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Folk Tales - British Cello and Piano Miniatures
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Six Studies in English Folk Song (1926) [8:52]
Fantasia on Greensleeves (arr. Greaves and Forbes) (1934) [3:57]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Spring Song (No. 2 from Four Short Pieces for violin and piano) (1912) [2:29]
Cradle Song (1910) [2:47]
E.J. MOERAN (1890-1950)
Irish Lament (1944) [3:18]; Prelude (1943) [4:43]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Romance op. 62 (1910) [6:22]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Elegy (1930) [4:00]
Romance (1918) [6:13]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Folk Tale (1918) [8:11]
Gerald Peregrine (cello), Antony Ingham (piano)
rec. 2018, Potton Hall, Suffolk.
NAXOS 8.574035 [54:26]

This excellent CD fills several little gaps in the British musical repertoire for cello and piano. I am not suggesting that all these works cannot be found on other discs, downloads, uploads and vinyl. What is important is to have these minor masterpieces all in one place. Add to that, the committed performances of these pieces, the succinct liner notes and the splendid sound quality and you have an ideal disc for enthusiasts of both cello music and this group of pre-eminent late 19th/early 20th century British composers.

I explored these works in chronological order rather than by composer.

Despite the liner notes’ statement that Frederick Delius’s Romance for cello and piano was composed in 1918, when he was hard at work on the opera Koanga, I beg to suggest that this dating is wrong. For starters, Delius was working on this opera between 1895 and 1897. Secondly, I followed the score of the ‘Romance’ in the Frederick Delius Complete Works edition, Volume 31c. Robert Threlfall gives the date of this Romance as 1896. It was published posthumously in 1976. So, the Koanga connection is correct but the date is manifestly wrong. Whatever the dating of this piece, it is a little bit of Delius that is largely untypical of his later works. It is both ‘winsome’ and ‘charming’ but sometimes displaying something a little more troubled.

Other early pieces are the ‘Romance’ by Sir Edward Elgar and the ‘Cradle Song’ by Frank Bridge. Elgar originally wrote his ‘Romance’ for bassoon and orchestra in 1910. In the same year, it was published in a version for bassoon and piano. I am guessing that the version played here was made by Julian Lloyd Webber in 1985. Like so much music by Elgar, the typically warm, romantic sound of this work has a melancholic undertow.

The same year saw the Cradle Song by Frank Bridge. Ostensibly a ‘salon’ piece, this beautiful short work evokes sadness and provides a glimpse of the composer’s ‘impressionistic’ style, soon to blossom forth in the remarkable tone poem The Sea. The other Bridge piece on this CD is the equally evocative ‘Spring Song’ arranged to be played by either violin or cello: it was dedicated to the composer’s pupil Cynthia Lubbock. Do not let the relative technical ease of the solo part detract from the ‘Elgarian’ wistfulness clearly displayed in this Song.

The most substantial work on this CD is Arnold Bax’s splendid Folk Tale. This piece was written at the conclusion of the Great War. The liner notes stress the impact of W.B. Yeats and the Celtic Revival on Bax’s music. Perhaps the inference is that the composer was writing a forlorn commentary on the events in Dublin during the Easter Rising of 1916? Interestingly, the work was written in same year that the composer left his wife Elsita Sobrino for Harriet Cohen. Yet I think the mood of this work is ‘Northern’. It is redolent of the much later orchestral tone-poem The Tale the Pine-Trees Knew (1931) with its dark colourings. Sibelius may be the musical inspiration in this Folk Tale, rather than the Free-State? Whatever the background, this is not a bucolic folk song, but ‘a tragic and melancholy reflection on Bax’s life and the world he found himself in’- both politically and emotionally. Folk Tale for cello and piano was dedicated to Felix Salmond, who along with the composer gave the work its premiere in 1918.

I have always enjoyed listening to RVWs Six Studies in English Folk Song written in 1926. I have very happy memories of playing the piano part for a cellist now sadly dead. They seem to me to epitomise the subtle balance between the ‘innocence’ of the base material and its subtle reworking by Vaughan Williams. All the songs were collected by the composer ‘in the field’. The success of these studies is heightened by their concision and brevity. For me, the most beautiful (and memorable) number is the second song – ‘Spurn Point’ – it is a surprisingly concentrated little piece that is utterly heart-breaking in its impact. They have been ‘dished up’ in many guises, with the solo part played by violin, clarinet or cello. There is also a version for cello and small orchestra arranged by Arnold Foster in 1957. The present version is of the Six Studies in their original incarnation.

Frederick Delius wrote his ‘Caprice’ and ‘Elegy’ for cello and piano during the last years of his life. He was assisted by his amanuensis Eric Fenby. Both were originally devised for cello and a chamber orchestra and are dedicated to the prominent cellist Beatrice Harrison. My thought about the ‘Caprice’ is that it is wrongly titled. It is hardly ‘capricious’ in its exposition; more of a subdued, meditative romance. Equally dark in mood is the ‘Elegy’ which is quite a complex little piece that balances two troubled melodies.

RVWs Fantasia on Greensleeves needs no introduction. Originally lifted from the composer’s opera Sir John in Love (1929) by Ralph Greaves in 1934, it has been arranged by several hands for various instrumental combinations including string orchestra with harp and optional flutes, piano solo, violin and piano and the present version for cello and piano. This latter was arranged by Scottish violist Watson Forbes in 1947.

My ultimate Desert Island Disc is E.J. Moeran’s Cello Concerto dating from 1945. It was dedicated to Peers Coetmore. They had been wed in that year, but alas, their marriage was not a great success. They were to a large extent incompatible: Moeran often need to escape into solitude and Coetmore had the pressures of a busy concert schedule. The ‘Prelude’ was the first piece that he dedicated to Peers. It was composed in 1943 and was presented to her before she went on a concert tour with ENSA. It is a beautiful tear-jerking tune, supported by a simple, but ultimately effective accompaniment. It surely reflects Moeran’s deep feelings towards his wife. The ‘Prelude’s’ first performance was in Alexandria in Egypt.

The Irish Lament is a much more powerful work based on a genuine Irish folk tune: ‘Johnny Asthore’. I am not sure that I have heard this piece before, although I have read the score. More complex than the Prelude, the piano part echoes the composer’s ‘Irish Love Song’ for piano solo. Notwithstanding this self-borrowing, this a gorgeous elegy for cello and piano which once again seems to speak volumes about Moeran’s love for Peers Coetmore and possibly the realisation of the ultimate end of the relationship.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album that is exceptionally well-played by Gerald Peregrine (cello) and Antony Ingham (piano). The liner notes are concise and informative, despite the misdating of the Delius ‘Romance’. And finally, for my point of view the CD is worth the price just to have a recording of Jack Moeran’s Irish Lament.

John France

Previous review: Rob Barnett



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