Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

The World of English String Music
Edward ELGAR
(1857-1934) Introduction and Allegro
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner Rec 1968
(1659-1695) Chacony in G minor
English Chamber Orchestra/Benjamin Britten Rec 1969
(1894-1930) Capriol Suite
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner Rec 1979
(1905-1998) Little Music for Strings
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner Rec 1972
William WALTON
(1902-1983) Two Pieces from Henry V
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton Rec 1995
(1872-1958) Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
The New Queen's Hall Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth Rec 1992
DECCA 467 784-2 [64.22]
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An interesting collection of performances of some of the best music from the English string orchestra repertoire, featuring leading ensembles and artists.

Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields lead the way, in music by Elgar, Warlock and Tippett, recorded over a period of more than ten years. Decca's sound is excellent throughout, and the remastering of the 1960s performances makes it difficult for the ear to detect that they are older than the more recent examples: praise indeed.

Marriner is direct and purposeful in the Introduction and Allegro, Elgar's greatest work for strings. The shadings of dynamic which are such a crucial aspect of this score are splendidly projected; all that is lacking is that extra degree of expressive intensity which the marvellous Barbirolli (EMI) performance achieves.

On a smaller scale the Academy are excellent in Warlock's Capriol Suite and Tippett's Little Music. The latter was originally coupled with his masterly Corelli Fantasia and Double Concerto, works too long to fit with this mixed programme on a single CD. The music's contrapuntal manner is beautifully controlled by Marriner, at his best in music that needs to be accurately played in ensemble. As for the Warlock, the mood is generally restrained, the style neo-classical, based on Elizabethan dances. The Academy play with peerless accuracy of tone and ensemble, doing full justice to this delightful music.

Benjamin Britten's feeling for the music of Henry Purcell was particularly committed, and his recording of the famous Chacony sets a bench mark for the expressive power of this score. So too does Andrew Litton have a special identity with William Walton, having recorded all the major orchestral works, and Belshazzar's Feast too, with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. These two short items from the music for the film Henry V - The Death of Falstaff and Touch her soft lips and part - are exquisite miniatures, and the orchestral playing maintains the high standards found elsewhere on the disc.

The programme closes with one of the greatest of all string orchestra compositions: the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams. This performance is rather different, being by an orchestra which prides itself on delivering a performing style appropriate to the period when the music was written. The New Queen's Hall Orchestra thus organises the forces differently from modern practice - including, for example - placing the double basses across the back. The tone may not be quite as powerful in climaxes, but Barry Wordsworth paces the music admirably, and there is a real expressive warmth about the shaping and phrasing.

Terry Barfoot

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