British Music – Conducted by Sir Charles Groves = ELGAR, DELIUS, VW, BRIAN, HOLST, WALTON, BRIDGE & Many Others – Warner Classics (24 CDs)

by | Jan 30, 2017 | Classical Reissue Reviews

True to its advertisement, this set brings together a fine selection of British music led by a devoted practitioner of his craft.

British Music – Sir Charles Groves = ELGAR: Nursery Suite; Funeral March from Grania amd Diaramid, Op. 42; Severn Suite, Op. 87; Caractacus, Op. 35: Complete Cantata; Woodland and Triumphal March; The Crown of India – Suite, Op. 66; The Black Knight, Op. 25; Spanish Serenade, Op. 23; The Snow, Op. 26, No. 1; Fly, Singing Bird, Op. 26, No. 2; Imperial March, Op. 32; The Light of Life, Op. 29; Enigma Variations, Op. 36; Violin Concerto in b, Op. 61; Pomp and Circumstance Marches, Op. 39: No. 1 in D and No. 4 in G; DELIUS: A Song of Summer; Eventyr; A Dance Rhapsody No. 1; Paris: a Nocturne; Lebenstanz; North Country Sketches; Sea Drift; Songs of Sunset; An Arabesque; A Mass of Life; Koanga; The Song of the High Hills; VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Hugh the Drover; HOLST: The Hymn of Jesus, Op. 37; Short Festival Te Deum; Hymns from the Rig Veda – Second Group, Op. 26, No. 2; Ode to Death, Op. 38; Two Songs without Words, Op. 22: Marching Song; BRIAN: Symphony No. 8 in b-flat; Symphony No. 9 in a; BRIDGE: The Sea – Suite; Summer; Cherry Ripe; Enter Spring – Rhapsody; Lament; BLISS: Morning Heroes: Symphony for Orator, Chorus and Orch,; Processional; A Colour Symphony; Things to Come – Suite from the Film; WALTON: Spitfire: Prelude and Fugue; Scapino Overture; Crown Imperial; Orb and Sceptre; Johannesburg Festival Overture; Capriccio burlesco; Hamlet: Funeral March; Richard III – Prelude; Richard III – A Shakespeare Suite; Hamlet and Ophelia; Henry V – Suite; ALFORD: On the Quarter Deck: March; DAVIES: March Past of the Royal Air Force; COATES: The Dam Busters; The Three Bears; Cinderella; By the Sleepy Lagoon; From Meadow to Mayfair – Suite; The Three Elizabeths – Suite; Wood Nymphs; Music Everywhere; Saxo-Rhapsody; Summer Day: At the Dance; London – Suite; London Again – Suite; TRAD: Horn Pipe; ARNE: The British Grenadiers; Rule Britannia; SULLIVAN: Symphony in E Major “Irish”; Opetta Overtures: H.M.S. Pinafore; Patience; Iolanthe; The Mikado; The Yeoman of the Guard; The Gondoliers; Overture di Ballo; ARNOLD: English Dances, Op. 27 and Op. 33; Symphony No. 2, Op. 40 – Sheila Armstrong/ Dame Janet Baker/ Hugh Bean, violin/ Jack Brymer, sax/ Peter Glossop/ Heather Harper/ Eugene Holmes/ Claudia Lindsey/ John Noble/ John Shirley-Quirk/ Robert Tear/ Ambrosian Opera Chorus/ John Aldis Choir/ Liverpool Philharmonic Choir/ London Philharmonic Chorus and Orch,/ London Sym. Chorus and Orch./ Royal Philharmonic Orch./ Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orch./ Sir Charles Groves – Warner Classics 0825646147243 (24 CDs) (4/28/15) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Sir Charles Groves (1915-1992) declared that Beecham, Furtwaengler, and Toscanini stood as his exemplars of conducting art. Warner Classics has assembled a 24-CD collection of the Groves contribution to British music over 100 years of composition – despite the fact that Sir Charles often lamented that he wished to glean a reputation in other repertory. Yet, while Boult, Sargent, Barbirolli, and Beecham had their individual domains, Sir Charles Groves meant to explore several universes, including new music, given his leadership of the National Youth Orchestra.  Explained Groves, “I’ve done a lot of British music – I like it – and it seems to me that if English conductors don’t conduct it, then one can’t expect foreign conductors to, either. I have enjoyed recording so much British music but regret not having been able to record more other music. At my age you really have to get to grips with the feeling that you have never done everything you wanted to. Everyone feels the same – and the great thing is to face this with a sense of humor.”

With so much music at hand, it would be a monumental task to describe each and every item.  I suggest you take the path of investigative, musical curiosity: listen to the complete Koanga and savor its exotic harmonies. Eric Coates (Vol. 22) receives a disc entirely devoted to obscure scores, some of which, like his two London suites, should recall you to the Groves rendition. Years ago, I heard Sir Arthur Bliss lead his own suite for Things to Come, for the fantasy film based on H.G. Wells and starring Raymond Massey, whose motto, “Wings Over the World” meant that boss Ralph Richardson’s days were numbered. Sir Charles reinvigorated my memories of this expressive score. Even perennial Elgar receives rare attention in colorful, character music, like his pictorial and ceremonial Severn Suite.  The Elgar Violin Concerto, so often attached to Yehudi Menuhin and Ida Haendel as its two great acolytes, finds in Hugh Bean (1929-2003) the same dedication he imparted to his classic reading of The Lark Ascending. I would urge auditors to those scores by Sir Malcolm Arnold and Havergal Brian, given Groves’ devotion to their respective causes. In all deference to Sir Thomas Beecham, Groves brings his own personality to bear upon the music of Frederick Delius, and I would recommend a hasty visit to the CD player for North Country Sketches and Paris.

The sound quality of the set remains quite strong, with clarity and melodic resonance the orders of the day.  The wonderful aggregate of soloists and musical personnel remains first-class. Although some of the selections qualify as “light music,” Groves takes the Toscanini approach that no music is small, only its interpreters. I still have many hours ahead to savor what in haste I had to adsorb for the purpose of these few words.

—Gary Lemco

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