British String Concertos
rec. various locations 1970s-1990s. ADD/DDD
LYRITA RECORDED EDITION SRCD2346 [4 CDs: 76:48 + 73:22 +79:10 + 73:44]

This four CD box set contains recordings of works previously issued on Lyrita, a label founded in 1959. Lyrita became associated with high quality recordings of interesting ‘obscure’ often thought-provoking British music that had stayed hidden away from the large multilateral labels that tended to concentrate on the European mainstream. This is certainly a set for those who love investigating high quality music, rarely heard in performance and in some cases never heard at all. Not all the twelve composers have described their works as concertos but what they have in common is that they are for solo instrument and orchestra. Rubbra’s Soliloquy for cello and orchestra is an example of a non-concerto work that finds a home in this set.

The four discs contain fourteen British string concertos mainly in analogue recordings with some digital material all recorded between 1972 and 1994. However, four of the works are offered without recording dates and only rarely does the label provide information about recording venues. Since 2005 Lyrita have been distributed worldwide by Wyastone Estate Limited under an exclusive manufacturing and distribution licence. Wyastone has been reissuing sizeable quantities of the Lyrita back catalogue. I believe that over one hundred CDs have now been issued including the complete analogue heritage. The present box has a companion four-CD issue of British Piano Concertos on SRCD2345.

These string concertos span a variety of styles that range from the distinctly pastoral character of Gerald Finzi to the more progressive works of Roberto Gerhard who studied with Schoenberg and Webern.

The first CD opens with the Coleridge-Taylor Violin Concerto in G minor with soloist Lorraine McAslan. This is a highly appealing work from 1912 that feels Dvořákian with a touch of Delius. Perhaps it is a touch short on memorable substance but it certainly doesn’t deserve its neglect. Cellist Alexander Baillie is the soloist in Holst’s single movement Invocation for cello and orchestra. This is a work with an open-air nocturnal character marked by a deep yearning quality. It’s not surprising that the composer originally used the title ’A Song of the Evening’.

Next comes Finzi’s sweetly lyrical Introit for small orchestra and solo violin, an exquisite, single movement score from 1925 that formed part of a withdrawn violin concerto. Played confidently here by soloist Rodney Friend it has an immediate tenderness and a strong pastoral quality with an undertow of the sadness of parting. It must have seemed at serious variance with the more progressive works of the time. Next there are two more works by Holst both out of step with the times in which they were written. The partnership of Emanuel Hurwitz and Kenneth Sillito are the soloists in the Double Concerto for two violins and orchestra from 1929. Holst’s writing has a wonderful, bitter-sweet contrast of tension and anxiety with an agreeable lyricism but again I find little to remember. Especially fine, however, is the sense of aching sadness in the central Lament. The final work on the first disc from 1933 is one of Holst’s last works, the Lyric Movement for viola and small orchestra played by violist Cecil Aronowitz. Calm and relaxing on the surface, the writing has an undercurrent of heartbreaking sadness.

The second CD commences with William Busch’s Cello Concerto from 1940/1941. Raphael Wallfisch is the soloist in this work written during the terrible savagery of the Second World War. Busch takes the listener on eventful journey of wide-ranging emotions ending on a vibrantly spirited note. Probably the greatest British work on this release is E.J. Moeran’s Violin Concerto another wartime concerto from 1941 performed by poised soloist John Georgiadis. This warmly lyrical score with its sections of restless anticipation feels like a musical depiction of a landscape painting where the cliffs meet the Atlantic in Moeran’s adored County Kerry. Concluding the second disc is Rubbra’s Soliloquy for Cello and Orchestra, a substantial single movement score from 1947 played by sensitive soloist Rohan de Saram. Imbued with biting melancholy with a vein of optimism Rubbra’s Soliloquy feels like a powerful anti-war statement.

Disc three opens with the Violin Concerto by Roberto Gerhard, a Catalan by birth, who spent the last thirty or so years of his life living in England. Composed during the war years 1942-45 the concerto is played by Yfrah Neaman who shines in this remarkable work of vivid, shimmering colours. Although distinctly more progressive in style, using some serial techniques, Gerhard’s work comes up close to Moeran’s Violin Concerto in overall quality and is a notable achievement. I cannot praise this work and its excellent performance more enthusiastically. Next comes a work from Peter Racine Fricker, his Concerto for Violin and small orchestra from 1950 (revised 1974). It’s played here with assurance by Yfrah Neaman. It reminded me of the Britten Violin Concerto but without ever reaching the same magnificent heights. The central Andante is the finest movement. It's striking for its bleak and austere vista with a curious sense of isolation. Closing the third CD is the Serenata Concertante for violin and orchestra from the pen of Elizabeth Maconchy. I was struck by the generally unsettling orchestral writing with Manoug Parikan’s violin part serving as calming balm. Often I was reminded of the energy of William Walton’s music and I especially enjoyed the squally Finale which comes alive with a burst of energy at 2:45 before settling like peace after a storm.

The fourth and final CD begins with David Morgan’s Concerto for violin and orchestra written in 1966. Played here by Erich Gruenberg I was immediately drawn by the accessibility of Morgan’s well crafted music which occasionally evoked the sound world of Karol Szymanowski. Much of the opening movement feels like a depiction of the night sky. This is followed by the hot-blooded temperament of the Scherzo - a real mad-cap romp. The spirit of folk-dance pervades the Finale which otherwise possesses a pastoral quality before developing frenzied agitation. Throughout the fourteen percussion instruments add notable tone colour to the scoring. Don Banks was born and died in Australia but lived in England for many years. He wrote his Concerto for violin and orchestra in 1968 - a BBC commission, expertly played here by Yfrah Neaman. Owing to the interest in space-flight in the 1960s it doesn’t surprise me that the highly percussive opening movement evokes the night sky and the solar system. By contrast in three passages the music grinds and lurches forward like a tank going into battle. Brooding in character, the Andante cantabile speaks of desolation. The Finale: Risoluto has a gritty, rather angry disposition with a calmer central section. Banks ensures that the conclusion has an emphatic aggressive climax ending with a thump. A composer known today more by reputation than actual concert performances, Welshman Alun Hoddinott is represented here by his Nocturnes and Cadenzas for cello and orchestra.

Hoddinott’s score from 1969 plays in a continuous span with five discernible sections. Moray Welsh is the cello soloist. This isn’t a work that I especially warm to; maybe I need to hear it more. Impressive in the Lento is its nocturnal atmosphere steeped in fear and intensified with a sense of the sinister. The Scherzo section is full of scurrying figures and the Finale: Allegro molto feels intensely reflective and decays gently to nothing.

The interesting written booklet notes are by Paul Conway providing helpful if concise information about each work and its composer. These are newly written and differ from those which appeared with the original Lyrita releases.

What I find remarkable about everything here is the elevated level of playing and the satisfying recording quality.

Michael Cookson

Previous reviews: Rob Barnett ~~ Gary Higginson

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Contents Listing (links to reviews of individual discs)
CD 1 [76:48]
Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912)
Violin Concerto in G minor Op. 80 (1912) [32:54]
Lorraine McAslan (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
rec. Watford Town Hall, 10-12 January 1994, (Legend, Concerto, Bredon Hill);

Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Invocation for cello and orchestra, Op. 19, No.2 (1911) [9:43]
Alexander Baillie (cello)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/David Atherton
rec. 1982

Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Introit for small orchestra and solo violin Op. 6 (1925) [9:50]
Rodney Friend (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. 1978

Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Double Concerto for two violins and orchestra Op.49 (1929) [14:27]
Emanuel Hurwitz and Kenneth Sillito (violins)
English Chamber Orchestra/Imogen Holst
Lyric Movement for Viola and small orchestra (1933) [9:54]
Cecil Aronowitz (viola)
English Chamber Orchestra/Imogen Holst
No rec. info

CD 2 [73:22]
William BUSCH (1901-1945)
Cello Concerto (1940/1941) [23:28]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
No rec. info

Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1941) [34:44]
John Georgiadis (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley
rec. 1979

Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Soliloquy for Cello and Orchestra Op. 57 (1947) [15:06]
Rohan de Saram (cello)
London Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley
No rec. info

CD 3 [79:10]
Roberto GERHARD (1896-1970)
Violin Concerto (1942/45) [23:28]
Yfrah Neaman (violin)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis
rec. 1972 London, U.K.
originally released on Decca Argo ZRG701

Peter Racine FRICKER (1920-1990)
Concerto for Violin and small orchestra Op.11 (1950, rev. 1974) [23:17]
Yfrah Neaman (violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Norman del Mar
rec. July 1973, All Saints, Tooting, London, U.K.
Originally issued on LP: Argo ZRG 715
Elizabeth MACONCHY (1907–1994)
Serenata Concertante for Violin and orchestra (1962) [21:38]
Manoug Parikan (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley
No rec. info

CD 4 [73:44]
David MORGAN (1933-1988)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1966) [25:46]
Erich Gruenberg (violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
rec. 28 April 1976, Kingsway Hall, London, U.K.

Don BANKS (1923-1980)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1968) [26:54]
Yfrah Neaman (violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Normal del Mar
rec. July 1973, All Saints, Tooting, London, U.K.
Originally issued on LP: Argo ZRG 715

Alun HODDINOTT (b. 1929)
Nocturnes and Cadenzas for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 62 (1969) [21:01]
Moray Welsh (cello)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves
rec. November 1980 Brent Town Hall, Wembley, Middlesex, U.K.