BLOWER Symphony in C HOWELL Tone Poem
Rarities galore jostle for attention on these anthologies. Vol 1 launches in propitious fashion with the tone-poem Lamia by Handsworth-born Dorothy Howell (1898-1982). Championed by and dedicated to Sir Henry Wood, it won the 21-year-old composer instant acclaim – and deservedly so, given its precocious skill, melodic fecundity and notably adroit orchestration. Next comes the Symphony in C by Maurice Blower (1894-1982), the manuscript of which was found among his papers by his son, Thomas, and subsequently edited by him and Peter Craddock, who directed the first performance in 2008. Completed in 1938 and cast in four movements, it’s an endearingly lyrical, 35-minute canvas of no mean fluency and craft, firmly in the British symphonic tradition, albeit with an affectionate nod or two towards Scandinavia, France and pre-Revolutionary Russia. Joseph Holbrooke’s outrageously mischievous Variations on ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’ (1905) brings one or two shaky moments from the otherwise spirited Karelia State PO under Marius Stravinsky’s appreciative lead. A shame the cavernous sound is so unappetising.
Two highly attractive, pastoral-tinged works for horn and strings by Blower also frame the contents of the companion CD, his Eclogue and the 1951 Concerto that was first given by Dennis Brain (no less) at the 1953 Petersfield Music Festival. Both Robin Milford’s wholly captivating 1924 Suite (think RVW meets Warlock) and the scarcely less fetching Concertino by Walter Gaze Cooper (1895-1981) are scored for solo oboe and strings; the latter was premiered by Evelyn Rothwell (aka Lady Barbirolli) in October 1957. That only leaves the charming Serenade for solo flute, horn, harp and strings of Frederick Septimus Kelly (1881-1916), a five-movement offering from 1911 by this Sydney-born figure who fought at Gallipoli and perished on the Somme. Happily, this disc brings with it an improvement in performance and production values, with exemplary solo contributions throughout and some eager (if not always ideally tidy) playing from the Malta PO under Michael Laus. Anglophiles who enjoy venturing well off the beaten track will find rich pickings here.