First Edition FECD 1904, 67:36 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
This album celebrates four graduates of the Royal College of Music, established in London in 1882 to permit native British composers to be home-grown rather than cultivated in Germany so they could spend the rest of their careers as Wagner clones. The recordings date 1959-1973. Sir Arthur Bliss first impressed me with his particular syntax in the film score The Shape of Things to Come, the sci-fi fantasy of 1936 with Raymond Massey and Ralph Richardson. Discourse for Orchestra (1957), commissioned by the Louisville Symphonic Society, is a six movement suite whose fourth section, Andante tranquillo, provides the contemplative center of the piece. In a neo-romantic vein, the piece is moody, sometimes yearning and stealthy, but tonally accessible. Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) is a name I only discovered when my record collecting days had me inspecting an LHMV LP with Sir John Barbirolli leading the Symphony No. 7 on the flip side of something else. Both lyrically rhapsodic and contrapuntal in texture, Rubbra’s music manages to haunt the imagination, especially here in his 1955 Improvisation for Violin and Orchestra, another Louisville Symphonic Society commission. Sidney Harth enters immediately over a sustained drum pedal, with a theme whose extension provides a through-composed basis for the entire piece. The episodes involving harp, drum, horn all cast a foggy hint of Chausson’s Poeme or a tender moment from the French side of Prokofiev.
Malcolm Arnold (b. 1921) has been active in the recorded promulgation of his own works; and I recall an early Epic LP of mine which sported an overture of his led by Eduard van Beinum. The 2-Violin Concerto (1962) is the product of a commission from Yehudi Menuhin, who played it with his protégé, Alberto Lysy. In traditional three movements, the work takes its cue from the Bach Double Concerto, urging both passion and restraint in silken, neoclassical lines. If the first movement possesses an angular beauty, the Andantino dominates the piece, with a section calling for parallel thirds in the two soli over the main theme in quarter notes. The end of the movement, calling for muted violins, pianissimo, proves affecting. Rapid scale passages and arpeggios keep the two violins chasing each other in the last movement. By way of concluding, the Vivace manages to quote from the two earlier movements, adding a decided tightness of form to the pulsating mix. The plucky Trumpet concerto by John Addison (1920-1998) is a product of a commission from 1958. The sudden change of texture from the 2-Violin Concerto is a bit startling, but we soon warm up to the easy, limpid phrases–often diatonic, in perfect fourths– spun out by Napier and Mester. A muted trumpet fanfare announces the Adagio misterioso theme, a variant of Beethoven’s famous four notes, where the interval of choice is the perfect fifth. Some of the writing becomes polytonal and quite intense. The finale combines intervals from the prior sections to create a highly syncopated, suave bustle not far from the Poulenc, virtuoso sensibility. In vivid remastered sound, First Edition again makes a powerful case for the inclusion of these highly charged, urbane, and often captivating works in our standard repertory.