Violin Concerto in G, Op.80
Violin Concerto in G
Anthony Marwood (violin)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh on 24 & 25 February 2004
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: April 2005
CD No: HYPERION CDA67420
Duration: 65 minutes
Two evocative byways of “The Romantic Violin Concerto” well worth exploring. Both are sympathetically performed and excellently recorded in the historic surroundings of Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirk (the infamous body-snatchers Burke and Hare centred on its churchyard). For those who love musical marginalia and enjoy quizzing musical friends: which musician has also appeared professionally on stage as an actor? Anthony Marwood, the soloist here, at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre. (Incidentally, the pianist and composer André Tchaikowsky loved being on stage so much that his Will donates his skull for use as Yorrick in productions of “Hamlet”.)
To business! Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in Croydon, the son of an English mother and a Sierra Leone-born doctor. His life was cut tragically short: he died of pneumonia in 1912 at the age of 37. Best remembered for “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast”, he wrote numerous other cantatas that are now virtually forgotten. The Violin Concerto, his last major work, was first heard both sides of the Atlantic on the same day in 1912: performed by Maud Powell (whose recorded legacy Naxos has been assiduously exploring in its Historical series) at the Norfolk Connecticut Music Festival, and by W J Read in Croydon.
Despite some memorable melodic material, the Concerto’s opening first movement rather outstays its welcome and the material is worked too hard, almost as if Coleridge-Taylor was slightly overawed by the weight of expectation in writing a full- scale work. However, the nocturnal slow movement is a delight, especially its magical closing bars, and the rhapsodic finale trips along with an altogether lighter touch, the orchestration less portentous. It receives a wholly committed performance from Anthony Marwood who has a natural ability to find exactly the right tone of voice for this modest music, neither inflating it unduly nor underplaying it.
Even more satisfying is Sir Arthur Somervell’s Violin Concerto, an excess of G major notwithstanding – the Coleridge-Taylor is in the same key – a rewardingly well-written work here receiving its first recording (Avie made the first of the Coleridge-Taylor). Somervell (1863-1937) scarcely registers today, but his music, strongly influenced by Brahms and Schumann, is consistently well written. His song cycle, “A Shropshire Lad”, really gets to the heart of the melancholy behind Housman’s poetry; later Vaughan Williams, Butterworth and Ireland would all set Housman, but Somervell saw their potential first.
Written in 1930 for Adila Fachiri, the sister of Jelly d’Aranyi, Somervell’s Violin Concerto was given its first performance in Edinburgh two years later by the Reid Orchestra: with this recording it comes back to the city of its birth after decades of neglect. Conventional it may be but it is well worth reviving – especially in a performance as good as this. Not surprisingly the shadow of Elgar hangs over this music, notably in the first movement’s wistful second subject. However Somervell has his own distinctive voice, a fine melodic gift, and was a thoroughly fluent orchestrator. Although Coleridge-Taylor’s Concerto comes first on this disc, that of Somervell is surely the main selling point, not least for the deeply felt and very beautiful slow movement. It’s a work I shall be returning to often, and this release is recommended with enthusiasm.