ERNEST JOHN MOERAN: In the Mountain Country [TrackList follows] = Benjamin Frith, p./ Ulster Orch./ JoAnn Falletta – Naxos 8.573106 57:06 (1/28/14) ****:
Ernest John Moeran was an Anglo-Irish composer whose work has escaped me over the years. Moeran died in 1950 at age 55 of a cerebral hemorrhage. His music comes from the folk music of his native Ireland and the English countryside.
The disc under consideration here contains an Overture, Rhapsodies, and an orchestral work, In the Mountain Country. They are performed by the Ulster Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta conducting, with the addition of pianist Benjamin Frith on the Rhapsody in F sharp major.
Moeran is clearly in the tradition of Vaughan Williams and Delius, composers whose work often featured folk melodies. His Overture for a Masque is sprightly and approachable. There are echoes of William Walton but Moeran has a sound all his own.
In the Mountain Country was designated by the composer as a ‘Symphonic Impression’. It sounds like it must be based on folk music, but in fact all the melodies are original. I hear a kinship to Vaughan Williams, especially parts of Williams’ Symphony No. 1, but again, Moeran’s work stands on its own two feet.
The disc closes with three Rhapsodies: No. 1, composed in 1922, the 2nd Rhapsody from 1924 with revisions dating from 1941, and his Rhapsody in f sharp major from 1943.
All the performances and the recording are first rate. They have the Naxos ‘house sound’, which is very smooth and realistic. Instruments are solidly positioned, and the recording has a natural bloom that reflects the wonderful Ulster Hall in Belfast.
Fans of Vaughan Williams, John Ireland or Frederick Delius will feel right at home with this music. It’s an extremely repeatable disc, and for most people Moeran will be an undiscovered pleasure.
Moeran was championed years ago on LP by the Lyretta label, and Chandos has some recordings as well. Now Naxos seems fully engaged, and Jo Ann Falletta’s work with the orchestra simply can’t be faulted.
TrackList:Overture for a Masque 2. In the Mountain Country Rhapsody No. 1 in F major Rhapsody No. 2 in E major Rhapsody in F sharp major (with Benjamin Frith, piano)