Sally in our Alley
Sir Roger de Coverley
Air and Dance
The Holy Boy
English Northern Philharmonia conducted by David Lloyd-Jones
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2001
CD No: NAXOS 8.555068
A thoroughly delightful CD this second volume of English String Miniatures, one which presents several gems, reminding of English composers’ mastery of string-writing and the indivisibility between formal structures, folksong and ’light’ expression. The latter is well represented by Geoffrey Bush’s Consort Music, six charming movements, the epitome of afternoon tea and blue skies; the ’Valse’ has a habit of returning to the memory. So too ’Slow Air’ from VW’s Charterhouse Suite, a poignant baroque-ish endless melody of quiet reflection. Elgar’s Sospiri (a harp added to the strings) is among his most eloquent short-form commentaries; a soliloquy written as the First War began.
Delius’s pastoral is also from this time, its melancholy touchingly conveyed here (the orchestra’s leader should have been credited) – intimately turned and emotionally burdened, it pairs nicely with Warlock’s radiant Serenade written for Delius’s 60th-birthday, which Lloyd-Jones keeps on the move (in keeping with Warlock’s wishes it seems); this avoids heaviness and allows twilight colours to subtly tinge this evermore Delian rhapsody.
Haydn Wood’s Fantasy-Concerto, at 15 minutes, is hardly a miniature; it is though undemanding listening written with skill and an easy lyricism – but further playing suggests one could underestimate its melodic contours, rugged vitality and songful centre. The meditative The Holy Boy is quite familiar; its sweet melody retains its simple beauty and avoids becoming sanctimonious.
Lovely though all these pieces are, it’s Frank Bridge’s three arrangements that stand out; they are masterpieces of their kind – wonderfully laid-out for strings, the imagination with which Bridge treats these tunes is a tribute to their indelible qualities and his own, still underrated I suspect, abilities as a composer. Lloyd-Jones shapes Sally in our Alley with just the right amount of heart-tugging while bringing muscle and vitality to Sir Roger de Coverley (Boult, Lyrita LP, unsurpassed in this though) and a free-flowing Cherry Ripe.
Performances are excellent. The ENP’s strings are nimble and articulate with plenty of sound-depth and innate feeling in the slower numbers; David Lloyd-Jones loves this music and it shows. Allowing that fortissimo upper strings are a tad glaring, the sound is spacious, detailed and well balanced between the string-sections; the bass is especially telling.