Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Philip Bracanin - Symphony No. 2 "Choral" - Symphony No.3 - Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Werner Andreas Albert - The Brisbane Chorale - Margaret Schindler, Soprano - ABC Classics (2000)

An Australian of Dalmatian parentage, Philip Bracanin is one of Australia's greatest composers and also one of the most neglected (and not just in Australia) which like countless other cases is really quite tragic, as all of his music that I have been fortunate enough to hear is either very good or magnificent in my opinion. Stylistically I would say that his sound is not unlike some of the best that the 20th century English school of composition (Vaughan Williams & William Walton for example) has to offer, however Bracanin also composes in a thoroughly neoclassical style as well. He has written, I believe, at least 15 concertos for various instruments (not even counting two Concertos for Orchestra) at this time, 30 or so orchestral works, chamber music, song cycles, and choral music. 99% of the above mentioned is more or less unavailable. There are a couple of recordings of his concertos (superb concertos for guitar and trumpet) and a bit of chamber music-although the chamber music that was released is "very" out of print, I have the disc somewhere, must have bought it at least 20 years ago..all I remember is that it was on an Australian label, which is not really surprising. I hope everyone finds this music to be a great discovery. I know I sure did at the time!

There are so few choral symphonies that any attempt to compose one in the modern era will always invite comparison with the great works of Vaughan Williams and Gustav Mahler (whose Second Symphony, like Bracanin’s was his first "choral symphony"’). While at forty minutes it’s certainly an expansive work, the Choral symphony never conveys the impression of overstaying its welcome. As in the Third Symphony, the compositional weight is thrown into the outer movements. Bracanin chose texts from Judith Wright and W. H. Auden for a work which, in keeping with the 'philosophical' theme of most choral symphonies, centres around the contemplation and celebration of time. It’s an optimistic work in which time is hailed as a creative and liberating force, and it marks perhaps the definitive statement by the composer on a concept which has intrigued him for more than a decade.

The Choral Symphony opens atmospherically and with utmost beauty. Icy chords in the strings usher in a brief brass chorale and then the chorus's wordless entry establishes a mood of deep calm. But soon a crescendo leads to a secondary theme in which insistent motoric rhythms drive the movement on toward a trumpet fanfare and perhaps an unconscious echo of the opening of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (Judith Wright’s contrast between the adult and childlike perception of time is perhaps another poetic idea which Mahler himself might have enjoyed). A solo soprano enters on Wright’s words "Here is the same clock", establishing an elegiac, lyrical and nakedly emotional mood which will continue for much of the remainder of the movement, the distinctive motor rhythms notwithstanding. The chorus, wordless once more, brings this inspired movement to a close.

After the stifling beauty of the opening Andante, the second movement, Allegro molto, is bright and breezy and scored for orchestra only. In an endless stream of melody (listen in particular to the modal inflections in the melody for cor anglais), the principal theme is tossed back and forth between sections of the orchestra in a movement which is as charming as it is brief.

The chorus returns in the third movement, and with them a ticking, recurrent quaver pattern that serves as an accompaniment to much of the movement as a whole. W. H. Auden’s words "going round and round" achieve the very musical effect which they describe, while the chorus closes off the movement by reminding "How wrong they are in being always right".

There is more than a hint of majesty in the choral writing in this movement, but now the grandeur of the overall conception is laid bare in the finale, explicitly marked maestoso. Here, with Judith Wright again providing the text, the praises of time are sung in the grand English choral tradition (one can imagine this kind of uplifting movement being sung at the Three Choirs Festival).

Where the choir has woven itself in and out of the Symphony to date, here it dominates the opening of the movement. A swirling theme for orchestra introduced in the strings leads to a great climax, soon after which the mood of the opening movement returns as the solo soprano offers the innocent vision "Here where I walk was the green world of a child" and the plaintive falling semitone figure which we heard in the opening movement too.

A second orchestral interlude, lighter and with jaunty little wind figures, then prepares the way for the triumphant return of the choir singing the praises of time. At its triumphant conclusion, the symphony has offered not just an affirmation of time, but of life and love too, in a way which can appeal directly to the emotions. Something of a small masterpiece to these ears!

Symphony No. 3 was composed at the invitation of conductor Werner Andreas Albert and is dedicated to him. Scored for orchestra only, the symphony is also a work of genuine appeal and it features some striking orchestral writing. Again it contains features which we have heard in the Second Symphony, including the employment of motoric rhythms and some quite distinctive writing for wind instruments.

It opens dramatically with timpani rolls and some chordal figures in the strings. The motor rhythms in quavers begin early in the piece and with themes and fragments of themes being tossed around, the large shadow of Sibelius is never far away.

But after a driving climax, suddenly a more reflective passage marked Lusingando (flatteringly, alluringly) enters on the oboe and is then taken over and shared by the other wind instruments and soon the strings. It rises to great heights of passion before subsiding back from whence it came. Keen-eared listeners may notice some affinity between the glorious string writing here and that in the final pages of Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony, although any connection I assume is unintentional.

The movement then proceeds through further rousing climaxes, distinctive 'maestoso' passages, and another sublime slower section (featuring more magnificent solo passages for wind) before drawing to an emphatic and singularly impressive conclusion, complete with exotic colourings on glockenspiel and harp.

The second movement, Andante lusingando, is particularly deeply felt, beginning with constantly changing slow rhythms which convey a sense of the melodies 'breathing'. Again we hear just a hint of Sibelian thematic fragments before a more vigorous Allegro enters abruptly and with the snare drum introducing an almost military feel to proceedings. In the middle of the movement there is (going on what I have heard in the past from the composer) a typical Bracanin device- an ostinato pattern in crotchets in the lower strings and wind which introduces a greater sense of urgency before the poignant main theme and mood of calm resignation return for the conclusion.

An upward rush in the bassoon and cello introduces the Allegro vivace, built around swirling quaver figures. Once again the glockenspiel is used with imagination to embellish the melodies with shards of broken glass. Over a base of strings, wind and brass toss ideas playfully from one to another as the movement surges on toward its unexpectedly abrupt climax.

We then arrive at another "Bracanin maestoso" in the energetic finale. Fragments of melody heard in earlier movements are progressively pieced together as once more the sense of triumph, so familiar from the Second Symphony, is evoked once more. A more expressive passage, marked Andante cantabile, provides an intense contrast as it returns throughout the movement, but before long one senses the forces being marshalled once more as the insistent rhythms assert their dominance. Elegy and action are brought into an unusual organic unity as a cymbal and drum flourish brings down the rousing final chord.

Bracanin, who always seems so fascinated by time, demonstrates superbly here his musical gift, which is perhaps to make that very same time stand still. 

Track list:

Symphony No. 2 (Choral)

1)Andante con tempo rubato (12:01)
2)Allegro molto (4:36)
3)Andante (9:41)
4)Allegro maestoso (11:59)

Symphony No. 3

5)Allegro (11:18)
6)Andante lusingando (8:06) 
7)Allegro vivace (3:57)
8)Allegro maestoso (10:24)




Monday, April 27, 2015

The Light Wraps You: New Music for Oboe - Phillip Bimstein - Rodney Rogers - Bill Douglas - James Macmillan - Andrea Clearfield - Fulvio Caldini - Michelle Fiala, Oboe - MSR Classics 2007

Here's a nice little gem from MSR classics, all contemporary works featuring the oboe. I bought this disc specifically for the piece by Phillip Bimstein-I was so very taken by the first work I had discovered by this composer, "Half Moon at Checkerboard Mesa" (Fantasy for Oboe, Frogs, Crickets, and Coyotes) which is extremely quirky, charming, and really really good fun. It contains other recorded sounds taken around the area where the composer lives, including rushing water and thunder...a nature poem indeed! It can be found here: 

The Bimstein work on this disc is every bit as lyrical, humorous and intriguing and really like nothing else you have heard except for....Bimstein's other eccentric works of course! It's called "Cats in the Kitchen for Flute, Oboe plus the Kitchen "Sync". Yes, there's lots of purring and meowing cats, playing cats, chattering cats...even the closely mic'd sounds of cats enjoying crunchy delicacies :)
Plus there's all kinds of other sounds that one expects to here coming from a kitchen, slicing toast, spoons, percussive pots and pans...the composer offered the full list below, which I typed out from the booklet notes. This is altogether a great collection, I enjoy just about every work on here highly.
So, on to the music and the notes (written by the composers themselves).

Literally the only back cover I could find..pointless really but this is what it "looks like"-especially if you are blind

This disc contains the first commercial recordings for oboe of these seven pieces.

Lessons of the Sky

The title Lessons of the Sky comes from the essay The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (found in a collection of essays under the same title). For me, the sky represents that which is open and infinite. The title also refers to knowledge gained through observing the world around us—the endlessly varied designs that nature provides as building blocks for life.
The music is structured around a number of short motives that are continually varied and juxtaposed in an energetic manner. In contrast to this moto perpetuo, there are sudden shifts into a stable and undulating style based on isolated repeating figures. The surface rhythm remains fast during these stable sections, but the changes in harmony are much slower. The interplay of the oboe and piano—as they toss motives back and forth—adds another dimension to the basic alternation of quick rhythmic motives and slowly evolving repetitions. Occasionally the pianist stops a string with the left hand while playing the keyboard with the right hand to elicit an unexpected color from the piano. Toward the middle of the piece, a quiet section interrupts the momentum with static and introspective lines in both the oboe and piano. A single prepared piano note, functioning as a percussive punctuation in the fast sections, takes on a gong-like character in the slow portion of the work. The piece closes with a return of the fast music, beginning with the stable undulating figuration and then moving into the short motives. This loosely designed reverse order results in an arch-like shape for the whole composition.
-Rodney Rogers

Sonata for Oboe and Piano

This piece was written in 2004 for my good friend, the oboist Allan Vogel. The first and third movements follow the basic jazz form as described previously in the notes on the Trio. The second movement was influenced by British Isles folk music.
-Bill Douglas

Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano

This piece was commissioned by the International Double Reed Society in July 2006 and was completed in November. The first and third movements follow the basic jazz form: a unison theme followed by an improvisation on the chord progression, then a return to the theme with variations. In this case, the improvisation sections are written out. Although these movements have been influenced by jazz (and the third movement was also influenced by African music), the players are instructed to “sing” expressively throughout, as though they were playing Mozart or Bach. The second movement is based on a scale commonly used in Spanish, North African, and Middle Eastern music. There is a middle, somewhat atonal section that retains the feeling of that scale.
-Bill Douglas

Three Songs for Oboe and Double Bass (after poems by Pablo Neruda)

Inspired by three sensual love poems of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, this set of musical tableaux was composed for Philadelphia Orchestra bassist, Robert Kesselman and his wife, oboist Jennifer Kuhns in 1996. Two years later, the work was arranged for violin and bass duo for bassist Edgar Meyer. In 2002, Manfred Fischbeck, artistic director of Group Motion Dance Company, choreographed the work for the Fringe Festival in Philadelphia.
-Andrea Clearfield

Cats in the Kitchen

I love cats and I'm fascinated by the sounds of the kitchen, so it was great fun to combine them both in this piece. “Cats in the Kitchen” is scored for flute, oboe, meows, purrs, cracked eggs, sliced onions, buttered toast, sizzling skillets, spoons, knives, pepper grinder, toaster oven, pots, pans, and draining dishwater – everything including the "kitchen sync!" The sound score also features feline duets and trios, cat food crunches, waterdrums, and my partner Charlotte speaking to her beloved cat, Fiona McGee, who sadly passed on shortly after this piece was completed. The flute and oboe playfully dance and weave with the sounds and each other, sometimes in imitation or dialogue with the cats, and at other times cooking up their own fanciful filigree. “Cats in the Kitchen” was commissioned for Michele Fiala and Heidi Pintner by Western Kentucky University,
through its Provost’s Initiatives for Excellence Fund, Potter College of Arts and Letters, and Faculty Scholarship Council.
-Phillip Bimstein

Track listing:

1)Rodney Rogers - Lessons of the Sky for Oboe & Piano (8:47) (Donal Speer, piano)

Bill Douglas - Sonata for Oboe & Piano (10:53) (Bill Douglas, piano)

2)Cantabile (4:11)
3)Expansive (3:24)
4)Singing, playful (3:18)

5)James Macmillan - Intercession for Three Oboes (6:23) (w. Joseph Salvalagggio, Martin Schuring)

Bill Douglas - Trio for Oboe, Bassoon & Piano (14:12) (Frank Morelli, bassoon, Bill Douglas, piano)

6)Bebob cantabile (4:19)
7)Lament (5:43)
8)Rondo con brio (4:10)

Andrea Clearfield - Three Songs for Oboe & Double Bass (after Poems by Pablo Neruda) (6:44)

9)Body of a Woman (2:41)
10)The Light Wraps You (1:33)
11)Every Day You Play (2:30)                                            (Karl Olsen, double bass) 

12)Fulvio Caldini - Etude du reveil, Op.7/b for Oboe & Clarinet (3:30)

Phillip Bimstein - Cats in the Kitchen for Flute & Oboe plus the kitchen "Sync" (13:11)

13)Eggs & Toast (5:04)
14)O Sole Meow (2:58)
15)Where's Your Mouse, McGee? (5:09)                            (Heidi Pintner, flute)


The_Light_Wraps_You_New Music_for_Oboe-Tzadik.zip


Paul Hindemith - The Complete Piano Concertos - Yale Symphony Orchestra, Toshiyuki Shimada - Idil Biret, Piano - Naxos 2014

Props must be given to Naxos for releasing the complete concertos for piano in one collection, and as far as I know this is the first time they have all been offered in this glorious way. When I initially heard about this release I was extra curious as the pianist listed was Idil Biret, whom I discovered long ago on other Naxos recordings-when Naxos was in it's infancy. I was impressed early on with her interpretations (especially her Rachmaninov and Brahms) and hadn't seen her name around in a long time (not that I have been searching, there's just so many great musicians around after all). I'm pretty sure that Idil Biret and Jenő Jandó were the first pianists signed to Naxos. Jenő Jandó's early recordings too I have enjoyed thoroughly. Biret has been a concert pianist for a long time (she worked with Nadia Boulanger in the early 1950s, was a pupil of Alfred Cortot and a lifelong disciple of Wilhelm Kempff, and worked with major orchestras such as the Boston Symphony), indeed way before Naxos meant anything to people other then the Greek island in the Aegean. 

One of the most interesting works in this collection is "Konzertmusik for Piano, Brass, and Two Harps", Op. 49. It's rarely heard and quirky, especially for the (limited) forces required. Idil Biret, as you will see in the booklet notes, performed this piece under Nadia Boulanger quite a few years back-in 1963! I think it's safe to say that she's the perfect interpreter for the Op. 49. The rest of the music here is played extremely well by everyone involved; the only thing that keeps these discs from being a "10" for me is the tempi in various places. Mostly I'm speaking of sections that seem a tad sluggish, for me it's "The Four Temperaments" (Hindemith's best known work on this collection) in particular; it's still very very good but I know the piece and it's history so well that I suppose I'm biased, and yes perhaps acting like a stickler. As I'm as usual short on time I'm not going to get on about each work on here (plus Hindemith being a composer in my "top 10" I'd also be writing enough to destroy everyone's eyes!) as I have included the booklet notes.






Sunday, April 26, 2015

From Afar: Nicholas Goluses, Guitar - Manuel De Falla, Homage...Claude Debussy - Joseph Schwantner, From Afar...Fantasy for Guitar - Manuel Ponce, Variations & Fugue on La Folia d’España - Benjamin Britten, Nocturnal after John Dowland - Mikis Theodorakis, Three Epitafios - Albany 2012

This varied guitar program begins with Manuel de Falla’s Homage to Claude Debussy, written in 1920. Although it is clear in its dedication, the music is quintessential Falla and it exudes the sunshine and bright colors of Spain. Goluses gives an energetic, persuasive, and elegant rendition of the short piece. "From Afar", the title of this disc, comes from a piece that Joseph Schwantner wrote, originally for guitar and orchestra, but which is played here in an arrangement that the composer made for guitar alone. Since this is the premiere recording of this version of the piece, Goluses has the field to himself for now. He plays it with such intelligence and sensitivity that he may not have any challengers for a long while (Sharon Isbin recorded the original version with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for Virgin Classics). The longest piece on this disc is Manuel Ponce’s 1929 "Variations and Fugue on La Folia d’España". Known as La Follia in Italy and La Folle in France, this simple folk tune has been recurrent in European music ever since the 15th century. Ponce’s 23 short variations show how his fertile mind could present it in numerous guises and with all sorts of interesting embellishments. He varies the tempos and the rhythms and decorates the original in many ways. Sometimes he gives us modern styles but he brings us back to the original theme often enough to make sure we don’t forget it. The finale is a tightly executed fugue that ties up all the loose ends. The guitarist (whom I was unfamiliar with until this recording) has excellent command of his instrument and he renders each variation, as well as the fugue, with sensitivity, virtuosity, and verve. 

In 1963, Benjamin Britten wrote his "Nocturnal after John Dowland" for Julian Bream, who recorded it twice, the first time in the 1960s and the second in 2000. The latter recording, available from EMI Classics Imports, is a bit faster than the earlier one, but both renditions are intense and dramatic. Goluses’s reading is flowing, lyrical, and sensitive. Britten had great admiration for Dowland and used his "Come Heavy Sleep" as the basis for this Nocturnal, but you don't get to hear all of it until the end of the eighth variation. Before this, we are led through a dream world that is sometimes calm, sometimes agitated, but our journey moves on relentlessly to its appointment with the original theme. For Mikis Theodorakis, the "Three Epitafios" represented a transformation in his life. Having been a promising classical composer in Western Europe, he returned to Greece and his roots. Epitafios was originally a song cycle to poems by Yiannis Ritsos, but even without the text, it tells the story of the Greek people and their long and illustrious artistic history. 


From_Afar_(guitar music)_Nicholas_Goluses-Tzadik.zip


Ahmet Adnan Saygun - Birinci Senfoni Op. 29 (Symphony No. 1) - Concerto da Camera - Northern Sinfonia - Howard Griffiths - Koch Musica Mundi, 2000

Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-91) wasn’t only Turkey’s preeminent composer of "classical" music; he was a hallmark in Turkish music as a pioneer in polyphonic composition, an ethnomusicologist and an instructor as well. Saygun was a major figure in 20th century music, period. Unfortunately, his works have not yet really achieved wide international exposure (although CPO has done wonders recording several discs of Saygun's music), save perhaps for the very occasional performance of his masterful oratorio "Yunus Emre". Saygun was a master of neo-classical form and was a superb writer for orchestra, especially the chamber or string orchestras which are employed in these two very fine works. 

The First Symphony is an exciting work and is dedicated to the conductor Franz Litschauer who, with the Austrian Radio SO, recorded the work in 1954. The Symphony (there are five in all) is scored for a classical-period-sized ensemble, and applies a Western-derived formal rigor to folk-influenced thematic material. Its Turkish aspects are recognizable in places such as the second subject of the first movement, where exotic arabesques are woven around a single note. The birdsong trio of the suavely elegant minuet offers another particularly captivating moment. Elsewhere, the style most closely recalls the Villa-Lobos of the "Bachianas Brasileiras", particularly in Saygun’s deployment of massed winds against the strings. Bartok's influence can be detected, and indeed Saygun acted as Bartok's assistant during the Hungarian's instructional folk music field research visit in 1936. It is instructive to listen to the wildly bubbling Allegro which surely must have been written with knowledge of Bartok's "Concerto for Orchestra" as well as Martinu's Fourth and Fifth Symphonies. The orchestral effect is perhaps part Weill, part neo-classical and a tad Russian (Shostakovich not Pan-Slav nationalism). 

The "Concerto da Camera" (Chamber Concerto) was completed May 8th 1978 and debuted at the Istanbul Festival in 1979. The orchestra consists of of first violins (four), second violins (four), violas (three), violoncellos (three), and a double-bass, and shows resourceful use of a string ensemble in Baroque concerto grosso style. It's "concerto" title is derived from the scoring that that treats all the instrumentalists as soloists. As many of the other compositions of Saygun, this work is also modal in nature. The flavors of Turkish folk music, art music and all Balkan country music are used within their peculiar mode characteristics.   

Enjoy everyone



Thursday, April 23, 2015

Alexander Grechaninov - Suite for Cello and Orchestra Op. 86 - Aram Khachaturian - Concerto for Cello and Orchestra - Bamberger Symphoniker, Alexander Symeonides - Werner Thomas, Cello - Koch Schwann 1986

Of course my wifi seems to be stable again, now that I have to get dressed for work and haven't slept at all. Sheesh. For this reason, I can't not post at least one more recording before leaving; too frustrated from the 'net issues from earlier on! This is an out of print disc from the Koch label, which I obtained this cd for the Grechaninov (I already was familiar with the Khachaturian Concerto, which is very fine) "Suite for Cello and Orchestra" which Grechaninov composed during the 1920's (I'm not sure of the actual year/date, and the booklet notes share my ignorance as you will see) and it doesn't disappoint. I especially love all of the Grechaninov recordings on Chandos, and also the chamber music discs on MD&G and Hyperion. Then there's good older recordings on Marco Polo and I think a couple of more recent on Naxos....and so on. My physical copy of this disc is god knows where and this older rip I have on a hd, hopefully whenever I find it again I will update and encode the files to AAC.

That's all for now, I hope everyone enjoys!



Piano Music of John Adams and Terry Riley - Riley, The Walrus in Memorium - Adams, China Gates - Riley, The Heaven Ladder, Book 7 - Adams, Phrygian Gates - Gloria Cheng, Piano - Telarc 1998

Well here is irony; I am giving myself time to post, and my wifi keeps dropping every few minutes. Due to this it's now 4 in the morning, so I am going to attempt once more to post this disc, which is a rather unplanned post (I have it in a folder next to Riley's freshly posted The Harp of Albion, the only motivation really). I bought this disc for Terry Riley's "The Heaven Ladder, Book 7" as it was a world premiere and I was pretty excited about that. As far as the John Adams works go, I have always liked his piano music, and "Phrygian Gates" is quite enjoyable. This performance I find to be decent, but my version of choice is a recording on RCA with Hermann Kretzschmar playing the piano. The rest of that disc features Ensemble Modern playing Adam's kinetic and fun "Shaker Loops" as well as his Chamber Symphony. Adam's "China Gates" is brief and lovely, and to my ears has always sounded as if it could have been written by the brilliant songstress Tori Amos, especially during her early years (most of the songs on her early albums were for voice and piano only, or her voice accompanied by her piano and harpsichord playing, which was the case on her third album). In fact I will make a mental note, as I have a rare recording of a solo piano suite by Tori Amos that would be worth sharing.  

This is (a brief version) of what Terry Riley had to say about this program:

The Heaven Ladder Book 7 was commissioned by a group of pianists including Gloria Cheng and Kathy Supove. These 1994 pieces are the first totally written out piano works I have written since the late 50"s. Here the 5 pieces Misha's Bear Dance, Venus in 94, Ragtempus Fugatis, Fandango on the Heaven Ladder and Simone's Lullaby are brilliantly performed by one of new music's great pianists. The Walrus In Memorium was written for pianist Aki Takahashi.

This disc was a winner of the Gramophone editor's choice and "recording of the year". Here is a brief
review from Gramophone:

The multifarious pulsings of Adams’s Phrygian Gates (all 26 minutes of it) are more palatable here than on some rival versions, and the relatively brief China Gates (just five minutes) are well worth visiting. Terry Riley’s pieces are more varied in colour and rhythm, less obviously ‘minimalist’, than you might have expected, with the worlds of jazz remaining well within earshot. Gloria Cheng-Cochran seems fully absorbed in the tasks to hand, and the sound is superb.'

I'm going to end here as I'm getting errors now as I type about blogger not saving the draft.. ughh




Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Terry Riley - The Harp of New Albion - Terry Riley, Piano (tuned, just intonation) - Celestial Harmonies 1992

Terry Riley's important "The Harp of New Albion" is one of my favorite piano works employing "just intonation". One of the most transfixing solo piano recordings, Riley's inspiration for this work came from a legendary harp left behind in the New World in 1579, on the shores of Nova Albion, which is now called San Francisco Bay. (A Native American medicine man is 'said' to have found the harp and placed it on a cliff where the westerly winds played upon it and temperature and humidity changes created an ever-shifting set of tonalities) Riley bases the ten movements of The Harp of New Albion on the concept of tonalities. The liner notes explain the complicated ratios Riley devised for tuning his octaves. He says: "The idea of piano as harp influences my method of playing, as does the tuning from which the particular consonances and dissonances determine the emerging energies that flow through both instrument and performer." Although Riley improvises throughout The Harp of New Albion, each movement is defined by structural or composed elements. Astonishingly, the halo of harmonics drifting above his solo piano creates an orchestral sound, complete with horns, reeds, strings and voices. At times, the melodic interplay is ethereal, the micro-tonal relationships within the standing waves of sounds creating a haunting spectrum. Special note should be taken of the majestic Bösendorfer Imperial grand piano, especially tuned for Riley to play in the acoustically-fabulous Academy of Music in München, Germany. The entire recording was accomplished during one incredible night of inspired piano performance. This is music to get lost in, yet also music where every singular tone is of extreme significance. Personally I think Riley creates a world that is ethereal and like an island onto itself; in "The Harp of New Albion" the listener either 'gets it' and feels that they "belong" here, or, perhaps that they have been capsized at sea; "The Harp.." being the only place to swim to, an island of strange sounds.. For me it is certainly the former!

Track listing:

Disc 1: (Total Time: 53'43")

1)The New Albion Chorale/The Discovery  21'31"
2)The Orchestra of Tao 15'30"
3)Riding the Westerleys 16'40"  (I think most listeners will find this mvt especially enchanting!)

Disc 2: (Total Time: 56'22")

1)Cadence on the Wind 5'02"
2)Premonition Rag 6'37"
3)Return of the Ancestors 10'00"
4)Ascending Whale Dreams 8'30"
5)The Magic Knot Waltz 9'25"
6)Circle of Wolves 9'46"
7)Land's End 6'51"




Here's quite a bit of info on The Harp for anyone interested

Among major American minimalist composers, Terry Riley stands as a unique figure. Unlike his contemporaries with whom he is often associated - Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and perhaps John Adams - Riley’s work is notable for its improvisational element and also - since the late 1970s - for its employment of just intonation rather than equal temperament. Ironically, it is these unique aspects of Riley's music that have caused it to have been less studied; the music of his minimalist contemporaries Glass, Reich, and Adams has received more analytical attention. In addition, while Riley's extensive study of North Indian raga with the late Kirana singer Pandit Pran Nath has been frequently mentioned in the literature, the specific influence of Indian classical music on Riley’s compositional process and improvisational technique has not been addressed.

At the core of Riley’s music is the keyboard. The high-C pulse that holds together the composition for which he is best known, In C (1964), is played on a piano. In the late 1960s such extended cumulative tape-loop/delay works as A Rainbow in Curved Air and Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band made extensive use of electronic organs (supplemented, in the case of Poppy Nogood, with soprano saxophone). Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Riley extensively performed works for multiple layers of electronic organs, such as Persian Surgery Dervishes (1971-72), performed solo through cumulative tape loops and delays. By the release of 1980’s Shri Camel album, Riley was using keyboards modified to play in just intonation, a result of his longtime friendship with La Monte Young and his studies with Pandit Pran Nath.

Then Riley returned to the piano. As he related in an interview, “Around 1980 I bought an old upright and started to play and develop music on piano again. Of course, I’d been aware of La Monte [Young]’s Well-Tuned Piano since ’64, but I’d also been playing both Indian music and electronic keyboards in just intonation. So I decided to tune the piano that way rather than in equal temperament.” Because of the way that the overtones of piano strings resonate sympathetically with other strings, working in just intonation turned out to be a powerful expressive tool for Riley: “I was able to give the music a different shape. The piano has a much greater scope of expressive possibilities than electronic instruments.”

Riley’s piano cycle The Harp of New Albion (1984) is therefore significant in the Riley canon; it not only remains his largest solo-piano work, but it “gives us an unusual insight into his improvisational process.”  The Harp of New Albion that draw upon practices of Indian classical music such as tala, gamak, and jhala.


The Harp of New Albion is tuned to a five-limit chromatic scale with C# as its tuning center. This pitch class was a tuning constant for Riley through much of his work from the mid-80s to mid-90s. In a 1986 interview for Keyboard magazine Riley explained:

For many years I played electronic organ and synthesizers. While I was playing the synthesizers, I got together with Krishna Bhatt, who’s a sitar master living in Berkeley. Krishna played in C#, so I started redoing all my pieces in C#. During that period I also started playing more and more piano. At that time I wrote the one piece that was the beginning of all the pieces I’ve done lately, called The Medicine Wheel. It was the first time I did this just tuning in C#, and I’ve kept the piano in that tuning to do both The Harp of New Albion and Salome Dances for Peace. They’re all done in the same tuning.

However, none of the eleven movements of The Harp of New Albion are in the key of C#, making it necessary to distinguish here between tuning center and tonal center. For each movement Riley chooses a tonal center in varying degrees of relationship to the C# tuning center, exploiting the intervallic differences that result from choosing different tonal centers and employing different modes based on those tonal centers. The fact that just intonation does not transpose equally to any key was, of course, historically one of the reasons for the adoption of equal temperament. Riley's music, on the other hand, celebrates the differences in quality that result from transposition.

Pitch  interval  Deviation
  (ratio) (in cents from equal temperment)

C# 1:1 0
D 16:15 +11.7
D# 9:8 +3.9
E 6:5 +15.6
E# 5:4 +13.7
F# 4:3 -2.0
G 64:45 +9.8
G# 3:2 +2.0
A 8:5 +13.7
A# 5:3 -15.6
B 16:9 -3.9
B# 15:8 -11.7

Figure 1: Tuning in The Harp of New Albion, compared with equal temperament.

A: Cadence of the Wind (8:5 from C#)
A#: The New Albion Chorale (5:3 from C#)
  The Orchestra of Tao
B: Land's End (16:9 from C#)
B#: Ascending Whale Dreams (15:8 from C#)
        Circle of Wolves
D: Riding the Westerleys (16:15 from C#) DE F# G# AB C
Premonition Rag DE F AB (C)
  Return of the Ancestors DE F# G# AB C(#)
  The Magic Knot Waltz DEb F# G# A C

Figure 2: Tonal Centers in The Harp of New Albion.

The aesthetic behind Riley’s use of just intonation, "from which the particular consonances and dissonances determine the emerging energies that flow through both instrument and performer," is similar to the Indian concept of raga. For example, not only does Riley choose different tonal centers from movement to movement, much in the fashion of a romantic-era multi-movement work, but each of the four pieces that share D as their tonal center employ a different scale (Figure 2).  For Riley, music in just intonation is a kind of yogic practice: “You know, the idea of yoga is union, union with God. And tuning means atonement, or trying to make two things one, right? So, just intonation has a lot to do with achieving the correct proportional balances of notes in order to create one.”He goes on to say in the same interview:

the effect of music is heightened by being in tune. Resonant vibration that is perfectly in tune has a very powerful effect. If it’s out of tune, the analogy would be like looking at an image that is out of focus. That can be interesting too, but when you bring it into focus you suddenly see details that you hadn’t seen before. What happens when a note is correctly tuned is that it has a detail and a landscape that is very vibrant.

Of course, the reverse axiom is also true; the effect of music is heightened in a different way by being “out of tune” (by equal tempered standards). A particularly striking example in The Harp of New Albion is the piece “Circle of Wolves.”

As a result of Riley’s just intonation tuning, three “fifths” are identifiable as so-called “wolf fifths” - 40/27 (D#-A# and E-B) and 1024/675 (B#-G). It was the “out of tune” quality of these intervals that led to certain keys historically being considered unsuitable for modulation. Of these “wolf fifths,” the most complex (therefore “out of tune”) ratio is 1024/675, heard in this tuning only between the pitch classes B# (C) and G. As a result, B-sharp - the tonal center of “Circle of Wolves” - is the key “most distant” from the C-sharp tuning center. The B-sharp/G dyad (or C-G) makes up the tonic and “fifth” scale degree of the pitch collection that characterizes “Circle of Wolves”; the other pitches in the collection are the two 40/27 fifths. The resulting sonority is as “out of tune” as possible within the tuning system, and Riley explores its unusual quality deliberately by making it the main sonority of his improvisation. The title is a punning reference not only to the “wolf” quality of these fifths but to the classical “circle of fifths” that results from equal temperament.

Riley and Indian Classical Music

Riley recalls first hearing the music of Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan “sometime in the early sixties” but was not interested in studying it at that time. It was not until 1970 that he began studying as a disciple of the North Indian kirana vocalist, Pandit Pran Nath, and making numerous trips to India to study with the Master. Riley appeared frequently in concert with the legendary singer as tamboura, tabla, and vocal accompanist until Pran Nath’s death in 1996.

In spite of this lengthy tutelage, Riley is careful to distinguish his work from raga in the traditional sense of the word:

The purest form of music that I’ve ever heard is raga. I wouldn’t try to create anything different if I were singing a concert of raga, for instance. I would try to sing it exactly as I’ve been taught to sing it. But the other work, the work that is outside of raga, that’s definitely a different category in my mind. I don’t feel like that’s doing a disservice to raga, because it’s not raga.

The Belgian minimalist composer Wim Mertens similarly observes, “one cannot find any real influence [of study with Pandit Pran Nath], since he [Riley] came to Indian music more by thinking through his own musical ideas.” Nevertheless, certain techniques of raga have their counterparts in Riley’s improvisational practice. For example, each raga in North Indian music belongs to one of ten parental scales called thats. Each that has a definite set of seven scale degrees or swaras. While Indian theorists usually acknowledge the existence of 22 srutis - musical tones - within a saptaka (octave), the srutis are nevertheless grouped into seven swaras for each that - and hence for each raga. Individual ragas may omit a particular swara, but the same swara would not be found in two different forms (F and F#, for example, in Western terms). Swarup lists the intervals between the suddha (“pure”) swaras in Indian tuning as, in ascending order: 9/8, 10/9, 16/15, 9/8, 9/8, 10/9, 16/15. The European equivalents, he claims, are 9/8, 10/9, 16/15, 9/8, 10/9, 9/8, 16/15.[17] This corresponds to Riley’s C# major scale.

The scale of “Magic Knot Waltz” is made up of six pitches: D, Eb, F#, G#, A, and C; in Indian terminology this would correspond to Sa, komal (“soft” or “flat”) Ri, Ga, tivra (raised) Ma, Pa, and komal Ni (the sixth swara, Dha, is silent). The combination of komal ni (D) with tivra ma (G#) does not occur in North Indian ragas (unless borrowed from the south), because the combination is not acknowledged among the thats. Riley’s scale, therefore, is not one of the traditional North Indian ragas. His performances of “Magic Knot Waltz” are, however, consistent with raga practice in their virtual exclusion of all pitches foreign to the scale. Also, Ma is the only interval that is raised in North Indian theory, so Riley’s use of G# is consistent with tradition in that regard.

Another parallel with North Indian classical practice can be found in Riley’s application of tala, the rhythmic cycles that are characteristic of a raga performance. The “live” performance, recorded in 1986 but not released until 1992 as part of The Padova Concert, fits quite well into a thirteen-beat tala, the left-hand 3:2 ostinato also analogous to the repeating lahara in Indian performance. A lahara is a short melodic ostinato that is usually used in accompanying a tabla, particularly in tabla solos. It is often used as the equivalent of a metronome when a student is working on any fixed composition.

The “studio” Celestial Harmonies performance, recorded at the Academy of Music in Munich, is actually edited together from two live performances on January 3 and 4, 1986.  Despite Riley’s assurances that “all the takes here were recorded as I performed them with only a few minor cuts and all the breakthroughs and unplanned moments intact, the impact that such edits make on the final product is nevertheless difficult to ascertain. Possibly because of their assembled nature, the cyclic aspect of the Munich “Magic Knot Waltz” is irregular - ostinato lengths tend to fit into 12- or 13-beat cycles, with cadenza-like interjections of varying lengths.

The Munich performance, however, contains a striking moment that is entirely absent from the more cyclical Padova recording: an alternation of a hoedown-like theme with a section that is strikingly similar to Indian jhala. As David Courtney defines jhala:

Jhala is undoubtedly the most characteristic of the instrumental styles. Indian stringed instruments are noted by [sic] a few special purpose drone strings called chikari. These strings are never fretted but are struck whenever the tonic needs to be emphasized (i.e., Sa and Pa). The jhala is a fast paced alternation of main melody string and chikari. This lends itself to interesting permutations of both rag and tal simultaneously.[23]

The construction of the piano, of course, does not allow for special drone strings. Riley’s jhala passages, however, always emphasize A3 and C4 (Pa and komal Ni). Although there is not a literal “rapid alternation” of the drone notes with a melody, Riley does pit the drones against an oscillating pair of dyads (see Example 4). In the first two of the three jhala sections, these dyads have attack points between the attack points of the drone stream, possibly allowing for an “alternating” interpretation.

Another aspect of Indian classical music, all the more striking in Riley’s case because it is found in Indian vocal (rather than instrumental) style, is a technique of ornamentation called gamak. Peter Manuel describes gamak as “a technique in which every note in a passage is approached from its lower neighbor,” and notes that the practice has “crossed over” from Indian classical music to popular genres such as film music. Riley’s improvised passages in “Magic Knot Waltz,” especially the long rhapsodic lines that come at cadential points, employ the same “lower neighbor” ascending-step contour cited by Manuel as essential to gamak.

This vocal orientation in Riley’s music (incorporating a technique such as gamak in an instrumental context, for example) explains the fundamentally melodic character of Riley’s music. Like his minimalist counterpart Philip Glass, Riley downplays Western harmony in favor of developing other parameters. But whereas Glass, in his early work, chose to develop the rhythmic element,[25] Riley’s music is more melodically focused. This emphasis on melodic development perhaps derives from his vocal study with Pandit Pran Nath, although it may also result from his saxophone improvisation technique on pieces such as Poppy NoGood and the Phantom Band (1969), which predate his formal study of Indian classical music. Today, however, Riley clearly attributes this interest in melody to non-Western sources:

Melodic complexity is inversely proportional to the amount of harmonic or polyphonic movement or density of parts. What you have in Eastern or Renaissance music or Gregorian Chant is very ornate melody, but if anything starts to compete with that, it cancels out the effects of the melody. So in the West we opted for the drama, the harmonic and polyphonic complexity. That’s great, but we’re a little bit stuck at this point.

Motives in The Harp of New Albion

More important to me than the Minimalist theme in my work is the interrelationship of motives. Both In C and the later works have a really strong developmental quality, a lot of variation and permutation of motives. This isn’t theoretical; it’s the way I hear.

Most of Riley’s keyboard music through the 1970s was improvised to particular raga-like scale patterns. (It was not until his “G Song,” composed in 1980 for the Kronos Quartet, that Riley returned to fully notated composition.) Riley’s involvement in improvisation goes back to childhood:

One of my cousins played really well by ear, so I would listen to him and try to play what he played. He would make up copies of pieces like Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto. You know, he’d start out with the theme and then improvise on it. I thought that was really neat, so I tried to do that kind of stuff, too.

In fact, Riley was first attracted to Indian classical music through its improvisational aspects: “I’d always been interested in improvised music, and here was an improvised music that had such precision that it was a classical music, too. That idea, I thought, was quite a stunning one: to be able to develop improvisation to the degree that it sounded like it was all composed.”

The goal of tightly structured improvisation is evident throughout The Harp of New Albion. Much of the work is improvised, but improvised passages are found side-by-side with composed ideas. A performance of a movement from The Harp of New Albion can perhaps be compared to a jazz improvisation, in which the theme or “head” is followed by solos over the chord structure before concluding with a return to the “head.” The interchange between “composed” and “improvised,” however, is much more fluid in Riley’s music; John Schaefer describes the piece as having a “spiral form.” As Riley explains it, “Something spins off a little motif¼and gets larger and more arpeggiated, more embroidered. It cycles back to a certain note, but it’s very irregular; it takes a circuitous route.”


The Harp of New Albion as a whole is an important transitional piece among Riley’s compositions, crystallizing the keyboard-oriented improvisations of the previous fifteen years while pointing toward his more formally notated works for acoustic ensembles. Riley’s compositions prior to the release of The Harp of New Albion tended to involve electronic keyboards, in which “tape loops and studio processing often melted Riley’s organ and synthesizer lines into a larger, more liquid context.” The acoustic medium, therefore, allows the listener to focus more on the musical line, and on ideas as they emerge, rather than to be seduced by textures and ambience. In addition, this piece differs from some of Riley’s later recordings - such as Chanting the Light of Foresight, written for the ROVA Saxophone Quartet - in that we hear Riley as his own interpreter. It is this piece’s clarity of texture, combined with its unmediated performance, that makes it faithful to his philosophical and aesthetic aims.

When asked by an interviewer whether “being in tune really does have a profound meaning,” Riley’s response was “Yes, that’s Pandit Pran Nath’s main philosophy. It’s called surma, being in tune. That recognition, that appreciation of the subtle frequencies, is an insight into music [that] we need¼. Being in tune, putting total being and concentration in each note, living through each moment in music as a divine link in the ecstatic experience: These things are important to me now.”

One can find throughout The Harp of New Albion eloquent evidence of these aesthetic concerns. The importance Riley places on “being in tune,” for instance, manifests itself in the careful intricacies of Riley’s tuning system, in which the arrangement of semitone sizes is virtually symmetrical with the exception of F-sharp/G and G/G-sharp (see Figure 3). The ramifications of just intonation, in which tuning is not homogenized by temperament but instead results in differing shades of consonance or dissonance, lead to a listening mode that is conducive to appreciating such nuances. For example, in the “Ascending Whale Dreams” movement, Riley employs a whole-tone scale over a B-sharp tonal center (which, in just intonation, actually features three different types of “whole step” - see Figure 3). This scale dictates the pitch material until nearly halfway into Riley’s eight-and-a-half minute recorded performance, when he abruptly shifts to the other whole-tone collection at [3:54]. The effect of this change is dramatic, in a way that could not be possible using equal tempezrament.

In just intonation, allowing for pitch-class permutation, more than two whole-tone scales are possible, but in “Ascending Whale Dreams” Riley limits himself to two. This self-imposed limitation, and Riley’s extensive development of such limited materials (also discussed earlier in reference to “Circle of Wolves”), is what Riley means by “putting total being and concentration in each note.” According to Wim Mertens, “Riley examines only a small amount of material intensively, and only when the material is exhausted does he add something new to it.” Although Mertens was chiefly referring to earlier keyboard works, such as Persian Surgery Dervishes (1972) or the Keyboard Studies (1964), one can certainly hear evidence of Riley’s exhaustive concentration on the smallest of materials in some movements of The Harp of New Albion. While listening to the “Riding the Westerleys” movement, for example, the listener becomes aware of how Riley’s subtle pedal technique and choice of notes that reinforce the overtones of the D tonal center create a subtly shifting wash of sympathetic resonance. This allows for a listening experience that shifts from foreground to background and back again.

“Living through each moment in music as a divine link in the ecstatic experience” not only refers to Riley’s improvisational style but also his raga-inspired aesthetics. “The Magic Knot Waltz,” among other movements, offers an excellent realization of these aims; “Magic Knot Waltz” is a particularly fine example for study since one can compare the two recorded versions. One is struck not only by Riley’s considerable dexterity but by the fecundity of his ideas.

Nevertheless, Riley’s emphasis on the “moment” in performance means that to fully grasp his art in an analytical fashion, one must go to the recorded artifact. This means that Riley’s music may indeed have more in common with John Coltrane or Ravi Shankar than it does with that of composers such as Philip Glass or Steve Reich. It is also for this reason that Riley’s music has not enjoyed the same scholarly attention that the music of Reich or Glass has. Much of Riley’s music, therefore, remains largely unexplored by music analysts; but careful study of the recorded performances of his music may well lead to a new aural-based theory, in which Western analytical technique is linked with centuries-old traditions.

Boult conducts Bax: Northern Ballad No. 1 - Mediterranean - The Garden of Fand, Symphonic Poem - Tintagel, Symphonic Poem - November Woods, Symphonic Poem - Sir Adrian Boult & the LSO - Lyrita 1968/1972 (Remastered 1992)

Greetings everyone. I'm trying to post whenever possible and these days 'whenever possible' is sadly not very much. Indeed my catharsis is mostly stifled, especially unhealthy for one who professes to need music more than oxygen or sleep! So, I squeeze it in where I can and it's high time for some squeezing right now.  I have loved the music of Arnold Bax for as long as I can remember and his tone poems especially have a certain glowing magic to them; replete with the scents and sounds of far away places, whether geographically inspired and tangible, or summoned by legend and the pen. Close your eyes whilst listening deeply and you might just feel the sea mist upon your face or the winds blowing. Bax was not only one of the great symphonists but one of the finest 'tone-painters' the world has known. Any real Baxian (or lover of British music in general) should and will likely already own this gem of a recording or, has been searching for it. The search then, happily closes with this post :) As magnificent as the tone poems are (there are technically more than 18 of them) there are only so many different choices as far as recordings go, as many are out-of-print (especially some greats from the 60's and 70's) and hard for current collectors to track down. Happily the discs that do exist are simply excellent and are rather complete series (Chandos and Naxos being the two important major sources) of Bax's poems (as in musical-Bax was also a poet, and he used the pseudonym Dermot O’Byrne for this area of expression) and other orchestral works. Other labels have made fine contributions as well, such as EMI, Dutton, Classico, even Marco Polo (I have the MP but cannot recall off hand which works they contain) etc.

Bax wrote so much excellent music, that no two compilations of his tone poems need to be alike. However, at least two other discs offer alternative performances of the "big three" tone poems- "The Garden of Fand", "Tintagel" and "November Woods" -to those gathered here. David Lloyd-Jones on Naxos adds to this mighty triumvirate the later Sibelian tone poem, "The Tale the Pine Trees Knew", on his competing disc. As mentioned above Chandos has also been key, in fact they are the most significant and complete purveyor of Baxian treasure. Bryden Thomson stakes serious claim in this territory. His Bax symphony cycle is incredible. His disc of "the big three", coupled with "Summer Music", is a must-have recording, as are the other orchestral works. Then there's Vernon Handley's equally magnificent discs of Bax's tone poems and orchestral music also on Chandos. If you want to be a nutcase completist like I am, you could also opt to get the box set of the complete symphonies released in 2003 which also includes "Rogue's Comedy Overture" and Tintagel, which is only available (this particular version of Tintagel) in this set with Handley conducting. And I won't even get into the chamber music recordings, although I will add that Hyperion too has this area nicely covered, their releases with the Nash Ensemble being second-to-none (I equally love Bax's chamber music!!).

The first of the big three tone poems is "The Garden of Fand", an evocation of the sea that dates from Bax's early fascination with all things Irish. It is, according to the composer, "entirely enveloped in the atmosphere of the calm Atlantic off the Western shores of Ireland and the enchanted islands of which some of the country people still dream".  Certainly the elusive sound-world is entirely evocative of magic and mystery (Bax thought of it as his last overtly Celtic work). It is dedicated to Frederick Stock, who conducted the premiere in Chicago in October 1920 (the first British account was under the present conductor, Sir Adrian Boult, just over a year later). The "Garden of Fand" of the title is actually the sea and in some ways this is the British "La mer". Boult captures the swelling of the sea perfectly-this impression is progressively heightened as the piece progresses. Though richly scored, its fabric is delicate. Lloyd-Jones and Boult pace this tone poem similarly, and neither conductor wallows in the detail of this luscious music. (Lloyd-Jones, however, seems to find more forward momentum and presents the score in long instrumental lines) Boult, who gave this score its British premiere, is more episodic in his approach and allows the orchestration to speak for itself.  Boult's ensemble achieves a clarity of texture that makes his argument so easy to follow. His tempo fluctuation is quite pronounced and he pushes forward, then drawing back for Bax's big, swirling string melodies.

"Tintagel" is probably Bax's most popular work, and the entry point to his oeuvre for many a listener. A castle-crowned cliff in Cornwall, "Tintagel" was composed in a passionate blur after Bax and his mistress, the pianist Harriet Cohen, ran away to Cornwall in 1917. His own romantic situation, the dramatic Cornish coastline and the majestic ruins of Tintagel castle sparked resonances for Bax with his beloved Wagner's 'Tristan ind Isolde' which of course is based on an ancient Cornish legend and is as Celtic a love story as you will find. This tone poem, part sea picture, part evocation of dimly remembered heraldry, was the intoxicating result. As with The Garden of Fand, Debussy's "La Mer" is an obvious influence, and there are also touches of Wagner-not least some thematic references to Tristan. This music, though, is unmistakably the work of Bax and of no other composer. Masterpiece.

For seasoned Baxians, Boult's "November Woods" is particularly essential. November Woods is highly evocative music, scored with the hand of a master. It is incredible to think that the present recording was made in 1967, so life-like is the presence of the orchestra. "November Woods" was written not long after Tintagel was first sketched out, but its mood is much darker. There are those who see this tone poem as Bax's comment on the Great War. The musical allusions in the score pointed out by Lewis Foreman in his excellent liner notes certainly seem to support this view. Boult's performance of November Woods is the most brooding and atmospheric that one is likely to ever hear. Boult elicits fabulous playing from the London Philharmonic, and there's no trace of routine here, and the brass and whooping horns are really magnificent.

Two lesser-known pieces begin this disc, the "Northern Ballad No. 1" and "Mediterranean".
Bax wrote three "Northern Ballads" but, none of them have really gained much currency, the reason being a mystery really. The sound-world of the Ballad No. 1 is immediately Baxian, but the orchestral textures are leaner and the colouring more precise than in the earlier works. This tightly constructed work is clearly informed by Bax's experience as a symphonist. There is more Sibelius than Debussy in the mix this time and the thematic material has a pronounced Scotch snap. This performance features especially stellar contributions from the brass. "Mediterranean" is a very short work that began life as a piano solo. It is dedicated to Gustav Holst and builds up a predominantly Spanish atmosphere to perfection. Boult’s timing of the Spanish rhythmic inflections is, perhaps surprisingly given his reputation for English music, near-perfect.  Sir Adrian’s radiant belief in Bax’s music shines through every note on this disc. What could be better than three of Bax’s finest compositions (the  tone poems) in performances and recordings that can only be described as resplendent?