Flowers of the Field
The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War has not gone unmarked in the record industry. In the clamour of new releases I hope that this thoughtful collage of English works for chorus and orchestra doesn’t get lost.
Hilary Davan Wetton conducts the City of London Choir and the London Mozart Players in a programme whose chief interests are ‘premiere’ recordings of Finzi’s Requiem da camera and Ivor Gurney’s chorus-song The Trumpet – new performing editions and reconstructions by Christian Alexander and Philip Lancaster respectively. These are framed by Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad rhapsody and Vaughan Williams’s An Oxford Elegy.
Both new editions have their challenges; Lancaster must imagine an orchestral sound world Gurney barely discovered for himself, while Alexander must exceed the merits of the original Philip Thomas orchestration, so memorably captured on the Hickox recording (Chandos, 3/92). Lancaster amplifies Gurney’s chamber textures into fuller forces that borrow from Parry and Elgar, colouring ever-present strings with thrilling flashes of brass. Alexander, exchanging Thomas’s consoling flute for anguished oboe in ‘Only a man’, finds greater yearning – a bittersweet nostalgia matched by Roderick Williams’s solo, which eschews the declamatory intensity of Stephen Varcoe’s for something more inward. This is a work that deserves attention: if not quite the equal of Vaughan Williams’s Dona nobis pacem, then certainly a youthful glance in that direction.
Jeremy Irons makes an understated reader for An Oxford Elegy, offering a more matter-of-fact, contemporary take than we’re used to in the more Victorian moments of Matthew Arnold’s verse. He is deftly supported by the London Mozart Players, whose wind solos throughout the disc are especially fine. The only blot on this pastoral landscape are the chorus, who lack the vocal youth and energy so crucial to this collection of young men’s music.