ARNOLD Concerto for 2 Violins JENKINS Sinfonietta
This recording offers an unusual variety of British works for string orchestra played by the Chamber Ensemble of London, directed by its founder, Peter Fisher. Some of them are well known but others are given their world premiere in the spirit of the enterprising EM Records label (whose catalogue is steadily increasing).
Among the more well-trodden repertoire are Purcell’s Overture and Rondeau from Abdelazer, thoroughly typical of the composer, though replete with a strong French aroma in the Overture, crisply performed here. This 17th-century Baroque world melds nicely with Bantock’s arrangements of seven pieces from Giles Farnaby’s substantial contribution to the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Two other popular string pieces are Elgar’s Elegy and John Ireland’s plangent The Holy Boy, here arranged for solo cello (with Peter Adams) and orchestra by Christopher Palmer. Both these pieces provide a context for a first recording of Harold Darke’s introspective Fantasy in E major, familiar as an organ piece but not in its string orchestration (here supplied by Clive Jenkins).
Of more recent vintage are Malcolm Arnold’s Concerto for two violins and Clive Jenkins’s Sinfonietta for strings. The former, commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin in 1962, is neo-classical in scale and has all those pungently bittersweet thumbprints of the composer’s piquant harmonic language, especially in the ruminative slow movement. Jenkins’s Sinfonietta also reveals a classical edge in its traditional use of structure and gesture, though it has much in common, notably in its scherzo, with the swagger and joie de vivre of Holst’s St Paul’s Suite.
The disc concludes with an entertaining virtuoso display in Fisher’s Variations on ‘Widecombe Fair’ in the Style of Paganini, in which the showmanship of the 19th-century Italian and the English West Country collide in a hilarious pastiche.