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British Tone Poems - Volume 2
John FOULDS (1880-1939)
April-England, Op.48 No.1 (1926, orchestrated 1932) [8:15]
Eric FOGG (1903-1939)
Merok (1929) [8:40]
Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962)
By the Tarn, Op.15 No.1 (1916) [4:48]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Harnham Down (ed. James Francis Brown) (1904-07) [8:35]
Dorothy HOWELL (1898-1982)
Lamia (1918) [14:27]
Frederic Hymen COWEN (1852-1935)
Rêverie (1903) [6:22]
Patrick HADLEY (1899-1973)
Kinder Scout (1923) [6:51]
Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
Mêlée fantasque (1921, revised 1937) [11:16]
BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba
rec. 2019, MediaCity UK, Salford
CHANDOS CHAN10981 [70:16]

Rumon Gamba has been trawling British tone poems, of which this is the second volume – see review of the first – as well as a series of overtures (review review). Duplication of repertoire for duplication’s sake is seldom valuable, nor even commercially viable, but Gamba often – but not always - has a taste for quick transitions and a zesty approach to this repertoire that makes his readings stand out. He also has a yen for discovering previously unrecorded pieces.

Foulds’s April-England, which he orchestrated in 1932, has a good sense of colour and here Gamba proves a relatively mellow interpreter, not pressing ahead as Barry Wordsworth did with his London Philharmonic forces on Lyrita but aligning himself rather more to Sakari Oramo’s approach in Birmingham on Warner. Full marks though to the BBC Philharmonic winds and brass. Though I much prefer the piano original there’s no doubting the verdant richness of the orchestral version. Eric Fogg’s Merok trades on folkloric balladry, with its evocative harmonic shifts and Delian elements on public show. If the title suggests Baxian mythology, Fogg’s music proves rather less assertive, though the Norwegian atmospherics are finely deployed.

I know Goossens’s By the Tarn from its string quartet incarnation but here there’s the string orchestra version with optional clarinet part, which has been employed by Gamba. This ruminative pastoral was composed for the Philharmonic String Quartet, of which Goossens was then a member. VW’s Harnham Down, subtitled an ‘impression for orchestra’ is one of three such ‘impressions’. It’s very early VW and enjoyed only one performance. The composer withdrew it but in recent years it’s reappeared and Gamba indeed included The Solent, another impression, in the inaugural volume of this series. Its easygoing poetic nature is augmented by some Wagnerian rumbling.

Dorothy Howell’s Lamia has likewise enjoyed a revival. Composed in 1918 this stirring symphonic poem, with its Ravelian colours tied strongly to its mast, has an expressive breadth that outstrips almost everything else in this disc. Two premiere recordings follow. Cowen’s Rêverie of 1903 offers six or so minutes of well-orchestrated professionalism. It makes no pretensions to anything other than light music eloquence. Patrick Hadley’s Kinder Scout of 1923 is the other disc première. This sketch for orchestra, or orchestral impression, takes as its subject a striking moorland wilderness and serves it up with richness and distinction. The climaxes evoke symphonic VW but the lyric and descriptive quality of the music making show great discrimination in orchestration and in thematic material. This is a real find.

The final work is Bliss’s Mêlée fantasque, a piece he called ‘virtually my first ballet score’. Episodic though it is, it’s marked by Bliss’s characteristic verve and animated by a powerful threnody; it was dedicated in memoriam to the artist Claude Lovat Fraser, Bliss’s contemporary.

Lewis Foreman’s notes offer a perfect balance of detail and description and Chandos’ recording offers warmth without excess. Volume two in this series reprises the success of the earlier one. That said, you could consider the competing Foulds recordings if the composer takes your fancy, and Vernon Handley proves a more direct interpreter of Fogg on Dutton (review). Marius Stravinsky’s Lamia, ex-Cameo, is now in a Lyrita box (review) – though the BBC playing is to be preferred – and the three VW impressions are on Albion ALB CD016 (review).

Jonathan Woolf

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