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Henry Cotter NIXON (1842-1907)
Complete Orchestral Music - Volume 3
Aslauga: Dramatic Cantata: Overture (1890–93) [9:36]
Fantasia No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra (undated) [9:38]
Concert Overture No. 1; Titania (1880) [18:22]
Gavotte in E flat (undated) [4:15]
The Gay Typewriters: Operatic Farce in Two Acts: Prelude [9:16]: Act Two: No. 18, Ballet Music [5:33]
Coronation March (1902) [9:10]
Ana Török (violin)
Kodály Philharmonic Orchestra, Liepāja Symphony Orchestra/Paul Mann
rec. 2016/20, Pásti Synagogue, Debrecen, Hungary; Great Amber Concert Hall, Liepāja, Latvia

This is the third and final volume from Toccata devoted to the obscure British composer Henry Cotter Nixon. You can read reviews of Volume 1 (review) and Volume 2 (review) that delve into his biography and other works.

This last release mixes concert and stage music but in fragmentary form by which I mean that almost everything here was left incomplete by the composer. In fact, only one piece, the Concert Overture No.1 Titania is complete. For the rest Paul Mann, the hero of the hour, has had to expend his considerable talents in bringing these works forward in viable orchestrations.

Nixon’s vast dramatic cantata Aslauga, the full score of which extends to 346 pages, is represented by its overture, of which just over half the orchestration exists in the composer’s hand. It has a deceptively lissom start before becoming more agitated, though it remains deeply rooted in mid-nineteenth century procedure, here rather more Mendelssohn than Schumann. The handling of material is confident though the results are largely unexceptional. There’s an undated Fantasia No.2 for violin and orchestra which exists only in a violin and piano reduction. Here Mann has co-opted Schumannesque orchestration and there is good passagework and pirouetting for the nimble soloist, Ana Török, terpsichorean and just a little note-spinning.

Titania, which obviously owes its inspiration to Shakespeare, is the largest-scale single work here. Avian winds bedeck a score which contains a bold dance as well as some lumbering motifs, and a rather lordly passage, all of which reveal a droll sense of characterisation. This is Nixon at his near-best, one feels, even if the recapitulation elongates the work more than it should.

The Gavotte in E flat is a light piece but irradiated with a certain native swagger that I rather like – Nixon could have done with a bit more swagger and a lot less Schumann in his music, I think. His operetta music can be heard in the two brief extracts from the intriguingly titled The Gay Typewriters. Responding to the Sullivanesque brio of this piece Mann has spiced up the orchestration for the Prelude, becoming almost Beecham-like in his inclusion of (unmarked) percussion. The ridiculous-but-engaging euphonium solo is, however, Nixon’s own idea. For the Ballet Music extract Mann took inspiration from Tchaikovsky – not inappropriately as Nixon’s work dates from 1895 – giving it a deliberate air of pastiche; Mann’s own word, incidentally. The envoi is provided by the Coronation March of 1902, extant only in the piano score, and seemingly written for Edward VII’s coronation. It has two trios but is otherwise a rather predictable, jog-trotting homage march of no great significance. If only he’d infiltrated some of that swagger element to be heard in the Gavotte.

This is a series that has done the very best it could for Henry Cotter Nixon. The fine booklet notes are by David J Brown and Mann himself and the performers sound to have done more than merely sight-read their way through these scores; they bring their very best to them – predominantly the Kodály Philharmonic but, in the case of the Ballet Music from The Gay Typewriters (only), the Liepāja Symphony. It is fair to say that Nixon was hardly a major talent, but this series succeeds in exploring the music of a composer who was not even a name to most of us and this adds to our knowledge of British music of this period, whether grand or more provincial.

Jonathan Woolf

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