English String Miniatures, Vol. 2

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English String Miniatures, Volume 2

The three miniatures by Frank Bridge confirm his deft touch with existing tunes and his exemplary writing for strings, born of his having been a professional viola player. In fact, at the premi?¿re of his Two Old English Songs (Cherry Ripe and Sally in our Alley) in 1916 by the London String Quartet, Bridge himself played the viola part. The version for string orchestra followed later that year and was given at the Proms under Sir Henry Wood. Roger de Coverley, subtitled 'A Christmas Dance', appeared six years later and is a set of virtuosic variations on the folk-tune traditionally played last at Christmas balls of the time. Again it was intended for string quartet, with versions for string and full orchestra coming later. In the final pages, Christmas gives way to New Year with the appearance of Auld Long Syne in the texture.

Elgar's Sospiri was written on the eve of the Great War and captures something of the impending tragedy to come with its dark colours, bolstered up by optional harp and organ. The title translates as 'sighs', and the work is dedicated to the composer's friend and confidante, the violinist W.H. Reed, whose newly formed London Symphony Orchestra had inspired the more expansive Introduction and Allegro.

Before the phenomenal success of Roses of Picardy and the seemingly endless series of suites and characteristic pieces, Haydn Wood was a talented violinist and composer of 'serious' music, like any good pupil of Charles Villiers Stanford. In 1905 he won a prize in the first Cobbett Musical Competition for chamber music, in which all entries were required to use the Word 'fantasy' in some form in the title - his was the Dvorak influenced Phantasie in F major for string quartet, and dedicated to Stanford. Some 44 years later the work was revised and adapted by the composer for string orchestra under the new title, Fantasy-Concerto. It is cast in one continuous movement, but falls into three well-defined sections, and commands the same virtuosic skill from a full string orchestra as did the original of its four individuals.

John Ireland wrote several works for string orchestra including the Concertino Pastorale and Downland Suite. The latter began life as a brass band test-piece, and The Holy Boy too has roots elsewhere, this time as a Christmas song of 1913. He made no attempt to expand the piece when transcribing it for the less intimate string orchestra in 1941 for fear of damaging the veneer of childlike innocence that so pervades the original vocal lines.

The six pieces that make up Vaughan Williams' Charterhouse Suite were originally written for piano solo. James Brown's arrangement, made in collaboration with the composer, gives few clues as to its origins, being most sympathetically laid out for strings. The title harks back to his schooldays in Godalming from 1887 to 1890.

In May 1929, Peter Warlock visited Delius at his home in France to discuss a forthcoming Delius Festival. Searching for early works worth performing, he discovered the manuscript of Air and Dance written around the time of the Great War, but unperformed. Warlock copied the score, returned to London, and persuaded Beecham to record it on 7th May. In a letter to Edward Clark, Warlock conjectured that this was perhaps the first instance of a work by a major composer being heard on record before any public performance. In fact this happened later the same year, on 16th October in the Aeolian Hall. The lyrical Air melts into the contrasting Dance seamlessly, with an echo of the Air slipped in just before the final assertive cadence.

Needless to say, Warlock was a lifetime admirer of Delius, so it is not surprising to find his writing a sixtieth birthday tribute in the form of a Serenade in 1922, although the fast metronome mark might suggest something less passionate than the traditional serenade, but no less full of glowing admiration.

Geoffrey Bush was born in London and studied at Lancing and at Balliol College, Oxford. As a composer he was virtually self-taught, although he received helpful advice and encouragement, while a schoolboy at Salisbury Cathedral Choir School, from John Ireland. After graduating he taught in the extra-mural departments of Oxford and London universities. The latter regularly held Summer Schools at Westonbirt, a grand Victorian country-house in Gloucestershire, and it was there that Consort Music began life, originally as a series of songs and texts by Ronald Mason, and in the various styles popular at the time of Prince Albert, the 'Consort' of the title. This version for strings was first heard in a BBC broadcast in 1989.

Philip Lane

Disc: 1
Sir Roger de Coverley
1 Sally in Our Alley
2 Cherry Ripe
3 Sospiri
4 Allegro moderato
5 Andante con moto
6 Allegro risoluto
7 The Holy Boy
8 Prelude
9 Slow Dance
10 Quick Dance
11 Slow Air
12 Rondo
13 Pezzo Ostinato
14 Air and Dance
15 Serenade for the 60th Birthday of Frederick Delius
16 Song Without Words
17 Valse
18 Ballad
19 Caprice
20 Cradle Song
21 Finale
22 Sir Roger de Coverley
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