Since Sakari Oramo’s
arrival in England’s second capital
the programmes of the CBSO have taken
on the glamour of enterprise and adventure.
I recall attending a very rare performance
of Constant Lambert’s Summer’s Last
Will and Testament in Symphony Hall
about five years ago and since then
Oramo has caught the Foulds’ bug. Foulds
pieces have found a home alongside less
exotic repertoire. My impression is
that audiences have responded positively.
The Foulds discography
is gradually filling out. The present
disc, while disappointingly shorter
than the first Warner salvo, is a valuable
addition. It is such a pity that the
other two movements of the Celtic
Suite and the effervescent Gallophile
exuberance the Le Cabaret overture
could not have found a home on this
disc. There is space.
Oramo revels in the
exultant and subtle April - England.
It’s a stunning piece and is stunningly
performed and recorded. It should be
played and recorded at least as often
as Bridge’s Summer and Butterworth’s
Shropshire Lad. There is competition
in the shape of the Lyrita version -
available still from Harold Moores -
which has the LPO conducted by Barry
Wordsworth [7:09 against 7:56 with Oramo].
Wordsworth adopted the same approach
in his 1994 broadcast with the BBC Phil.
Peter Jacobs’ recording of the piano
only version can still be had on Altarus
but even more valuable is a BBC broadcast
of the piece by Ronald Stevenson from
1981. This is a concise work beautifully
expressing the headiness of the life-enhancing
English spring; its fleecy, wind-buffeted,
greenery and the first plangent intimations
of summer’s warmth. This is reflected
in the folk-like stem-theme which later
surfaces as part benediction-chorale
and part pavane. As a piece it has its
fellows in Bridge’s Two Jefferies
Poems and Enter Spring. The
jazzy counterpoint at 3:20 recalls both
the tricky cross-rhythms of Tippett’s
Concerto for Double String Orchestra
as well as Britten’s Sea Interludes.
The proto-Handelian grandeur of the
climax (5:50) also reminded me of Lambert’s
Music for Orchestra - whose case
I will continue to plead until a worthy
modern recording surfaces.
The Lyrita April-England disc
is reviewed at:-
Just as stunning as
the Lyrita recording of the Dynamic
Triptych is this one from Peter
Donohoe who is single-handedly tackling
the British piano concerto genre for
Naxos. How to describe the Triptych?
It is like a piano concerto with a typical
fast-slow-fast template. Like all Foulds
the orchestration is of pellucid and
sharply etched clarity. The work is
not dissonant but parts of it are passingly
strange including Foulds’ hallmark slithering
tonality as in the hypnotically otherworldly
Dynamic Timbre central movement
(5:40, 7:40 tr. 2) - which is like a
trade-off between Rachmaninov, Ravel
and Vaughan Williams. The start of that
movement will inevitably remind you
of the slippery high harmonics at the
start of Vaughan Williams’s song Bredon
Hill in its orchestral version.
Foulds is triumphant in writing of the
utmost brilliance and fascination. This
extends to the tight-tense jazziness
of the finale Dynamic Rhythm which
has the swaying upheaval of Ravel, the
headiness of Walton and the wildness
of Grainger’s The Warriors. This
is exciting music played for all it’s
worth. One can imagine Previn and Bernstein
revelling in this music; as it is, Oramo
takes the laurels. There is nothing
of compromise in these performances
nor in Tim Oldham’s recordings in the
sometimes recalcitrant acoustic of Symphony
Hall, Birmingham. Glorious ... glorious!
The Dynamic Triptych
was premiered by Frank Merrick with
the Reid Orchestra conducted by Donald
Tovey in Edinburgh on 15 October 1931
and then first broadcast by the same
pianist with Dan Godfrey conducting
the BBC Orchestra on 4 August 1933.
That the Foulds work was favoured by
Merrick and Tovey may perhaps be taken
as surprising - at least at a superficial
level. As composers neither Tovey not
Merrick were members of the avant-garde.
Tovey’s solidly Brahmsian Symphony,
tawny and epic-heroic has a density
of orchestration and manner completely
different from Foulds (Toccata Records).
As for that fascinating pianist Frank
Merrick his two piano concertos recorded
on Rare Recorded Edition LPs seem anchored
in convention - as far as one can tell
from those amateur orchestra performances.
The alternative Lyrita
Dynamic Triptych played by Howard
Shelley is slightly less explosively
vertiginous than Donohoe and Sakari
Oramo. The Lyrita is reviewed at:-
The four movements
of Music-Pictures Group III
on the Warner disc receive their world
premiere recordings. That slithery-slippery
mystical harmony is again encountered
in the Colombine movement where
it forms a contrast with elfin playfulness.
The Ancient of Days - for woodwind,
brass and percussion - is a grave cortege
of a piece designed to conjure up Blake’s
engraving of the same name - the one
that used to grace the cover of the
Boult recording of RVW’s Job.
A similar mood reappears in Old Greek
Legend - the longest of the four
movements. The climactic outburst will
have most listeners flattened against
the wall such is its power. The Tocsin
- alarm bell - is the final movement.
This movement has the racy brilliance
of the Enigma Variations. As
Malcolm Macdonald says this suite is
Foulds’ counterpart to Mussorgsky’s
Pictures at an Exhibition. Each
of the four movements is inspired by
Finally two short pieces.
The first The Song of Ram Dass
is a mood-typical but extremely
inventive Middle Eastern essay written
in 1935 following his move to India.
The winds and strings carry an exotic
drone, the pace is erotically slow,
and the tambourines provide a silvery
allusive shimmer. The second carried
Foulds name through the black years
of obscurity from 1940 to the early
1980s. It is his single hit: the sentimentally
sticky Keltic Lament.
We already know from his masterful Lyra
Celtica (on the first Warner Foulds
disc) that Foulds had a sympathetic
fascination with things Scottish. This
piece makes play with the singing cello
and the gentle harp. It is an essentially
monothematic piece the peak of which
is a statement in full sumptuous Fiona
MacLeod-ery linking with the big theme
from McCunn’s The Land of the Mountain
and the Flood and across the seas
to Eire’s Danny Boy. There are
also moments which suggest that Foulds
knew of the unison violin orchestras
for which Scotland is famed. Keltic
Lament is the central anchor of
a three movement Keltic Suite.
It is a pity that the flanking two movements
were not included; a missed opportunity
on a 61 minute disc.
The first Foulds-Oramo-CBSO-Warner disc
is reviewed at:-
The delightfully relentless
tread of Warner’s Foulds Edition takes
another step forward. Miss it if you
dare. This is not just for British music
enthusiasts but for any music lover
who values music of stunning originality
and otherworldly beauty.