English Music for Strings

Satisfying string works by four very different British composers

Author: 
Edward Greenfield

English Music for Strings

  • Variations on the name GABRIEL FAURÉ
  • Symphonic Serenade
  • Essay No 7
  • Classical Variations
  • Allegro Concertante

Contrasted as the four composers are, this is all amiable, well-crafted music. That is especially true of Norman Del Mar’s Allegro concertante, written in 1944 at the beginning of his career. In those days he was a horn player, often in duet with the great Dennis Brain, and his writing for horn demonstrates his love and understanding of the instrument. Though this is a virtuoso piece, it sounds as though the writing is grateful for the player, with its fruity tones and open intervals set against warm, neo-classical chatter. With Stephen Bell a brilliant soloist, Martin Yates draws strong and purposeful playing from the BBC Concert Orchestra.

All the other works have Yates conducting the refined strings of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in equally strong and sensitive performances. The Variations on the Name Gabriel Fauré have a harp alongside the strings, less clearly as a concertante instrument than the horn in the Del Mar. Here the neo-classical basis is even clearer, with the slow statement of the theme leading to five movements labelled Idyll, Barcarolle, Polka, Storm and Quodlibet, each well characterised. Though the Storm movement is relatively gentle, not remotely as vivid as Beethoven’s in the Pastoral Symphony, the final Quodlibet with its contrapuntal writing makes an effective conclusion with its rushing coda. The other Bax work is an oddity. When the composer died, an unfinished piece was found in piano score. Graham Parlett has skilfully completed it and orchestrated it for strings with satisfying resonance.

Arnell’s Classical Variations (1939) are even more clearly neo-classical in a very English style, ending on an emphatic major chord, while the Dodgson Essay, the only one of the series for strings, is deliberately a study in string textures rather than a development of themes. Again beautifully crafted. The recording, masterminded by Andrew Walton, adds to the impact of the disc with its warm, open sound.

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