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Rawsthorne and Other Rarities
Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971)
Chamber Cantata [11:58]
Halsey STEVENS (1908-1989)
Sonatina Piacevole [5:29]
Practical Cats [21:10]
Basil DEANE (1928-2006)/Raymond WARREN (b.1928)
The Rose Tree [2:23] I am of Ireland [3:04]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1972-1958)
The Willow Whistle [1:04]
Karel JANOVICKÝ (b.1930)
The Little Linden Pipe [3:19]
String Quartet in B minor [15:11]
Donald WAXMAN (b.1925)
Serenade and Caprice [7:33]
Sir Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
The Buckle [1:12]
Malcolm LIPKIN (1932-2017)
The Journey [2:58]
David ELLIS (b.1933)
Mount Street Blues [1:59]
Clare Wilkinson (mezzo-soprano), Harvey Davies (harpsichord), John Turner (recorder), Mark Rowlinson (reciter), Peter Lawson (piano), Solem Quartet
rec. UK¸ 2017
DIVINE ART DDA25169 [78:30]

This collection began life as an intended companion for ‘A Garland for John McCabe’ (DDA 25166). It too is dedicated to the late John McCabe (1939-2015).

Rawsthorne bears away the laurels with three of his works. These together run to approaching 50 of the disc's almost 80 minutes. The first of these is a song-cycle from 1939. The generic anonymity of the title Chamber Cantata does less than justice to the music. It was thought to have been lost but then discovered among the papers of American composer Halsey Stevens. This is emotionally chilly and thorn-barbed music although ending in warmth. The active instrumental brocade provided around Clare Wilkinson's searching mezzo by the adept Solem Quartet and by Harvey Davies' harpsichord does nothing to blunt the effect. In terms of song-style Rawsthorne is in this case closer to Britten than to Geoffrey Bush. This work, which sets four English medieval poems, will appeal if you want less of the brimming melodious in your English poetry settings and more in the way of cool restraint. I last heard this excellent singer - consistently attentive to the shifts of mood and the demands of enunciation - in the Signum collection of the songs of her father, the choral conductor and composer Stephen Wilkinson.

Here Practical Cats is heard in the composer's piano reduction. This compares with the better known orchestral version recorded by Rawsthorne with Robert Donat in the 1950s and more recently redone by Simon Callow for Dutton. Peter Lawson invests the score with care and whimsy, as does Mark Rowlinson who avoids being arch. He catches the music-hall innocence (Berners-style), guileful stagecraft and caricatured accent opportunities. Rowlinson may be better known as the tenor at the centre of John R Williamson song collection as well as Dunelm's Wagon of Life anthology. He has also sung in the Naxos Parry choral collection and in the classic EMI recording of RVW's Sir John in Love.

Rawsthorne's String Quartet of 1932-33 is in three movements. After an emotionally ruminative and subdued Molto Adagio Fugue comes an eventually bustling Andante - Allegretto. With its dancing cheeriness, at times it might have been written with an ear cupped towards the Dvořák and Smetana quartets. The stabbing athletic sprint of the final Molto Allegro Quasi Presto is at times filmic - Rawsthorne was no slouch when it came to music for the silver screen - haunting, exciting, cool and eager. Outside the numbered canon (Naxos), it was premiered in public at the Macnaghten Concerts in 1934. It is the second of two unnumbered quartets from the 1930s and is different from the quartet recorded by the Flesch Quartet for ASV.

Wilkinson's bell-like clarity entwines the next two songs - the joint work of Basil Deane and Raymond Warren in The Rose Tree and I am of Ireland. These frankly folksy pastorals work easily on the ear. The second song has some Warlock-like witchery but its opening phrase suggests a link with the traditional Irish air, Women of Ireland, so well used by The Chieftains in the Barry Lyndon film and in the work of that fine Irish composer Sean O'Riada. The Vaughan Williams song The Willow Whistle is for bamboo whistle. The treble voice is here rapturously piped by Clare Wilkinson. RVW's Suite for Pipes (rarely heard) was taken up by David Munrow and its sound is clearly related to this song. Karel Janovický's The Little Linden Pipe - a set of evenly-proportioned and tuneful variations - was written for John Turner in 2006.

As you can see, this disc is fully loaded. Halsey Stevens's Sonatina Piacevole for recorder and harpsichord has a high calorific value and counts its five minutes in smiles but lightly touched with an archaic accent. Another American, Donald Waxman, wrote the completely engaging and folksy-jazzy Latin-American Serenade and Caprice. It's a quirky piece - a merry-go-round of the placid and the flighty. Waxman was a student of Alec Rowley and his music is, in this case, for recorder and harpsichord. It is dedicated to John Turner.

Bliss's 1920s Buckle is one of Three Romantic Songs to words by Walter De La Mare. It's very short and this version with string quartet is new to the catalogue. This bustling jolly song was recorded with piano in Hyperion's two-CD set of the Bliss songs. We end with two short envoi tributes to John McCabe. Malcolm Lipkin's The journey for solo recorder is agreeably hesitant - unsure of the way? David Ellis (review review) is the composer of Mount Street Blues. With its mingling memories this piece ends the disc on a very personal and kindly caressing note.

The liner essay is well worth the read. It's packed with useful information that enhances the experience. Even so, I could have done without 'miniscule' instead of 'minuscule' and 'Matthew Arnold' instead of 'Malcolm Arnold'. The sung texts of the Rawsthorne cantata are printed but not the words of the other works. The back insert of the disc carries the titles of the works but the font is very small. It does not help that they are printed black on a matte dark blue - all but impossible to read. The booklet lists the tracks much more accessibly.

Everyone associated with this disc brings both high skill and poignant feeling to this musical treasury. It's well done with the few minor documentary blips mentioned above. This is a CD that appeals to several constituencies: enthusiasts of John McCabe (and we will hear more of his music, I hope - NMC have just brought out another McCabe disc), Rawsthorne and indeed John Turner and Clare Wilkinson. We should also note the other artists and subscribers who gave unstintingly to make this distinctive disc happen.

Rob Barnett

Information received

Peter Dickinson has pointed out that the piano version of Practical Cats was not made by Alan Rawsthorne. The Rawsthorne Trust commissioned Prof. Dickinson to make this version.



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