April England (Impressions of Time and Place No.1), Op.48/1
Music-Pictures Group III
The Song of Ram Dass
Keltic Lament, Op.29/2
Peter Donohoe (piano)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in January 2006 in Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Reviewed by: Mike Wheeler
Reviewed: June 2006
CD No: WARNER CLASSICS
Duration: 61 minutes
Following their highly successful first CD of music by John Foulds (1880-1939), Sakari Oramo and the CBSO are back with another selection of music by this intriguing figure.
Born in Manchester, Foulds joined the Hallé Orchestra as a cellist in 1900 and was encouraged by Hans Richter to take up conducting, going on to study with Mahler and Nikisch. As a composer he was mostly self-taught. This lack of a conventional training is no doubt partly responsible for his music’s freewheeling eclecticism that, for all the points of contact with the likes of Bridge, Holst and Grainger, nevertheless maintains a distinctive musical personality. Like Bridge he had some early success in the field of light music, notably Keltic Lament, which ends this CD. His “World Requiem” was an annual fixture at the Royal Albert Hall, performed by a huge chorus and orchestra, between 1923 and 1926. The last four years of his life were spent in India, the culmination of an interest in Indian music, which he shared with his second wife, Maud MacCarthy, and which saw him engaging creatively with Indian modes and rhythms in a number of works.
Dynamic Triptych, for piano and orchestra, opens this release, bursting from the speakers like a huge adrenaline rush. It reflects the interest that Foulds shared with many composers active in the early twentieth-century (and since) in exploring and re-evaluating many of the fundamental elements in music. The brilliant toccata-like first movement, ‘Dynamic Mode’, evolves from just a single seven-note mode. ‘Dynamic Timbre’, the long central movement, is a big piece of romantic lyricism coloured by moments when Foulds makes expressive use of quartertones. ‘Dynamic Rhythm’ ends the work in an exhilarating riot of colour and virtuosity.
April – England began life as a solo piano piece. In its sheer ebullient energy the later orchestral transcription bears comparison with Frank Bridge’s Enter Spring, with which the piano version is roughly contemporary (late 1920s).
Foulds had an early but all too short-lived success with his third group of Music Pictures, one of several differently scored sets of pieces reflecting his reactions to specific paintings. The third group is strongly contrasted, with moods ranging from the sombre first piece (‘The Ancient of Days’, after William Blake) to the lively ‘Columbine’ (quartertones turn up briefly here, too). ‘The Old Sage’ is Foulds’s earliest piece in one of the old modes, in spite of which it seems, to start with at least, temperamentally closer to Elgar than Vaughan Williams (pace Malcolm MacDonald in the booklet). The march-like last piece, ‘The Tocsin’, also glances briefly in Elgar’s direction before going off on some phantasmagorical flight of its own.
Two shorter pieces end the disc. The Song of Ram Dass, one of Foulds’s last works, wears its orientalism without condescension. Keltic Lament, for cello and orchestra, was Foulds’s most popular piece in his lifetime and continued to be played after his death, when everything else appeared to have been forgotten. The non-credited (why?) solo cellist joins his or her colleagues in realising the work’s dignified eloquence.
Sakari Oramo and the CBSO clearly believe in every note of this music, which they project with such conviction that you’d think they had been playing it for years. Peter Donohoe is the pianist in Dynamic Triptych, luxuriating in his role in the second movement, and playing with rhythmic incisiveness in the outer ones. The recordings are vivid and clear; Foulds’s son, Patrick, has contributed the striking cover painting.
If you enjoyed the CBSO’s first Foulds CD (Warner Classics 2564 61525-2) you’ll want to investigate this follow-up. If you missed it, grab this chance to become acquainted with one of British music’s most fascinating one-of-a-kind creative personalities.