British Orchestral Works

Author: 
Andrew Achenbach

British Orchestral Works

  • Ballade
  • Symphonic Variations on an African air
  • (2) English Idylls
  • (A) Shropshire Lad
  • (The) Banks of Green Willow
  • (The) Land of the mountain and the flood

Grant Llewellyn's Butterworth is a model of sensitivity and poise. To be truthful, I don't think I've ever heard the Two English Idylls imbued with a fresher sense of re-creative wonder—and how tellingly this gifted young conductor manages to convey the vulnerable poignancy behind this thoroughly engaging music. Similarly, the misty introduction to A Shropshire Lad is breathtaking in its evocative power, with scrupulously observed dynamics to boot (the clarinets' first entry really is a genuine, ear-bending ppp), whilst the central portion brings with it just the right amount of pulse-quickening passion. Only, perhaps, in The banks of green willow do the RLPO seem marginally less responsive to Llewellyn's specific (in this case unusually gentle, almost dreamy) demands: here Marriner and the ASMF (mid-price Decca), aided by beefier sonics, create a rather more personable impression. Generally speaking though, Llewellyn presides over quite the most exquisitely-honed and illuminating readings of these lovely miniatures since Sir Adrian Boult's outstandingly sensitive Lyrita accounts from the mid-1970s (1/76—as yet unavailable on CD).
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor completed his Ballade in 1898, the same year as the first scene (''Hiawatha's wedding feast'') of his once widely popular cantata The Song of Hiawatha. It's an enjoyable essay, full of effective orchestral bluster, but in no way distinctive—only the touchingly sweet secondary melody lingers in the memory for any period of time. The Symphonic Variations on an African Air of 1906, on the other hand, show a far greater imaginative scope and emotional variety; stylistically, I was strongly reminded of another underrated orchestral set of variations, namely Grieg's charming Old Norwegian Romance. The African air in question is the resonant black spiritual I'm troubled in mind, and Argo's exemplary and thoughtful booklet-annotator, Stephen Banfield, rightly cites Delius's Appalachia as a kindred creation, though Coleridge-Taylor's inspiration, for all its agreeable fluency and occasional moments of harmonic subtlety, never honestly comes close to matching the universal properties of Delius's sublimely naive vision. Again, excellent, vibrant performances, though.
Under Llewellyn, Hamish MacCunn's delightful Victorian concert overture, The land of the mountain and the flood, also receives crisp yet affectionate treatment: its indelible 'big' tune is most stirringly attended to here, with RLPO strings producing a firmer body of tone than do the SNO on either of Sir Alexander Gibson's recordings (Chandos and mid-price EMI).
Chris Hazell's Liverpool Philharmonic Hall production is both irrepressibly vivid and impeccably well-lit, with keen-voiced horns cutting through the orchestral texture in characteristically exciting Decca/Argo manner; now and then, some of the cymbal-led tuttis in the Coleridge-Taylor items acquire a certain aggressive edge, but never too distractingly so. A lovely collection.'

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