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Of Such Ecstatic Sound
Percy SHERWOOD (1866–1939)

Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra (1908) [36:04]
Frederic Hymen COWEN (1852–1935)
Symphony No.5 in F Minor (1887) [41:41]
Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin)
Joseph Spooner (cello)
BBC Concert Orchestra/John Andrews
rec. 2016, Watford Colosseum

Exploration of Percy Sherwood’s music continues to bear fruit. The latest premiere recording is the Double Concerto of 1907-08 written in Dresden, where he had been born in 1866 to an English father and a German mother. Though a giant Brahmsian shadow would seem to loom behind the notion of a concerto for violin, cello and orchestra, in fact the Brahms influences are rather muted; Bruch, perhaps, would be a more apposite model.

The concerto opens with a rather light-hearted trotting rhythm, far from the brooding and unresolved ambiguities imbedded into the dialogues of the Brahms concerto. There is a great deal of generous and lightly-flavoured exchange between the instrumentalists. Nothing here is combative or strenuous, rather the ethos is collaborative and, for want of a better word, joyful. Orchestration is cogent and supportive and lightly Brahmsian, it’s true, in places. In the slow movement, which is solemn and wistfully romantic, there is a fluidity about the conversational warmth that is immediately appealing, its attractiveness enhanced by the most sympathetic playing of Rupert Marshall-Luck and Joseph Spooner. Of the three movements, it’s the finale that’s the most characterful. It has terpsichorean vitality leavened by gracious, slower paragraphs that possess an insouciant, almost rococo charm. There are, it’s true, fiercer passages, handled in a confident way by Sherwood, and a thematically clever cadenza which exemplifies the spirit of comradery between the two soloists – notably good supportive pizzicati, here. In all, this is a charming work and not at all serious minded or frowning.

If that all sounds rather too un-Brucknerian for your tastes, then there’s a symphony to consider, the similarly unrecorded Fifth Symphony of Frederic Cowen. Dating from 1887 it’s cast in four movements, the first opening in a stern, grandiloquent way that also embraces easy-going lighter material in the development. The winds are characterfully presented and the music eventually conjures up a smilingly good-natured vision of the opening’s pomposo element. This transformative element is notably well done. The coquetry of Cowen’s winds – one of his most attractive instrumental flourishes – and the brief harp episode on the scherzo might remind the listener of his The Butterfly’s Ball, though the fully-sustained 12-minute slow movement is the work’s centre of gravity. It acts as a strong contrast to the preceding scherzo but also includes its own strong internal contrast with a magical, gossamer lightness that proves captivating. The finale revisits the portentous braggadocio of the opening, music of determined power with still jaunty winds to offer a twinkling commentary, and a surging, swaying dynamism and brass confidence. Of all Cowen’s symphonies I’ve heard I think I like the Fifth the best. The performance does it proud, John Andrews bringing out its bold contrasts with flair and great sympathy and the BBC Concert Orchestra responding with richness and control.

The booklet notes are full and very informative and the recording in Watford Colosseum is appropriately warm and full bodied. This is a really excellent and exploratory release in every way.

Jonathan Woolf
Previous review: Rob Barnett


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