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Frederick Septimus KELLY (1881-1916)
Elegy in memoriam Rupert Brooke (1916) [9:23]
German Symphony (1906-07) [27:50]
Scherzo (1906-07) [6:16]
The Somme Lament (1916) arr. Christopher Latham [5:03]
A Coin for the Ferryman (1913) [2:56]
Organ Prelude No.1 on ‘Good King Wenceslas’ Christmas Prelude (1914, arr. strings, Christopher Latham) [2:29]
Organ Prelude No.2 (1915, arr. clarinet and strings, C. Latham) [4:22]
Serenade for flute, harp, horn and strings, Op.7 (1911) [20:20]
Songs of Love and Loss (1899-1909, arr. voice and orchestra, Christopher Latham and composer) [17:32]
Douglas Mackie (flute), Marshall McGuire (harp), Geoff Lierse (horn)
Andrew Goodwin (tenor), Christina Wilson (mezzo soprano)
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Benjamin Northey, Johannes Fritzsch
rec. 2014-19, Federation Concert Hall, Hobart, Australia
No texts
ABC CLASSICS 481 8890 [48:31 + 47:39]

Many of the pieces heard in this 2 CD release devoted to Frederick Septimius Kelly are world premiere recordings. Allied to the investigative work now underway with regard to his solo piano music, on Toccata, we can gauge more comprehensively than ever before the range of Kelly’s achievement as well as, from time to time, the limits of his ambition.

If he is known at all it’s for his Rupert Brooke elegy which has now received a number of recordings. But it’s always been known that his training under Tovey, and subsequently as a member of the Frankfurt Gang studying with Iwan Knorr, had equipped him to write music both large-scale and miniature. Appropriately, though, this 96-minute twofer opens with his Brooke elegy in a performance by the Tasmanian Symphony under Johannes Fritzsch that is rather blunter and slower than that of David Lloyd-Jones and the BBC Symphony on Dutton. This was one of Kelly’s last works but programming then switches back a decade to the German Symphony, originally an orchestral suite. The inflationary new title rather emphasises what it’s not; the original rather better reflects its discrete workmanlike elegance. It was premiered at the same graduation concert that saw Kelly perform Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto – he was an excellent pianist by all accounts – so he modified the orchestration of his work, replacing the forceful Scherzo, heard separately in this first CD, with an emollient Waltz. The writing is good natured but without being supine. The notes speak of a Mahlerian influence in the Waltz though I don’t hear it; I think I hear allusions to Beethoven’s Fifth though. The Intermezzo is perhaps the highlight – lissom with luminous orchestration and delicious high wind writing and some discreetly bucolic horns. Somewhat academically he ends with a fugue – solid Frankfurt virtues present and correct.

The Somme Lament was Kelly’s very last work, completed in October 1916 whilst on active service, and a fortnight before his death in the final action of the Somme campaign. This is a chorale, sketched in piano score but with limited orchestration, a responsibility that has now fallen to Christopher Latham. Though it’s only five minutes in length, and whilst it’s a more reserved piece than the Elegy, it possesses a tangible nobility of utterance that proves strongly moving.

The second disc in this twofer moves across genres and once again Latham has been responsible for a number of orchestrations and arrangements. That’s certainly the case with A Coin for the Ferryman which is otherwise known as No.16 in his collection of Monographs for piano (see Toccata for the piano version.) Given its deeply etched funereal associations Latham has arranged it for brass and percussion. The two organ preludes are diversely arranged by Latham– the first for strings and the second for clarinet and strings; they are lighter in texture and feeling than one might imagine though when one knows that the first is a prelude on Good King Wenceslas one appreciates its generosity of spirit.

The Serenade for flute, harp, horn and strings was composed in 1911 during a sea voyage from England to Kelly’s Australian homeland. It took 19 days from inception to completion and was written for the flautist John Lemmoné, a fellow Australian, and Nellie Melba’s manager, who happened to be travelling on the SS Orentes as well. Lemmoné made a number of 78s at around the time so you can hear the player for whom Kelly intended his Serenade. The five movements sport Baroque dance titles but they’re not all laced with baroquerie. The Prelude certainly is, but the Idyll is up to date pastoralism, and there’s a deft Air with Variations, just the kind of thing the flautist excelled in, and a frolicsome Jig to conclude. Nothing serious, nothing drenched in Francophile Impressionism, just charm.

Kelly’s songs round out this portrait. Four of the five here have been arranged for voice and orchestra by Latham whilst one, Aghadoe, is the work of Kelly himself. The songs were composed at various times during his life and are not the product of a single time or place; in fact, they stretch over a decade from 1899. It Is Not Dawn Till You Awake is an intimate early work, sung with sensitivity by tenor Andrew Goodwin. Mezzo Christina Wilson brings a rather operatically-scaled voice to Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day, Kelly’s Op.1 No.1. Both singers join for Crossing the Bar, a ‘mini requiem’ three minutes long, funereal because of its associations with Kelly’s dead brother. The longest setting however is Aghadoe which is by far the most dramatic of the song settings. Kelly orchestrated it for performance by Clara Butt and in its voice and piano original form it was played at Kelly’s memorial service in 1919 when Muriel Foster was accompanied by Kelly’s close friend Leonard Borwick.

Production wise, the booklet essay has been written by Christopher Latham, director of The Flowers of War, whose note draws on the work of Thérèse Radic and acknowledges the original work of Richard Divall. The performances are devoted and accomplished; the majority of orchestrally directed pieces feature conductor Benjamin Northey, the exception being the Elegy. So many of Kelly’s works died unwritten and some have survived in partial form. But we are fortunate that so much has survived, and that Kelly’s custodians have ensured his legacy is available to all inquisitive souls.

Jonathan Woolf

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