Fishing By Moonlight is a compendium of Robin Milford's works for string orchestra. It is essentially a CD version of Hyperion's LP of 1982 (though using different artists), but with one or two additional pieces, and (sadly) the lovely Suite for Oboe and Strings omitted.
The work that lends the disc its title is quintessential Milford - gently lyrical and unassuming, written in a spare neo-classical style imbibed from Holst.It was inspired by a painting of the same title by the Dutch artist van der Neer which appeared on the sleeve of the original LP but, curiously, has been replaced on the CD case with a painting by Frederick Cayley Robinson (which does, however, reflect Milford's muted outlook on life).
The Miniature Concerto is a good example of Milford's readiness to adapt his music to the occasion. It was written for string quartet and piano in 1933, with an option for string orchestra in mind, and published in an organ arrangement in 1935. It opens with a jogging allegro, followed by a lovely, restrained adagio reminiscent of the Pavane in Warlock's Capriol Suite. The finale consists of two appealing melodies first stated independently, and then in counterpoint.
The Elegiac Meditation for viola and strings does precisely what it says on the tin. It was written a few years after the death of his five-year old son in a road accident, although the "elegy" could also be for friends lost in the war. The sombre mood of the piece is captured in the inscription that appears on the score: "Have I not reason to lament/ What man has made of man?" (Wordsworth). A lament it may be, but there is a quiet dignity, too, rather than any feeling of wallowing self-pity. Much lighter in tone are the Two Orchestral Interludes based on the traditional tunes "D'ye ken John Peel" and "Drink to me only with thine eyes".
The suite "Go, Little Book" opens with the soprano (Carys Lane) singing the Envoy to R.L. Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses, after which each of the items mentioned in the poem is treated in the subsequent movements written for flute and strings.
Like Fishing By Moonlight, the Elegy for James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch (an unusually pretentious title for Milford) was inspired by a painting, this time by Sir Godfrey Kneller. Ironically, it later emerged that the portrait was not that of James Scott at all. Still, regardless of the title, the music displays a yearning, intense quality which points to deeper issues than a mere picture in the National Gallery would suggest.
The Interlude for Flute and Strings is an orchestration of the slow movement from Milford's flute sonata of 1944 - five minutes of passing loveliness. The Festival Suite (1950) was written during the composer's dark final years, a fact that is evident in the music which includes a rather intense Overture, a wistful Siciliana, and a brooding minuet and trio (in which, again, the shade of Warlock is present).Only the scherzo finale offers a little muted relief.