Hallé English Masterpieces

0 of 5 stars

A Shropshire Lad
Two English Idylls
The Banks of Green Willow
Irmelin: Prelude
A Village Romeo and Juliet – The Walk to the Paradise Garden
Brigg Fair: An English Rhapsody
Brigg Fair *

[CD includes Percy Grainger’s 1908 recording of Joseph Taylor’s rendition of Brigg Fair]

Hallé Choir *
Hallé Orchestra
Mark Elder

Recorded 11-12 October 2002 in BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester; and 17 October 2002 in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester *

Reviewed by: Michael Allen

Reviewed: March 2004
Duration: 63 minutes

The Hallé Orchestra under Music Director Mark Elder seems to be on a roll, both in the concert hall and recording studio. Like other leading British orchestras the Hallé now has its own recording label and does not have to rely on the various comings and, mostly goings, of the extant commercial market. This English collection is music that the Hallé was born to play and indeed did so under one of Elder’s most distinguished predecessors, Sir John Barbirolli. Elder is by no means pale in comparison and gives the impression of loving every note.

George Butterworth (1885-1916) is surely one of the greatest losses of English music, killed in the closing months of the First World War. The titles of his works might give the impression that they are just ruminations on folk-songs – as Constant Lambert wrote “There is not much one can do with a folk-song except play it, and then play it again an octave higher”. Butterworth’s pieces, especially A Shropshire Lad, have a tragic depth and a symphonic scope – a real drama, not the ’cow looking over the gate’ syndrome that so-often maligns the music. The Banks of Green Willow, Butterworth’s last completed work, and the Two English Idylls are charming certainly, nostalgic perhaps, but not short of their own intrinsic passion, and wonderfully orchestrated. Elder’s readings explore all these qualities – there is some fine solo playing; mention should be made of the solo clarinet passage near the start of A Shropshire Lad – the orchestra gives everything it has, and more.

One music commentator speculated recently that had Butterworth lived he might have become a greater composer than Vaughan Williams. In the view of this writer, he would have become a greater composer than Delius, whose larger scale works are rather flabby. Brigg Fair more or less manages to escape this, being a set of variations, but even with Elder’s careful shading and pointing of rhythm, one cannot escape the fact that it is somewhat over-blown. Much more attractive are Delius’s shorter works – the lovely Irmelin Prelude and the masterpiece The Walk to the Paradise Garden.

Finally – as a cunning and intelligent addition to the programme, there are two versions of the folk-tune Brigg Fair on which Delius based his variations. The 1908 recording that Percy Grainger made of farm-labourer Joseph Taylor – all 30 seconds of it – and Grainger’s own setting, both subtle and rapturous, which is movingly sung here by the Hallé Choir.

A fine disc, then, and a must for all lovers of English music – and a more than worthy experiment for anyone who has a misconception of what English music of that period is actually all about!

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