Grace Williams: Fantasia On Welsh Nursery Tunes, Sea Sketches
There’s no doubting that Grace Williams had a strikingly individual lyric talent and there are certain to be major discoveries yet to be made. Her Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes is delectable melodic rhapsody around various folk-tunes which are handled with complete professionalism being integrated seamlessly into a satisfying whole. Carillons for Oboe and Orchestra was written for the BBC who requested – and received – a light-weight entertaining work but not a trivial one. The mood is subtle and elusive and unmistakably her own – always slightly mysterious, even exotic as if drawing on Medieval air drawn from the warmer valleys and forests of Wales. If it occasionally and fleetingly sounds like Malcolm Arnold’s own gorgeous Oboe Concerto no harm is done. This is a work that deserves to be discovered by contestants in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition. Penillion is soaked in the Welsh tradition of improvised vocal descants to the harper’s melody. It is recognisably by the same composer as Carillons and once again the music is lissom, serene and exotic. The Andante con tristezza is warm with melancholy – doused in just enough sentiment to tug at the heart but not so much as to become mawkish. It is almost Rózsa-like in its otherworldly beauty. The final Allegro agitato sounds vaguely Elizabethan and the tremendous power of the piece links with the dynamic punch of the Ballads for Orchestra on the companion Lyrita SRCD 327.
The solo trumpet plays a large and melismatically singing part in Penillion and of course is at the centre of things for the three movement Trumpet Concerto. Howard Snell who later founded his own orchestra gives a sensational performance and once again there are those skirls to be heard (Poco Lento) later to be recalled in Ballads. This is a less ingratiating work than the other pieces on this disc. All the works are succinct with many short movements and that’s also the case with the Sea Sketches for string orchestra – a challenge to use a body of strings to depict the seas. Her work with Britten (who, it seems, wanted her to be his assistant) is apparent in the gale-plied and ozone-rich High Wind movement. Sailing Song is warm and calm with the boat barely making gentle headway. This is followed by the thoughtful Channel Sirens – more a matter of chilly foghorns than seduction. Breakers is a gusty presto and things come to a close in the same warmth as Sailing Song for the tenderly music finale Calm Sea in Summer with its faintly Straussian redolence.
A second Lyrita CD encapsulates the tougher yet still entrancing world of Grace Williams with the scena Fairest of Stars, the Second Symphony and the sensational Ballads for Orchestra – a work which although more compact is as brilliant and moving as Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances.
The helpful notes are by Malcolm Boyd.
Williams also enjoyed a Chandos LP in the early 1980s and this was also issued on CD but otherwise there has been little else. We await first recordings of the Sinfonia Concertante for piano and orchestra, the Violin Concerto and the First Symphony Owain Glendwyr as well as the Missa Cambrensis for soli, chorus and orchestra.
This is a beguiling recital and while it may not have the instant draw of the symphonic big guns in SRCD 327 it presents many captivating aspects of Grace Williams’ treasurable creative genius.
-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International
Catalog Number: SRCD323
Composer: Grace Williams
Conductor: David, Sir Charles Groves
Orchestra/Ensemble: English Chamber Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Performer: Anthony Camden, Howard Snell, Ray Allan