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Very British
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857–1934)
Serenade for Strings, Op 20 [12:39]
Nine Pieces for Cello and Strings (Arranged by Emanuel Schmidt) [32:59]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913–1976)
Simple Symphony, Op 4 [17:46]
Peter WARLOCK (1894–1930)
Capriol Suite [10:42]
Karl JENKINS (b.1944)
Palladio [3:53]
Metamorphosen Berlin/Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt (cello in Nine Pieces)
rec. 12–14 April 2019, 8 March 2020 & 24 June 2020, Teldex Studio Berlin.
Reviewed as downloaded from press access. Download only from some dealers.
SONY G0100045460061 [78:07]

Any ensemble from outside the UK must be very bold or very foolish to record such archetypally British music. There are some very firm and well-established favourites for three of these pieces: especially Sir John Barbirolli with the Sinfonia of London in the Elgar Serenade, still unbeaten in that work after all these years: Warner Masters 6317882 or 0851872, both download only, with Introduction and Allegro, Elegy, Sospiri, Vaughan Williams Greensleeves and Tallis Fantasias and Delius Brigg Fair, a 75-minute true classic – review review of earlier, shorter reissue.

Of course, Elgar and other British composers have been recorded before by non-British conductors and orchestras, often with considerable success. After all, we don’t expect the Vienna Philharmonic to have a monopoly on the Strauss family – though they do play their music very well. Monteux’s Enigma Variations are among the best ever recorded, while Karajan’s Decca and DG recordings of The Planets, with the VPO (Decca 4523032, with the Monteux Enigma, budget-price download) and BPO respectively, came off very well, as did the Marco Polo series of recordings of British Light Music, slowly being transferred, I’m delighted to see, to the less expensive Naxos label, but the Naxos English String Festival from Capella Istropolitana is much less successful, especially in the rather dreary versions of the two Parry suites (8.550331). Stick with Boult conducts Parry for those (Lyrita SRCD.220 – review review).

The recording of the Elgar Serenade sounds surprisingly idiomatic – very ‘British’, in fact. It must have been a strong temptation to listen to and copy a classic performance like the Barbirolli, but it’s far from a slavish imitation of any recording that I know. The opening allegretto piacevole is noticeably faster than Barbirolli, the larghetto significantly slower and the finale again considerably faster. More importantly, Metamorphosen make the whole sound idiomatic, with even a touch of portamento. I certainly shall not be ditching the Barbirolli recording, but I very much warmed to the new Sony to the extent that I wished that we might have had the Introduction and Allegro from the same team, with Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt directing from his cello as a member of the quartet. What makes the Barbirolli recording of both the Elgar works is that the music almost seems to glow, and I find a similar glow in the new recording.

Instead of more substantial Elgar, Schmidt gives us his own arrangement for cello and strings mostly of nine short, unfamiliar Elgar pieces, all receiving their first recordings. Enjoyable as these arrangements are, I found my attention wandering a little at times. Salut d’amour, the best known of these pieces, sounds just sentimental enough in this arrangement.

I perked up, however, for the Britten and the Warlock. In the Britten Simple Symphony Schmidt again avoids slavish imitation of the composer’s own recording (Decca E4175092, download only), with slightly faster times except in the Sentimental Saraband, where he allows more time for the sentiment to develop, yet without laying it on too thick. All told, I think this recording will make new friends for Britten’s early composition, reminding us that Mozart and Mendelssohn were not the only composers to show clear early signs of what was to come.

Both the Britten and the Warlock (whose real name was Heseltine) show reverence for earlier musical styles. I must admit to enjoying music such as the Capriol Suite, a modern re-imagining of the music of the past akin to Respighi’s Gli uccelli and Ancient Airs and Dances for the Lute and Rodrigo’s Fantasia para un gentilhombre. There’s a fine, inexpensive recording of Capriol on Naxos from the Bournemouth Sinfonietta and Richard Studt, which I was pleased to have a reason to revisit, courtesy of the Naxos B2B service for reviewers. It was released in 1994, before the advent of MusicWeb, so I’m happy to sing its praises now, but the only reason to prefer it to the new Sony would be its availability on an inexpensive CD and download – the new Sony is digital only in the UK, or as an expensive import (19439873312) – or for the rest of the Naxos programme of Britten’s Bridge Variations, Holst St Paul’s Suite, Vaughan Williams’ ethereal Variations on Dives and Lazarus, and Delius Aquarelles (8.550823).

The final item on the new Sony, Karl Jenkins Palladio, may not be a reworking of a particular piece of early music like the Capriol Suite, but its underlying quality also evokes the past. The title represents an act of homage to the celebrated renaissance architect whose work is enshrined in the word Palladian. The form is that of the concerto grosso, and the tone is not so much that of the sixteenth as of the eighteenth century, when the style was very fashionable. It’s surely coincidental that the name of the ensemble echoes the title of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the inspiration for music by Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (recordings on Naxos, Chandos and Supraphon) and that Palladio might almost be a modern take on the music of Dittersdorf’s period. Indeed, the music was metamorphosed from a diamond advertisement to its present form. More to the point, it’s an earworm of a piece which will ‘send its listeners out into the night tapping their feet and humming its tunes’, as the booklet puts it.

The calibre of the performances is matched by the recording, which I heard in CD-quality 16-bit, but is also available in 24-bit sound. The booklet, aimed mainly at German readers, will be of less interest to UK collectors. All in all, I really enjoyed hearing the idiomatic performances of this eclectic selection of British music which should reach a wider audience – significantly, the one review on Amazon as I write is in Spanish.

Brian Wilson

Nine Pieces for Cello and Strings:
Romance, Op 1 [5:17]
Salut d’amour, Op 12 [3:18]
Mot d’amour, Op 13/1 [2:26]
Bizarrerie, Op 13/2 [3:03]
Idylle, Op 4/1 [3:56]
Rosemary (1915) [3:16]
Carissima (1913) [4:19]
Adieu (1932) [2:20]
La Capricieuse, Op 17 [5:00]

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