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British Composers Premiere Collection - Volume 2
Maurice BLOWER (1894-1982)
Eclogue for horn and strings (1950-2) [7.07]
Concerto for horn and strings (1953) [13.34]
Robin MILFORD (1903-1959)
Suite for oboe and string orchestra, Op.8 (1924) [11.37]
Walter GAZE COOPER (1895-1981)
Concertino for oboe and strings, Op.78 (1957)[15.08]
Frederick KELLY (1881-1916)
Serenade for flute, harp, horn and string orchestra in E minor, Op.7 (1911)[19.35]
José Garcia Gutiérrez (horn); John McDonough (oboe); Rebecca Hall (flute)
Malta Philharmonic Orchestra/Michael Laus
rec. Robert Samut Hall, Floriana, Malta, 2011

As this disc has been reviewed here twice (see below) already I will not repeat the factual information given succinctly by earlier reviewers but will confine myself to commenting on the music and performance. I should however repeat their delight in a disc, and the prospect of more discs, of music from a group of composers who are scarcely even names to most music-lovers. I would be hard pressed to claim any of the works included here as unknown masterworks but almost all are interesting and enjoyable to hear, and suggest that further exploration of their composers’ output would be worthwhile.
First, however, a blind spot. I have heard much music by Robin Milford and can appreciate its craftsmanship. Unfortunately there my appreciation stops, as it seems to me derivative, mainly from the styles of Vaughan Williams and Holst, faceless and unimaginative. This Suite seems to me to be a very typical example of this and I listened with a growing lack of interest. I am aware that many musicians whose opinions I respect would be dismayed at such a reaction so that I will say no more on this subject. If, as I hope is the case, many listeners will want to hear the other works on the disc they should nonetheless try this work as their reaction may well be more positive than mine.
The other works, to me at least, have very real virtues. The best is perhaps the Serenade by Frederick Kelly. Australian by birth, he moved to England where he studied at Eton and Balliol before being killed at the Battle of the Somme. His compositions include an Elegy in memory of his friend Rupert Brooke. The Serenade included here is scored for a solo flute with harp, horn and strings. The inclusion of the harp and, especially, of the horn, permits greater contrast of texture than is possible with the more usual combination of just flute and strings. Kelly makes admirable use of this in a work of real imagination and variety. Its idiom may be far from advanced for its time but the composer packs much into its short duration. This is a work very well deserving of its resurrection here.
So too are Gaze Cooper’s Concertino and Maurice Blower’s Concerto. I had the pleasure of playing for a few years under the former in the Nottingham Symphony Orchestra. Naturally he included several of his own works and it is good to encounter his music again. There are occasional reminders of his eccentricities, at least those of his latter years, but it is music that shows real imagination, especially in the first two movements. I had not heard any of Maurice Blower’s music before this disc but he too is a composer worth exploring even if parts of the Concerto seem somewhat pedestrian and lacking in inspiration. The Eclogue is more interesting both formally and in its textures.
This is a fascinating disc, made more so by the helpful booklet notes and the admirable soloists. There is some occasional scrappiness in the playing of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, understandable when unfamiliar music is being recorded in what was presumably limited time. For anyone interested in the byways of British (or Australian) music this disc is a real treasure which offers a valuable introduction to some unfortunately neglected composers.
John Sheppard

Previous reviews: Paul Corfield Godfrey ~~ Rob Barnett