Just as with their earlier British Composer CDs (Volumes 1 & 2
) there’s no want of resolve from Cameo Classics here.
Not a single piece on this disc has previously been recorded - certainly not commercially, anyway. Where others tremble and mix a few familiar old friends with one unknown piece Cameo and David Kent-Watson arrive with no fewer than three recording premieres. It’s a trend to be applauded and should, given half a chance, draw many new friends to the label and to this music.
Joseph Holbrooke’s range was pretty extensive. It certainly took in light music but also extended to emotionally torrid music-drama, epic symphonies, light satirical opera, romantic tone poems, music that lampoons the avant-garde, ballets, string quartets, sonatas and songs.
The Pantomime Suite
is in Holbrooke’s most smoothly polished lighter vein in the manner of his Pandora
and Souvenir de Printemps
. This time we are not talking music hall, zany variations or jazz, all of which styles he essayed. Here we have Holbrooke the balletomane. He wrote quite a few ballets and together with various dance-inflected pieces they are scattered across his timeline and catalogue. The Pantomime Suite
makes play with the commedia dell arte
and does so in fragile, fresh, open-textured and downy romance. This is the sort of thing we associate with Delibes and Massenet. Arlequin
is all feathery suggestion - perhaps music reused in his 1920s ballet The Moth
’s delicate filigree is most graciously stepped out with just a predictive hint of Sibelius’s theatre music (King Christian II
). The third movement is rather Grieg-like with a nicely frenzied Goblin dance and vibrant left-right channel separation. The finale has the bassy attack of the Dvořák Serenade for Strings
mixed with hints of Boys and girls come out to play
and The Keel Row
. This may be light but it is certainly not facetious.
The single movement Mackenzie tone poem La Belle Dame sans Merci
was one of the harvest of works from the composer’s time in Florence. It is to the same text that was later to attract Henry Hadley and Cyril Scott. Mackenzie’s was a Philharmonic Society commission. It launches out musingly from louring clouds. Along the way we encounter the rumbustious jollity of Brahms 4 and Beethoven’s Pastoral
. This is all mellifluously flowed together and flecked with Tchaikovskian melodrama. Truth to tell it is a discursive piece. Although there is quite a bit of pensive soughing there are dramatic episodes too including some majestic brass at 9.41 alongside rhythmic variety and a quick march. It ends with a quietly self-effacing and modestly downbeat gesture. This neatly complements Hyperion’s major inroad into the Mackenzie catalogue: Violin Concerto
, Piano Concerto
and a varied orchestral anthology on CDA66764 now Helios CDH55395
Arthur Somervell already had a good handful of works recorded to his credit. The Piano Concerto and Normandy Variation
are on Hyperion
as is the Violin Concerto
and a goodly selection of the songs
Now we can hear the broad and sturdy Thalassa Symphony
broadcast in 1991 courtesy of the BBC, Adrian Leaper and the Ulster Orchestra. It had a glittering premiere from the London Symphony Orchestra in 1913 with Nikisch conducting. It’s a work firmly founded in its Brahmsian glossary. You will not go here for the sort of romantic-impressionist lyricism you will find in Bax’s Tintagel
, Atterberg’s Third Symphony or Nystroem’s much later Sinfonia del Mare
. This is more classical. Stylistically it belongs in the same folder as Haakon Børresen’s Second Symphony and Rubinstein’s Ocean Symphony
. It is a big, satisfyingly rounded symphony, redolent of Brahms 1 and 4; it has some of the darkness of Dvořák 7 but with shuddering Schumann-like strings at 9.10 in the first movement. The second movement is an Elegy. It’s heartfelt, chilly and very personal - more so than the music of the first movement. The movement carries the superscription: “Scott, killed in action near the South Pole 28 March 1912”. This is not angry-tragic in the way that the Elegies for Brahms by Parry and Dunhill are tragic. The music rises to a gently undulant eminence - more of a modest knoll than a crag. The third movement is flighty and cheerful in a style similar to that of Dvořák but with a dash of Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture
. A measure of darkly louring cloud-cover appears in the finale coupled with a broadly majestic tread. This is relieved - which is a pity - at 9.42 with the levity of what feels like an English folk song. The peroration is a slowed version of the folk-like melody.
After a flirtation with the Karelia Philharmonic and Marius Stravinsky (vol. 1) Cameo have now established a stable recording partnership with the very capable Malta Philharmonic whose conductor Michael Laus has provided the notes. The recording is vivid and completely complements the musical experience without being in the first rank.
Cameo will win new converts to the ranks of listeners who now insist that their purchases should explore the outer regions. The results here are very rewarding indeed.
The first two works here were taken down directly from a live concert at the Cadogan Hall
Lilian Elkington’s tone poem Out of the Mist
begins in the same mistily suggestive reaches as Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead
except that the atmosphere is more of dawn than deepest night. Those mists link uncannily with another rare work I heard in concert last year: Walter Thomas Gaze Cooper’s Piano Quintet SeaSound - A Rhapsody of the Sea
. Its tragic-heroic heights have a sturdily unhurried ‘growl’ rather akin to Parry. Elkington wrote all her music before her marriage in 1926. This tone poem was inspired by the image of HMS Verdun emerging from the Channel mists bringing the unknown warrior back to English shores. Perhaps one day we will hear more of the music of this Birmingham-born Bantock pupil.
It is not new to disc. It was issued on CD about five years ago by Dutton
and although the Dutton version is more polished than this, Purser and the Orion Orchestra catch the miasmic sea-fog just as well as they do the rasping heroics.
This live concert performance of the Dorothy Howell Piano Concerto comes from the same evening as the Elkington. It too has its mead of rough orchestral edges, including a crash in the first few minutes but this compact piano concerto is most romantically and tellingly put across by Valentina Seferinova. It has a decidedly grown-up late-romantic atmosphere and must have been written by someone with a real admiration for Rachmaninov. It that sense it can broadly-speaking be pigeon-holed with the Stanford
Second Piano Concerto, the Dobrowen
and those by Roger Sacheverell Coke. It ends in defiance and triumph and is duly greeted with the warmest applause.
Howell has been on Cameo before with her potent tone poem Lamia
. I hope there is more to come from her catalogue. That’s two women composers represented on this disc. I hope that Cameo will consider recording the music of Irish composer Ina Boyle whose music would fit this series to a tee.
The compact Harpsichord Concerto by Cyril Scott is from a very different pen. It is heard here from the Malta Phil. Their conductor Michael Laus is at the harpsichord articulating the athletically active solo line. Everything here is most professionally delivered with executant skills of the highest order. The harmonies sway and melt - a sort of art-nouveau dream vision which then decays into dark groves and a black pool. It’s all very Machen and Lovecraft - somehow more potently charged than Ireland’s Forgotten Rite
. The central core at 2:47 is a Pastorale
which becomes about as romantic as Scott gets. This is certainly more lush and moist that Walter Leigh’s Harpsichord Concerto
(1934) which veers more towards the neo-classical. It’s all glamorously done and merits the highest praise. This work was premiered by Lucille Wallace in 1937 at the Wigmore Hall with Angel Grande conducting. Many of the Scott Concertos have now been recorded courtesy of Chandos (Cello Concerto
; Violin Concerto
; also the piano concerto
s 1 and 2
), Dutton (the fascinating early cello and piano concertos on CDLX 7302 and the 1946 Oboe Concerto
) and Lyrita
. A handful are still at liberty and should be well worth the effort of tracking down. They include The Poem
, The Melodist and the Nightingale
for cello and orchestra (1929). And what happened to the Concerto for two violins and orchestra which preceded the harpsichord concerto by a couple of years.?
The CD concludes with a complete non-sequitur but it’s good to have the additional music even if it makes a brutal gear-change from the English works.
The Third Serenade by Salomon Jadassohn in fact belongs to the series reflected here
. Its yearning nobility attains symphonic weight in the Cavatina
. The Scherzo is alert and the whole work makes a satisfying companion for the second symphonies of Brahms and Schumann, the two Brahms Serenades and Mendelssohn’s Italian and Scottish symphonies. Jadassohn has a resilient lyrical gift. The results here are most polished and, more to the point, touchingly eloquent. Quite a discovery: flighty and charming without being superficial.
The disc is extremely well documented by Gareth Vaughan. His notes are packed with information and interest - not always companions when it comes to music commentary.
As we have by now learnt from volume 4 in this line, Cameo offer good performing standards from Michael Laus and the Malta Philharmonic. There’s no departure here in this release showcasing two rare British piano concertos.
Angela Brownridge has long been a champion of Leighton. She recorded the complete works for solo piano for Delphian
. Her artistry and skills will be well known from her three Cameo discs of the mainstream classics
and her Saint-Saëns piano concertos on Quicksilva
. She studied with Leighton at Edinburgh University and played the Brahms Second Piano Concerto at the outset of her concert career with the London Repertoire Orchestra, Ruth Gipps conducting. She recalls of Gipps that "I met a woman of extreme courage, undaunted by current opinions, and throughout her life she maintained her tremendous passion for music".
Gipps kept the altar flame of tonality in British music burning at a time when such determination was seen as foolhardy and eccentric. She paid, and after her death continues to pay, dear for such idiosyncrasy. I corresponded with Gipps a little in the early 1980s and she was kind enough to send me a tape copy of Eileen Broster’s 1950s BBC broadcast of the piano concerto alongside broadcasts and in-hall tapes of the symphonies 2, 3 and 5 and her cantata The Cat
. I already had the Fourth Symphony from a broadcast in the 1980s by the BBCSO and John Pritchard. Brownridge also provides the factually rewarding and contextually valuable liner-notes.
The Leighton is in three movements. There’s an aggressively frenetic blitzkrieg opener which keeps a grip on musicality. Then comes a middle movement of resplendently shadowed romanticism. The finale is high-spirited, insouciant yet always serious - Leighton does not fool about. The concerto ends in an explosive ascending ‘stab’.
Leighton’s Third Piano Concerto can be heard as part of Chandos
series devoted to this composer. His Second Piano Concerto awaits its recording premiere but has been broadcast by the BBC in a performance conducted by Kenneth Montgomery in which the pianist was Peter Wallfisch.
Next we turn to Ruth Gipps, a pupil of RVW, Gordon Jacob and Tobias Matthay. Her catalogue is extensive. I had not previously heard her solo piano music. Her Theme and Variations
- what a title - is harmonically from the same homeland as Bax and Ireland of the 1920s and 1930s. It is differentiated from their works by a more candidly direct, lyrically expressive voice. There is a touch here of RVW’s Lake in the Woods
and Ireland’s Amberley Wild Brooks
. These two solo pieces are well worth seeking out alongside. Her other pieces include, for solo piano, Fairy Shoemaker
(1929) and Sea Nymph
(1941) and Conversation
(1950) both for two pianos.
The three-movement Piano Concerto by Gipps is stirringly romantic work with a nice balance struck between glinting moonlight and triumphant struggle. Here the music encases a core which often belongs on the same ley-line as Vaughan Williams. She achieves a pianism that seems more at ease with itself than RVW ever achieved. His Piano Concerto always seems rather awkward to me despite its muscularity and magnificence. There’s none of that with Gipps. There are some simply breathtaking moments here including the pastoral dream in the centre of the first movement and the pulse-taming and yieldingly silky middle movement. For all its beguiling lyricism this is music that remains succinct. In the finale there is a touch of the Ireland piano concerto third movement. This is music that chimes away in a glittering spray which is shared in an egalitarian way with the orchestra.
Ruth Gipps is well worth further research and recording effort. You can read more about her music in Jill Halstead’s study - Anti-Modernism, Nationalism and Difference in English Music.
Her Second Symphony can be heard on ClassicO
and her Horn Concerto on Lyrita
. We need much more of her orchestral music and there is no dearth of it.
This makes very welcome inroads into the still crowded shelves of unduly neglected British music.