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Concerto for String Orchestra
Concerto in D major for flute and strings

Aylesbury Games
Three Folk Dances

Emily Beynon (flute) with The New London Orchestra conducted by Ronald Corp
HYPERION CDA67185 [76:20]

The first thing one notices about the music on this album is how preponderantly warm and good-natured, and how tuneful and accessible it all is.

Once again, Hyperion's enterprising Rutland Boughton series, which has already included his Symphony No. 3, the Oboe Concerto, String Quartets in A and F, the Oboe Quartet No. 1 and the choral drama, Bethlehem, proves the appeal and richness of this composer's music. Yes, there is much more to Boughton than his immensely successful The Immortal Hour (also available on Hyperion).

The album opens with the brief but melodic Three Folk Dances. Like all the rest of the compositions in this collection it is scored for strings only. The titles of the three movements tell it all: 'Hornpipe' (sounding remarkably like a hymn tune of our childhood), is marked 'rollicking but not too fast'; 'The Weary Wave o' Tyne is to be played 'slow and sad' (but the melancholy is sweetly sad); and 'Culloden: A Country Dance' is directed to be played 'quick and merry'.

Boughton composed his Aylesbury Games, in 1932, for the orchestra of his native town. However, Charles Pope the founder of the orchestra felt it was beyond the capabilities of his players and he did not feel confident enough for them to perform it until 1978. The work is a set of three rhapsodic variations on a simple theme heard at the outset of the first movement. Although the theme tune is Boughton's own it seems to have been derived (probably unconsciously) from 'The Seagull of the Land-under-Waves' one of the Hebridean folksongs collected by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser that had already served Sir Granville Bantock's Hebridean Symphony. The opening Tempo giusto movement is natural, bracing and easy-going with folk-song and pastoral charm. There is a Herrmannesque astringency as well in the few darker bars. An impressive feature is the dialogue between a solo violin in its high register and cello. The second movement contrasts tragic almost bleak material with very sunny, playful melodies. The finale begins with formal classical elegance before whirling figures settle into a mood of introspection; then comes more stirring string work, that is not unlike the string music Britten wrote for his Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra. A small but richly scored work with much complex contrapuntal writing.

The Flute Concerto is a little gem. It is sweetly tuneful. It opens breezily and there is a feel of the sea as well as the countryside. The flute soon mimics birdsong and its song is nicely lyrical. The flute's birdsong arpeggios continue into the second movement; but the mood is now one of quiet contentment with the soloist murmuring over slow moving strings. The song of the finale is cocky and jaunty. Emily Beynon is articulate and sensitive to the shifting character of the work and she very clearly enjoys it.

The concluding work is the major item on the disc, Boughton's Concerto for String Orchestra. It was originally conceived in 1937 for the Boyd Neel String Orchestra but they found it too difficult and it had to wait until 1997 for its first performance by the strings of the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. The work was originally entitled 'Four English Pieces' and each movement had a descriptive title: 'English Overture'; 'Scherzo at Dawn'; 'Love Scene' and 'Hornpipe'. Quoting from Michael Hurd's eloquent and informative notes, "…this is adventuresome string writing of a very high order: elaborate divisis (including the use of solo instruments), trills and arpeggios, bowed and plucked strings, with and without mutes. - in short, a veritable compendium of effects that render it a worthy companion to the great works for string orchestra by Elgar and Vaughan Williams, Britten and Tippett.

The fine ensemble playing of the New London Orchestra is clean and polished, and confident and enthusiastic.

Ian Lace

Reviews from previous months

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