“Lyrita – Celebrating 50 Years Devoted to British Music” = WILLIAM ALWYN: Symphonic Prelude, “The Magic Island”; MALCOLM ARNOLD: English Dances- Set 2; BACH (orch. HENRY WOOD): Toccata and Fugue in D Minor; GRANVILLE BANTOCK: Russian Scenes; ARNOLD BAX: Northern Ballad No.1; ARTHUR BENJAMIN: Overture to an Italian Comedy; WILLIAM STERNDALE BENNETT: Caprice in E; LENNOX BERKELEY: Serenade for Strings; ARTHUR BLISS: Adam Zero- Suite (excerpts); FRANK BRIDGE: Suite for String Orchestra; WILLIAM BUSCH: Cello Concerto (II); GEOFFREY BUSH: Overture, “Yorick”; GEORGE BUTTERWORTH: A Shropshire Lad Rhapsody; ERIC COATES: From Meadow to Mayfair Suite(excerpt); SAMUEL COLERIDGE-TAYLOR: Valse de la Reine; ARNOLD COOKE: Jabez and The Devil (Suite); FREDERICK DELIUS: The Walk to the Paradise Garden; GERALD FINZI: Eclogue; JOHN FOULDS: Mantra of Bliss;
CECIL ARMSTRONG GIBBS: Fancy Dress – Dance Suite; RUTH GIPPS: Horn Concerto; PATRICK HADLEY: One Morning in Spring; ALUN HODDINOTT: Welsh Dances Set 2; GUSTAV HOLST: Japanese Suite; HERBERT HOWELLS: Merry-Eye;
WILLIAM HURLSTONE: Variations on a Hungarian Air; JOHN IRELAND: The Forgotten Rite Prelude – Malcolm Binns, piano/ David Pyatt, horn/ London Philharmonic Orch./ Royal Philharmonic Orch./ London Symphony Orch./ New Philharmonia Orch./National Youth Orch. of Wales/ William Alwyn, Malcolm Arnold, Nicholas Braithwaite, Barry Wordsworth, Adrian Boult/ Myer Fredman/ Lennox Berkley, Arthur Bliss, Vernon Handley, Simon Joly, Arthur Davison, conductors – Lyrita 2337 (4 CDs), 73:53, 75:21, 74:28, 67:58 [Distr. by Allegro] also available at https://www.lyrita.co.uk/ *****:
The title should explain it all; the company is taking excisions from its important and remarkable catalog—surely the most important in British music in existence, especially where historical recordings are concerned—and giving us 50 selections over two four-disc sets designed to whet our appetites (this is the first). But it does more than that; granted, sets like this are often glorified marketing tools designed to sell more discs, and there is a whiff of that here. But more importantly, there are only eight—unless I have miscounted—across the two sets that can really be considered “excerpts”—the others are full-fledged performances in toto that make this an important excursion into repertory that others might not normally consider, and it will be eye-opening, I promise you.
Most of the readings are in superb ADD transfers, and Lyrita has long been known for the high quality of its recordings, the Decca Company instrumental in helping to capture the sound on these discs—indeed, it was in conjunction with Decca that Lyrita first came into existence in the 1960s when it was making mono recordings of obscure English music. As we now live in a time when obscure is becoming mainstream—I mean, everything seems to be getting put to disc these days—you will be amazed when comparing these issues to more contemporary ones. I almost prefer Lyrita’s pressings of this repertory to anything I hear today, and this says a lot about the quality of these efforts.
Please note that this is only the first set, but looking on the company’s website at the second (currently available) seems just as promising. There are too many things here to review independently without making for tedious reading, so I will highlight a few, with the caveat that omissions do not mean unworthiness. Malcolm Arnold’s English Dances are simply the best recorded—I wish they were all here. Henry Wood’s Bach Toccata and Fugue will amaze you in that it is easily as moving and idiomatic as Stokowski’s. The Berkeley, Bliss, and Bridge pieces have never sounded better, Boult’s Bridge especially beautiful and resonant. The same can be said for Butterworth’s Shropshire Rhapsody—Boult is such a master in this music. Hurlstone’s Variations on a Hungarian Air certainly opened these ears in a piece new to me, while the same applies to Holst’s rarely recorded Japanese Suite—a real discovery.
There is no use to go on—you get the point. If you need an investment in English music that will more than satisfy your cravings—unless you are a diehard Anglophile—these two releases will more than satisfy your needs, spectacular music at a decent price. Currently Lyrita is offering them for 25 pounds each—about 36 dollars as of this writing, not the cheapest I can imagine, but not unreasonable either.
— Steven Ritter