English String Festival (Adrian Leaper/ Capella Istropolitana/ Gunter Appenheimer) (Naxos: 8.550331)
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English String Festival
John Dowland (1563 - 1626)
Galliard a 5
Edward Elgar (1857 - 1934)
Elegy, Op. 58
Introduction & Allegro, Op. 47
Serenade for Strings, Op. 20
Frank Bridge (1879 - 1941)
Hubert Parry (1848 - 1918)
An English Suite
Lady Radnor's Suite
England was once described as the landwithout music. The judgement, from a German point of view, once seemed to havesome justification. For a long time the country and its capital London inparticular seemed to enjoy a remarkable degree of musical xenophilia. Foreignmusicians, players and composers, were welcomed and often preferred to thenative. It was this strange bias that induced the conductor Henry Wood to winhis first recognition under the name Paul Klenovsky and that made London alwaysan attractive centre for visiting musicians, a place where money could beearned. Paganini, it is true, met opposition, when it seemed his ticket priceswere too high. Liszt later summed up the attitude of the visitor in a letter tohis mistress from the remoter English provinces: \The only idea in my mind isto make money: that is why I am here and that is all I think of".
In spite of or perhaps because of theEnglish attitude to foreign musicians, musical life in London, at least, provedvaried. At the same time the fertile mixture of races in the whole country, andthe influence of the differing traditions of the neighbouring Celtic countriesabsorbed into the United Kingdom, always brought performance and creation thatwas of interest, at times comparable with the best that Europe could match.
These peaks of musical achievement, coupled with the domination of new-comerslike Handel, have tended to obscure the merit of lesser composers. At the sametime it must be added that some English music does not travel well.
The English String Festival opens with aGalliard by the lutenist composer John Dowland, a musician who failed to gain aposition at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, but won recognition and accumulateddebts instead in the service of King Christian IV of Denmark, before returningto serve the new Scottish King, James I of England, in 1612. Dowland matchedthe spirit of the turn of the century with his most famous composition, thesong "Flow my teares", the epitome of melancholy, the fashionable humour of theday, "Lachrimae" or "Seaven Teares" later became the basis of seven sorrowfulpavans, interspersed with livelier contrasting galliards. Dowland himselfpunned on his name, using for one of the solemn pavans the title "Dowlandsemper dolens", Dowland always grieving. In fact he seems to have been a man ofremarkably cheerful temperament. The Lachrimae theme was much admired andimitated, both in England and abroad. The galliard was a fashionable dance ofthe time, usually paired with the slower pavan, which would precede it.
Shakespeare's drunken Sir Toby Belch, it may be recalled, advised his victim,the credulous Sir Andrew Aguecheek, in Twelfth Night, to go to church ina galliard and come home in a coranto, to show off the excellent constitutionof his leg.
Edward Elgar, son of a piano-tuner turnedshop-keeper, was born at Broadheath, near Worcester, in 1857. His relativelyhumble birth was to cause social difficulties, as his music won increasingadmiration from more perceptive contemporaries. Marriage to a pupil, thedaughter of a former Major-General in the Indian Army, was of materialassistance to him in his struggle for a more general recognition, achieved in1899 with the popular Enigma Variations. After the death of his wife in1920, Elgar wrote little. His orchestral compositions culminate in the CelloConcerto of 1919 and his chamber music with the Piano Quintet of the sameyear. It is in particular from the final period of his life that we haveinherited the image of a relic of Edwardian imperialism, a country gentlemanmore interested in his dogs and horses than in the arts. The false picture issupported by the continuing popularity of patriotic compositions such as the Pompand Circumstance Marches, a focus for popular jingoism.
Elgar's position as a leading composer ofthe day, quite in accordance with the continuing romantic traditions inGerman-speaking countries, must be clear from the three works included in thepresent Festival. The Elegy, a work of great sensibility, was written in 1909and dedicated to the memory of the Reverend R. H. Hadden, Junior Warden of theWorshipful Company of Musicians. It was first performed at The Mansion House on13th July, 1909.
By training Elgar was a violinist and hadearned a living in Worcester by teaching and playing the instrument during hisearly years. His writing for strings is, in consequence, idiomatic, although heexplained his particular ability by claiming the example of a dominant figurein the history of music in England. "Study old Handel", he advised,"I went to him for help ages ago". The Introduction and Allegro forstring quartet and string orchestra, completed in 1905, arose from earliersketches. In particular he made use of a melody that had occurred to him duringa holiday in Wales, a Welsh tune, incorporated in a work that he described as"a tribute to that sweet borderland" where he had made his home, andwhere, indeed, he had been born and bred. The new work was first performed atthe Queen's Hall in London by the London Symphony Orchestra under the directionof the composer, but only gradually won its lasting place in orchestralrepertoire. It was dedicated to Professor S.S.Sanford of Yale University, whichhad recently awarded Elgar an honorary doctorate.
The Introduction and Allegro
contrasts a small group, a string quartet, with the main body of the orchestra,a form suggested by the Baroque concerto grosso. The romantic texture isenriched by sub-division of the string sections of the orchestra and the characteristicsweep of the composer's writing for strings. The Introduction suggests theprincipal themes that are to follow in the Allegro, the opening providing thebroad second theme and the first entry of the quartet proposing material forthe first theme. The work moves forward to a brilliantly worked fugal sectionthat leads back to the re-appearance of the first theme, the second theme, nowappropriately changed in key, and a final triumphant reference to theIntroduction.
The Serenade was written in 1892,shortly after Elgar's marriage, when he had decided to give up his attempt togain a foothold in the musical world of London and return to the provinces. Itsprobable origin lies in an earlier work, Three Pieces for Strings, written in1888 and first played at the Worcestershire Musical Union. The later Serenade,presumably a revised version of the Three Pieces, was probably first played inWorcester by amateurs, and had its first successful professional performancesabroad, before becoming an established and popular element in Englishrepertoire. The first professional performance took place in New Brighton in1899 under the composer's direction. A work of characteristically sweetmelancholy, the Serenade, in the key of E minor, opens with the pulsatingrhythm of the viola. The expressive second movement leads to a final Allegrettothat explores again the rich possibilities of divided string sections and thebriefly contrasted sound of the solo violin.
Frank Bridge has been the subject ofundeserved neglect as a composer, in spite of the attempts of his loyal pupilBenjamin Britten to give him the honou