Rutland BOUGHTON (1878-1960)
Love and Spring op. 23 (1906) [13:22]
Troilus and Cressida op. 17 (Thou and I) (1902) [12:08]
A Summer Night op. 5 (1899 rev. 1903) [13:26]
Edgar BAINTON (1880-1956)
Paracelsus op. 8 (1904, rev. 1913) [12:17]
Pompilia op. 11 (1903) [12:01]
Prometheus op. 19 (1909) [12:58]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates
rec. RSNO Centre, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, 2010
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7262 [76:47]
It's long past time that I completed a review of this disc. I started it when the CD was first issued a long time ago but over the years I have kept laying it aside and then picking it up again. Here, then, are six otherwise unknown orchestral tone poems in what are world premiere recordings. That's three apiece from two British composers who had different reactions to neglect. Boughton had his moment in the limelight with the opera The Immortal Hour from which the Faery Song became a long-loved and long-lived hit. Bainton, who went to Australia, never made it in terms of wide public adulation although his anthem And I saw a new heaven comes close.
There are echoes of Bainton's path in the careers of Erik Chisholm, W.H. Bell and Healy Willan They left the UK to make their livings in South Africa and Canada. These expats paid a price in the currency of neglect outside their adopted homelands. Only over the last few decades have they begun to receive even a part of their due. Bainton and Boughton have more recently benefited from attention from well-motivated conductors and record labels. Bainton, in particular, has basked in attention from Michael Jones and initiatives that have included the reprint of Helen Bainton's sterling biography Remembered on Waking (Line Clear Editions, 2013, originally 1960). Bainton, who packed his bags and left for Australia, turns out to have been a very fine composer as Chandos and Dutton have shown us. Having perhaps written less, and some of that having been recorded, we have a reasonable 'handle' on Bainton.
Boughton stayed at home and his music never left the repertoire completely. It lived on with The Faery Song which in effect became trapped in 'These You Have Loved' salon aspic. His songs, chamber pieces and much of the principal orchestral music have been recorded. His music-dramas, especially the grand bleak Alkestis and the Arthurian cycle - a life-long pursuit which he completed - remain a closed tome.
The present disc opens the book for each composer at their tone poems. It's an attractive genre and when, in each case, the composer is on-song as here for the most part, can work very well indeed. Bantock's tone-poems as recorded by Hyperion, Holbrooke's on Marco Polo and CPO, Havergal Brian's early orchestral works and Frank Bridge's Isabella on Pearl and Chandos, provide examples of a genre locked in an embrace with ambitious ideas and now unfashionable poetry. Much the same can be said, though further afield, of the tone poems by Karłowicz, Novák, MacDowell, Farwell and Coerne. Similar British works by Benjamin Dale, R.S. Coke, Eugene Goossens, Walter Stanley Gaze Cooper, William Baines, Sam Hartley Braithwaite and Stanley Wilson continue to wait patiently in the wings while broadcasters and commercial labels await enlightenment, confidence and funding. Bantock's Thalaba The Destroyer brought the house down at Salford Quays last year when Michael Seal directed it with the BBC Philharmonic although two of that composer's tone poems (Lalla Rookh and Hudibras) remain obdurately unrecorded and unperformed.
Bainton and Boughton have shared a Dutton CD before with the former’s Symphony No. 3 - his last - in harness with Boughton's Oliver Cromwell Symphony, his first, on CDLX7185 (BBC Concert Orchestra/Vernon Handley). The present recordings were made with the support of the Boughton Music Trust and the Edgar Bainton Society. Both bodies can take pride in the results. Their investment was well targeted and rewarded. We can share in those rewards.
These Boughton scores are all early works. Love and Spring, recently re-published by Goodmusic Publishing Ltd of Tewkesbury, was first heard in May 1906 and was last heard live in Birmingham in 2012. Its opening is resilient and up-leaping as befits the subject. A Tchaikovskian harp 'descent' at 3:10 marks out a transition into peace and even a slightly Elgarian style. Tchaikovsky again puts in an appearance at 5:10 but at 10:38 cuckoo calls and bird-song impart a lighter flavour contrasting with the passionate opening. The work ends with a triumphant blast. This is less a case of the fey sighs of The Immortal Hour; more a triumphal blast from Aida. The even earlier Troilus and Cressida dates from four or five decades before the Walton opera of the same name. While Love and Spring was performed at the Proms, this work of turbulence and Straussian opulence never attained those heights. It was perhaps too personal an utterance with its subtitle: Thou and I. A Summer Night - a very Russian title - was completed in 1899 and in the 'noughties' of the twentieth century had performances in Birmingham and Bournemouth. Again it marries Tchaikovskian turmoil¸ bosky pastorals and stern moments in a confection that finds its parallels in Tchaikovsky's Hamlet. It's enjoyable at much the same level as the Tchaikovsky work. Dutton's lucidly informed notes are by Paul Adrian Rooke.
The three Bainton works are introduced in the booklet by Michael Jones. Paracelsus was an alchemist-philosopher with a Promethean striving nature. The music tracks a similar course. Tchaikovsky is referenced, which was quite natural given that this composer was a draw for student composers of that time. It is a superbly orchestrated piece that rises to a grand romantic climax (4.30). Pompilia was inspired by a Robert Browning poem; indeed Browning also inspired Bantock (among others Fifine at the Fair and the orchestral song-cycle Ferishtah's Fancies). The music maps out both jealousy and murder, reflected in tempestuous writing and 'blackguard' brass (5:40). I thought of Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini when I heard Thalaba, The Destroyer last year and that work comes to mind again in Pompilia. The RSNO's playing and the Dutton engineering choices are superb throughout. The disc finishes with Prometheus, a work rocking with torment and defiance. Sure enough, there are moments of very quiet playing, usually by the strings (3.20), but what registers foremost is some great and satisfyingly rampant brass playing.
Each of these six scores is about 12-13 minutes duration and can be thought of as paralleling a middlingly short and burly concert work such as Berlioz's Le Corsair, Strauss's Don Juan or Tchaikovsky's Hamlet or Tempest. The brakes are off and the accelerator is full on.