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Set in Silver
Chamber Ensemble of London/Peter Fisher (solo violin)
rec. Coombehurst Studio, Kingston University, London, 10-11 January 2005
EM RECORDS EMRCD032/3 [62:19 + 64:06]

One of the discs in this twofer has already been released, whilst the other is new. It’s the first one, issued on Campion Cameo 20145 and called ‘English Music for Strings’ taped back at the beginning of 2006, that’s making a somewhat unexpected reappearance. In the potentially inflating acoustic of All Saints, Tooting in London violinist Peter Fisher directs the Chamber Ensemble of London in an hour-plus programme of varied British works. If we allow for the fact that John Dankworth was still alive when it was released, four contemporary composers were represented, which is a good haul.

They play Avison’s Concerto in A in a stylish way though I find the acoustic a bit billowy. A theorbo is added to the string mix and the soloistic moments in the Aria finale are well taken. Purcell’s Chacony in G minor may be a warhorse but it’s taken here at a good lick. Clive Jenkins is the first of the Moderns. His Pastoral and Allegro is a very attractive piece, a kind of modern concerto grosso featuring a ‘galloping ponies’ Allegro inspired by a herd of Dartmoor ponies. Those curious to investigate Jenkins further should listen to his Five Pieces for Clarinet and Piano on Cala – a delight from beginning to end. Walton’s Two Pieces from Henry V make their accustomed effect. Paul Lewis’ Rosa Mundi is rather beautiful and cast in the familiar tradition of melancholic English string music.

The longest piece in the disc is Dankworth’s Mariposas, which is a concertone or concertante piece in contemporary style. It seems to encode the styles of four Jazz violinists – Stuff Smith, Joe Venuti, Stephane Grappelli and Ray Nance – but it’s not really a character study and though vivacious, not a jazz piece. The slow section at 5:10 is possibly inspired by Nance’s romanticist credentials and here Fisher opens up his vibrato prefacing a fast pizzicato-backed finale that feels fresh and oozes self-confidence. Harold Darke’s Meditation on Brother James’ Air translates well from organ to string ensemble in this arrangement. It sounds rather like VW’s Dives and Lazarus. Nigel Brooks’s To My Love is a very sensitive Adagio for Strings dedicated to his late wife. Bill Thorp has done the arranging honours for Elgar’s Salut d’amour – the bass line is a bit over-emphatic – and there’s a pleasant piece by Frank Bridge to close.

Just under a decade later the same forces have recorded a programme to pair with the earlier one. This time the recording location is Coombehurst Studio, Kingston University – a new venue to me. The acoustic is very different. All Saints is inflationary. This one is much dryer and less atmospheric. They go for a contemporary of Avison’s in the shape of John Christopher Smith, whose overture to The Fairies again features a theorbo. The concluding March is the most gripping part of this four-movement overture. There’s another in the form of increasingly-popular Richard Mudge whose Concerto No.5 is an example of the best in bold British late-Baroque. There’s a premiere recording of contemporary composer Marsha de Thornley Head’s Aria, a baroque study. John Ireland’s two pieces are salon-sentiment sweet arrangements by Graham Parlett. The performances are affectionate but a touch too cloying. Jenkins has arranged Delius’s Légende from its more familiar violin-and-piano version. There’s a witty Tros an Treys – premiere recording – by Andrew M. Wilson suffused with West Country terpsichorean brio. Jenkins sends us on our way with two contrasting pieces, a swing-meets-Tango Thames Reflections and a slinky Tarte au Citron and again these are first-ever recordings.

EMR tends to separate the Life from the Music in the booklet notes, so biographies of all composers are to be found grouped together in one block preceding some lines about the music. I’d rather have it done together, composer by composer, as navigation between the two sections gets cumbersome – but that’s an individual matter, I suppose. These are predominantly lighter pieces, though they are adeptly programmed running from Baroque to the (light) music of our time. Nothing is at all challenging, threatening or cussed.

Jonathan Woolf

CD 1
Charles AVISON (1709-1770)
Concerto in A, Op.9 No. 11 [7:17]
Henry PURCELL (1658-1695)
Chacony in G minor for strings (realised, Britten 1947/48) [6:37]
Clive JENKINS (b.1938)
Pastorale and Allegro [7:23]
William WALTON (1902-1983)
Two Pieces for Strings from ‘Henry V’ - Passacaglia: Death of Falstaff; Touch Her Soft Lips and Part (1943/44) [5:24]
Paul LEWIS (b.1943)
Rosa Mundi
(2002) [4:20]
John DANKWORTH (1927-2010)
Mariposas (1996) [10:49]
Harold DARKE (1888-1976)
Meditation on Brother James’s Air
Nigel BROOKS (b.1936)
To My Love (Adagio for Strings) [5:18]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Salut d’Amour (1888) [3:12]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
A Christmas Dance (Sir Roger de Coverley) (1922) [4:21]
Chamber Ensemble of London/Peter Fisher (solo violin)
rec. All Saints Church, Tooting, 31 January, 1 February 2006
CD 2
John Christopher SMITH (1712-1795)
Overture to The Fairies (1754) [9:29]
Marsha de Thornley HEAD (b.1944)
Aria [8:33]
Richard MUDGE (1718-1763)
Concerto No.5 in B flat major (1749) [11:30]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Cavatina (1904) arr. Graham Parlett [5:56]
Bagatelle (1911) arr. Graham Parlett [2:52]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Légende (1895) [9:28]
Andrew M WILSON (b.1960)
Tros an Treys, Op.153 (2012) [7:42]
Clive JENKINS (b.1938)
Thames Reflections [3:12]
Tarte au Citron [4:29]


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