BUTTERWORTH Suite for String Quartet. 6 Songs from A Shropshire Lad
Even 100 years after his death on the Somme, it’s still impossible not to feel the gap left by George Butterworth. Which of us, enchanted by The Banks of Green Willow or the Shropshire Lad songs, hasn’t wondered ‘what if?’
This disc offers one answer, with a completion by Kriss Russman of Butterworth’s sketches for an orchestral Fantasia. It’s not the first such completion, though where Martin Yates (Dutton, 5/16) extended Butterworth’s 92 bar fragment to 16 minutes, Russman wisely confines it to just eight. Even so, less than half of the music is by Butterworth. Russman’s guesswork is idiomatically scored but sounds, in the end, too much like a rewrite of the Shropshire Lad Rhapsody without adequate material.
You do have to wonder what the perfectionist Butterworth would have made of it – or of Russman’s orchestral versions of his Shropshire Lad cycle. Again, the scoring is idiomatic and sensitive, and James Rutherford brings yards of rich mahogany tone. But it feels as if the music is being blown up to a scale that Butterworth never intended; and the same goes for Russman’s string-orchestra version of the unpublished Suite for String Quartette (sic). A lilting performance can’t quite cover the loss of intimacy – or the sense that Butterworth’s ideas were never meant to bear this weight.
Still, it’s impossible not to sympathise with Russman’s motives, and his accounts of Butterworth’s four completed orchestral works are fresh and passionate, with a wide dynamic range captured in crystal-clear BIS sound. And Rutherford gives an ardent reading of Butterworth’s only orchestral song-cycle, Love Blows as the Wind Blows. Butterworth’s admirers will want to hear this disc anyway, and that performance alone would provide ample justification.