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Sea-Croon: The Voice of the Cello in the 1920s
Eric FOGG (1903-1939)
Poem (1922) [8:05]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Sonata (1923) [20:43]
Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
The Gentle Maiden (Irish Air) (c.1925) [2:22]
Frederic AUSTIN (1872-1952)
Sonata (1927) [22:51]
Greville COOKE (1894-1992)
Sea-Croon (1929) [4:08]
William ALWYN (1905-85)
Two Folk Tunes [4:43]
Benjamin BURROWS (1891-1966)
Sonatina (1930) [12:57]
Joseph Spooner (cello)
Maureen Galea (piano)
Rebeca Omordia (piano, Fogg and Ireland);
rec. 2016, Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton
EM RECORDS EMRCD042 [75:57]

Eric Fogg is barely known to enthusiasts of British music. He is remembered now only for a splendid Bassoon Concerto (1931), the atmospheric tone-poems Sea-Sheen and Merok and the William Blake setting The Seasons for chorus and orchestra. The present Poem was composed in 1922 for Fogg’s wife, the cellist Kathleen Moorhouse. There is certainly nothing ‘modernist’ about this piece. In fact, the listener will consider this to be more in the vein of Bantock’s Scottish inspired works. It is a reflective piece, sometimes hinting at Rachmaninov. The liner notes draw attention to the two major themes – one elegiac and the other noble. Poem is in ternary form with a stormy middle section. This is a poignant and often moving work that does not deserve to remain in obscurity. It is an impressive discovery.

The life and times of John Ireland needs little discussion. The present sonata is one of the composer’s most important works. The Cello Sonata was composed in 1923 and was premiered by Beatrice Harrison and Evlyn Howard-Jones at the Aeolian Hall in London on 4 April 1924. The Sonata is imbued with a strong sense of place and mystery inspired by the landscape around Chanctonbury Ring in Sussex and the set of Bronze age barrows near Devil’s Jump on Treyford Hill. The music has been described as ‘pervaded with the brooding mystery of the deep past.’ The liner notes explain an important clue to the work’s inner significance. In the opening movement, ‘moderato e sostenuto’, Ireland quotes music from his song ‘The Trellis’, a setting of Aldous Huxley. The lines referred to are ‘None but the flowers have seen/Our white caresses.’ Presumably this is a ‘hidden’ programme to this part of the music. The slow movement, ‘poco largamente’, is played with rapt attention, allowing the heart-breaking pastoral mood of the music to ‘stand revealed.’ The idealised picture of the landscape is destroyed by the aggressive opening pizzicato in the ‘finale’, ‘con moto e marcato’. This is in complete contrast to what has transpired. This changes the music from a gentle, smiling landscape to something caustic, sometimes frightening and emotionally challenging. The entire Sonata is played with drama, care and constant recognition of the ‘unity in diversity’ of this great work.

I loved Cyril Scott’s short, but utterly beautiful arrangement of the Irish folk-song ‘The Gentle Maiden’. Originally published for violin and piano in 1912, the present cello version (c.1925) remains unpublished. Scott captures the magic and the sheer innocence of the original song, and this is reflected in the performance.

I was disappointed that the liner notes give comparatively little detail about Frederic Austin’s ‘exquisite’ Cello Sonata. This large-scale three movement work was completed in July 1927, and was most likely written for John Barbirolli, who was an accomplished cellist as well as a conductor. Interestingly, Martin Lee-Browne in his study of Austin (Thames, 1999) writes that there is no record of a public performance and that Austin’s daughter-in-law Leily Howell, a professional cellist, was unware of the Sonata’s existence. I found that this Sonata was a delight to listen to. It is typically rhapsodic in mood, but never meandering. There are occasional hints of Delius, impressionism, and folksong in these pages. In several passages Austin seems to move the argument of the work towards the more ‘advanced’ sound-world of Continental Europe. The heart of the sonata is the thoughtful ‘moderato’ which creates a magical mood. Frederic Austin’s is fortunate in having several of his orchestral works on CD. This includes the Overture: Sea-Venturers, the Symphony in E major, the Rhapsody: Spring, The Pageant of London and the Richard II Overture. The present Cello Sonata is a worthy addition to this sadly short list.

For many years, a desideratum of mine was Greville Cooke’s Cormorant Crag for piano solo. A few years ago, Duncan Honeybourne obliged me with the excellent CD A Forgotten English Romantic (EMRCD022). Not only did this feature that wonderfully atmospheric tone-poem for piano, but several other piano pieces by Cooke. Sea Croon, the eponymous track of this CD, is four minutes of delight. Nodding to the Gaelic ‘ethos’ of Granville Bantock and Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser (1857-1930) this is a work that seems to be based on a folk-song, but probably isn’t. It is a lyrical piece that tugs at the heart strings. I am not sure how Gaelic the mood of the music is, but to me at least, it conjures up mages of the far-distant Western Isles if not Tir-na-nÓg, the Land of the Young so sought after by Arnold Bax.

When I first gained an interest in William Alwyn, the received wisdom was that the earliest acknowledged works were the Rhapsody for Piano Quartet (1939) and the Divertimento for Solo Flute (1940). It was assumed that he had destroyed or suppressed all his student and early music. In recent years there has been a rediscovery of much of these ‘lost’ works. These include several orchestral pieces, some youthful string quartets and a selection of piano pieces. To this listener, at any rate they have proved of considerable musical and artistic interest. The Two Folk Tunes for cello and piano date from 1929, when the composer was aged around 24 years old. The first, a ‘Meditation on a Norwegian Folk-Song Fragment’, would appear not to be based in any actual tune. This hauntingly beautiful piece looks back to Grieg and his arrangements of the ‘calls of Norwegian cowherds.’ According to the liner notes, Ole Bull’s ‘The Dairymaid’s Sunday’ may have been an inspiration. The second miniature is an animated little number based on a genuine Irish tune, ‘Who’ll buy my besoms.’ But don’t miss the wistful middle-section.

Benjamin Burrows is usually regarded as an ‘art-song’ composer. However, a glance at his catalogue of music suggests that his interests ranged much wider. There are several attractively titled orchestral works, a large corpus of piano music and many chamber pieces. The present Sonatina for cello and piano was completed in November 1930 and published the following year. Most musicians associate the formal title ‘Sonatina’ with ‘teaching’ music (although Ravel and Ireland disprove this theory in their piano works of that name). It is unfortunate that Burrows did not call this piece a Sonata. Despite the brevity of its four movements, there is a profundity intensity and technical accomplishment. The liner notes explain that it was composed after the break up of a relationship with a student, Jane Vowles. The present soloist, Joseph Spooner has summed up the Sonatina’s aesthetic: [It is] a very lyrical piece that is nevertheless marked by a terseness of expression not generally found until much later in (for example) Rawsthorne.’

The liner notes are divided into several sections. After the track listing there are helpful biographies of each composer. These are written by several hands. Photographs of each composer are featured as well as the artists. The second section of the insert are the programme notes for each work. There are the usual performer bios. This is a well-produced CD. The programme is excellent and imaginative and deserves to be heard at a sitting – with maybe just a tea-break (interval) after the Frederic Austin. I am not sure, but I think all these pieces (except for the John Ireland), are premiere performances. I have noted above the excellence of the readings by the soloists. This is enhanced by the exceptional recording. Finally, this CD is yet another splendid example of the deep exploration of the British music repertoire by EM Records and the English Music Festival. It reveals to listeners the depth of interest in music that has lain undiscovered for many years. Yet, there is so much more hidden in archives and music libraries of similar quality that need to be excavated. All concerned have done, and are doing, a sterling job.

John France

 

 




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