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ARTICLE Plain text for smartphones & printers

A survey of more releases in the Hickox Legacy series from Chandos
by Rob Barnett

Here we have another batch of reissues from the recording legacy left by Richard Hickox at Chandos - see here for the previous Hickox Legacy feature.
 
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Orchestral Works: A Fugal Overture, Op. 40 No. 1, H 151 (1922) [4:54], A Somerset Rhapsody, Op. 21 No. 2, H 87 (1907) [9:23], Scherzo, H 192 (1934) [5:37], Egdon Heath (A Homage to Thomas Hardy), Op. 47, H 172 (1927) [16:27], Hammersmith, Op. 52, H 178 (orch. composer, 1931) (1930) [14:58], Capriccio (ed. Imogen Holst, 1967) (1932) [5:53]
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
rec. 21-22 February 1994, All Saints' Church, Tooting, London
CHANDOS CHAN10911X [57:49]

Holst CDs were a speciality of Chandos and Richard Hickox. His death in 2008 (Chandos obituary) frustrated a new Holst edition comparable with Chandos's still unchallenged Frank Bridge series. As it was they managed only volume 1 (CHSA 5069). Before that, amongst the host of Hickox/British music issues Chandos produced an invaluable double Holst set including the Sanskrit-themed The Cloud Messenger (CHAN 241-6) alongside much else and a disc (CHAN10725 originally CHAN9420) with the short Helen Waddell opera, The Wandering Scholar at its centre.

The present 1994 Holst collection is another recording with the London Symphony Orchestra under Hickox. Like all of the others addressed in this feature it is re-issued at ‘classic Chandos’ mid-price. This particular sheaf cuts a representatively variegated swathe through the orchestral music. Folksong and dance are represented by A Somerset Rhapsody, dedicated to Cecil Sharp, the juicy neo-classical phase by A Fugal Overture, Holst's concentrated mystical leanings by that enigmatic masterwork, Egdon Heath and by the composer-orchestrated Hammersmith as well as the strange yet vigorous otherness by Capriccio and the Scherzo. If you enjoy this mix then there is no reason to hesitate. There are other Holst orchestral selections (Lyrita Lyrita) but this is a good vibrant choice in totally unapologetic sound. A Somerset Rhapsody is a nice mix of pastoral greenery and a larger-than-life rustic strutting march. The Scherzo - all that remains of an intended purely orchestral Symphony in the 1930s - is all brusque excitement. Once again that big and all-embracing sound pays dividends. Hickox's mystical Egdon Heath is impressive and subtle. I am still shackled to Boult's Decca analogue version but this one is intensely atmospheric and true to Hardy's bleak heart. The Capriccio is all bright jangle, chatter and stutter but Chandos and Hickox make the most of the gorgeous violins and celebratory bells at 4:00 onwards. This piece is as edited by Imogen Holst - one wonders how interventionist she was - and you can hear her conducting it on Lyrita. Hickox delivers a more rounded and ripe-lipped account.

The notes are typically fine as they always are when the author is Lewis Foreman. They are also given in German and French.

I do hope that resources will be found for a complete recording of two very major neglected works by Holst: the Sanskrit-themed opera Sita and even more so the opera The Perfect Fool, by no means the piece of satirical fluff claimed in some quarters and certainly as meritorious and enjoyable as RVW's The Poisoned Kiss. The Perfect Fool is so much more than the spectacular ballet (Boult ~ Previn), fine though that is.

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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Orchestral Works: A Downland Suite (arr. Ireland and Geoffrey Bush) (1932) [18:17], Orchestral Poem in A minor (1904) [13:30], Concertino Pastorale (1939) [19:52], Two Symphonic Studies (arr. Geoffrey Bush) (1937) [11:38]
City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
rec. 31 October-1 November 1994, St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead, London
CHANDOS CHAN10912X [63:50]

Chandos remind me that in 1971 Hickox founded the 'Richard Hickox Orchestra' and that in 1979 this was dubbed the 'City of London Sinfonia'. Fifteen years later Hickox made this recording which was originally issued as CHAN 9376. The other Ireland- Hickox ventures included CHAN 8994 which includes The Forgotten Rite, the four- movement, Mackerras-edited, suite from The Overlanders (also recorded by Boult and Wilson), Tritons, the Scherzo and Cortege from the Julius Caesar music and the 1940s overture Satyricon which I recently heard from John Wilson live at Salford Quays. The other notable is the frankly glorious These Things Shall Be alongside a mix of choral and short orchestral works. Hickox was a long-practised hand when it came to choral conducting; indeed his earliest efforts for Chandos, during its days of shifting identities with RCA, included the Rubbra masses. For the record the Hickox-Ireland entries complement the Bryden Thomson's Chandos CD of major scores issued at a time when people were wondering if the Lyrita Ireland recordings would ever make it to compact disc.

The present disc has the air of a gap-filling enterprise but what we hear is lively rather than simply stirring the dust and cobwebs. Even so it matches two fairly prominent scores with two rarities; one of the latter here enjoys its only recording. The two string orchestra pieces include a fulsome of heart and dancingly alive Downland Suite with a really touching Minuet. The Concertino Pastorale is memorable for its Elgarian peaceful blessing (II) and darting power (III). The Symphonic Studies were drawn by Geoffrey Bush from The Overlanders music. The first of these is in walloping outgoing sound while the second's ominous and melancholic tones also thrive in the chosen acoustic. The latter reminds me of the initial bars of the Marche Au Supplice. Bush had high hopes for these two pieces and saw them in the same league as Mai-Dun. I think that's a bridge too far but they are well worth hearing. The otherwise completely unknown Orchestral Poem is the imposing work of a 24 year old. It's Brahmsian and light, a big expanse of music and a brooding smile of a piece. Hickox does it justice but don't get your hopes up too high. You forget how good these recordings were - a very atmospheric sound with plenty of punch.

The expertly informed liner-notes are by Lewis Foreman and they are also given in German and French.

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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Orchestral Works: The Walk to the Paradise Garden (1906) [10:09], Dance Rhapsody No. 1 (1908) [11:38], Dance Rhapsody No. 2 (1916) [8:37], In a Summer Garden (1908) [15:33], North Country Sketches (1914) [30:14]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
rec. 9-10 September 1994, Winter Gardens, Bournemouth
CHANDOS CHAN10913X [76:51]

After two strong discs we come to one of more debatable virtue, even if this is by far the longest playing of the CDs now reissued. Originally released as CHAN 9355 this CD reflects Hickox's way with Delius and the Bournemouth orchestra. They had 'history'. Before he migrated to Chandos he recorded a well-regarded Delius concert which made a good impression in a field still overshadowed by Beecham and then Del Mar, Handley, Groves and Mackerras. That EMI Classics disc was reviewed here and Chandos's choices artfully avoid overlap. Still earlier, in the late 1970s, Hickox recorded Appalachia and Sea Drift with the RPO (Decca) which helped establish his reputation. He returned to Sea Drift with Chandos and Bournemouth and Waynflete forces in 2001. There had been a stunning A Mass of Life and Requiem with the very same orchestra and choir in 1995 on Chandos CHAN9515.

Hickox's A Walk to the Paradise Garden is particularly drowsy. It's affluent in sultry detail which passes by in a slow-pulsed cavalcade. It rises at 6:45 to that piercing dazzle of a climax. The mood carries over into the two Dance Rhapsodies which major on dreaminess with the First later mined for the more sleepily poetic pages of the Flecker Hassan music. While not breaking the mood it reaches high for emotional explosion and revels in playful Graingerian gamin. The Second communicates as a balletic dance out of the same colouring book as Bax's Dance in the Sun. As for In a Summer Garden it is as sleepily elusive as Bax's entanglement with Swinburne (Spring Fire) and Bantock's dense choral web in Atalanta in Calydon or his orchestral indulgence in the Pagan Symphony. This piece was Delius's 'love gift' to Jelka. It carries the indicative D.G. Rossetti superscription: "All are my blooms, and all sweet blooms of love / To thee I gave while spring and summer sang." The North Country Sketches has many opportunities for open air vigour but Hickox is embroiled in the score's warmth and its immersion in the margins of sleep. It's broad and relaxed and not the most transfixing of readings.

The note by the excellent Andrew Burn is in English, German and French. One correction. We are told that the conductor 'Josef Stansky' gave the US premiere of In a Summer Garden. That should read Josef Stransky (1872-1936).

Relaxed and expansive Delius from Hickox.

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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Caractacus, Op. 35 (1898) [101:29]; Severn Suite - version for full orchestra. Op. 87a (orch. by composer, 1931) (1930) [18:02]
Judith Howarth (soprano), Arthur Davies (tenor), David Wilson-Johnson (baritone), Alastair Miles (bass), Stephen Roberts (bass)
London Symphony Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
rec. October 1992, All Saints' Church, Tooting, London
CHANDOS CHAN241-58 [61:27 + 58:24]

Chandos now have at least three generations of Elgar recordings. Firstly there were discs in the 1970s and 1980s from Alexander Gibson (review review) and Bryden Thomson. Then came the prolific Hickox harvest (review). Latterly there have been Elgar entries from Andrew Davis (review). The present set, which couples early and late Elgar, first appeared in 1992 on CHAN 9156 when Richard Hickox was Associate Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. It is the only Chandos Caractacus. Written for the 1898 Leeds Festival its English historical/legendary/patriotic theme places it with The Banner of Saint George, Coronation Ode and The Spirit of England. This double CD joins four other major Elgar pieces under Hickox from Chandos: The Dream of Gerontius (CHAN241-46), The Apostles (CHAN241-49), The Kingdom (CHAN241-54) and The Light of Life (CHAN10726X). Caractacus has been recorded once before. That was back in 1977 by Charles Groves.

This Chandos project is the work's first commercial digital recording. It's lavishly tracked. Twenty-eight entry points ensure the ultimate in practical flexibility in listening, study and repeat play of favourite moments; The analogue Groves from EMI is similarly divided. The orchestra and voices make a big brave sound although the choir is well up for gentle ppp effects as at the start of tr. 16 (CD 1). In highlights form Caractacus gave birth to two freestanding works - the excellent Triumphal March which was recorded by Boult and Groves for EMI Classics and Judd for Naxos and the Woodland Interlude again courtesy of Groves. The March - one of Elgar's 'crackers' was used as the title music for the 1970s BBC drama series 'The Regiment' (CD 2, tr. 6). As a rather British Empire accented image of Imperial Rome it contrasts well with the exhaustion at the start of the Severn Scene (CD 2 tr. 5).

This recording has plenty of 'oomph' which is just as well given that the choral singing is often notable for its flaming fervour (CD 2 tr. 9). This big work is not short on lofty moments. It was written for the 1898 Leeds Festival and the management committee wanted something to shake the rafters. They got it. It would be sold short if it did not have heat under its spectacular moments and this quality the present recording has in crashingly self-assured splendour. In fairness each mood is well represented including the pages that are inward and poetic. Wilson-Johnson, who I recall from some rather wonderful C.W. Orr songs on BBC Radio 3, is on ripe form. His the 'Watchmen' solo (CD 1 tr. 2) and 'I plead not for myself' (CD 2, tr. 10) are uncannily predictive of later English pastoral styles. Judith Howarth sings a vibrant Eigen although as so often with most female singers you do need the libretto. Howarth and Wilson-Johnson rise to heatedly operatic heights in Scenes 1-3 but all the soloists are well up to the mark. The orchestra is peacefully silken at the druidic Sacred Oak scene (CD 1 tr. 7) and in the famous Woodland Interlude (CD 1 tr. 10) which contrasts with the portentous choral tread in 'Lord of dread' each stride of which is satisfyingly topped off with a growling brass paraph.

The Severn Suite is dedicated to George Bernard Shaw and is heard here in the composer's own orchestration made during his very last years; the original was for brass band. This is a lovely recording and matches a performance bathed in affection yet with a welcome roar. The Worcester Castle first movement (CD 2 tr. 13) is warmly put across with just a hint that torpor and weight of utterance are neighbours. The somnolent The Cathedral (CD 2 tr. 15), with its after-wash from Nimrod, hints that Elgar had indeed "heard the chimes at midnight". The little Commandery minuet (CD 2 tr. 16) has about it a touching sense of surrender to fate and only an occasional flicker of Froissart-style vigour. The final little Coda is bleak but collects itself for references back to the confident brass march of the first movement.

The eminent notes are by the late Michael Kennedy (1926-2014). They are also given in German and French. Caractacus is supported by twelve pages of the sung English text in the booklet but there's no translation into other languages. The two discs come in a totally sensible single-width case.

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Rob Barnett

 

 




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