piece in the catalogues than of any of Bridge’s own orchestral music. Britten himself recorded Sir Roger de Coverley with the English Chamber Orchestra in 1969 in the Snape Maltings, and the larger body of strings he employed made a more positive impression than Boughton manages here. It was not until Sir Charles Groves devoted a whole EMI LP to the orchestral music of Bridge in 1976 that the revival of the composer’s fortunes may be said to have been safely launched. Groves could sometimes be a rather stolid and sober conductor, but at his best he was capable of producing some superb performances – his recording of Delius’s Koanga remains unchallenged in the catalogue to this day, and his Bridge compilation was another of the highlights of his recorded repertoire. He included Cherry ripe and the Lament in his compilation, and two years later Boult gave us première recordings of Rosemary and Sally in our Alley; but this Nimbus disc was - so far as I can tell - the first to include recordings of the Canzonetta and the Irish melody. Indeed this remains the only available recording of the latter work in its orchestral form, since it was not even included in Hickox’s otherwise comprehensive survey of Bridge’s orchestral music for Chandos; the other recordings in the current catalogue are of the original string quartet version.
In terms of performances Boughton’s readings of Bridge are fine, but these are not by and large Bridge’s greatest works; indeed many of them are transcriptions for string orchestra of pieces that Bridge originally wrote for smaller forces, and many of them fall close to the category of ‘light music’ – if any music by Bridge could be so described. Boughton is just a little slower than his competitors Boult or Groves - to the advantage of the heartfelt Lament - but the differences in interpretation are minimal. The most substantial work here, There is a willow grows aslant a brook, is however something different again. This meditation on the death of Ophelia (in Hamlet) is one of Bridge’s most impassioned later works, and in terms of length and content it can hardly be categorised as a miniature. This is the only work on this disc which includes wind instruments, and it is also clearly the most ‘modern’ composition here; Boughton gives the music plenty of atmosphere. But there are many other recordings of this piece, and some of these - not least Hickox - give the music more substance.
The real attraction for Bridge completists - who will in any event presumably already possess all the Hickox recordings - is the orchestral version of the Irish Melody, which contains yet another arrangement of the (London)derry Air to set beside those of Grainger and Harty. It is quite a bit less conventional than the setting by Harty, but decidedly less so than some of the sometimes bizarrely chromatic versions in which Grainger indulged himself. Then again, this is not really a conventionally Irish tune; it fits no known Irish metre, and its history might lead to some suspicion as to whether it is really a traditional Irish melody at all. It was first published in 1855 (without words) and was supplied to George Petrie by Jane Ross who had arranged it herself for piano and merely stated that it was “very old”. However later researchers failed to uncover any trace of its origins, or any Gaelic words; the first poet to supply lyrics was Percival Graves for an 1882 setting by Stanford. Apparently Jane Ross, who was a conscientious collector of folk-songs, may have heard the song in Donegal - where her brother was a fisherman - rather than Derry itself. There remains a suspicion that she may actually have written the melody herself – perhaps more likely than an alternative explanation which attributes the tune to the fairies. Bridge’s arrangement is the central section of a piece that is quite substantial in length and depth; he adds a double-bass part to the original quartet version. One could imagine the work might be more effective with more players; the cellos at 1.32 and 2.16 sound rather thinner than ideal. For Bridge enthusiasts there is no competition to this recording, which is therefore valuable in its own right.
The recorded sound throughout is natural, and nicely resonant without being overblown.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
In terms of performances Boughton’s readings are fine.