Overtures from the British Isles–
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Rumon Gamba
rec. BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff, Wales, 2-4 December 2015 CHANDOS CHAN10898 [81.18]
This new Chandos release was hurried into my CD player
as soon as it arrived. I was not disappointed.
The 46-page album booklet with notes by Lewis Foreman, has quite rightly
designated first importance to pictures of Roger Quilter (inside front
cover) and Eric Coates (inside back cover). The music of these two composers
stands out amongst all the others which is saying a lot because there
are some outstanding pieces here. Quilter’s A Children’s
Overture has long been a favourite of mine and the BBCNOW delivers
an eloquent, charming performance full of childish innocence and glee.
How Quilter can suddenly slow the tempo magically to turn his music
to golden nostalgia; it makes a tear stand in the eye and the heart
stand still. Eric Coates’s very popular The Merrymakers
Overture has a similar nostalgic glow. It is a wonderfully happy tune
with a lovely middle section taken just a tad too fast here to contrast
optimally with the outer jollity.
There is a nautical theme running through a good number of items in
this programme but I want to deal with the others before covering those
together below. Walter Leigh’s Agincourt is a real find
for those who have not yet heard the Lyrita
recording. It was a BBC commission and was first performed as ‘Jubilee
Overture’ in May 1935 but then re-named Agincourt in
1937 to mark the Coronation of King George VI. Beginning in swashbuckling
mode it proceeds in Elgarian nobilmente fashion but with rollicking,
witty episodes and a most affecting intimate and personal section for,
presumably the romance with the French princess. Equally impressive
is Parry’s Overture to an UnwrittenTragedy.
We learn that a critic had identified the tragedy correctly as Othello;
yes, we critics sometimes do have our uses. The music is appropriately
darkly dramatic and brooding; savage and bloodthirsty, the malicious
jealousy of Iago well suggested and Parry creates a lovely sympathetic
melody for the wronged Desdemona. The concert ends on a high note with
John Foulds’ Le Cabaret – an overture to a French
Comedy being a Pierrot-play about the French mime Jean-Gaspard Deburau.
The music is rollicking and high-spirited, great fun.
To the nautical items in the programme which kicks off with Sir William
Walton’s Portsmouth Point marked Robusto - Full and
broad and there you have it. It evokes a picture showing a hectic
port-scene: lovers kiss, sailors fight, and one guesses a press gang
is at work in one corner. Bowen’s Fantasy Overture is
a late work. It was broadcast once and then forgotten; not surprisingly,
to be frank this is not top drawer Bowen. It is a set of variations
on the Charles Dibdin song, ‘Tom Bowling’. It is merry and
playful with a nostalgic note and a hornpipe that has a note of derision.
Dame Ethel Smyth’s swaggering Overture to ‘The Boatswain’s
Mate’ is strong and muscular including music that suggests really
turbulent seas. The Overture includes the tune of her ‘March of
the Women’ (Smyth was a suffragette). John Ansell’s Plymouth
Hoe is a light and breezy composition with material in nobilmente
mode again. Finally there is Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s Britannia,
described as ‘A Nautical Overture’. It will be recalled
that Mackenzie was the Principal of the Royal Academy of Music for many
years and celebrated in that role during the student years of Arnold
Bax and Eric Coates. His Britannia opens imposingly but the
pomposity is quickly dropped in favour of a witty romp — almost
reminiscent of Gilbert & Sullivan at times — through some
well-loved sea songs. The music then asserts its dignity and we get
full-flown patriotism with ‘Rule Britannia, Britannia Rule the
A thoroughly enjoyable concert of British light music.
Track listing Sir William WALTON (1902-1983) Portsmouth Point (1924-25) [5.33] Walter LEIGH (1905-1942) Agincourt (1935) [12.29] York BOWEN (1884-1961) Fantasy Overture premiere recording (1945) [8.27] Dame Ethel SMYTH (1858-1944)
Overture to The Boatswain’s Mate (1913-14) [6.05] John ANSELL (1874-1918) Plymouth Hoe (1914) [7.57] Sir Alexander Campbell MACKENZIE(1847-1935) Britannia (1894) [7.37] Eric COATES (1886-1957) The Merrymakers (1923) [4.54] Sir Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918) Overture to an Unwritten Tragedy (1893 rev. 1894, 1905) [12.29] Roger QUILTER (1877-1953) A Children’s Overture (1911-19) [10.50] John FOULDS (1880-1939) Le Cabaret (c. 1921 rev. 1934) [3.43]