(1879–1941) had for many years been only remembered through his famous
pupil, Benjamin Britten. Britten paid tribute to his old teacher in his
Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge.
However, in his time he was very popular even though, after
the First World War he radically changed his style to embrace a more advanced
style influenced by the Second Viennese School. This change doesn’t render his
music difficult to modern ears but in his own time it was considered radical.
Bridge is now well served on CD especially with the
recordings of his orchestral works on Chandos. The six CD’s in this series are
all with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Richard Hickox. As
usual the recordings are first rate. www.chandos.net
Of the six discs I would suggest volumes 1 to 4 are the most
representative of Bridge.
|Vol. 1 CHAN 9950|
|Vol.2 CHAN 10012|
|Vol.3 CHAN 10112|
Volume one includes the wonderful Enter Spring, Volume two the
earlier tone poem The Sea, Volume three Phantasm for Piano and Orchestra with Howard
Shelley in fine form and Volume four includes the late work for Cello and
Orchestra, Oration, effectively a Cello Concerto played wonderfully by Alban
|Vol. 4 CHAN 10188|
Naxos has also provided fine performances of the quartets
with the Maggini Quartet and piano works with that fine pianist Ashley Wass. www.naxos.com
(1879–1962) featured in my blog of 23rd April 2012 when I
reviewed a new book The John Ireland Companion edited by that great champion of
British music, Lewis Foreman.
I still think Ireland is underrated as a composer. His
finest work is probably the Piano Concerto in Eb, but Legend for Piano and
Orchestra as well as his works for solo piano are to my mind equally fine.
Ireland is another composer recorded by both Chandos and
Naxos. Chandos have issued a number of orchestral discs including the Piano
Concerto, Legend for Piano and Orchestra and Symphonic Rhapsody Mai Dun. These
represent the best of Ireland’s works with orchestra conducted by Bryden
Thomson with Eric Parkin (piano). www.chandos.net
Naxos have recorded John Lenehan on four CD’s of all the
piano works including the Piano Concerto and Legend which feature John Wilson
conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. www.naxos.com
|Vol. 1 8.553700|
Chandos are also the company
that has recorded much of the music of Cyril
Scott (1879–1970). The son of a
shipping magnate he studied in Frankfurt where he met the composers Norman
O’Neill, Roger Quilter, Balfour Gardiner and Percy Grainger known as The
The four Chandos discs include the symphonies 1, 3 and 4
together with Three Symphonic Dances taken from the abandoned Second Symphony,
Piano Concertos 1 and 2, Cello Concerto, Violin Concerto and various orchestral
works including a particular favourite of mine, Neptune. www.chandos.net
Sir Arnold Bax
(1883-1953) was an extraordinarily gifted musician, able to sight read any
orchestral score. His early music took the form of tone poems influenced by
Celtic legends and his love of the coast of western Ireland. A friend of
nationalists involved in the Easter uprising of 1916, he was an unlikely figure
to become Master of the King’s Music in 1942. In 1921 he wrote a piano sonata
that was of such symphonic proportions that, with a different middle movement,
it became his first symphony. He went on to write six more symphonies, one of
the great symphonic cycles of the 20th century.
That great champion of British music and of Bax in
particular, the late Vernon ‘Tod’ Handley recorded all seven symphonies as well
as many of the tone poems for Chandos. These must be the finest recordings of
these works ever recorded.
Sir George Dyson
(1883–1964) was very much involved in musical education as Director of
Music at Marlborough College, Rugby School, Wellington College and finally Director
of the Royal College of Music from 1937 to his retirement in 1952. This gave
him little time to compose yet he produced works that were very popular in his
time and have since been recorded. His choral Canterbury Pilgrims was a favourite with choral societies for many
years and is set to be revived at this
years (2012) Hereford Three Choirs Festival. Richard Hickox has made a fine
recording on Chandos as he has also done with Dyson’s other large choral work
Quo Vadis. www.chandos.net
Dyson also wrote a fine Symphony in G as well as a Violin
Concerto which are included on an attractive CD. Again Richard Hickox conducts.
(1885–1916) was a victim of the First World War, killed at the age of 30
years on the Somme. He left a small number of works that showed such promise that
he may well have gone on to greater things had he lived.
You will not get a better performance of his Six Songs from
A Shropshire Lad than that by Bryn Terfel on Deutsche Grammophon. You also will
get equally fine performances of Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, Ireland’s
Sea Fever and Finzi’s Let Us Garlands Bring. www.deutschegrammophon.com
Another tragic figure from the early 20th century
was Ivor Gurney (1890-1937). The son of a Gloucester tailor and a
seamstress, he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in 1911. Gurney
was not only a talented musician but also a fine poet. As a composer it was
mainly in the form of song that he worked.
Sadly Gurney’s health was never good but it was severely
worsened by his First World War experiences, eventually leading to his internment
in the City of London Mental Hospital where he died of tuberculosis in 1937
aged only 47 years.
My favourite recording of Gurney songs is from Hyperion and
includes songs by other composers affected by the First World War including
Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975)
was the son of an American businessman but brought up in England being educated
at Rugby and Pembroke College, Cambridge. He too was affected by the First
World War when he lost his brother Kennard. His later work for narrator, chorus
and orchestra, Morning Heroes, is in memory of his brother.
I particularly like his Colour Symphony based on heraldic
ideas and recorded by Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra for
Nimbus. I particularly love this performance well recorded in Brangwyn Hall
Swansea and still available form Amazon. www.amazon.co.uk
Bliss’ favourite of all his compositions was his Meditation
on a Theme of John Blow coupled on a Naxos CD with his Metamorphic Variations
with David Lloyd-Jones and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. www.naxos.com
Bliss succeeded Bax as Master of the Queen’s Music in 1953.
Although a significant figure in British music between the wars, he continued
writing into the 1960’s and 1970’s.
A friend and contemporary of Ivor Gurney was Herbert HOWELLS (1892 – 1983) who also
rose from very humble origins in Lydney near Gloucester. His father was a
plumber, decorator and builder who eventually went bankrupt. Thanks to a local
benefactor he was able to study with Herbert Brewer the organist at Gloucester
cathedral before going on to the Royal College of Music.
Surely his masterpiece must be Hymnus Paradisi written in
the wake of the tragic death of his nine year old son Michael. Anyone who
doesn’t know this wonderful work should
try to hear it as I’m sure they will not be disappointed particularly in such a
fine performance as that by Vernon Handley and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
Orchestra and Choir with Julie Kennard (soprano) and John Mark Ainsley (tenor). www.hyperion-records.co.uk
Chandos have issued a two CD set of Howells’ orchestral
music with Richard Hickox and the London Symphony Orchestra. www.chandos.net
My next British music blog will look at the tragic Philip
Heseltine alias Peter Warlock, his effect on E J Moeran and move on through
Edmund Rubbra and William Walton.