Sunday 15 May 2016

Naxos have released a delightful disc of arrangements of works by John Ireland that provides some really beautiful English string gems, exquisitely played by Raphael Wallfisch and the Orchestra of the Swan under their Artistic Director, David Curtis

The Orchestra of the Swan was founded in 1995 to perform at the Stratford Music Festival. They have their home in Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon and are the Associate Orchestra at Town Hall Birmingham. Last season they gave over 60 concerts throughout England and Wales, undertook their first highly successful tour to China and gave a UK tour with Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, culminating in a sell-out performance at London’s Albert Hall before an audience of 5,500.

Between 2006 and 2011 they commissioned over fifty new works and their acclaimed recordings have been Gramophone Choice and CD of the Week on Classic FM (UK) The orchestra’s extensive discography includes repertoire by Barber, Bax, Berlioz, Brahms, Copland, Debussy, Finzi, Ireland, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schumann, Strauss and the world premiere recording of the complete symphonies by Hans Gal which received outstanding critical acclaim and was featured on BBC Radio 3 ‘Composer of the Week’.

With their Artistic Director, David Curtis the Orchestra of the Swan have just released a disc for Naxos of Music for String Orchestra by John Ireland featuring cellist Raphael Wallfisch.


John Ireland’s Cello Sonata in G minor (1923) is performed here in a particularly effective arrangement for cello and string orchestra by Matthew Forbes. Raphael Wallfisch brings some rich, dark hued tones to the Moderato e sostenuto over which the Orchestra of the Swan bring some very fine string textures. Wallfisch and the orchestra keep a real feeling of urgency through the constantly changing tempi and dynamics, revealing some lovely details and building to some terrific strings’ swirls.

The Poco largamente is full of passion, these players finding a sudden emotional impact to open. The strings of the Orchestra of the Swan drop to a hushed melody with Wallfisch adding a really subtle emotional tug when he re-enters. Both he and the orchestra find a lovely control, creating a very fine atmosphere in the hushed moments. Wallfisch brings his very fine tone, quite lovely, raising the emotional temperature before leaping straight into the concluding vibrant Con moto e marcato where the strings of the Orchestra of the Swan show their fine tone with this cellist adding some rich, often quite intense textures and blending wonderfully with the orchestra.

This is a performance that reveals new aspects to Ireland’s very fine cello sonata.  

Summer Evening (1920) appears here in an arrangement by Graham Parlett , one of a number of arrangements by him on this disc. Originally a piano work it is revealed here as a quite beautiful string piece in its own right.  It is given a beautifully nuanced performance from the glowing strings of the Orchestra of the Swan, quite beautifully shaped. This is a real gem for string orchestra.

In a May Morning (1940-41) comes from a three movement piano work by Ireland entitled Sarnia (the Latin name for Guernsey). It was written partly in Guernsey and completed in England after the composer was evacuated just before the Nazi occupation of the islands. Martin Yates arranged the whole of Sarnia for orchestra which he recorded for Dutton.

In this arrangement by Graham Parlett, the Orchestra of the Swan rises through some really lovely passages with this orchestra finding many lovely nuances. David Curtis brings a reflective feel with some lovely use of various sections of the strings to vary the textures.

Raphael Wallfisch returns for Parlett’s arrangement of Soliloquy (1922) a lovely piece with this cellist finding a subtle rhythmic lift, adding emotional moments with fine textures and subtly controlled dynamics. This is an exquisite arrangement of a quite lovely piano piece, perfectly performed here.

Bagatelle (1911) (arr. Graham Parlett) has a jaunty theme finely caught by Wallfisch and the orchestra who find a lovely rhythmic buoyancy.  

They find a lovely forward moving push in the Berceuse (1902) (arr. Graham Parlett) with a subtle forward moment that has gentle and natural ebb and flow with Wallfisch’s fine tone adding a real depth of feeling.

Cavatina (1904) (arr. Graham Parlett) has a lighter mood, perfectly caught here, Wallfisch and the orchestra finding a gentle rhythmic lilt as the music pushes ahead. There is a faster central section to which these players give a directness and forward drive, showing terrific panache with crisp and finely shaped playing.

A Downland Suite (1932/78) was originally a commission for the National Brass Band Championships. After his evacuation from Guernsey, Ireland orchestrated the two middle movements. In 1978 Geoffrey Bush completed the job by orchestrating the two outer movements allowing us to hear the full result here.

The Orchestra of the Swan bring a terrific string sonority to the opening Prelude - Allegro energico as well as a lively, spirited freshness, a feel of the outdoors. The Elegy - Lento espressivo is beautifully shaped, surely one of Ireland’s loveliest ideas. Curtis and the orchestra bring passages of richer sonorities, wonderfully judged and nuanced. They find a lightness and forward flow that is delightful in the Minuet - Allegretto grazioso, with a lovely rubato. There is a beautifully shaped trio section before we are led to a quiet coda. The strings of the Orchestra of the Swan conjure up some fine textures in the Rondo - Poco allegro. They push the music forward with fine control of dynamics before the gentler side of this music returns, only to dash to a crisp decisive coda.

This is a delightful disc of arrangements that provide some really beautiful English string gems, exquisitely played by all concerned. 

They receive a very good, spacious recording made at Townsend Hall, Shipston-on-Stour, England and there are excellent booklet notes by Bruce Phillips of the John Ireland Charitable Trust. 

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