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Palace Premières
World premiere recordings of British music for string orchestra performed at the Royal Palaces
The Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra/Major David B Hammond
rec. 2019, The Royal Military Chapel, Wellington Barracks, London
MPR CWSO01 [75:49]

This is a delightful album of British Light Music for strings, almost all of which is claimed to be heard here in world première recordings. It’s played by The Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra, created in 2014 after changes in the Corps of Army Music, and is directed by Major David B Hammond. The ensemble can trace its history to Restoration times and was to form the basis of Queen Victoria’s private band. It’s very active across a number of national ceremonies and its principal players perform for tri-service orchestral events.

You must however have a yen for the metier to enjoy the repertoire. British music mavens will purr with satisfaction at some of the names – Dunhill, Rowley, Quilter, Curzon – but the music performed is out of the ordinary and just as much fun comes from lesser names or long-standing arrangers. Dunhill’s Rural England suite was published in the same year as the Great Depression broke on the world – it was one of many string works published by the firm Goodwin & Tabb in the late 20s and Rowley’s Shepherd’s Delight and Ernest Markham Lee’s Rivers of Devon suite were part of the same series - and offered an idyllic conduit for escape. In its folk frolic and light VW-isms the Dunhill is a genial charmer. Rowley’s three-piece suite is a concise pastoral sequence of compressed elegance, whilst Lee’s is full of charm, warmth and lyricism, and its melodies are rather more sumptuous than most of the companion works. The Devonian river of the four selected most flowing with charm is the Dart (quite right too), the most folk-enriched the Lynn. At four minutes maximum no river overflows its banks.

Quilter’s In Georgian Days is the Gavotte from his light opera Julia (or Rosmé). It’s the epitome of droll. Dapper, meanwhile, is the word for Allan Macbeth’s Intermezzo Forget-me-not, published in 1890 – this is the first recording of this piece in the arrangement for piano and strings.

Fred Hartley, famed at the BBC, arranged Annie Laurie in 1939, ensuring a role for solo cello (taken here by Adrian Calef, I assume) over piano and strings. His near-contemporary Harry Dexter, Light Music supremo at publisher Francis, Day and Hunter, arranged Blow the Wind Southerly in 1955 whilst Eric Thiman, who wrote numerous textbooks and composed principally for the voice, contributes most effective arrangements of Shenandoah and Billy Boy. William H Speer was a near-contemporary of Elgar – as well as being the son of a Malvern businessman – and his Nocturne of 1913 was dedicated to Charles H Lloyd. It shows decided hints of his fellow Worcester composer’s lighter style. Curzon’s affectionate and elegant Pastoral Scene has a Coates-like beauty. Bertram Walton O’Donnell was a famous military musical director and the Fragment for Strings, published by Hawkes in 1925, is a deft, brief, largely pizzicato-based study.

Contemporary composers aren’t neglected. Essex-born Peter Thorne’s Cold Winter Nights was originally written for piano, but its orchestration shows even more graciously and richly how beautiful is its melody. Peter Wilson’s Iris and Lavender, a concert waltz was composed in 2014 and carries on the string tradition admirably.

There is a ‘bonus’ work, the Suite of Seven Pieces of Giles Farnaby in Granville Bantock’s arrangement of c.1914.This is noted as having been recorded before, but it fits the bill in these delightful transcriptions. Nothing heavy duty.

The booklet carries authoritative notes from the conductor and has several attractive full-colour and full page – even double-spread - photographs. If you fancy a relaxing time with unfamiliar pieces you could do a lot worse than settle down to this winningly played and idiomatically directed selection.

Jonathan Woolf

Thomas DUNHILL (1877-1946)
In Rural England suite, Op.72 (1929) [10:40]
Peter THORNE (b.1955)
Cold Winter Nights (2017) [5:05]
Annie Laurie arr. Fred Hartley (1905-1980) [2:38]
Blow the Wind Southerly arr. Harry Dexter (1910-1973) [2:26]
Two Pieces: Shenandoah [2:38]: Billy Boy [1:44] arr. Eric Thiman (1900-1975)
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
In Georgian Days (Gavotte from Rosmé) [3:06]
Allan MACBETH (1856-1910)
Intermezzo ‘Forget-Me-Not’, Op.22 [3:44]
Alec ROWLEY (1892-1958)
Shepherd’s Delight (1929) [5:35]
Peter WILSON (B.1956)
Iris and Lavender, a concert waltz (2014) [3:56]
Frederic CURZON (1899-1973)
Pastoral Scene (1938) [4:48]
Bertram Walton O’DONNELL (1887-1939)
Fragment for Strings (1925) [2:34]
William H SPEER (1863-1937)
Nocturne for String Orchestra, Op.17 (1913) [4:30]
Ernest Markham LEE (1874-1956)
Rivers of Devon Suite (1929) [9:41]
Giles FARNABY (c.1563-1640)
Suite of Seven Pieces arr. Granville Bantock (1868-1946) [10:04]

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