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Geoffrey BUSH (1920-1988)
Concerto for Light Orchestra (1958) [16:56]
Natus est Immanuel - A Christmas Piece for String Orchestra (1939) [6:08]
Matthew Locke Suite 'Psyche' - in collaboration with Francis Harvey (c.1958) [6:18]
Sinfonietta Concertante for Cello and Small Orchestra (1943) [17:10]
Two Miniatures for String Orchestra (1948) [6:56]
Finale for a Concert (1964) [4:46]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
The Holy Boy (1915) (arr. cello and strings by Christopher Palmer) [2:56]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Northern Chamber Orchestra/Nicholas Ward
rec. St Philip's Church, Salford, Greater Manchester, UK, 2013
LYRITA SRCD341 [61:10]

My previous awareness of Geoffrey Bush’s music was largely confined to the realms of chamber music (Chandos CHAN8819) and song (Lyrita SRCD343) , so it was a pleasant surprise to have the opportunity to listen to these small orchestral pieces, all composed between 1939 and 1964. Bush was a real craftsman in the best sense – that’s to say with no pejorative feeling that his compositional technique was superior to his capability as a lyricist but rather that both were held in assured balance.

The Concerto for Light Orchestra of 1958 takes six song settings by a distinguished predecessor, namely Thomas Arne. It would be interesting to know if the premiere performance, directed by Vilém Tauský, exists but even so Nicholas Ward encourages playing of polish and rhythmic bite from the forces of the Northern Chamber Orchestra. The opening Introduction and Toccata is sparkling, with scurrying strings and plenty of verve. The inner movements are parcelled out to solo voices. The pensive-sounding oboe in the Siciliana leads to the clarinet and horn in the Notturno, which flows eloquently. There’s sprightly fun for the flute, piccolo and bassoon in the Hornpipe, whereas the filtered but still baroque appeal of the cor anglais is followed by the finale, a brilliantly deft movement. The youthful Natus est Immanuel, a Christmas piece for string orchestra as it’s titled, dates from 1939. It’s a youthful work in the lineage of British string writing, with clear divisi and an equally clear VW influence.

Arrangements of suites of old music have long fallen out of fashion but Bush’s Psyche suite, which uses music by Matthew Locke from the opera of the same name, is attractive still, and brief. It’s cast along the lines of the things Barbirolli and Beecham arranged but without their grandiosity. Composed in collaboration with Francis Harvey it would have made better sense to have performed this ŕ la 1957, the year of its composition, rather than to affect that it’s a bastardised Baroque piece. I’ve noticed this uncertainty over genre before in other recent recordings, where modern orchestras fail to honour the style of a piece – I happen to be thinking of the Vivaldi-Kreisler concoction in this context – as a result of muddled thinking as to the way things ‘should’ be done today. It’s no good playing this Bush piece senza vibrato.

The Sinfonietta Concertante for cello and small orchestra is another matter. As well as being wittily titled, it’s lightly scored and in places almost diaphanous – neo-classical to a degree but also bright and with fine exchanges between the cello, the redoubtable Raphael Wallfisch, and the solo winds. The feel of Bach’s famous Air emerges in the slow movement which is a sweet elegy and very lovely indeed in this elevated performance. For the finale, we’re back to Tempo primo for a brisk restatement of the initial material.

I enjoyed the Two Miniatures, especially the Lullaby and there’s a piece intended for amateurs called Finale, for a Concert which asks questions of the perky brass and winds. To end there is Christopher Palmer’s arrangement for cello and strings of John Ireland’s Holy Boy. It’s true that Bush did rework some of his teacher Ireland’s music, notably the Two Symphonic Studies from Julius Caesar (review) but this is a strictly non-Bush envoi.

With some vivid playing and recording, and well researched notes, this fills a welcome gap in Bush’s representation on disc.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Nick Barnard



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