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English String Miniatures

(Music by John Rutter, C W Orr, George Melachrino, Peter Dodd, Armstrong Gibbs, Frank Cordell, David Lyon, Roy Douglas and Philip Lane.)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia cond David Lloyd Jones
Naxos 8.554186


This is a delightful album and an adventurous programme for which Naxos should be applauded. David Lloyd-Jones is sympathetically attuned to this idiom and these performances are well nigh perfect.

The concert commences with John Rutters Suite (for Strings), based on English folk songs, and written in 1973. Both the opening and closing movements have additional counter melodies: the joyful and racy 'A-Rovin' with the more delicate I sowed the seeds of love in the first; and the breezy 'Dashing away with the smoothing iron' with 'The Bailiff's Daughter of Islington' in the last Handelian-like number. In between there is 'I have a bonnet trimmed with blue' - all fluffy, fussy feminine elegance; and the haunting poignancy of 'O Waly, Waly'.

Cecil Armstrong Gibbs is represented by his gentle parody of 18th century and erlier forms, Miniature Dance Suite. There is the mock pomposity of the 'March'; a terribly correct 'Quick Minuet'; a 'Graceful Dance'; mournful 'Sarabande' and a lively 'Jig'.

I have written enthusiastically, elsewhere, about the work of David Lyon an important voice in English Light Music who has skill and imagination in abundance. His Short Suite (1971) is thoroughly engaging, full of vivacity and colour, striking and twisting rhythms and generally novel and exciting harmonic writing. His suite opens with an arresting 'Rustic Dance' proceeds to a 'Gavotte' that cheekily mimics Prokofiev, thence to a spellbindingly beautiful and pensive 'Aria'; and concludes with breezy 'Moto perpetuo' that is a richly complex virtuoso showpiece with some novel pizzicato effects.

Orr's A Cotswold Hill Tune owes much to Delius; while Peter Dodd's Irish Idyll is a lovely treatment of the Irish folk tune, The Lark in the Clear Air. Frank Cordell's King Charles's Galliard, comes from his music for the film Cromwell parodies the music of the time and Peter Warlock seems close-by. George Melachrino, remembered as a sort of British Glenn Miller, is represented by his memorable Les Jeux that is a jolly scamper but with a yearning, sweet sentimental centre. Roy Douglas's Cantilena (1957) has a long serenely flowing tune with some fleeting shadows. Concluding the concert, Philip Lane's student work Pantomime (1971) enchants. The opening 'Alla marcia' is a jolly swagger, the Andante is sweetly wrapped elegance and nostalgia and the Vivace number is a vivacious and playfully scatty cantering.

Unreservedly recommended


Ian Lace

and Colin Scott-Sutherland adds:

The composers represented in this attractive programme of light music in the guise of 'English String Miniatures' (in which the enterprising Naxos nicely complements the same orchestra's Scottish selection on ASV WHL 2123 'The Land of the Mountain and the Flood'  see review (*) range from the forty year old Philip Lane (acting also as producer and compiler of the excellent programme notes) to the respectably nonagenarian Roy Douglas. Their combined musical experience therefore covers well over a half century of British music, in which writing for strings has been almost as characteristic of the English scene as the choral tradition.

There is a common thread running through this music - from the folk-song element and the quasi-pastiche of 18th century dance rhythms (suitably embellished in harmony from Grieg via Delius)to the Delian "Cotswold Tune" of Wilfred Orr (the sole instrumental work of that musically reclusive writer of a mere thirty six superb songs) and the long-breathed Cantilena of Roy Douglas, with its darker more introspective moods, whose 'Englishness' needs no reliance on folk or dance elements. For this work alone the disc is highly recommended.

The common thread is singable melody - the tone set at the outset by John Rutter's Suite of well known tunes and pursued in Peter Dodds' quietly evocative rendering of the Irish 'The Lark in the Clear Air' (a timely reminder that farming policies have all but banished the bird from our fields) It is a delight to hear again the music of George Melachrino, whose very name evokes the 'Light' programme of the 'forties - the piece so familiar yet I can't recall when I last heard it - but the memory begins to evoke other names like Rose's 'Holiday for Strings' and Frederick Curzon's 'The Boulevardier' - universal appeal that was the 'pop' of its day.

The spice of the mixture comes from the comparative youngsters David Lyon and Philip Lane - the first with his perky Suite (unashamedly showing its antecedents in the Gavotte and in the Aria's sultry 'chanson du midi'): the latter with his three-movement 'Pantomime' - a chirpy March with its catchy melody, an indolent Andante that sings of summer days in deck-chairs; the Suite - and the disc -rounded off by a bustling Vivace. One could not wish for a cheerier 'Au'voir' than this.

In this light-hearted world of English pastoral water-colours the conductor David Lloyd Jones shows himself as much at home as he is in the spacious firmament of the first three Bax Symphonies.

A disc to lighten the darkest days!


Colin Scott-Sutherland

(*) How about a Welsh selection~ John Jeff reys, Mervyn Roberts, Morfydd Owen, Grace Williams


Ian Lace


Colin Scott-Sutherland

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