© Chris Green, September 2010
When it comes to the music reputation of composers, it is often the case that this depends upon the appeal of music to the widest possible population; hence, the current debate about the "dumbing down" of classical music that characterised the Blair years. Don't blame Tchaikovsky if his colourful orchestral works such as Romeo and Juliet and 1812 Overture are preferred to his choral music and songs. In the same way the symphonic works of Edward Elgar are better known that the smaller scale compositions written for his fellow woodwind players.
This month's review of CDs features composers who are essentially miniaturists and whose music is unlikely to hit the Top 10 charts (although in classical music that is getting increasingly more depressing). How many people have heard of Julius Harrison (1885-1963)? I knew little about him and his music. Born near to Elgar's birthplace, he won first prize for a cantata at the 1908 Norwich Festival. His reputation grew and after the Great War became associated with Beecham's Opera Company but thereafter it seems his music occupied a backwater of British music overshadowed by young turks like Walton and Britten, so it is a plus point to Dutton Recordings for a programme of his orchestral music performed by the BBC Concert orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth., Many of the six works were inspired b y the Worcestershire countryside and if they were more readily available, suitable for a good amateur orchestra. The CD is completed by Hubert Clifford's Serenade for Strings (Dutton CDLX 7174).
The River Severn inspired Elgar as it did Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) and therefore it was good to find it heading up a programme reissued on the Lyrita label from recordings made by the London Philharmonic and New Philharmonia Orchestras in n1975 and 1977. Sir Adrian Boult and Vernon Handley shared many of the same qualities- unfussy conducting, letting the music flow, admired by fellow musicians and champions of British music. They share the conducting honours in this well-filled CD rich with pickings form the small but finely formed orchestral catalogue of works by Finzi (Lyrita SRCD 239). Rodney Friends (violin) and Peter Katin (piano) are distinguished soloists in various of the compositions, and it is another Finzi disc which proves what a fine composer he was for the voice. Roderick Williams (baritone0 is joined by Iain Burnside (piano) and the Sacconi Quartet for three songs cycles by Finzi, many of the texts drawn from poetry by Thomas Hardy (Naxos 8.557983). Recorded in Suffolk at Potton Hall, the faithfully recorded sound enhances a performance which, despite featuring one singer and the music of one composer, never tires on the ear.
So, in summary, there are many points form which to start an exploration of British miniatures, but here are three which will serve to wet the appetite for more I hope.