British Music - mostly!
© Chris Green, October 2018
Many of us in the United Kingdom have been recovering from the wonderful treat of the BBC Proms whilst, at the same time, concentrating on music from other countries as our own nations head towards a Brexit which has split the four countries which make up the UK. It is perhaps of no surprise that I seem to be inundated with releases of British music- much of the repertoire is new to me which makes the task of reviewing these releases all the more interesting. So this review includes much British music - but not totally.
I freely acknowledge: there are times when I do get behind with things and here I am in – nearly into November (my natal month) - extolling the virtues of music inspired by September. Well, I can look back to the relative warmth of thos e early autumnal days, can I not? September Song from Kurt Weill's musical theatre piece Knickerbocker Glory has long been a classic and when you programme it along with 16 other similar pieces, you are in for a treat. Sir Thomas Allen has done that under the title from this track and, accompanied by Stephen Higgins (piano) and joined for a couple of tracks by Lucy Crowe (soprano) proves an eclectic survey of songs from musicals starting with They didn't believe me by Jerome Kern (The Girl from Utah, 1924) through to Greeting from Arias and Barcarolles by Leonard Bernstein (1988). I always take great pleasure in listening to Sir Thomas's voice, but sometimes he sounds a trifle arch in the delivery of songs intended for the Broadway stage. The opera house is never far away and that is a shame given the fine recording made earlier this year (Champs Hill CHRCD0144).
It is some time since I attended a song recital. For me, sitting in on such a musical event is like cleansing the musical palette after a rich series of musical dishes including orchestral and choral music. The intimacy of song cannot be beaten and an enterprising disc released by Chandos Records proves my point. Dame Sarah Connolly accompanied by James Middleton (piano) has turned her experiences when a student at the Royal College of Music to great effect. Searching through the archives of the RCM library she has selected 29 songs including many by composers linked to East Anglia including Sir Michael Tippett, Benjamin Britten and Gustav Holst. One can easily separate out the transformation of the art song by Britten with his A Charm of Lullabies composed in 1947 and Tippett's Songs for Ariel (1962). That is not to say that I would be without the other songs in this set recorded at Suffolk's Potton Hall. Some of my favourites are here such as Stanford's A soft day. Of particular note is the inclusion of songs by Muriel Herbert (1897-1984) and Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) (Chandos CHAN 10944).
John Ireland is featured in Sarah Connolly's programme, and from the same recording house, Chandos, comes a volume of piano music by this composer who died in 1962. I can remember trying to play some of his less demanding works from piano exams. I just about succeeded but, oh boy, were they tough. Eric Parkin makes light of the eight works in this release which includes one of the pieces I learnt – The Holy Boy (also a fine song). Ireland had a fairly unique musical voice and someone recently asked me why he did not become as well known as contemporaries like Vaughan Williams To that I would have to say, “Read his biography” and find out about this very private man who numbered Benjamin Britten and Ernest Jack Moeran amongst his pupils (Chandos CHAN 9056).
Which neatly leads me to one of those pupils- Moeran- whose family was rooted in Norfolk life and who had relatives in Ipswich, Suffolk where I live for pat of each week. A collection of his piano works recorded by Iris Loveridge in 1959 is coupled with Essex-based composer Gordon Jacob's Piano Sonata (dating from 1957) in a reissued Lyrita recording. This valuable archive of material puts back into the catalogue some significant compositions in the output of both composers (Lyrita SRCD REAM 1103).
England was described by one German as “The land without music”, and truth to tell if you sample a selection of works from the nineteenth century they can often be heard as pale aural reflections of Brahms (or occasionally, Wagner). So when it came to listening to Volume 1 of an album called “British Tone Poems”, I had low expectations. How wrong I was, for here the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Rumon Gamba play their collective heart out in six works by composers whose compositions are generally well-known. Vaughan Williams is represented but wait -who has heard his orchestral work, the Impressionist poem The Solent (a river in the south of England)? Written in the early period of his compositional career, it makes for a fascinating study as he was seeking help form Ravel. I recently conducted a revised work by Ivor Gurney who was to fight in the Great War. Another of his post Great War works is in this collection – A Gloucestershire Rhapsody featuring melodies form a county in the West of England that he knew so well. So, the superlatives could go on, but here we have a selection of composers, many of whom were seeking to develop an authentic British musical voice. They succeeded (Chandos CHAN 100939).