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George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916)
Two English Idylls [4:58 + 4:32]
The Banks of Green Willow [5:33]
A ‘Shropshire Lad’ Rhapsody [8:35]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)

An Old Song for small orchestra [5:56]
Patrick HADLEY (1899-1973)

One Morning in Spring - Rhapsody for small orchestra [3:54]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)

Procession [4:51]
Merry-eye * [8:50]
Elegy for viola, string quartet and string orchestra * [9:05]
Music for a Prince * [7:11 + 5:17]: Corydon’s Dance; Scherzo in Arden
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
* Herbert Downes (viola); Desmond Bradley, Gillian Eastwood (violins); Albert Cayzer (viola); Norman Jones (cello)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. 1970, 1979, 1977. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.245 [68.46]

While I had some passing reservations about Lyrita's set of two Elgar symphonies (SRCD221) there is nothing found wanting about the present release.

This is a magically haunting collection of miniature orchestral pieces by four composers central to the English Musical Renaissance. Boult knew these works from their earliest performing days and in the case of the Butterworth championed them throughout his long conducting career. He knew the composers and there is a sureness of purpose and rightness about these readings. This would shine through even if the sounds were less golden. In fact this comes from one of Lyrita's prime periods when from about 1978 to 1983 recordings were made and poured out onto the market in quantity. The two English Idylls lack only less vanilla titles to make them indelibly memorable. Everything else is in place. Butterworth, destined for death in the Somme, would perhaps have stood higher than any of his contemporaries had he lived on. On the showing of these short pieces he took something from Ravel in impressionistic textures, something from Delius and Vaughan Williams or perhaps they from him and much from the graces and airs of the English countryside of the idealised imagination. These readings are sumptuously envisioned and realised and the sound is to match. The sleekness of the violins bespeaks luxury.

The Idylls first surfaced in the early 1970s on a Neville Dilkes/English Sinfonia collection. These Boult/Lyritas were their second recording. Microphone placement guaranteed that every lilting golden lisp can be heard. The engineer shows his affection for the woodwind time and again. The swooping harp figures that plunge across the soundscape at 2:38 are deliciously memorable and contribute stunningly to the memorable glow of this recording. A Shropshire Lad is even more ambitious. It had been recorded by Boult for Decca in the 1950s. Better though to make comparison with the ancient but still better than decent sounding 1950s Pye recording now on Dutton. This current version bids fair to be the best ever recording though. Pacing, atmosphere and structural attention place this in the select pantheon of recorded British music.

Both Butterworth and Howells enjoy substantial selections of music. Between them come two pieces, one by Warlock the other by Patrick Hadley. The Warlock is An Old Song for small orchestra. It is his earliest orchestral piece and was to have been one movement of a Celtic Triad for orchestra. An Old Song is broodingly Delian in the manner of the North Country Sketches but with a warmer languor. The composer said the piece was very much of the Cornish moor where had been living during the Great War. The song referred tom is a Scottish one: There was anes a May.

Another Celtic voice can be heard in Hadley's One Morning in Springtime, written as a birthday present for RVW's 70th birthday. Here the languor of An Old Song is tempered by the breezes that rustle the coppices and forests. Its bloom is still slow and its aeration can be compared with the lightness of palette found in the Butterworth pieces rather than the mossy decay of the Warlock.

Howells dedicated Procession to Arthur Benjamin as a piece for solo piano. He orchestrated it for the 1922 Proms when in its resplendent Russian colours must have rung well with the new wild world of Goossens, Bliss and Walton. It is barbaric and would fit well in a concert including the Ravel orchestration of Pictures from an Exhibition. It is in the grand Slav tradition of an approaching cavalcade that reaches the listener and then recedes into the distance à la Procession of the Sardar from Ippolitov-Ivanov's Caucasian Sketches.

Merry Eye is from another world but just as bright as Procession. That orchestral piano is rather Petrushka-like mixed with Bax's fake Russian manner as in Gopak. The exuberant effervescent and Graingerian Merry-eye was written in Gloucestershire in 1920 during Howells’ honeymoon.

After the gaudy and then the carefree comes the melancholic in the form of the yearning Elegy for solo viola, string quartet and string orchestra. This is more sumptuously recorded and performed than the competition from Richard Hickox on Chandos. Elegy is dedicated to ‘Bunny’ Warren, killed in action at Mons on 3 March 1916. The viola cuts an emotionally poignant swathe through the tumult of the strings at 2:22. Effectively written up in Stephen Lloyd's accompanying notes for this release - he points out that both Howells and Boult lived into ripe old age and died within a day of each other in February 1983. You may possibly have been expecting something Tallis-like but the Elegy does not track that path.

Music for a Prince is in two parts. Corydon's Dance was originally the ‘Bunny’ movement from Howells’ suite The Bs. Bunny was the very same Francis Purcell Warren in whose memory the Elegy was written. Corydon's Dance is a gentle pastoral and the Scherzo in Arden likewise although instantly more airy and mercurially flowing. It too though has some Delian asides as warm air and stillness flood the veins. This is dispelled often by the croak and chirrup of birdsong.

Rob Barnett

Lyrita Catalogue


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