Overtures from the British Isles – Volume 2
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]
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 Unwritten Tragedy. 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 Waves …’

A thoroughly enjoyable concert of British light music.

Ian Lace

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