English String Miniatures, Vol. 3

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Carlo Martelli was born in London of an Italian father and English mother and attended the Royal College of Music from an early age, studying with William Lloyd Webber and Bernard Stevens, before leaving to pursue a career largely as a viola player. He has continued, however, to compose concert works and film scores, and most prolifically he has produced innumerable arrangements for string ensembles from all areas of musical literature. His tremendous facility with strings is perhaps best shown in his Persiflage (literally "banter"), a veritable tour de force for string orchestra that stretches every department to the limit before the music fades out like the acoustic equivalent of a snuffed-out candle.

Yorkshire played a part in Gerald Finzi’s early musical training, although a Londoner by birth. It was the countryside of the south of England, however, that finally called and he spent the most productive period of his life reflecting that landscape in music of refined delicacy and emotional sincerity, never more so than in these two string miniatures, Prelude and Romance. Not intended as an actual diptych, the former did, however, start out in 1925 as the first of three pieces intended to be called The Bud, the Blossom and the Berry, while the Romance was written three years earlier.

The strings of the junior orchestra at St Paul’s Girls’ School, in London’s Hammersmith, had to wait some twenty years for Holst’s companion piece to the senior orchestra’s St Paul’s Suite. When it came in 1933, it was something of a replacement since the composer had intended the string version of his brass band classic, A Moorside Suite, to be that work. That proved, however, slightly too tricky for the young players, and so the Brook Green Suite was born. The string version of A Moorside Suite appears in its première complete recording on Volume 4 of the present series. Taking its title from the area around the school, the Brook Green Suite falls into three concise movements, the last of which, borrows a tune Holst heard in a puppet show while on holiday in Sicily.

William Blezard’s musical life has been a varied one. After studies at the Royal College of Music with Arthur Benjamin, Herbert Howells and Gordon Jacob, he worked first at Denham film studios, before heading for the West End as musical director to the likes of Joyce Grenfell, with whom, on occasions, he sang duets as a not inconsiderable baritone, Marlene Dietrich and Max Wall. The Duetto was written in 1951 and dedicated to his friend and fellow composer, Clifton Parker, who had suggested a more contrapuntal approach to his compositions in general. Hence, this study is a canon, preceded by a largely pizzicato introduction by the lower strings alone.

Michael Hurd was born in Gloucester, in the country of Vaughan Willoams, Holst, Gurney and Howells among others, and studied music at Oxford University and privately with Sir Lennox Berkeley. He is the biographer of Rutland Boughton and Ivor Gurney, and composer of a highly succesful series of "pop" cantatas, beginning in 1966 with Jonah-man Jazz. The Sinfonia concertante was first performed in 1973 with the composer conducting the Kathleen Merritt String Orchestra, an ensemble renowned for its championing of British music for the medium. Its slightly austere title belies a generally light-hearted, neo-classical piece, which features a solo violin weaving its way in and out of the texture with the central passacaglia exploring the deepest emotions overall.

The name of Haydn Wood in essentially associated these days with the smash-hit song Roses of Picardy, and with light orchestral suites, the most famous of which have London associations. His roots, however, lay further north, initially in Slaithwaite, North Yorkshire, and more firmly on the Isle of Man, the source of inspiration for several works. His own instrument was the violin, which he studied in London and Brussels, and his composition teacher at the Royal College of Music in London was Stanford. His Fantasy Concerto stands as a monument to his facility with strings and is dedicated to his old teacher. An Eighteenth Century Scherzo was published around the same time as the more substantial work, although this had started out as a string quartet work some thirty years earlier, but it harks further back in style. Though not so much eighteenth as early nineteenth century, it appears as a kind of anglicised Midsummer’s Night Dream scherzo, but none the worse for that. Perhaps the nineteenth century was still too close, even in 1948, for the faintly archaic nature of the title to have effect.

More people have heard Bruce Montgomery’s music than most ever realise. As composer of all the "Doctor" and the first four "Carry On" films, his name should be better known than it is. His literary achievements were no less celebrated, his alter ego being Edmund Crispin, author of detective stories and the Gervase Fen Raising the Wind, an unofficial "Carry On", set in a thinly disguised Royal College, for which he wrote the screenplay and the music, and even appeared as a conductor. He read music at Oxford in the 1940s, where his college contemporaries included Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin. Despite his frequent forays into the film studio, he wrote a number of substantial concert works, including a choral Oxford Requiem, which deserves a wider audience. The Concertino of 1950 is typical of his musical language at this time; there are echoes of the English tradition of the previous fifty years, but it is tinged with post-war realism and a new modernism that breaks away from the language of the previous generation of composers. One might view Montgomery as a composer of talent who was perhaps side-tracked, and, not helped by increasing alcoholism, unable to fulfil his full potential. On the other hand, not every composer has their music heard by millions throughout the world, even though not every listener is aware of the composer’s name.

Disc: 1
Concertino for String Orchestra
1 Persiflage
2 Prelude
3 Prelude
4 Air
5 Dance
6 Duetto
7 Allegro moderato
8 Andante
9 Presto
10 Romance
11 An 18th Century Scherzo
12 Moderato quasi allegro
13 Lento espressivo
14 Vivace ed energico
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