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Songs for Strings
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
Time stands still [3:31]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
A Child Asleep (arr. Donald Fraser) [6:16]
Pleading, op.48 no.1 (arr. Fraser) [3:16]
Queen Mary's Lute Song (arr. Fraser) [4:08]
David FRASER (b. 1947)
Lord Lovat's Lament [4:28]
Epilogue for Strings [4:25]
The Queen's Hall (after an improvisation by Edward Elgar) [4:02]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Nuages gris (Trube Wolken), S199 (arr. Fraser) [3:53]
Antonio LOTTI (1667-1740)
Crucifixus (arr. Fraser) [3:15]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Sonnerie de Sainte Genevieve du Mont de Paris (arr. Fraser) [4:36]
Nicola PORPORA (1686-1768)
Fugue in G minor [3:22]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Ground in C minor [3:29]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Valse, a la maniere de Borodine (arr. Fraser) [3:04]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1871-1915)
Canon (arr. Fraser) [3:56]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Largo (arr. Fraser) [3:57]
English Chamber Orchestra/English Symphony Orchestra/Donald Fraser
rec. 2012/18, Studios 1 & 2 Abbey Road, London; Barn Studio, Shirland, USA
AVIE AV2391 [58:43]

Donald Fraser’s orchestration of Elgar’s Piano Quintet and his equally startling arrangement for choral forces of Sea Pictures have been widely reviewed and mulled over. There is more Elgar in this disc, a series of small-scaled arrangements for strings that run from Dowland and Marias to Fraser originals by way of Porpora, Liszt, Ravel and other compositional luminaries.

Regarding Elgar first, Fraser has turned to one of the composer’s recorded piano improvisations of 1929, refashioning it as The Queen’s Hall. In string guise, and subtly nourished, it sounds precisely like one of the composer’s light morceaux. The three selected songs are among Elgar’s best-known. Fraser has encoded a heartfelt viola solo into Pleading and this gives it a rather Canto popolare feel whilst in A Child Asleep the strings are muted – sweetly and eloquently done. Queen Mary’s Lute Song offers pizzicati supplying the refulgent melody.

Of the antique material, if one can put it that way, Dowland’s Time Stands Still is co-opted to the Great British String Tradition, though it was astute of Fraser to contrast a viol-like introduction with the ensuing bold romantic string wash that follows. The verses are varied to give contrast too. Michael Nyman has explored Purcell’s Ground in C minor, of course, but Fraser pursues very different aims, Lotti’s eight-part Crucifixus is ardently expressive, and the string layering in Vivaldi’s Largo, from the Concerto for two cellos, well calibrated.

Elsewhere, a darker, more mysterious texture suffuses Liszt’s Nuages gris and Fraser visits Scriabin’s very youthful Canon, written when Scriabin was a boy of twelve. Ravel’s Valse, in the manner of Borodin is hardly reflective of too much individuality but Fraser’s work is nevertheless deftly authoritative. Lord Lovat’s Lament was written by a direct ancestor called David Fraser and it shows how imaginative sonorities can evoke the skirl of the pipes. Donald Fraser’s own Epilogue for Strings is a lyrical arrangement of his choral Amen, written for Jessye Norman. A postlude introduces Marin Marais’ The Bells of St Genevieve (Sonnerie), an ‘arrangement of an arrangement’ Fraser made some decades ago back in the 1990s. It’s very different, in intent and execution, from anything else in this disc.

Fraser himself conducts both orchestras in warm immediate acoustics and has written the welcome booklet notes, complete with session photographs.

Jonathan Woolf


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