Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Solent: 50 years of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams (2 World-Premieres) Three Impressions for Orchestra - Songs of Travel, Book 1 for Baritone & Orchestra - Four Hymns for Tenor, Viola & Strings - The Mayor of Casterbridge, Incidental Music - Prelude on an Old Carol Tune - RLPO, Paul Daniel - Albion Records 2012

It is most curious to me that I have barely posted any RVW on this blog since it's inception (I have contemplated over the years having a blog dedicated exclusively to the life and music of Vaughan Williams). Vaughan Williams is one of my top 3 composers of all time, and indeed his music is nothing less than a reason to live, a reason to celebrate all that is good. The amount of overwhelming beauty that this man contributed to the world through sound-well, it's unlike anything else, and I believe it speaks equally to the people and about all people, it often attempts to unveil the mysteries of humanity, the joyous and the painful, the inexplicable-through the eyes, mind, heart and soul of one of the most tender and musically/emotionally brilliant composers who ever lived. I cannot fathom 20th century music without his genius and graceful pen. 

Vaughan Williams was just thirty when he composed "The Solent" in 1902 and eighty when he completed the "Prelude on an Old Carol Tune" in 1952. Over this astonishing period, a time of two World Wars and unprecedented social, economic and political change, Vaughan Williams's music remained broadly consistent. Of course, he grew in confidence and technical accomplishment and both folk song and the period of study with Ravel in early 1908 added color and a fresh texture to his music. What was remarkable, however, was the consistency of style-from the visionary melody that opens The Solent to the richly harmonized setting of the carol "On Christmas Night the Joy-Bells Ring" of 1952-the music is recognizably Vaughan Williams. 

Incidentally, Albion Records is the recording entity of the RVW society, and they have released several unheard, world-premiere recordings. All of them are priceless, as you will hear/see after listening to this!

Over this fifty years, another feature remains constant and that is Vaughan Williams' preoccupation with life as a spiritual and personal journey, one fraught with danger and often ending in tragedy, but showing noble and courageous human endeavour in the face of fate and adversity as we progress towards "the Unknown Region". This focus, sometimes using the sea as a metaphor for the perils of the journey, is shown in his lifelong obsession with Bunyan's Christian as he journeys toward the Celestial City in The Pilgrim's Progress. Walt Whitman, Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy added depth to this search; the poignant fate of Tess moved Vaughan Williams deeply throughout his long life. So too did the tragic endeavour of Captain Scott's expedition to the Antarctic. That "The Solent" is prefaced with a quote from a Philip Marston poem adds another layer-Marston's life was an uplifting example of remarkable achievement against a background of a succession of personal tragedies.

Vaughan Williams as Private in the Royal Army Medical Corps, 1915 

The span of music presented here demonstrates two other elements of Vaughan Williams' character. The first is his depth of literary understanding, including, on this disc alone, settings or references to Philip Marston, Matthew Arnold, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jeremy Taylor, Dr Isaac Watts, Richard Crashaw, Robert Bridges and Thomas Hardy. The second element was his knowledge and love of the English countryside. He knew the New Forest well and often took holidays in the Salisbury area, near to Harnham Down and The Solent. The "Three Impressions for Orchestra" recorded here for the first time were followed by "In the Fen Country" (1904) and three "Norfolk Rhapsodies" (1906-only two survive). His knowledge of the English landscape was deepened by his folk-song collecting, in every corner of the country, from 1904. All this was, of course, part of Vaughan Williams' stated desire to create and sustain a "true school of English music", an aim he enthusiastically shared with his close friend Gustav Holst whose own Cotswold Symphony had been written in March, 1902.

"Three Impressions for Orchestra"

1) Burley Heath (edited and completed by James Francis Brown)
In 1902 and 1903, Vaughan Williams was contemplating writing four impressions for orchestra to be called 'In the New Forest' of which Burley Heath was the first. Burley is a local village surrounded by open heathland.

The aspiring composer had already shown in his "Garden of Proserpine" (1899) and the "Heroic Elegy and Triumphal Epilogue" (1900-1) an ability to work with a large-scale orchestra. These works were before his enthusiasm for folk-song began to influence his music. Burley Heath shows, perhaps for the first time, something of the color and contours of folk-song being felt in a Vaughan Williams composition. Overall, the work remains more influenced by Brahms than was the case with, say, In the Fen Country of a few years later. The opening sombre horn passages, marked misterioso, accompanied only by 'cellos and double bass, suggests dawn over the Heath and are followed by a catchy, lilting melody first heard on the clarinet but later taken up by the strings in a way that evokes daylight and a windy day across the heather. After a recapitulation of the opening melodies, a new section starts with the solo viola and is in lighter vein, more overtly Brahmsian. The sun shines fully on Burley Heath before the horn and double basses return, with an air of mystery, perhaps at dusk, as the work ends with the solo viola.

There is no record of this likeable and warm-hearted work ever having been performed and a few bars were missing in the manuscript in the British Library. It was completed by the composer James Francis Brown for this recording. Vaughan Williams returned to some of the ideas first developed in Burley Heath with his "(A) London Symphony", completed in 1913.

2) The Solent (edited by James Francis Brown)
Composed between 1902 and 1903, this work is prefaced by the following quotation from a poem by Philip Marston (1850-87):

'Passion and sorrow in the deep sea's voice
A mighty mystery saddening all the wind'

Vaughan Williams knew this poem, extracted from To Cicely Nancy Marston, from the Collected Poems edited by Louise Chandler Moulton in 1892. He would have appreciated from the Introduction to this collection that Philip Marston's life was, indeed, a tragic one. Almost completely blinded by a seemingly innocuous childhood accident at the age of four, he lost his devoted mother when he was just 20 years old in 1870 and his fiancée Mary Nesbit from consumption just over a year later, in November 1871. As if this was not bad enough, his dear sister Cicely, a close companion, his very eyes and ears, died in 1878. As Louise Chandler Moulton put it, this was the "cruelest bereavement" to a man whose life was "eventful only in its sorrows and friendships".

Cicely's devotion to her brother's cause was total; they were inseparable. The poet says in lines just before the words that Vaughan Williams used to preface the score of The Solent:

'What were I dear, without thee?
Never recapture those sweet days.
We awoke to find passion and sorrow in the deep sea's voice
A mighty mystery saddening all the wind'

As often with Vaughan Williams, this apparently straightforward reference to the 'deep sea's voice' in a work evoking The Solent, a generally placid stretch of water between the Isle of Wight and the mainland of Southern England, has another layer of meaning. This added layer has more to do with Fate, with the fragility of life, with the search for 'those sweet days' and with life's 'mighty mystery'. No wonder the haunting opening melody on clarinet, marked ppp, not only dominates this work but was also used by Vaughan Williams in the first movement of his A Sea Symphony (to the line And on its limitless heaving breast, the ships), in his suite The England of Elizabeth (1955) and, most tellingly, in the second movement of his visionary and Hardy-inspired Ninth Symphony (1958). The Solent opens with that evocative melody soon accompanied by strings which suggests, for the first time in Vaughan Williams, the expressive and noble musical language soon to be realised more fully in the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis of 1910. Here is the 'mighty mystery' of Marston's poem. A new agitated section, with sea-birds calling, is more descriptive. Rich brass chords call up the 'deep sea's voice' The plaintive melody returns, with a hint of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, before a deeply moving, visionary climax reminds us of both Tallis and the fourth movement of A Sea Symphony, a work which Vaughan Williams began to compose in 1903. This most satisfying of Vaughan Williams' early works ends with the clarinet solo, joined by cellos and basses, fading into the distance.

3) Harnham Down (edited by James Francis Brown)
Harnham Down was begun, as stated in the score, in July 1904 and finished in 1907. It was not part of the In the New Forest cycle but the first of two further Impressions for Orchestra, the second of which – Boldre Wood – has not survived. The area known as Harnham Down is near East Harnham, fairly close to Salisbury. Vaughan Williams was on holiday there in July, 1903 with his first wife, Adeline, and her mother. The work was first performed at the Queen's Hall in London on 12 November, 1907 with the New Symphony Orchestra conducted by Emil von Reznicek.

As with The Solent, this work also has a Preface, this time from the second stanza of 'A Scholar Gypsy' by Matthew Arnold (1822-1888):

Here will I sit and wait
While to my ear from uplands far away
The bleating of the folded flocks is borne
With distant cries of reapers in the corn –
All the live murmurs of a summer's day.

A lovely pastoral scene is evoked which Vaughan Williams was to set for narrator, chorus and orchestra in his An Oxford Elegy over forty years later in 1949. However, in Arnold's long poem, as in the music for Harnham Down, the pastoral imagery is only part of the narrative. A powerful sense of loss is described by the poet for 'repeated shocks, again, again, exhaust the energy of strongest souls'. The scholar gypsy awaits the 'spark from heaven' as we, who 'hesitate and falter life away' await it too.

The tranquil opening, marked andante sostenuto, reflects Arnold's gentle words. The violas are soon joined by clarinets and bassoon. The strings enter in a lovely andantino as the music becomes more Wagnerian in scope. Vaughan Williams had been deeply shaken by a performance of Tristan and Isolde in London, conducted by Mahler, in 1892. He visited Bayreuth in 1896 and studied in Berlin in 1897. The richness of orchestration and melodic flow suggests Tristan and Isolde, wandering hand-in-hand on Harnham Down. The melodies are repeated and the work becomes even more impassioned. Ultimately, the 'hesitations and faltering' of Arnold's poem are felt and the work concludes with a pppp marking for three solo violas.

"Harnham Down" is another remarkable find amongst the composer's early works. However, Vaughan Williams was dissatisfied, admitting in his Musical Autobiography that by 1908 he had 'come to a dead end' and that his music felt 'lumpy and stodgy' and too 'teutonic'. It was, we can now more clearly realize, the overtly Wagnerian Harnham Down that led to this feeling, despite its warmth and richness. Certainly his subsequent period of study with Ravel in early 1908 led to a more refined orchestral texture- just what he needed at that point in his musical development.

"Songs Of Travel (Book 1) for Baritone and Orchestra"

This song cycle was composed between 1902 and 1904, originally for voice and piano (The original version can be heard on a disc I posted last year, "Vaughan Williams Weekend"). It consists of nine settings of a total of 44 poems by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), published under the same title in 1896, some thirteen years after Treasure Island. Vaughan Williams responded to the sturdy, open-air quality of the poetry which contains vivid imagery, a homespun lyricism and an underlying poignancy as the wanderer accepts whatever life throws at him. The poems stimulated Vaughan Williams' romantic imagination to produce songs which sound both fresh and vibrant. As Michael Kennedy has said, "it is impossible, once heard, to read the poems without remembering Vaughan Williams' setting".

The three songs recorded here comprise Book 1 of the published cycle and were orchestrated, sumptuously, by Vaughan Williams in 1905. The other songs were orchestrated by Roy Douglas in 1961-2 (not included on this disc)

4) The Vagabond
The first poem of Stevenson's cycle also had in its title 'To an air by Schubert'. As the vagabond seeks the heaven above and 'the road below me', Vaughan Williams-like Stevenson-understands that dark fate is not far away, for "let the blow fall soon or late, let what will be o'er me". Yet the wanderer, stoically, and to a memorable Vaughan Williams marching rhythm, must keep going along the open road. The composer returned to this vigorous, sturdy style in Hugh's Song of the Road from the opera Hugh the Drover.

5) The Roadside Fire
Poem XI of Stevenson's cycle was untitled by the poet. Here we have the 'broad road' again, with the bird-song in morning and star-shine at night. Wonderfully uplifting orchestral accompaniment makes the setting at 'The fine song for singing, the rare song to hear!' very moving, sounding as fresh today as when it was written in the early years of the last century.

6) Bright Is The Ring Of Words
Another untitled two-stanza poem, this song has a deceptively stirring opening that soon shifts in mood to one of tenderness and nostalgia. The song ends movingly at "With the sunset embers, the lover lingers and sings and the maid remembers".

"Four Hymns for Tenor, Viola Obbligato and Strings"

The Four Hymns was Vaughan Williams first setting of an anthology, here embracing four different poets. Written between 1912 and 1914, the intimate and ecstatic style builds on the earlier "Five Mystical Songs" (1911) and was described by the composer as "much in the same mood as the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis" (1910). The choice of symbolic poetry, which is essentially meditative, was described by Ursula Vaughan Williams as being 'romantic poems of divine love and longing'. This allowed full expression to the mystical and contemplative side of Vaughan Williams's musical character. This style was explored in later works such as the ethereal "Flos campi" (1925) and the Prison Scene from "A Pilgrim's Progress" (1951).

As with Flos campi, the viola has a prominent part and adds colour to the texture of the music. Vaughan Williams varied the dynamics in this arrangement for string orchestra, compared to that for tenor, viola and piano, to allow the solo instrument to be heard more clearly. Like the Songs of Travel, Vaughan Williams shows a remarkable sensitivity to the meaning of the poems with the melody arising naturally from the text. Considerable skill is shown in the flexibility of the voice part and in this sense the work marks an advance on the "Five Mystical Songs".

7) Lord! Come Away (Maestoso)
The words by Jeremy Taylor (1613-67), Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland, are an Advent Hymn sometimes referred to as Christ's Coming to Jerusalem in Triumph. It was written in 1655. The solemn, declamatory style of the music, with moments of repose, recalls Purcell and may have influenced Holst when writing his Hymn of Jesus in 1917.

8) Who Is This Fair One? (Andante moderato)
Dr. Isaac Watts (1674-1748) wrote over 750 hymns, including the popular 'When I Survey the Wondrous Cross'. His words seem to capture a sense of 'personal spirituality'. Vaughan Williams sets this narrative song, focusing on the 'spouse of Christ our God', with a significant role for the viola. The music evolves with that sense of ecstasy and wonder which Vaughan Williams made his own.

9) Come Love, Come Lord (Lento)
The composer turned to Richard Crashaw (1612 or 1613-49) for this hushed meditation on metaphysical themes of love and religion. The long viola introduction sets a moving context for the subsequent contemplation of 'that long day for which I languish'.

10) Evening Hymn (Andante commoto)
Often referred to as 'O Gladsome Light', this is one of the earlier Christian hymns to be sung at the lighting of the lamps in the evening. For this reason, it is also called the 'lamplighting' hymn. Robert Bridges (1844-1930) translated the hymn from the original Greek and included it in his Yattendon Hymnal of 1899. Vaughan Williams uses the viola to introduce a chorale-like melody, with bell-like ostinato accompaniment. Hubert Foss described this song as having its own 'glow of color'.

Incidental Music to "The Mayor Of Casterbridge"

Vaughan Williams set very little of Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). There is a song from The Dynasts (1908) and a wonderful setting of The Oxen in Hodie (1954) alongside the incidental music to the Mayor of Casterbridge. This is surprising given the composer's love of Hardy's novels and poetry. As Ursula Vaughan Williams put it: 'Ralph read all Hardy's novels, and one summer followed Tess's footsteps in her walk from Flintcomb-Ash to Emminster. He thought Tess the greatest of the novels …' Ursula told me in 1999: 'Ralph was fascinated by Tess. He went on walks to find her. He felt it was a fantastic story. He decided, however, that he did not want to write an opera on it – he felt it was too long and too complicated'. The basic connection between Hardy and Vaughan Williams' Ninth Symphony is now better understood – the original title of the first movement of the symphony was Wessex Prelude. Alain Frogley has written, in relation to the second movement, that the manuscript sources show the title 'Stonehenge' for the opening theme and 'Tess' linked with the main idea of the central section.

Against this background, Vaughan Williams was delighted when he was approached by the BBC to write incidental music for a new radio serial of The Mayor of Casterbridge to be broadcast on each Sunday for ten weeks starting 7 January, 1951 and finishing on 11 March, 1951. The BBC had a useful precedent in that Robert Louis Stevenson, no less, had secured Hardy's enthusiastic permission for a dramatization in 1886. Whilst nothing came of that project, the BBC showed more determination. The script was by Desmond Hawkins (1908-99), of BBC Natural History Unit fame, and the producer was the actor Owen Reed (1910-97). Desmond Hawkins put it this way shortly before his death: 'Of the Hardy plays I dramatized, The Mayor of Casterbridge was probably the outstanding success. It is, of course, superb material to re-create in dramatic form….To heighten the action we wanted specially composed music: the composer whose name sprang immediately to our minds was Vaughan Williams. The idea appealed to him and he wrote for us a magnificent score…'

On receiving the commission from the BBC, Vaughan Williams re-read the novel. He was particularly impressed by the first chapter of the book – elsewhere he felt there were too many coincidences and overheard conversations. However he enjoyed writing the music and it was performed by the BBC West of England Light Orchestra conducted by Reginald Redman. The incidental music from the broadcast was not published until 2010 although, to avoid the music being lost, Vaughan Williams wrote the Prelude on an Old Carol Tune, based on music from the play, in 1952.

11) Weyhill Fair Song
This section on music connected with The Mayor of Casterbridge opens with the Weyhill Fair Song, subtitled The Wearing of the Horns. When Vaughan Williams was looking for suitable material to represent the impulsive and drunken goings-on in the dramatic opening scenes in Weydon-Priors (Weyhill) Fair, he utilised a folk song he had known since 1912. The Wearing of the Horns was noted by Miss Eggar at Farnham and sent to Cecil Sharp in 1911. The song celebrates an annual custom carried out at the Star Inn in Weyhill during the hop fair. It is an initiation ceremony involving a cup full of beer (or wine for the more well-to-do) placed on the head of a young 'colt' between two horns. All sing and dance as the colt drinks the contents of the cup. As the ceremony was repeated for each new colt being initiated, the event often became very lively! Vaughan Williams uses motifs from the song in the third part of the incidental music recorded here for the first time, emphasizing the vulgar, drunken and 'elbows-in-theribs' activities at the Fair.

12) Mayor of Casterbridge
Vaughan Williams selected one of his favourite carols for use in the Casterbridge music. This was On Christmas Night the Joy-Bells Ring from a tune noted by Dr James Culwick in Dublin and communicated in 1904. Another version of the carol (On Christmas Night the Joy-Bells Ring) was noted by Lucy Broadwood in Surrey and by Vaughan Williams himself, from Mrs Verrall in Monks Gate, near Horsham in Sussex, on May 24th, 1904. As the Sussex Carol, Vaughan Williams also included it in his masque On Christmas Night (1926) and in the work he was composing just before his death in 1958, The First Nowell. For the Casterbridge music, the carol is repeated four times in different settings, richly orchestrated. It captures, in its lyricism, warmth and timelessness, Hardy's superb descriptions of 'Casterbridge' (Dorchester) in the months before the railway was to change the town for ever.

13) Intermezzo
This gentle Intermezzo represents the calm influence of the clear-sighted and understated Elizabeth-Jane and her simple and affectionate mother, Susan. It is reminiscent of the music to Lake in the Mountains from the film 49th Parallel.

14) Weyhill Fair
Five sections (A to E in the score) are presented here, consisting of fragments of background music. The nightmarish quality of these episodes captures Michael Henchard's search for his wife Susan at Weydon-Priors (Weyhill) Fair after a night of drinking 'furmity' laced with serious measures of rum. His desperation at what he had done to Susan and the baby, together with the effects of the drink, are suggested in these short dramatic moments. The staccato rhythms recall the Weyhill Fair Song (Track 11) whilst all the tragedy of the novel follows on from these episodes at the Fair.

"Prelude On An Old Carol Tune"

15) Prelude On An Old Carol Tune
Completed in 1952 and first performed by the BBC West of England Light Orchestra under Reginald Redman on the 18th November that year, this Prelude is founded on the incidental music to The Mayor of Casterbridge. It utilises the carol melody first heard in the Casterbridge section (track 12) with a breadth, warmth and love for the folk-song that recalls Vaughan Williams' Five Variants on Dives and Lazarus of 1939. The uplifting strains of a beloved folk-carol, from 1952, complete this survey of fifty years in the life and music of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Whilst Elizabeth-Jane might conclude in the closing lines of The Mayor of Casterbridge that 'happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain', for Vaughan Williams Time and Chance had dealt a fairer hand to the benefit of us all, for all time.

Enjoy this magnificent survey!

*I inadvertently encoded the files @ 256, but if anyone wants it that way here it is:

Ok just encoded it @ 320 high quality m4a, my usual:


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Uncommon Ritual - Edgar Meyer with Béla Fleck and Mike Marshall (bass, piano, mandocello, banjo, gut-string banjo, low banjo, gut-string guitar, papoose guitar, Nat'l guitar, mandolin, mandola) - Sony Classical 1997

"Uncommon Ritual" is one of my 'desert-island' discs. I am reluctant to throw the genre word 'fusion' at this lofty achievement as it's level of sophistication is very high (soon after it's release the trio performed the works at New York's Alice Tully Hall..indeed concert halls don't get loftier than that). Edgar Meyer, who has been the regular bassist of Lincoln Center's Chamber Music Society and a musician with equal experience in classical and bluegrass, teamed up with the banjoist and prolific musician Béla Fleck and the great mandolin player Mike Marshall. Yet despite its inclusion of Bach and Pablo de Sarasate's ''Zigeunerweisen,'' ''Uncommon Ritual'' is not a classical album. But neither does it belong to bluegrass, traditional Irish music, jazz or any of the other traditions it hints at.

Meyer, Fléck and Marshall play a variety of acoustic string instruments and bring to this session backgrounds in quite a variety of musical genres. A jazz review said that Uncommon Ritual is "Reminiscent of the crossover classical music on Claude Bolling's albums in the '70s or the modern strings of Kronos Quartet, "Uncommon Ritual" has wider appeal". Indeed I'd say remarkably so, considering the praise it has received over the years and more personally for me-the amount of friends who I managed to turn on to this-dare I say-masterpiece of a recording (from start to finish). Not quite classical, or exactly jazz or bluegrass, their original music succeeds by borrowing effortlessly from these and other genres. This album comes a year after Mr. Meyer's great success with ''Appalachia Waltz,'' also recorded for Sony Classical (and with the efforts of no less than Yo Yo Ma), another (ugh the term) 'crossover' album with a rural American theme. It's very good but Uncommon Ritual for me is just unsurpassed.

Edgar Meyer

Béla Fleck

Mike Marshall

Having performed together since the early 1980s, Meyer and Fléck tightened the teamwork on this release. As a solo classical bassist, Mr. Meyer can be heard on a concerto album with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra conducted by Hugh Wolff featuring Bottesini’s "Gran Duo" with Joshua Bell, Meyer’s own "Double Concerto for Bass and Cello" with Yo-Yo Ma, Bottesini’s "Bass Concerto No. 2", and Meyer’s own "Concerto in D for Bass". He has also recorded an album featuring three of Bach’s Unaccompanied Suites for Cello. In 2006, he released a self-titled solo recording on which he wrote and recorded all of the music, incorporating piano, guitar, mandolin, dobro, banjo, gamba, and double bass. In 2007, recognizing his wide-ranging recording achievements, Sony/BMG released a compilation of The Best of Edgar Meyer. In 2011 Mr. Meyer joined cellist Yo-Yo Ma, mandolinist Chris Thile, and fiddler Stuart Duncan for the Sony Masterworks recording "The Goat Rodeo Sessions" which was awarded the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Folk Album. Béla Fleck, a Grammy-winning banjo master and composer, has led his own groups (including Béla Fleck and the Flecktones). Mandolin virtuoso Mike Marshall collaborated with Dave Grisman from 1979-1984, and with versatile string artists from Grappelli to the Kronos Quartet.

Throughout the 17 captivating tunes, musical cues come from around the globe (and from Bach to blues), featuring chipper, colorfully-layered trio renderings such as "Seesaw" and "Chromium Picolinate", to Meyer's solo performance on the third movement from "Amalgamations for Solo Bass," to a decisively classical Marshall-Meyer duet, Pablo de Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen," which, at eight-and-a-half minutes, serves as album centerpiece. Mr. Meyer said that, ''The Big Cheese'', is a gloss on ''the intricacies of the male/female dynamic.'' Like much of the music, it fuses two song ideas into one. The male half had a loping, droopy, plucked reggae bass line, with hectoring mandolin accompaniment, resulting in a feeling both anxious and flowing. The female sections incorporate a William Byrd fantasia-elegant, lively and efficient.

The first track, "Uncommon Ritual" is imo one of the most exciting openings (wonderfully accelerando!!) I know of or have ever heard. The first three tracks for me is just a trio of delight; I love the whole album but there's just something about the first 14 minutes of music. Like links on an unbreakable chain. "Sliding Down" is especially beautiful, and even more poignant. Too many memories there almost!! From playful to serious, all of the works focus on individual artistry and collective wit and polish, with a give-and-take that makes this string trio one of the most interesting in the world. 

Track listing:

01) Uncommon Ritual 
02) Seesaw 
03) Sliding Down 
04) Chromium Picolinate 
05) Contramonkey 
06) Chance Meeting 
07) Zigeuneweisen 
08) Travis 
09) Old Tyme 
10) Contrapunctus Xiii from "The Art of the Fugue" 
11) Third Movement from "Amalgamations for Solo Bass" 
12) By the River 
13) Big Country 
14) Barnyard Disturbance 
15) In the Garden 
16) Child's Play 
17) Big Cheese


Unicorn: Medieval, Appalachian and World Musics in Fusion - Hesperus (viols, fiddles, vielle, lyra, kamenj, recorders, rebec, vocals, banjos, guitars, ukulele, dulcimers, mouth bow, mandolin, dombek, nakara, Nat'l Steel guitar) - Dorian Discovery 1997

Indeed the subtitle to Hesperus's album "Medieval, Appalachian and World Music in Fusion" says it all. Only Dorian could concoct such a program and delight the senses in this way, a game of musical ping-pong that toys with time, often centuries-within a single track. Starting with the first piece two lively Renaissance bransles (mimed dances), with Scott Reiss hamming "Tangle Bransle" up on recorder-to the second, an American barn dance called "Say Old Man Can You Play the Fiddle?", Hesperus jumps an ocean and half a millennium and that makes for enjoyable, fun and oft humorous listening. Again it was during the 1990's that I would snatch up Dorian releases with not much more than a quick glance; everything was just that good in my opinion. Authentic Italian lute music, Sephardic tunes, 'World' albums, 20th century American was rainin' candy for an obsessed, music-worshipping-collecting freak like myself ;)

The mood perhaps can best be summed up by the traditional blues piece called "Shake It Down," played very effectively on recorder to the soulful accompaniment of Bruce Hutton's 12-string guitar and Tina Chancey's "kamenj", a Turkish folk bowed-stringed instrument with a light sound. This is probably a first, anywhere, and it works superbly. From the blues to medieval cantigas, from British broadside ballads to Cajun waltzes, from American contra dances to Scandinavian folk tunes, this quartet-Bruce Molsky rounds it out on various plucked and bowed stringed instruments with occasional vocal-brings surprising authenticity and great life to an enormous range of musical styles. The multi-talented Chancey effectively impersonates an earthy Cajun chanteuse in "La Valse de Guerdon," and Hutton contributes vocals with a twang, notably in "Little Rabbit," for which he also plucks a mouth bow. I could easily say that a release like this "isn't for everyone", however I think that it's more that it's not for everyone-but could be if you are willing to give it a few listens. There's all kinds of history and richness to this (fused) music, lighthearted or not and if one only enjoys a few pieces-it's a few more than you did this morning!

Track listing:

1. Bransles - Jacques Moderne (16th c. French)1. Bransles - Jacques Moderne (16th c. French)
2. Say Old Man Can You Play the Fiddle - Traditional American
3. Gracieusette / Cotton-eyed Joe - Jehan Lescurel (14th c. French) / Appalachian
4. Shake it Down - Classic Blues
5. Lady Gay - Traditional Ballad
6. Red Rockin' Chair - Appalachian
7. Chicken Tree - The Louisville Jug Band
8. Como Poden - Cantiga de Santa Maria (13th c. Spanish)
9. Rhymer's Favorite / Allemande & Ronde - Appalachian / Tielmann Susato (16th c. Flemish)
10. Contre le Temps / Back Door Man - (14th c. French) / Traditional Blues
11. Enhörningen (Unicorn) - Mats Edén (Scandinavian)
12. Captain Kidd - British Broadside (1701)
13. La Valse de Guedan - Cajun
14. Herdsman's Tune - African from Nande, Congo (Zaire)
15. Lady Hamilton - Appalachian
16. Little Rabbit - Traditional American
17. Midnight on the Water / La Shymyze - Traditional American / Mulliner Book (16th c. English)
18. La Bounette / Jenny on the Railroad - Mulliner Book / Traditional American

Typing out the booklet notes for those interested:

Scott Reiss: We call what we do on Unicorn "Crossover," as we have since we started doing it thirteen years ago with Mike Seeger. You see, for Tina and me, classically-trained early music performers, leaving the domain of reading music, getting rid of the music stands entirely and playing everything by ear, and learning traditional tunes from traditional musicians, really felt like crossing over into a new world. Some people have tried to talk us out of using the term, noting the confusion and ambiguities it engenders within the business. But the word crossover, transcending boundaries, really does say it for us.

To continue the story, we crossed over into this other realm–but why? In our early-music performing we had always felt there was something missing. Historically-informed performance was the goal to which we, and most other early musicians, were dedicated, but history left too many questions unanswered about the actual nuts and bolts of how to play the very early music. It seemed to us a little like trying to guess the colors in a faded old black and white photo. That’s why we wanted to connect our medieval music to living traditions. Mike Seeger was open enough and brave enough to try this little experiment with us, so we produced Ear Trade: Court and Cabin, a week-long workshop and concert of medieval and Appalachian music, at which we instructed our students to pack up their music stands-all the classes would be done by ear. Ear-Trade was an epiphany for me. Combining the medieval and folk instruments in the same music, and creating medleys juxtaposing the two styles infused our medieval music with new life. HESPERUS Crossover was born. We began working regularly with Bruce Hutton in 1985. 

Bruce Hutton: What convinced me to work with Hesperus was hearing a tape of the Ear-Trade concert Scott and Tina did with Mike. It made me think that these different types of music and different instruments could be at home with each other.

SR: Over the years, our crossover music has continued to influence our "straight" early music performances; we have two ways of conceiving medieval performance now. In our other approach, which you can hear in Unicorn’s sister project, Neo-Medieval, we do not consciously utilize techniques and material from traditional folk sources, but rather draw on all of our collective experiences to create medieval music in an organic, improvisational style.

Bruce Molsky: I like our taking two fairly separate styles of roots music and finding ways to combine them without losing those really fragile elements of each one. Stop me if I’m wrong, but I think that in a sense early music is roots music; something that grows directly out of community and culture, as opposed to being more of a formal studied intellectual exercise. The music is not a separate exercise from living your life. If it is, then it becomes just a head study. I think that one of the reasons roots music doesn’t survive very well in a modern context is because stylistically it’s so fragile.

BH: I like the old modes, the sound of the old instruments, the way they add texture to the old American instruments, and the fact that everything is being created without an exact model that we’re imitating. In folk music there’s often a wish to sound just like your mentor or the person you learned it from, but in fact that can never really happen. Filtered through each individual, the music becomes part of that person’s style in addition to showing the influence of people he’s heard in the past. Some people are looking for authenticity in trying to re-create old-time music, and I think they can achieve it without slavishly imitating. In early music there are no mentors or arrangements to be the perfect, right model so your creativity in making it your own is fully opened.

BM: But you know, it's like Mats Eden's Unicorn tune, it’s an interpretation. I'm not trying to play it in a different style, I'm just trying to play it in a way that makes sense to me.

BH: Playing early music has changed the way I look at arranging everything I play. It's given me an idea that I can be myself and still be true to tradition. Now I'm less fearful, after hearing a piece played a certain way, in going out on a limb and doing it my way. 

Tina Chancey: I like a lot of different things in our crossover: the rhythmic vitality that the folk instruments lend the early tunes, particularly the banjo and banjo-uke in Susato; the variation between rhythmic accents on the backbeat in traditional music and on the strong beat in early music; the way the tunes of both styles complement each other in feeling and architecture; the new things I learn to do on my instruments to play traditional music convincingly.

BM: You know, when we play together I change rhythmic emphasis: I play with a little more of a lilt; a little less bluesy. And I've been paying real close attention to Scott and Tina's sense of pitch, the notes in the scale, and I've been making some adjustments. That''s been the most difficult thing for me, because that's not something that I was trained to change at will. I'm always really impressed by the fact that you can say "Oh let's play that C# a little sharper." I also change dynamics more. Straight traditional old-time music doesn't use volume dynamics as much. But we do. 

BH: I like the fact that early music has simple melodies that grab me just like folk melodies do. I think that a few notes eloquently put together can say a lot. That's one of the things that the oldest early music and the oldest folk melodies share.

TC: When we choose medieval and renaissance music for Crossover, Scott and I look for pieces with a strong personality (the Susato Allemande, for example), a striking scoring (like the two recorders and mandolin on Contre le temps), a catchy rhythm or phrasing (Gracieusette), something to give it character, so we can match it with an equally strong traditional number. 

BM: When I bring in rep, I tend to look for things that have lots of harmonic possibilities, partially because of what little I know about early music, but mostly because that’s one of the things that I really like about Scott and Tina’s music in particular. I love their sense of harmony and it makes a lot of sense to me, I can get next to it. I find myself thinking 'I wonder what chords they would put to this?'

SR: Working with musicians coming from living, oral traditions gives me a better perspective on how all music lives. It grows and changes as it passes from one of us into the group, and it continues to grow as we work it out. One thing I've learned from working with Bruce Hutton and Bruce Molsky, and earlier from Mike Seeger and Jean Ritchie, is how a folk musician really inhabits a piece of music to perform it well. This is something I think a lot of us in the classical world have been afraid to do, because we're taught that the first authority lies with the composer and inhabits the written music, and doesn't lie with the performer. In folk music "genealogy," acknowledging where you get a tune, is important, but the authority always rests with the performer to make a piece his or her own.

BH: I think many in the folk music world have prejudices about classically-trained musicians, and I think many classically-trained musicians have prejudices about folk musicians. A common view among folk musicians is that classical musicians are snobs; they feel their training makes them better than musicians who learn other ways and that classical music is superior to all other kinds. For example, the notes on one album of symphonic re-creations of traditional fiddle music said that the conductor instructed his violin section not to tune too well so they would sound authentic. In fact, traditional fiddlers know how important it is to be in tune, even though they may have a different sense of tuning. The years I’ve worked with Scott and Tina have proved to me that classical training need not result in this condescending attitude. Just as they've been inspired by "ear" musicians, I've acquired a new admiration for the discipline and precision resulting from their training. This mutual respect has been key to the success of our performing together. Perhaps our crossover music can change the attitudes of others, too.

BM: One of the things I'm trying to do with my music is to look for commonalities in all the different traditional styles that I'm interested in, and to find ways to put them together without destroying them. Not like one group I know that does crossover-I call it a Ranchero. A Ranchero is a vehicle that Ford built that has all the bad features of a car and all the bad features of a truck. That’s exactly opposite of what I want to do in crossover.

TC: To me, crossover is like a window to the world, particularly after twenty-five years of playing historic music to a relatively small audience. The field of early music actually includes more than five centuries of music, but today it’s heard as a single voice. Crossover communicates that multiplicity of styles by pairing early and traditional pieces; it makes a medieval motet as real to modern audiences as the blues. 

HESPERUS is a group with a vision. Innovative, historically-informed and multi-cultural, this ensemble performs eight centuries of music from four continents. Expert at creating a synthesis of living and historic traditions, HESPERUS is just as comfortable improvising a medieval dance as a 1950’s Chicago blues; recreating a haunting Inca flute tune as a 17th-century Irish ballad; dazzling with a virtuosic baroque concerto as with a rapid-fire Appalachian mountain breakdown. HESPERUS presents two kinds of programs: single-style early music programs, or fusions of European early music and American traditional styles. Whatever the genre, HESPERUS always performs with creative energy, technical assurance and a sense of fun. 

Decide if it's gonna be moonshine or champagne...and enjoy the journey everyone :)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Gian Carlo Menotti - Violin Concerto - Five Songs - Canti Della Lontananza - Cantilena & Scherzo for String Quartet & Harp - Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Thomas Sanderling - Ittai Shapira, Violin - ASV 2005

Many listeners are probably familiar with the name Gian Carlo Menotti largely through his operas ("Amahl and the Night Visitors", "The Medium", "The Consul", "The Saint of Bleecker Street", "The Telephone", etc..). Altogether he composed 25 operas, almost all of them in English. He wrote his own librettos and usually staged his own works. Menotti’s operas continue the Italian lyric tradition epitomized by composers like Puccini, to whom he has often been compared. Menotti wrote quite a bit of instrumental and orchestral music, and this ASV disc is one of the finest surveys.

Gian Carlo Menotti once wrote, "Many contemporary composers seem to fear clarity and directness, perhaps because they are afraid of becoming obvious." It took courage for composers like Menotti and his partner, Samuel Barber, to write tonal music in the mid twentieth century when their peers were experimenting with serial and other musical styles that rejected tonality and lyricism as the essential elements of great music. 

The Violin Concerto (1952) is one of Menotti's most popular instrumental works. A virtuoso showpiece of unabashed romanticism, it is a work teeming with operatic largesse and songful plenitude that demonstrates the composer’s ability to integrate lyricism, drama and brilliant orchestration (the first and second movements in particular contain several gorgeous melodies that reflect Menotti’s operatic genius). The concerto's lyric second subject, announced by winds, is tinged with baroque elements very attractively harmonized. The violin then takes up the songful material and embarks on a soaring reverie of superb warmth. The vigorous finale features a jaunty main theme‚ and predictably ends with virtuoso fireworks‚ rounding off a piece that deserves resurrecting not just on disc but in the concert ­hall too.

The "Cantilena and Scherzo" for Harp and String Quartet is a luminous and melancholically beautiful composition that demonstrates how the addition of the harp to the string quartet creates a richness and depth that makes the work sound near-symphonic. It's an ultra romantic piece, and one that contrasts song with dance in its two short movements.   

The two song cycles that conclude this disc are wistfully pensive in nature. Christine Brewer is a great operatic soprano, but the power of her voice doesn’t entirely convey the sensitive nature of these songs. No matter really, they are both beautiful works penned by a composer who made everything 'sing'.

Much of Menotti's professional life was spent in the United States, and he usually spoke of himself as an American composer, despite retaining his Italian citizenship and later moving to an estate of baronial splendor near Edinburgh.

In a musical age in which controversy usually centered on the avant-garde, Mr. Menotti was controversial for his conservatism. Writing of his opera "The Last Savage" in 1964, he said: "To say of a piece that it is harsh, dry, acid and unrelenting is to praise it. While to call it sweet and graceful is to damn it. For better or for worse, in The Last Savage I have dared to do away completely with fashionable dissonance, and in a modest way, I have endeavored to rediscover the nobility of gracefulness and the pleasure of sweetness."

Gian Carlo Menotti was born on July 7th, 1911, in Cadegliano, Italy, a small town near Lake Lugano in Lombardy. He was the sixth of eight children of Alfonso and Ines Menotti, a prosperous merchant family engaged in the coffee business. His mother provided piano, violin and cello lessons for her children, and there were evening musicales in the Menotti household that left a profound impression on Gian Carlo. Menotti began writing songs when he was 5, and by 11 he had written an opera, "The Death of Pierrot", which was performed as a puppet show at home. His second opera, a version of Hans Christian Andersen’s "Little Mermaid", was composed two years later.

In 1924, the family moved to Milan, where the young Mr. Menotti attended the Verdi Conservatory of Music for three years and deepened his interest in opera, often taking in performances at La Scala. He read widely-fairy tales especially-and his growing taste for exoticism, the supernatural and the theatrical was to influence his later work.

At 17, he accompanied his mother to Colombia in her final and futile effort to resurrect the family's collapsing coffee business. On her way back to Italy, in 1928, she sent her son to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

Armed with an introductory letter from Arturo Toscanini's wife and a rudimentary command of English, Mr. Menotti began his studies with Rosario Scalero, Curtis's eminent professor of composition. Mr. Scalero found the young man a talent lacking in discipline and set him to a regime of traditional counterpoint and early-music studies. At Curtis, Mr. Menotti began perhaps the decisive partnership of his life-with the American composer Samuel Barber. They lived, traveled and worked together intermittently until Mr. Barber’s death in 1981.

Gian Carlo Menotti
Menotti’s first mature opera was begun on a long sojourn in Austria with Samuel Barber after he graduated from Curtis in 1933. It was called "Amelia al Ballo" and incorporated characters and situations that were to reappear in his work-in this case, a frivolous lady's circumventions of a jealous husband. "Amelia" was first given a production in Philadelphia in 1937. In its English version, "Amelia Goes to the Ball" was successful enough at the Metropolitan Opera in New York to win Mr. Menotti a commission for NBC Radio. The work, “The Old Maid and the Thief,” also a one-act, dealt with a spinster’s conspiracy to snare her attractive young lodger. It was first broadcast in 1939 and later reworked for the stage.

His first full-blown opera, "The Island God", failed badly at the Met in 1942, but "The Medium" written in 1946, ran for 211 performances on Broadway the next year with another piece, "The Telephone". "The Medium" was a compendium of the Menotti style-delicate orchestration, lyric writing and often a melodramatic theatricality.

He was also active composing ballets, cantatas, orchestral tone poems, instrumental concertos, songs and chamber music. He also wrote several plays. In one, "The Leper" (1970), he offered a plea for tolerance toward homosexuality.

By 1950, he had finished "The Consul", a tale of political outcasts in Europe pitted against an unresponsive bureaucracy. The Consul ran on Broadway for 269 performances and won both the Drama Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize.

Mr. Menotti’s 1951 opera, "Amahl and the Night Visitors", written for NBC, was perhaps his most popular and successful stage work. "Amahl" was inspired by Bosch's painting "The Adoration of the Magi" and tells of the healing of a crippled boy who offers his crutches as a gift to the infant Jesus.

"The Saint of Bleecker Street", produced on Broadway for the 1954-55 season, carried a theme that preoccupied Mr. Menotti; the tension between mysticism and faith on the one hand, and the cynical "real" world on the other. It did not make money, but critics liked it, and it earned Mr. Menotti his second Pulitzer Prize.

Menotti almost always wrote the words for his operas, and in 1958 he served the same function for Samuel Barber. The opera was Barber's "Vanessa", for which Menotti provided both libretto and stage direction. Soon afterward he wrote librettos for two other operas: Barber's "Hand of Bridge" and "Introductions and Goodbyes" by Lukas Foss.

His own operas kept pouring out, including "Labyrinth" (1963), "The Last Savage" (1963), "Martin’s Lie" (1964), "Help, Help, the Globolinks" (1968), "The Most Important Man" (1971), "The Hero" (1976), "The Egg" (1976) and "The Trial of the Gypsy" (1978).

Menotti lived for many years with Barber in a house known as Capricorn (anyone know Barber's "Capricorn Concerto"? It's a delight..) in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. The house was sold in 1973, and Menotti moved to Yester House, a 16th-century manor in the hills near Edinburgh. 

-Either my eyes are going or the font is larger towards the end? Can't seem to correct it. 
I Dunnooooo

Enjoy the music everyone


Vadim Salmanov - String Quartets Volume One - The S.I. Taneyev Quartet - Northern Flowers 2012

The Russian composer Vadim Nikolayevich Salmanov was born on November 4th, 1912 in St. Petersburg and died there on February 27th, 1978. He came from a family of intellectuals and as a child he was taught piano by his father and intended to study at the Leningrad Conservatory. However, the death of his father led to the necessity of finding work in a factory. Music was not the initial goal for Salmanov; he pursued a career in geology quite seriously up until 1936. 

Salmanov, nevertheless, took lessons from composer Arseny Gladkovsky and, in 1935, entered the Conservatory where he studied composition with Mikhail Gnesin and orchestration under Rimsky-Korsakov's son-in-law (Shostakovich's teacher), Maximilian Steinberg. After graduating, he worked as a composer until the onset of World War II, when he enlisted in the Soviet Army. After the war, Salmanov’s compositions tended to reflect his wartime experiences. A string quartet came in 1945 followed by his first symphony in 1952 and a second quartet in 1958. Salmanov spent the rest of his life in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) teaching at the Leningrad Conservatory. His compositions include six string quartets, two violin concertos, works for chorus and orchestra, instrumental works and four symphonies.

Yevgeni Mravinsky had this to say about Vadim Salmanov "... I can say confidently that Salmanov's heritage is a vibrating evidence of the epoch that brought him forth". Salmanov's music is very good and imo deserves to be much better known (Naxos, are you there??).

The first string quartet begins with a short movement marked grave the like of which one would usually expect to find later on in such a work. It strikes a sombre and serious note and the theme which is recalled in the finale is a unifying motif. It is laden with anguish and perhaps as it was written in 1945, is descriptive of the feelings of people of what the Second World War had cost in human terms. The second movement is also dramatic whilst the third, though more lyrical, is still not without serious overtones with the finale another powerful statement imbued with sadness. It is an extremely impressive work for a first venture into string quartet writing.

Salmanov's second quartet was written in 1958 and dedicated to a friend with whom he studied at the conservatory and who died tragically young. Its opening movement marked Andante molto poetico e libero is a restrained hymn-like tribute. This motif is repeated in the second movement where it breaks up a beginning that is agitated and tragic in its depiction of death. That aspect returns soon enough albeit interrupted again later by a return of the leitmotif though this time it is treated to a more sad interpretation. The finale has the main theme reappearing and, once again, it is now laden with sadness, the cello playing a particular part in creating the tragic overtone. The violins however often bring a feeling of calm and seem to be saying that the achievements of a person live on after death and we should never lose sight of that.

The third quartet which was written in 1961 shows us that Salmanov was experimenting with dissonance but not at the expense of melody and though the rhythms are spiky and harsh, there is still a tune in there. The opening movement is very dissonant but the second is quite lyrical and darkly beautiful. The finale is a synthesis of the other two movements, and the conclusion is as dramatic as it is 'final'.

Enjoy these rare and special quartets

Marco Dall’Aquila (1480 to 154?) - Music for Lute - Sandro Volta, Lute - Brilliant Classics 2014

I'm going to take a little break from Arnell posts; the reason being I'm not a fan of posting my entire collection of any composer consecutively, it's a bit tedious and needless to say listeners are free to choose to listen to any of my shares at any given time, and it's doubtful that many of you will sit there and have an "Arnell festival" for hours straight. Even great music 'overloads' if it's played in a marathon style, "too much of a good thing" ;)  It's more exciting for me to mix it up and I hope more interesting for all of you to have a level of variety coming your way. So, on to the music..

Little is known of Marco Dall’Aquila. His name appears sporadically in the letters of contemporaries, all of whom praise his talents as a lutenist and theoretician. Brilliant Classics has done a fine service by giving us an opportunity to listen to his music; it's extremely well-crafted, beautiful, and if one is a lover of lute or guitar music I think this release will be thrice as delightful. It is thought that Dall'Aquila was born in 1480 and died in 1544, and therefore his period of composition spanned two vastly different periods in the life of lute music: towards the end of the Middle Ages-at the end of the 1400s-the monodic use of the plectrum was the respected practice, whereas during the 1540s, the period of the instrument's greatest vogue, a complex polyphony and simultaneous use of an increased number of strings was the favoured approach. Dall'Aquila's music acts as a bridge between these two styles.

The repertoire on this disc contains Ricercars, Fantasias and a number of dance forms, conjuring up the atmosphere of the courts and palaces in which this stately and noble music must have resounded.
Why Brilliant Classics chose to offer only 49 minutes(!) of music I don't understand, there's plenty more music by Dall’Aquila out there. Oh well. 

Sandro Volta is a specialist of Italian Renaissance-Baroque lute music, and clearly, as you will hear,
one of the finest lutenists living today.

-I am keeping the files lossless as it's only 221mb altogether. Still, the last two tracks I am posting in a separate link (Zshare has a 200mb limit)

Enjoy ye explorers..



Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Richard Arnell - Punch and the Child - Harlequin in April - Concerto Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra - BBC Concert Orchestra, Martin Yates - Lorraine McAslan, Violin - Dutton Epoch 2009

Here is a great disc that contains two of Arnell's most important ballet scores, "Punch and the Child" (this is the first complete recording, Beecham's 1950 recording was actually not "complete" as the Gramophone review below states) and the glorious "Harlequin in April" which is a world-premiere recording. Both of these scores enjoyed success when they were premiered and the ballets remained in the repertoire for quite some time, touring the world with British ballet companies. The "Concerto Capriccioso" is Richard Arnell's second violin concerto, and is ripe with emotional impact. 

I will be adding notes about the current recording tonight (I must leave for work now) so for the time being I have pasted two different reviews below-they will be deleted late in the evening.

*Update: I just added the link, sorry everyone! That's what I get for posting whilst rushing :/  I will have to keep the reviews alone up another day, too tired to write now..


This latest Dutton release of Richard Arnell's music is primarily a second instalment of the ballet scores that until recently provided much of Arnell's meagre representation on record. The accompanying note suggests that both ballets here were previously known only for their suites and are here recorded complete. In fact, the 22-minute concert version here of Punch and the Child was also recorded by Beecham in 1950. Like The Great Detective in a previous Dutton collection (11/08), it's sprightly, satirical, episodic music, and if Beecham's interpretation perhaps has a more spontaneous swagger, it's still splendidly done here.
Harlequin in April, recorded here for the first time, was Arnell's most enduring ballet in the theatre; it's a version of the Everyman theme, representing man's journey from birth to death. It's a decidedly more substantial score than Punch and the Child, with longer movements and altogether deeper intent, possessing some of the sound quality of Holst's The Planets to add to the suggestion of Prokofiev that permeates much of Arnell's finely orchestrated music.
The concluding Concerto capriccioso is really Arnell's second violin concerto, following the early one-movement work on another previous Dutton release. Though apparently never performed in Britain until this recording, it's an endearingly inventive and moving work, with sweet lyricism masking technical challenges for the soloist which include a second movement that's played solo.
These Arnell recordings provide the perfect demonstration of how CD has opened up access to neglected music with much to enjoy - especially when performed and recorded as expertly as here.


This most welcome Dutton release, another installment in its exemplary restoration of the outstanding British composer Richard Arnell (1917–2009) to his rightful place in the 20th-century music pantheon, completes the survey of his four ballets with this premiere recording of what is the most complex and wide-ranging, both musically and symbolically, of them all, Harlequin in April of 1951. Although the scenario bases its allegorical treatment of everyman’s life-and-death cycle on figures from the commedia del’arte , this score contains some of the darkest and harrowing passages Arnell ever wrote for the dance. After a typically abrupt, bold, and busy introduction, we first hear the sad strains of “Pierrot’s Song,” which returns later in the two extended pas de deux to underline a tale of loss and defeat at the hands of the inescapable and fateful Unicorns. Even the miniature violin concertino (“Pierrot and His Violin”) is surrounded by intimations of heart-stopping regret and failure. Over all, this work has very little of the traditional spirit of April, and the elements of grotesquerie and caricature present in the puppet ballet Punch and the Child are kept to a minimum. 

The program opens with the first complete recording of Arnell’s heretofore best-known work, Punch and the Child , the 1947 ballet that was premiered in New York near the end of the composer’s American exile and later recorded in a concert version by Beecham reissued in several different formats over the years. Except perhaps for a few transitional measures, there is no discernible difference between the two recordings, though, while Beecham approaches the piece as an integral independent symphonic statement, Yates gives us a more dance-oriented, red-blooded and hence sharply delineated version that emphasizes Arnell’s inherent narrative skills and his Til Eulenspiegel -like strengths. 

As always in the past, Yates, here with the BBC Philharmonic, gives us his typically dedicated, glowing, and insightful representation of the Arnellian genius, with special emphasis on the revelation that is Harlequin in April.

Enjoy everyone