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Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950)
Overture for a Masque (1944) [9:27]
In the Mountain Country (1921) [6:24]
Rhapsody No. 1 in F major (1922) [11:26]
Rhapsody No. 2 in E major (1924/41) [12:17]
Rhapsody in F sharp major (1943)* [17:32]
Benjamin Frith (piano)*
Ulster Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. Ulster Hall, Belfast, UK, 17-18 September 2012. DDD
NAXOS 8.573106 [57:06]

Moeran’s singingly open-air exhilaration and poignant poetry have won his music staunch friends. Enlightened and more accommodating times have opened the door and welcomed him in where not so very long ago he was dismissed as otiose.
 
A Moeran orchestral score, whether early or late, is readily identifiable. The man has a clear aural signature. His G minor Symphony has done quite well on record. It basked in Leslie Heward’s pioneering British Council-sponsored recording during the days of the 78. A 1970s EMI LP brought us Neville Dilkes’ reading with the English Sinfonia which stood a doorstep down from Boult’s Lyrita version - still the finest overall. Naxos and David Lloyd-Jones recorded it with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra - an excellent version. In addition Dutton have recorded Martin Yates’s realisation of the Second Symphony.
 
Last year Naxos issued what I consider the best version of the problematically laid-back Cello Concerto with JoAnn Falletta conducting. She, together with soloist Guy Johnston, really made it work. The gorgeous Violin Concerto has a floor plan similar to that of the Delius Concerto and lends itself more easily to successful performance. It will feature in concert twice this year at the English Music Festival on 23 May with Rupert Marshall-Luck and the week before at King’s Lynn on 17 May with Pauline Lowbury. Little has recorded it in an illustrious and splendid version with Chandos (CHAN 10796) who, remarkably enough, already had the Concerto in its catalogue with Lydia Mordkovitch as soloist. The complete solo piano music has also been recorded by Duncan Honeybourne for EM Records.
 
Now Falletta returns with another Moeran disc. This one couples all three Rhapsodies with two other concert works; one of them drawing from the same well as the Rhapsodies. In fact In the Mountain Country might well be counted as Rhapsody No. 0.
 
There is no direct competition for this group of works. To achieve anything approaching it you would need two mid-price Chandos discs (review review) where the Ulster Orchestra again are conducted by Vernon Handley. I have a lot of time for the Ulster Orchestra and although they have probably gone through several changes of personnel since the early 1980s I always thought that something went out of the wings of Bryden Thomson’s Chandos Bax cycle when he switched from them to the LPO after recording a still unmatched Fourth Symphony.
 
Back to Moeran: There is a logic to having the three Rhapsodies together although the last one is more of a compact ‘cinematic’ piano concerto. What Falletta brings to these scores we also heard in the earlier Cello Concerto disc; that is an oxygen-rich, gale-blown vitality. There is nothing bland or short-changed here and I rather hope that Naxos will let her loose on the Symphony in G minor. Boult is superb in that work but Falletta would bring the sort of blood-rushing Tchaikovskian passion that we heard from Vassily Sinaisky when he conducted the work at the BBC Proms in 2009 and John Longstaff who directed the Sheffield Symphony Orchestra in 2005. The Moeran symphony thrives under that sort of treatment. Allowing for some very slightly blurred lines here and there by comparison with Boult’s version of the uproarious, yea-saying Overture on Lyrita this Naxos disc is well worth your cash.
 
The sound is full-on and splendid, courtesy of Tim Handley and Phil Rowlands. The booklet notes are by Paul Conway and are admirably done.
 
JoAnn Falletta brings real vibrancy to these scores.

Rob Barnett 

Moeran review index