ENGLISH STRING MINIATURES, Vol. 6 (Gavin Sutherland/ Philip Lane/ Royal Ballet Sinfonia) (Naxos: 8.557753)
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English String Miniatures, Vol. 6
Gustav Holst had played the trombone professionally in his youth, and so was naturally drawn to writing for wind instruments, hence the two suites for wind band, and A Moorside Suite for brass band. A great many leading British composers in the 1920s and 1930s, Elgar included, were approached to write for the brass band without the specialist knowledge to score for the medium, so it is probable that the composers wrote in short score and had the detailed scoring undertaken by other hands. It is therefore reasonable to surmise that Holst had instruments in mind other than brass ones while writing this suite. In fact, a few years after the work's appearance at the National Championships in 1928, Holst produced a string version for the junior orchestra at St Paul's Girls School in Hammersmith, in London. Even in its 'toned down' version (some of the more virtuosic moments from the original were smoothed out for the young string players) it proved too tricky, so the Brook Green Suite was composed for them instead. I made this version directly from the brass band score before I knew of the existence of the outer movements in Holst's original hand - the central Nocturne had been recorded in the 1960s under his daughter Imogen's direction. This version is generally more extravagant than Holst's own, making greater demands on the players throughout, while keeping faith with Holst's music.
Purcell's Chacony in G minor is a classic of the genre, being a set of eighteen variations, on an eight-bar ground bass, of ever-changing rhythmic patterns and harmonic shifts. Its origins are not entirely known, but it is thought to have been written for a theatrical production on a tragic subject. Benjamin Britten's affection for the piece resulted in his editing it for string orchestra, not altering the text in any way but devising a credible dynamic structure and consistency in dotted rhythms and distribution of parts.
Paul Lewis eschewed the formalities of university and music college to work in television from the age of twenty, first administratively, and then as a composer for numerous programmes including Arthur of the Britons, and the children's classic, Woof! While composing this miniature to assuage the sadness of parting from a loved one, a single flower of his favourite rose bloomed in his garden, the only one to do so that year.
The name of Adam Carse crops up on dozens of string pieces for young players, all skilfully written, within predetermined technical parameters, and interesting to play and listen to, unsurprisingly for a man for whom string instruments were almost an extension of himself. He was born in Newcastle and educated at the Royal Academy of Music in London and in Germany. He later became a Professor of Harmony and Counterpoint at the Royal Academy, and taught at Winchester College. The Winton in the title of this suite refers to the cathedral city of Winchester, and in places is an affectionate hark back to the clear lines of baroque string-writing, even alluding, in several movement titles, to eighteenth-century dance suites. In the fourth movement, Song, there are concertante parts for violin and cello which recall the Concerto grosso form and possess a quasi religioso character inspired no doubt by many an amble around the cathedral and its environs.
The output of the composer, Peter Warlock, the nom de guerre of the musicologist Philip Heseltine, consists of a few modest orchestral works, including the ubiquitous Capriol Suite, and largely vocal items. Amongst these are several carols that have become firmly established in the seasonal repertoire of singers and choirs, none more so than Bethlehem Down. The idea for the piece was conceived by the writer of the words, Bruce Blunt, on a pub crawl with Warlock between The Plough at Bishop's Sutton and The Anchor at Ropley, in the southern county of Hampshire, in late 1927. Blunt sent the words to Warlock, who set them to music in a couple of days, and thence to The Daily Telegraph newspaper which published the carol from the composer's manuscript in the Christmas Eve edition. The proceeds of the enterprise were consumed over the subsequent holiday. My version for strings stretches the original four verses to five and seeks to make the piece as effective for strings as the original is for choirs. No harmonic changes have been made within verses (although 'verses' 3 to 5 change key) but the voicing has naturally been varied for textural reasons.
Paul Carr was born in Cornwall of Anglo-Australian stock and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, subsequently pursuing a career in opera stage-management. Since 1998 he has restricted this work to concentrate on composition with several television and film scores, as well as concert works, to his credit. A Very English Music is a paean to the English countryside and way of life. Cuckmere Haven is located on the Sussex coast within sight of Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters. Cornish Air recalls the composer's birthplace, while the finale paints a picture of a Boxing Day hunt in the Yorkshire village of Laycock, with supporters, protesters, huntsmen, and may be even the odd fox.
William Lloyd Webber was born in London and studied at the Royal College of Music where his composition teacher was Vaughan Williams. He spent much of his life as a church musician, but wrote a quantity of non-liturgical music, some of it often bordering on the downright commercial, at least stylistically speaking. This charming Waltz in E minor is a companion piece to the Lento for strings written the same year.
Lionel Sainsbury was born in Wiltshire and studied at the Guildhall with Patric Standford. His music, amongst which string and piano music predominate, has been performed widely. His Violin Concerto was given a successful first performance at the Three Choirs Festival in 2002. The Two Nocturnes are richly introspective, the darkly brooding chromaticism of the first contrasting with the more lyrical character of the second.
Malcolm Lipkin was born in Liverpool and studied piano and composition, the latter with Bernard Stevens and Matyas Seiber, culminating in a doctorate at London University. He has composed three symphonies, an oboe concerto and much chamber music. His suite From Across La Manche was commissioned by the Primavera Chamber Orchestra and performed early on in its life in Northern France; in fact, the work is in essence a celebration of Europe, a spiritual coming together in which symbols of different musical cultures can be heard. The Overture is suitably joyous and forceful rhythmically, while the ensuing Ballade moves from reflection to climax and back again. The Dance-Finale quotes a bar of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, the rhythm of which is that of the Polish Mazurka which provides an ongoing rhythmic cell for this whole movement.