© Chris Green, June 2010
There was a time in the 1970s when record collectors waited with anticipation the next batch of releases from the British Lyrita label. Richard Itter, the man behind the enterprise, chose programmes that explored repertoire neglected by the big recording companies. The programming meant that many composers, otherwise neglected, got their works on to disc and performed usually by one of the top British orchestras with a distinguished conductor. Then there was an economic recession if I recall, and the company ceased business.
Enter Wyastone Estate, itself the source of Nimbus Records, itself a casualty but now restored to circulation. Wyastone Estate Ltd, based on the English-Welsh border took over the release of back recordings and over the past few years, there has been a steady and most welcome stream of releases from the remarkable Lyrita label. I cannot say that all the music is as durable as it should be. There are some works which are neglected and, I guess, may remain so, but take one of the finest, a collection of orchestral works by John Ireland (1879-1962) performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. Boult and the LPO were, to all intent and purpose, a well matched coupling and here the veteran conductor revels in the big-boned brassy orchestration that Ireland used for his music like then 1942 Epic March. As far as I know, Ireland only wrote one film score, The Overlanders, set in Australia during the height of the threatened Japanese invasion. Here the 1947 suite, edited by Australian Sir Charles Mackerras gets a thrilling performance. In fact, the whole programme of seven works ensures Ireland’s large-scale composition keep in the catalogue and the recordings from 1966 to 1971 still sound vivid (Lyrita SRCD 240).
Another “must have” from the Lyrita collection is the all-Elgar collection in which the young Andrew Davis (as yet many years from being knighted) conducts the New Philharmonia Orchestra in the Enigma Variations, and the epic Symphonic Study, Falstaff. In the four sections, Elgar traces the changing relationship between Shakespeare’s fat knight and the young Prince Hal, soon to become Henry V of England. It ends with Henry’s rejection of his former friend. Davis’s judgement of the final moments is masterful but that is only one of the many fine aspects of these recordings (Lyrita SRCD 301).
Eric Coates (1886-1957) was known in Britain as “the man who writes tunes”. He was a professional viola player and as such played in major London orchestras, but composition always beckoned and from the 1920s onwards, a string of popular and descriptive pieces poured forth. The composer had a lasting affection for dance rhythms, and so it is not surprising that foxtrots and waltzes abound in his memorable music. Tunes such as By a Sleepy Lagoon and a movement from The London Suite became theme tunes for famous BBC radio series, and so a recording of his music, expertly played buy a top symphony orchestra reminds us of the wonderful legacy. Barry Wordsworth conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra in a selection of lesser known but equally hummable works in one of the later Lyrita recordings from 1993 (Lyrita SRCVD 213).