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Henry Cotter NIXON (1842–1907)
Complete Orchestral Music - Volume One
Concert Overture No. 3, Jacta est Alea (after 1880) [13:30]
Romance for Violin and Orchestra (c. 1889; reconstructed 2016 by Paul Mann) [9:57]
Palamon and Arcite: Symphonic Poem (1882) [47:54]
Ana Török (violin)
Kodály Philharmonic Orchestra/Paul Mann
rec. 22, 26-29 June 2016, Pásti Synagogue, Debrecen and Hungary.

English composer-conductor Henry Cotter Nixon broke no new ground in his musical language. He was, on this showing, a highly skilled practitioner in the styles established by Schumann, Brahms and Mendelssohn. There was a whole generation - at least one - that settled comfortably for and into the idiom and Nixon was of that ilk.

Nixon was born in Kennington, South London into a musical family. He travelled North to study music in Hull. Later he returned to various locations around London. He wrote around fifty works of which most were written in Woolwich. Finally he moved to Sussex and was very active in musical life there. These three orchestral works were written in Cotter's late 30s into his late 40s.

The Overture Jacta est Alea is a virile expressive piece which while falling within the constituency mentioned above deploys and develops fresh oxygen-rich ideas. It is flooded with surging activity and its tidal onslaught takes it very close to Berlioz and in the closing pages to Tchaikovsky. The affable and even-tempered Romance for violin and orchestra is most expressive. The liner-note mentions Beethoven's Romance No. 1 as a possible inspiration and that may have been the case but it would sing aptly next to much later similarly titled works including those by Stenhammar (written twenty years later) and by Svendsen (written ten years earlier). It would also work well with the less spectacular works of Saint-Saëns for violin and orchestra such as the earlier pages of Havanaise.

The five-part three-quarter hour tone-poem Palamon and Arcite follows Dryden's version of Chaucer's "A Knight's Tale". The five sections are:-

I The Battle: Allegro moderato
II Emilie: Allegretto
III The Dream: Andante
IV Encounter and Combat: Allegro moderato
V The Tournament: Allegro

The first sets out in rather a syrupy fashion. This gathers and sustains charging momentum from 4:40 until returning to the meditative becalmed peace of the opening. It ends with some delicately poised pizzicato from the strings. The next movement is the longest and is relaxed, undulating and contemplative. There's an air of Mendelssohn and Berlioz about this. The Dream is of a similar sinuous demeanour; that's about twenty minutes of like music across II and III. Nixon might well have found a better answer to have gone for greater and contrasted variety at the extended core of such an epic piece. However there are episodes - such as at 4:30 in Dream where smooth brass fanfares cry out - where the changes are rung. Encounter and Combat offers a smarter tempo and a more vigorous attitude although it's still fairly sedate and sovereign in confidence; the marking is Allegro but again with a moderato qualifier. The final Tournament is a galloping and occasionally cantering Allegro with tramping Beethovenian energy and some joyous writing for the horns and woodwind. The piece ends with sparks in flight and banners cracking in the breeze.

The Kodaly Philharmonic handles this unfamiliar music adeptly and with a notably expressive warmth of tone and readiness for drama. Their tone is ample not thin. Nothing is short-changed by these musicians who pour into Nixon's music the profound depth of feeling it appears to invite.

The 20 page liner-essays in English only are by David J Brown and Paul Mann.

Highly adept music that will please greatly rather than simply satisfy curiosity. By the time you have heard this you are unlikely to be all that troubled to find out whether Nixon or Henry Hugo Pierson was the first British composer to write a symphonic poem.

Rob Barnett



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