English Classics

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A double width case houses this 4 CD anthology of English classics reissued from individual discs that have appeared over the last decade. Sir Mark Elder CBE conducts the Hallé except for the orchestral Ireland items which come from a collection where the conductor was John Wilson. The first three discs are direct replicas of previous Hallé volumes including English Landscapes, English Rhapsody and English Spring. CD 4 has been compiled from a range of Hallé CDs including the groundbreaking complete RVW music for The Wasps.

The CD 1 (English Rhapsody CDHLL7503) Butterworth items are lovingly and most affectingly paced and weighted. Listen to the second phrase in A Shropshire Lad. No need for embarrassment in the company of Barbirolli or Boult. The Delius items are similarly successful with Elder switching to elusive languid melancholy and ecstasy. Brigg Fair is helpfully tracked into five segments. Then Hallé do something unusual – they add the Grainger setting of Brigg Fair by the Hallé Choir with James Gilchrist as the exposed tenor soloist. Gilchrist is outstanding but the choir’s close-up rough textures grate slightly. The last item is another Brigg Fair reference with the folk singer, the 75 year old, Joseph Taylor heard in a 1908 recording.

CD 2 (English Rhapsody CDHLL7512) starts with another classic essayed by one of Elder’s predecessors in Manchester, Barbirolli – Bax’s Tintagel. Fellow reviewer, Em Marshall did not warm to this disc. For my part I found it very satisfying; each to his or her own. The Tintagel is tautly done with some very sharply delineated effects adding to the romantic sweep and tension of the piece. I certainly prefer it over Boult’s Lyrita reading though not over the supple Barbirolli and the stormily driven Bostock and Goossens. The Lark Ascending is pretty cool and I too found it unengaging. By contrast the Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 works rather well and the analytical recording complements the mystery of the music. The Finzi was taken at a brisk pace but is a success. The Delius pieces, especially the second, have a lambent glow. Then more from the Hallé Choir who sound in warmer voice and gleamingly resolved tone.

I reviewed English Spring earlier this year. It is reproduced on CD 3. The concert-live Bax Spring Fire is the single longest piece in this collection. I recall listening to the whole CD several times over on a long journey. I found it then and still find it a fine interpretation with exemplary recording engineering to match. The other spring pieces are just as good. The salon-inflected Idylle spins a really memorable melody with expert hands – early Delius unlike the fully mature movement from North Country Sketches – which I always think of as Delius for people who think they don’t like Delius. The Bridge is a masterpiece and no mistake and compares very favourably with versions by Groves, Hickox, Judd, Marriner and the meritorious and unfairly overlooked John Carewe (Pearl SHECD9601).

The last disc has its programme culled from a variety of discs. The label, Hallé and Elder have squared up to the Elgar legacy in a major way with only The Apostles now outstanding. Their Elgar list is ample: Elgar portrait; Symphony 1; Symphony 2; Enigma; Violin Concerto; Cello Concerto and Falstaff; Gerontius and The Kingdom. Elder’s Cockaigne is recorded with wonderfully textural clarity and thudding impact. The beguiling innocence of Dream Children is wondrously done as is the lightly and elegantly sighing Serenade where rather like Cockaigne Elder is up against Barbirolli’s iconic recordings. It’s all most touchingly done. The RVW Wasps Overture is well enough done and buzzes and sings well. The Act II Entr’Acte has a few Straussian moments. Then another march – this time a gawky one in the March Past of the Witnesses. The music is magically imaginative – try tr.10: the Act III Entr’Acte. Exit Elder – enter Wilson currently the darling of the Broadway musical and Big Band revival cadre (That’s Entertainment) with highly effective and street-sharp Bond and Sondheim Proms resounding to his credit. His John Ireland is brilliant but the mystery of The Forgotten Rite does not come across as it does with Boult (Lyrita) and Thomson (Chandos). The untypical but still splendid Epic March is much more effective. This is the splendid British march mantle worn and stepped out with complete aplomb. The character is more bitterly warlike than usual with a touch of Elgar P&C4 and Bliss’s Things to Come.

Determination and nobility. The liner notes are assembled from the original issues.

This sheaf of anthologies is satisfying. The recording quality is uniformly good with some very fine readings along the way. These are not always the very best in the catalogue but nothing here disappoints. A much better than worthy introduction to English music of the first half of last century.

-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CDHLD7532

  • UPC: 5065001341366

  • Label: Halle

  • Composer: Arnold Bax, Frank Bridge, Frederick Delius, George Butterworth, Gerald Finzi, John Ireland, Percy Aldridge Grainger, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Sir Edward Elgar, Traditional, Unspecified

  • Conductor: John Wilson, Mark Elder

  • Performer: James Gilchrist, Joseph Taylor, Lyn Fletcher