English Landscapes

0 of 5 stars

Two Pieces for Small Orchestra – Summer Night on the River; On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf – As Torrents in Summer
The Fall of the Leaf – Elegy for Orchestra, Op.20
The Hills
Vaughan Williams
The Lark Ascending
Norfolk Rhapsody No.1

Lyn Fletcher (violin)

Hallé Choir

Mark Elder

Recorded 5-6 November 2005 in BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: December 2006
Duration: 72 minutes

This splendid collection, including some familiar British gems, is given with belief and insight. Bax’s Tintagel begins the disc and is vividly suggestive of threat, narrative and sea-foam; maybe the sound is just a little too explicit and immediate (at times), but the performance is very strong on detail (aided by the use of antiphonal violins) and atmosphere, the music given with breadth, generosity, and much that is picturesque and dramatic.

From a Bax’s Cornish seascape replete with Arthurian Legend to a bird’s-eye-view of deep poignancy: Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending is given a disingenuous free-as-a-bird account with Lyn Fletcher (the Hallé’s leader) shapely and vivid and with some finely-judged orchestral support. The folksong episode is seamlessly introduced and VW’s social conscience is raptly brought out to remind that this very special piece is more than a pastoral evocation. Norfolk Rhapsody No.1 – again more than it may seem – includes a wealth of folksong, some rapturous, including one assigned to a solo violist (here unnamed; Timothy Pooley, maybe), and some upbeat. In both these VW pieces, Sir Adrian Boult’s EMI recordings, although still unsurpassed (Hugh Bean the soloist in ‘Lark’), are run very close by Elder.

Coming between the VW pieces is Gerald Finzi’s The Fall of the Leaf, infinitely sad music (its orchestration completed by Howard Ferguson) proves unbearably moving at times; this performance gets into the music’s soul and reveals pain and sorrow. Inevitably, the seasons change and the cuckoo cues Spring; Elder’s flowing account of Delius’s evergreen doesn’t resist the melancholy hue that is part and parcel of its appeal, music, in its early days, that was conducted by Nikisch and Mengelberg. (Quite a thought!) The clarinet’s cuckoo-calls are beautifully judged here, and the companion piece – Summer Night on the River (played first, for whatever reason) – is done with equal sensitivity.

Two a cappella items complete the CD (although maybe better to have dispersed them) – the Elgar is especially appealing, and John Ireland’s setting of James Kirkup (from “A Garland for the Queen”, compiled for Elizabeth II’s coronation) is further reminder that Ireland’s music is in need of reassessment. The Hallé Choir, like the Orchestra (although ‘Hallé’ alone seems officially enough these days), is very fine fettle. All in all, a very recommendable release.

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