Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912)
Concerto in G minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op 80 (1912) [31:52]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Suite for Violin and Orchestra (c. 1888-91) [18:35]
Haydn WOOD (1882-1959)
Concerto in A minor for Violin and Orchestra (1928) [26:56]
Tasmin Little (violin)
BBC Philharmonic/Sir Andrew Davis
rec. 1-3 May 2015, MediaCityUK, Salford, England
CHANDOS CHAN10879 [77:50]
This CD of less-well-known British works for violin and orchestra opens with the three-movement Violin Concerto by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, born in London, the child of a short-lived relationship between a medical student from Sierra Leone and an English girl. A gifted violinist from an early age, he won a place at London’s Royal College of Music, but soon abandoned violin lessons to study composition with Stanford, who considered him one of his most promising pupils. His most successful composition, the cantata Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast (review review), was performed throughout Britain, and he also became a familiar figure in the USA where, for example, orchestral players were so impressed with his conducting that they dubbed him ‘the black Mahler’. During his visit to the 1910 Norfolk Festival in Connecticut, he was invited to write a violin concerto for American virtuoso Maud Powell (1867-1920), where festival director, Carl Stoeckel, suggested that it should be based on Afro-American melodies. Coleridge-Taylor responded with a work centred on several spirituals and, in the finale, on ‘Yankee Doodle’. No sooner had he sent this off to the States, he followed it up with a letter urging Stoeckel and Powell to destroy the score, as the composer had written a new and entirely original replacement. Coleridge-Taylor explained that ‘those native melodies rather tied me down’, so just the opening theme (his own) actually remains. Powell performed it at the Norfolk Festival in 1912, but not without some last-minute drama, as the score and parts had failed to arrive – it was previously believed that these had been sent on the fateful RMS Titanic. While this wasn’t the case, they still had to be hastily replaced. Fellow-reviewer, Jonathan Woolf, whose review of the CD adds a further perspective in terms of comparative recordings and different couplings, also mentions a biography of Francis Moore, Powell’s accompanist for a while, and with whom Powell gave many performances of the concerto in piano-reduction format.
The opening theme of the concerto is clearly designed for the work’s original ethnic objective, given a strong hint of Dvořák, with its clear modal flavour, and so characteristic of the Czech-composer’s American period. There are many tempo and metre changes as the movement progresses, with a cadenza coming towards the latter part. The second movement (in the relative major key of B flat) provides a lyrical interlude, again with changes of metre and tempo along the way. It leads to the finale – in the tonic major key of G. This opens in a syncopated triple metre, reminiscent of the corresponding movement from Dvořák’s own violin concerto, and yet again it’s the constant juxtaposition of different metres, hear, perhaps, even more sharply, that flavours the writing. There are some thematic links back to the earlier two movements, and as the finale unfolds, this cyclic element assumes greater importance, until the work reaches its grandiose climax and conclusion.
Delius’s Suite for Violin and Orchestra was written early in the composer’s Paris period. It was perhaps intended for Arve Arvesen, a Norwegian fellow-student of Delius in Leipzig, who had also moved on to Paris, or for Halfdan Jebe, another fellow-student who had become a lifelong friend. Irrespective, the work remained unpublished during the composer’s lifetime, and did not receive its first performance until a 1984 BBC broadcast by Ralph Holmes who that year recorded it for Unicorn. Delius, however, must have shown it to his friend and conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham, who mentioned it in a letter to him in 1907. Delius didn’t in fact forget the work either, since he adapted the virtuoso passage-work of its Intermezzo for use in his 1921 Cello Concerto. There are four short character pieces, much in the spirit of Delius’s friend and mentor, Edvard Grieg. Pastorale makes use of an opening bagpipe-like drone from bassoons to set the rustic scene, with initially a simple, plaintive folk-like melody from the soloist, before this takes on a more rhapsodic flow and reaches its climax before ending serenely once more. Intermezzo is cast as a kind of perpetuum mobile for the soloist, who is frequently occupied in continuous passage-work in alternation with the woodwind, who add more drone-fifths from time to time. Élégie begins with an unrestrained violin melody over pulsing string chords, which leads to an orchestral interlude where brass is prominent, and climaxes once more before returning to the calm of the opening. Finale seems somewhat unconnected to the other three pieces, owing more to the mainstream Germanic tradition than anything Bohemian or Norwegian. Indeed, there is a nod more in the cyclic direction, perhaps of Franck and others, when Delius recalls a motif from the preceding Élégie. Perhaps his intention is both to pay lip-service to his Parisian location at the time, as well as trying to achieve some greater homogeneity for the Suite as a whole. Nevertheless, Finale rounds everything off effectively enough, and even if the Suite isn’t really that characteristic of Delius’s later works, it’s still eminently listenable. Tasmin Little clearly associates with the style, where her luxuriant tone is more than amply suited to the demands of the long melodious lines. Little clearly knows her Delius; witness two other Chandos discs (review review) not to mention a Decca predecessor.
The Suite does offer some gentle repose between the two passionate concertos that enclose it – Coleridge-Taylor’s concerto, and now Haydn Wood’s Violin Concerto. Yorkshire-man, Wood, was also a violinist like the other two composers here. As with Coleridge-Taylor, he too studied composition with Stanford. Wood’s Concerto is dedicated to his wife, soprano Dorothy Court, whose concert programmes included many of her husband’s own songs, including ‘Roses of Picardy’, a First-World-War hit that achieved his biggest success. Wood’s Violin Concerto was completed in 1928, with a number of broadcast performances following during the 1930s, until Wood’s type of traditionalist romanticism began to fall out of fashion. It re-emerged on CD in 2010 courtesy of Dutton Epoch and Lorraine McAslan who by coincidence has also recorded the Coleridge-Taylor.
Thus the opening ‘Allegro moderato’ begins with a full-blooded orchestral prelude leading to the soloist’s virtuoso entry. There is an extended cadenza, before the recapitulation recalls all that has gone before. Trumpets and trombones are silent in the lyrical slow movement, which builds towards a more excited middle section, and then leaves the ‘Allegro giocoso’ finale – a light and lively confection in the tonic major key (A) – to round the concerto off. This is not before a brief reference to the introduction at the start of the first movement.
English violinist Little has firmly established herself as one of today’s leading international artists and chose to dedicate this CD of British works for violin and orchestra to the memory of Brian Couzens – recording engineer, and founder of Essex-based Chandos Records – who passed away only days before the recording was made. Chandos has always celebrated British artists, as well as highlighting repertoire that has been neglected or rarely performed. In every respect, from Little’s outstanding performances, the sensitive and idiomatic accompaniment from the BBC Philharmonic under Sir Andrew Davis, the fullness of the recording and comprehensive sleeve-notes by Anthony Burton, this is both an outstanding and highly enjoyable CD, as well as an eminently-fitting tribute to Couzens.
Philip R Buttall