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Transcriptions by Christopher Latham
The Flowers of War (Andrew Goodwin (tenor), Zbigniew Kornowicz (violon), Joanna Rezler (violin), Paul Mayes (viola), Catherine Delanoue (cello), David Novak (accordion), Jordan Aikin (bagpipes), Christine Benoist (reciter))/Christopher Latham (violin)
rec. live 22-24 July 2016, l’église N-D de l’Assomption Beaumont-Hamel, l’église Saint-Fursy, église N-D de l’Assomption, Pozičres
Les Musiciens et la Grande Guerre - Volume 25 HORTUS 725 [72:13]
The latest volume in Hortus’ extensive series devoted to music and musicians associated with the First World War focuses on the Battle of the Somme. Australian violinist and arranger Christopher Latham and his group, The Flowers of War, have undertaken a commemorative volume that focuses largely, but not solely, on the British lines – thus Butterworth and Gurney – but also takes in pieces by Ibert, Hahn and Braunfels.
The performances reflect the ad hoc nature of life in the lines, instrumentation almost always including the use of the accordion rather than the piano, given that the latter’s employment would be strictly behind-the-lines. The live concerts from which this disc is drawn were given in July 2016 in France and commemorate the various battles that took place a century earlier, notably the Battle of Pozičres where Australian divisions, in particular, suffered grievous losses.
It’s in the context of live performances that this disc can best be understood. It opens with a version of the Dead March from Handel’s Saul, so often performed at Commonwealth funerals at the time and a piece that continued to enjoy a strong and resonant place in the imagination well into the 1930s, not least when played by military bands.
One of the valuable things about this disc is introducing lesser known names. George Wilkinson was killed five weeks before his friend Butterworth and is represented by a charming, light piece called Suzette (1915). New Zealander Willie Braithwaite Manson studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London where he wrote the Housman brace of songs performed here. He was killed on his 20th birthday. There’s something athletically insouciant about his setting of When I came at last to Ludlow. I suppose Francis Purcell Warren’s name is best-known through his friendship with Howells at the RCM; he was one of the Three Bs in the latter’s 1914 orchestral work – the others were Benjamin, Bliss, and Gurney, which indicates Warren’s high standing. His 1916 death inspired Howells’s beautiful Elegy for Viola, Warren’s own instrument. The attractive Adagio is the surviving moment of a projected Cello Sonata.
FS Kelly’s Elegy for Rupert Brooke receives another recording here, its resonant qualities imbued with the eloquence of VW’s Tallis Fantasia but his Lento and Lamentoso is rare, an introduction to orchestral variations that he didn’t live to write
There are three bluffly sung Gurney songs and in Butterworth’s The Lads in their Hundreds, tenor Andrew Goodwin seems unwilling to dig much beneath the surface (he glides across the lines ‘the lads that will die in their glory and never be old’ without much concern).
Ibert’s Noël en Picardie sounds in small places strangely like a cross between VW and Janáček. Hahn’s Ŕ Chloris, one of the most beautiful songs ever penned, never loses its rapt allure. On the enemy side, Braunfels’s introduction to The Birds (Die Vögel) is described here as the great opera of the First World War; is it? His compatriot Botho Sigwart, killed on the Eastern Front in 1915, wrote his War Sonata in France before transferring to Galicia. The Adagio is performed by strings and accordion. To end, the disc includes The Battle of the Somme, a tune for bagpipes and strings (around 300 pipers died during the conflict) and there are recitations, in English and French, of Binyon’s For the Fallen.
The documentation is helpful and the in-situ recording sympathetic. This is something of a niche prospect given the specifics of instrumentation and arrangements by Christopher Latham but it does contain some rare things, especially to the devotee of British music of the period.
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1750)
Saul: Dead March, HWV 53 [4:54] Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Noël en Picardie [7:05] George WILKINSON
Suzette [1:46] Willie Braithwaite MANSON (1896-1916)
When I came at last to Ludlow [1:29]
Loveliest of Trees [2:44] Francis Purcell WARREN (1895-1916)
Adagio [4:48] Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)
In Flanders [2:52]
Severn Meadows [1:43]
By a Bierside [3:40] Frederick Septimus KELLY (1881-1916)
Elegy for Rupert Brooke [9:17] TRADITIONAL
The Reel of Tulloch [2:48] George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916)
The lads in their hundreds [2:06]
Requiescat [2:52] Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)
Ŕ Chloris [3:50] Frederick Septimus KELLY (1881-1916)
Lento et Lamentoso [4:45] Walter BRAUNFELS (1882-1954)
Die Vögel op. 30; Vorspiel [3:51] Botho SIGWART (1884-1915)
Kriegssonate op. 19: Adagio [3:40] ANONYMOUS
The Battle of the Somme [3:31] RECITATION
For the Fallen: Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) [1:37] ANONYMOUS
The Last Post [2:45]