An English Idyll *
Epithalamion Rhapsody for full orchestra
A Kentish Suite
Five English Nursery Tunes
Shanagolden An Irish Pastoral Sketch
The Casanova Melody
Paul Whelan (baritone) *
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded on 30 & 31 October 2001 in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: April 2003
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10019
The tale of two composers that crossed geographically – Australian-born Hubert Clifford (1904-1959) spent about half his short life in London, often working for the BBC, while Edgar Bainton (1880-1956), a Stanford pupil, emigrated to Australia in 1934. Information courtesy of Lewis Foreman in his typically enlightening notes.
Volume 2 of this composer pairing (Volume 1, of symphonies, is on CHAN 9757) begins with Bainton’s Epithalamion, which evokes a bright country day; it is exuberant, optimistic and passionate, radiating pastoral reflection (solo strings against cooing woodwind) at its mid-point. In one sense it is a familiar British landscape but sounds new-minted here in music that is a real discovery. Lovely violin solos from Yuri Torchinsky thread through this work that transmutes boldness to reverie, with a wonderful moment of Vaughan Williams-like meditation; an equally rapturous statement is cut short for a musing coda. Strange how things work out. Epithalamion was first performed at the 1929 Three Choirs Festival, then Boult took it up in 1931, and the composer conducted it at the 1932 Proms. Third time unlucky – Epithalamion was then forgotten until these Manchester sessions! It’s a terrific piece; fans of Herbert Howells shouldn’t hesitate.
An English Idyll dates from Bainton’s down-under years and sets words by Sir Neville Cardus; the war-years found him writing for the Sydney Morning Herald. Bainton’s sympathetic settings are emotionally charged and full of suggestiveness. The vocal line is mellifluous, the orchestral writing atmospheric, the nostalgia for home keenly felt. The extended final song has an epic and mysterious quality that compels attention.
Hubert Clifford’s pieces live up to their titles – A Kentish Suite and Five English Nursery Tunes say all that needs to be said. Neither should be dismissed or taken for granted though. Both confections offer delightful music, the Kentish, evoking the 17th-century, is good pastiche – a Handelian hornpipe, fugal writing, and traditional melodies. A robust pageant ends the suite in Greenwich, a swaggering tune that requests an encore performance; at the suite’s heart is a haunting meditation, ’Pastoral and Folk Song’.
The Nursery Tunes are not quite as light-hearted as anticipated – no doubt the wartime situation of 1940-41 played its part. ’Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’ is a rapt study for strings; ’Curly Locks’ is similarly reflective. ’London Bridge’ skitters along to a confident conclusion.
With The Casanova Melody we meet Clifford’s alias of Michael Sarsfield and additional music to The Third Man; this rather sugary if likeable example (as arranged Rodney Newton) accompanies a night-club sequence. Shanagolden is but one example of Clifford’s light-music output – Greensleeves with an Irish accent!
All in all, splendid musical fare handsomely performed and recorded. Volume 3?