Music from a Disunited Kingdom
© Chris Green, April 2019
In the current political climate in the United Kingdom (or is it the “Disunited Kingdom”?), there are times when I would like the clock to be put back. That cannot happen I know, so would you blame me if I took an alternative route and sat down with my collection of CDs and played music of a different [period but, at the same time, exploring avenues of music by British composers whose music is largely forgotten.
A recording company that has a string of such releases to its credit is based a short distamnce from where I live - in Colchester. Chandos Records has long produced technically highly regarded LPs and then CDs. It releases these with sleeve-notes that rarely disappoint and usually in programmes that reflect musical sensitivity , withbthis issue starting with a composer, indirectly linked to Suffolk, through his daughter Imogen who lived in Aldeburgh.
Gustav Holst was a composer ahead of his time. His use of Sanskrit texts, bitonality, and irregular musical rhythms was something unfamiliar to many of his contemporaries. The Mystic Trumpeter is an early work from 1904 and whilst it does not display the same mastery as The Planets from some years later, it is still a fascinating piece which only received two performances in his lifetime and was not revived until 1980. It is coupled with Holst's First Choral Symphony in a recording by the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis (Chandos CHSA 5127). There is a poignant insert to this CD's sleeve note by soprano Susan Gritton who sings in the recording. She had just recorded previously the first movement of the Choral Symphony previously conducted on that occasion by Richard Hickox, a regular and much appreciated visitor to my home town of Ipswich. Richard fell ill at the end of the recording session, and died shortly afterwards at a comparatively early age.
In June lI will be giving a public lecture about Suffolk composers. There will have to be mention of Benjamin Britten, but there are so many others whose stars has been eclipsed by his reputation. Equally, there are so many British composers from a previous generation whose music we rarely- if ever- hear nowadays in the concert-hall. What of Frederick Austin, Frederick Cowen Alexander Mackenzie- Chandos can be relied upon in sourcing neglected works and producing a great recording using one of the UK's top orchestras. The National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Rumon Gamba directs them in eight Overtures from the British Isles (Chandos CHAN 10797). The works range from the rumbustious Austin Overture, The Sea Venturers - hints of Elizabethan sailors Rayleigh and Drake to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Overture to The Song of Hiawatha, a piece designed to preface his epic music dramas, premiered in Norwich in 1899.
The third and final choice for this month brings together Tamsin Little and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra again with conductor, Andrew Davis, in a collection of British works for violin and orchestra (Chandos CHAN 10796). The principal work is Ernest Moeran's Violin Concerto. Moeran had East Anglian connections, but I suspect the main selling point of the disc will be Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending , played with immaculate poise and expressiveness by Tamsin Little. Works by Delius, Elgar and Holst – all composers who died in 1934 -finish this programme.