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Frederic CLIFFE (1857-1931)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor Op. 1 (1889) [43.25]
Orchestral Picture: Cloud and Sunshine (1890) [14.26]
Malmö Opera Orchestra/Christopher Fifield
rec. 6-8 May 2003, St. Johannes Church, Malmö, Sweden. DDD
STERLING CDS-1055-2 [57.54]


Bo Hyttner's Sterling label was at one time thought of as the home for the Swedish romantics. I am sure he would not fight shy of that reputation even now. But the Sterling stable has, since circa 1997, offered commodious accommodation for the works of romantics from the other Scandinavian nations, from Germany, from Switzerland and, with this disc, from Britain.

Cliffe's dates are approximately the same as Elgar's. Cliffe's fame, and it was considerable, dates from the ten years straddling the transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries. Bradford-born, like Delius, Cliffe studied with Sullivan at the predecessor to the Royal College in London then became a piano professor there. His handful of works were briefly the staple of festivals, Crystal Palace and Philharmonic Society concerts. By no means an adept self-promoter, when tastes moved on he retired from the fray with his works still being mounted by Dan Godfrey in Bournemouth; otherwise the flame had guttered completely. Chris Fifield's London-based orchestra revived his first symphony a couple of years ago and now Mr Fifield records two splendidly confident Cliffe works for Sterling.

The first movement of the First Symphony blazes along with a rapturously emphatic turbulence evocative of Schumann and Tchaikovsky. This is work of utmost seriousness; the very fabric of symphonies. It made me think of Parry's First Symphony - the embodiment of 'sturm und drang'. There are touches of Mendelssohn along the way notably in the lively dancing episodes towards the end of the first movement. That movement is a tempestuous essay drawing its atmosphere from Schumann's Overture, Scherzo and Finale as well as Brahms' Tragic Overture. The second movement (scherzo) is not quite as louring being a lighter yet determined piece standing between Mendelssohn, Smetana (Dance Symphony) and Dvořák as does the finale, evocative of the first movements of Schumann's Rhenish and Spring symphonies. The work's centre of gravity is the Ballade (tr.3) - the longest movement. Cloud and Sunshine is a tone poem expressing life's buffets and delights, all presented in Tchaikovskian finery. The soloistic textures and expressive moments are far more plentiful than in the case of the Symphony with some lacy filigree work for harp and woodwind. There is some remarkably pleasing work for the French Horns (7.22), chuckling passages for the woodwind at 9.03 and silvery writing for the violins at 11.17. Cliffe shows himself a remarkable craftsman in this piece working within a tradition established by Mendelssohn and Schumann and doing so with eloquent conviction.

These two works are captured in vibrantly immediate sound. The notes are by the conductor and will tell you as much as you are likely to want to know about Cliffe. To the best of my knowledge this is the first Cliffe to be commercially recorded in any medium.

An essential addition to your catalogue for anyone who favours Goldmark's Rustic Wedding, Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony or the symphonies by Stanford or Lange-Muller. The two works are given splendidly engaged and life-imbued performances by Fifield and the Malmö orchestra. By the time you have heard this you might well be hoping for a second volume containing the Second Symphony (1893) and the Violin Concerto (1897) the latter dedicated to Tivadar Nachez.

Rob Barnett

Frederick Cliffe by Jürgen Schaarwächter


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