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The British Composers Guide to Britain
EMI CLASSICS 0290012 [77:25 + 65:33]

This two-disc set from EMI Classics presents a rather large number of tracks, with works by British composers - or extracts thereof - arranged by geographical location. Thus the opening location, London, is represented by Coates’s Knightsbridge, a snippet of Elgar’s Cockaigne, Grainger’s Handel in the Strand (Grainger is not a British composer, but that doesn’t seem to matter) and the Prelude from Holst’s Brook Green Suite. The emphasis on extracts not only belittles the composers, whose works should be given appropriate respect and not chopped around, but also places the listener and the theme above the composer. This placing of the CD concept above the music is exacerbated by the fact that the juxtapositions of works are often rather incongruous and consequently jar. The instrumentations or characters of the works featured are apparently not considered as part of the programming. It seems that the programme has been made to fit the concept by someone with a very poor musical ear and the strain shows. The locations, too, are a motley collection, sometimes denoted by counties, sometimes combinations of counties, sometimes towns, sometimes regions (“The North”), and other times whole countries, as in the case of Scotland and Wales; not very consistent. We also have the inclusion of 'Borsetshire' for Arthur Wood’s Barwick Green - rather odd even if this is the theme music for The Archers (BBC Radio 4) set in the mythical county of that name. Hardy's 'Wessex' is also represented.

As one would expect from a compilation, there is a great disparity of recording quality and acoustic, which can be distracting; there is also a variety in performance quality. Thus, on the positive side, Handel in the Strand is played by pianist Daniel Adni with clarity and vivaciousness — although the piano sound is possibly slightly tinny — while, on the negative side, we have a very sledgehammer approach to Elgar’s Severn Suite. Rhosymedre is rather lugubrious and dense in aspect, Joseph Parry’s hymn Aberystwyth is ponderous and the folksong Bushes and Briars is given too affected a performance ... with substantial gaps between the verses. Howells’ Collegium Regale must surely be one of the first recordings to have been made at King’s College, Cambridge – a notoriously difficult acoustic, and one suspects that the knowledge and technology to create a fine recording in an awkward acoustic were not at that time present, so this performance also disappoints.

There are some lovely works present in this set, and there are some important and fine recordings, but this is surely not the way to hear them: in a seemingly random collection determined only by location. Although the concept itself of collecting works by the geographical places they describe is not a bad one, I felt that the results, certainly as presented here, just didn’t really work.

Em Marshall-Luck

Note: A similarly varied - although non-geographcial - collection is to be found on EMI Classics' British Composers - A Celebration.

CD 1 [77:25]


1. COATES London Suite (1988 digital re-master): III. Knightsbridge (March) Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves 4:21
2. ELGAR Cockaigne (In London Town) - Concert Overture Op. 40 (2004 digital re-master) Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli 14:45
3. GRAINGER Handel In The Strand (Clog Dance) Rmtb2. Daniel Adni 2:46
4. HOLST Brook Green Suite, H.190 (1987 - re-master): I. Prelude Bournemouth Sinfonietta/Norman Del Mar 1:25

5. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Bushes and Briars (men's voices) Baccholian Singers of London 3:00


6. HOWELLS Magnificat 'Collegium Regale' King's College Choir, Cambridge/Garth Benson/Boris Ord 4:30


7. BRITTEN Four Sea Interludes Op.33a (from Peter Grimes) (2003 - re-master): I. Dawn (Lento e tranquillo) London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn 3:44
8. WARLOCK Yarmouth Fair (1994 digital re-master) Owen Brannigan/Ernest Lush 1:40


9. DELIUS Brigg Fair Ian Bostridge/Polyphony/Stephen Layton 2:34
10. BRITTEN Folk Song Arrangement: The Lincolnshire Poacher (2000 digital re-master) Robert Tear/Sir Philip Ledger 1:58


11. PARRY Dear Lord and Father of mankind (Repton) Choir of King's College, Cambridge/Thomas Bullard/Benjamin Bayl/Stephen Cleobury 3:58
12. HADLEY The Hills, I. The Hills in Spring: 'From Chinley Churn and Rushup Ridge' - [chorus, soprano, tenor] Felicity Palmer/Robert Tear/Robert Lloyd/Cambridge University Musical Society Chorus/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Philip Ledger 1:36

13. HOOK The Lass Of Richmond Hill The Kings Singers 1:53
14. Preces Choir of King's College, Cambridge/Sir Philip Ledger 1:03
15. BRITTEN Folk Song Arrangement: Come you not from Newcastle? (2000 digital re-master) Robert Tear/Sir Philip Ledger 1:15
16. GURNEY Black Stitchel (2001 digital re-master) Anthony Rolfe Johnson/David Willison 2:10

17. MacCUNN The Land of the Mountain and the Flood - Concert Overture Op. 3 (1988 digital re-master) Scottish National Orchestra/Sir Alexander Gibson 9:09
18. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Loch Lomond (1995 digital re-master) London Madrigal Singers/Ian Partridge/Christopher Bishop 3:42
19. ARNOLD Scottish Dances Op. 59: 4. Con brio Philharmonia Orchestra/Robert Irving 1:21
20. MOFFATT The Wee Cooper o' Fife Robert Tear/Benjamin Luxon/André Previn 1:50

21. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Three Preludes Founded on Welsh Hymn Tunes (orch. Arnold Foster): 2. Rhosymedre (melody by J. D. Edwards, 1805-1885) Richard Hickox 4:13
22. BRITTEN Folk Song Arrangement: The Ash Grove (2000 Digital re-master) Robert Tear/Sir Philip Ledger 2:22
23. Joseph PARRY Jesu Lover Of My Soul Huddersfield Choral Society 3:54
24. HOLST Six Choral Folk Songs, H.136 (1995 - re-master): 6. Swansea Town Baccholian Singers of London 2:50

25. PEEL In summertime on Bredon [with orch.] Frederick Harvey/Philharmonia Orchestra/George Weldon 3:09
26. ELGAR Severn Suite Op. 87 (orchestral version) (1989 digital re-master): I. Worcester Castle (Introduction) Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves 2:13
27. BUTTERWORTH Six Songs from 'A Shropshire Lad' (2001 digital re-master): I. Loveliest of trees Anthony Rolfe Johnson/David Willison 2:51
28. ELGAR Caractacus Op. 35 (1989 digital re-master): Woodland Interlude (Introduction to Scene III) from Caractacus Op. 35 Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves 2:16
29. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS On Wenlock Edge (1987 digital re-master): VI. Clun Ian Partridge/Music Group of London 3:33

CD 2 [65:33]

1. Arthur WOOD Barwick Green (Theme from the Radio Series ''The Archers'') Sidney Torch And His Orchestra 2:49

2. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS An Oxford Elegy (excerpt: That sweet city with her dreaming spires ... Come, let me read) John Westbrook/King's College Choir, Cambridge/Jacques Orchestra/Sir David Willcocks 2:46


3. HOWELLS String Quartet 'in Gloucestershire' (No. 3): II. Fairly quick, but always rhythmical Britten Quartet 2:05
4. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Come down, O Love divine (Down Ampney) King's College Choir, Cambridge/Thomas Williamson/Stephen Cleobury 3:43

5. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS English Folk Song Suite (1987 - re-master): III. March (Folk Songs from Somerset) London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult 3:03
6. BRITTEN Folk Song Arrangement: The trees they grow so high (2000 digital re-master) Robert Tear/Sir Philip Ledger 3:13

7. STANFORD Songs of the Sea Op. 91 (1983 digital re-master): III. Devon, O Devon, in Wind and Rain (Allegro con fuoco) Benjamin Luxon/Bournemouth Symphony Chorus/Geoffrey Hughes/Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Norman Del Mar 1:45
8. BAX Tintagel (2007 digital re-master) London Symphony Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli 15:02
9. RUTTER Sans Day Carol Clare College Singers, Cambridge/Clare College Orchestra, Cambridge/Jeremy Blandford/John Rutter 3:20
10. ARNOLD Four Cornish Dances Op. 91 (2001 digital re-master): 3. Con moto e sempre senza parodia Sir Malcolm Arnold 2:27
11. SANDERSON Devonshire Cream and Cider [with orch.] Frederick Harvey/Philharmonia Orchestra/George Weldon 3:55


12. HOLST Egdon Heath (Homage to Thomas Hardy) H172 (Op. 47) (2003 digital re-master) André Previn/London Symphony Orchestra 14:40


13. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Linden Lea - A Dorset song (1994 - re-master) Dame Janet Baker/Gerald Moore 2:54
14. WALTON Portsmouth Point (1999 - re-master) London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn 5:28
15. WILLCOCKS Sussex Carol (On Christmas night all Christians sing) Choir of King's College, Cambridge/John Wells/Sir David Willcocks 1:53

16. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS In Windsor Forest: IV. Wedding Chorus (Ben Johnson) Bournemouth Symphony Chorus/Geoffrey Hughes/Bournemouth Sinfonietta/Norman Del Mar 4:38

17. HOLST St Paul's Suite H118 (Op. 29 No. 2): IV. Finale: The Dargason (Allegro) Yehudi Menuhin 3:21
18. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Ten Blake Songs: 4. London [oboe tacet] Ian Partridge 1:35
19. COATES London Suite (1988 digital re-master): I. Covent Garden (Tarentelle) Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves 4:58
20. IRELAND London Pieces: 2. Ragamuffin Desmond Wright 2:05
21. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS A London Symphony (1994 digital re-master): IV. Andante con moto - Maestoso alla marcia (quasi lento) - Allegro - Maestoso alla marcia (alla I) - Epilogue (Andante sostenuto) Hallé Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli 4:44