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Arthur Sullivan - On Shore and Sea (1871) & Kenilworth (1864)
Arthur Sullivan - On Shore and Sea (1871) & Kenilworth (1864)
Offered by Vocalion/Dutton Epoch Direct (Crazygreen8)
Price: £10.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent performances of little-known Sullivan, 13 July 2014
This release has been keenly anticipated by all those who follow the remarkably enterprising Victorian Opera Northwest and proves to be a truly splendid vindication of their endeavour. 'Kenilworth' (1864) has been recorded before on the Symposium label but 'On Shore and Sea' (1871) will be completely unfamiliar to the vast majority of listeners. 'Kenilworth' was Sullivan's first major choral commission, for the Birmingham festival, and is clearly the work of a composer just beginning to find his feet in the genre. The standard of invention varies from number to number but everything is attractively melodic and orchestrated with aplomb - the highlight is the richly romantic duet interpolated from 'The Merchant of Venice', "How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank". 'On Shore and Sea' proves to be a much stronger piece, the libretto by Tom Taylor (1817-1880), providing the composer with a simple tale of lovers parted by war and then reunited but crucially also opportunities for vividly exotic instrumentation - the 'Chorus of Moslem Triumph' will amaze anyone who thinks that they know their Sullivan. Even the 'Chorus of Christian Captives', which looks dull in the piano-only vocal score, comes to life when coloured by the orchestra. The final chorus, extolling the benefits of Peace in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War, is a thrillingly over-the top paean. All four soloists on this recording are fully up to the demands of Sullivan's vocal lines and the chorus is expertly-drilled and enter fully into their assigned collective roles. This is by far the strongest orchestra that Victorian Opera have fielded (there are no caveats in this department) and the recorded sound is wonderfully clear without being in the least bit dry or too closely-miked. Above all, Richard Bonynge is the ideal conductor to guide us through this unfamiliar fare, which he does with his customary elan. A lovely disc.


Williamson: Complete Piano Concertos [Piers Lane, Howard Shelley] [Hyperion: CDA68011/2]
Williamson: Complete Piano Concertos [Piers Lane, Howard Shelley] [Hyperion: CDA68011/2]
Price: £24.72

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long-overdue recognition, 23 Mar 2014
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Just as with Malcolm Arnold, whose life shares many parallels with Williamson, here is a composer who has been frequently misjudged simply because he felt that his music actually had to communicate to an audience of listeners rather than hide-bound dogmatists. The previous reviewer has gone into much welcome detail regarding the works and the high-calibre performances which they receive here, so I will merely endorse his assessment of this revelatory release. Many of Williamson's works have their 'tough' or 'challenging' corners, but there is always a corresponding section where the first-time listener can gain his or her bearings: there are beautifully structured works which actually revel in the use of melody (itself a dirty word to many critics from the 1960s through to the 1990s).

We can now view Williamson's output, alongside that of Arnold as almost post-modern in it's eclecticism and celebrate some truly wonderful music. This is certainly a landmark issue from Hyperion and will hopefully lead to more. Especially in urgent need of recording are the large-scale 'Mass of Christ the King' (1975-78), Symphony No.3, 'The Icy Mirror' (1972), the operas 'Our Man in Havana' (1964), 'English Eccentrics' (1964) and 'The Violins of Saint-Jacques' (1966), and the ballets 'The Display' (1963), 'Sun into Darkness' (1966) and 'Perisynthion' (1974). Chandos gave us two exceptional discs of orchestral music but then their project unfortunately stalled. Someone really should take up the cudgel again.

In the meantime, this is a mandatory purchase for anyone interested in Williamson, British or Commonwealth music or the twentieth-century piano concerto.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 27, 2014 5:24 PM GMT


British Overtures [Rumon Gamba, BBC National Orchestra of Wales] [Chandos: CHAN 10797]
British Overtures [Rumon Gamba, BBC National Orchestra of Wales] [Chandos: CHAN 10797]
Price: £9.99

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent repertoire, splendid performances, more please!, 6 Jan 2014
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This release is a totally unexpected bonus for fans of British music. Although some of these pieces have been committed to disc before, everything here is given a fresh coat of paint and comes up splendidly under the direction of Rumon Gamba. After the highly unsatisfactory Marco Polo recording of 'The Butterfly's Ball' (Cowen: Symphony no. 3 Scandinavian & The Butterfly's Ball, Indian Rhapsody), this performance is a revelation, proving just what a fine composer Cowen was at his best and it is good to see that he is gradually emerging from the shadows of his contemporaries Sullivan, Parry, Stanford and Mackenzie. This last composer is represented here by his overture to J.M. Barrie's 'The Little Minister', a splendid example of Mackenzie writing in his characteristic Scottish mode.

Sullivan's 'Macbeth' has been very fortunate on disc, with several recordings to choose from, but this one has to be preferred now, with Gamba drawing the structure tautly together and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales on imperious form. Stanford's Prelude to 'Oedipus tyrannus' may seem a strange choice, as Vernon Handley previously recorded it for Chandos as part of their pioneering Stanford survey (Stanford: Symphony No. 4 in F major; Irish Rhapsody No. 6; Oedipus Rex Prelude), but comparison between the two interpretations finds Gamba much more vigorous, giving a far greater dramatic weight to what is one of the composer's most immediately appealing shorter orchestral works.

It is good to have a first-rate rendition of the overture to Coleridge-Taylor's 'Hiawatha': this is very rarely heard, even when the choral trilogy is performed (as at a recent Three Choirs Festival), and the previous outing on disc in Marco Polo's light music series is underpowered by comparison (Coleridge-Taylor - Orchestral Works). 'The Frogs' is a late work by Bantock, written at a time when he was largely sidelined and forgotten but it still displays splendid craft and imaginative orchestration - the only previous recording, conducted by the composer himself, is totally superceded. The survey is bookended by Frederic Austin's swashbuckling 'Sea Venturers' (also available on an excellent Dutton disc which includes his impressive Symphony (Symphony in E) and Balfour Gardiner's lively 'Overture to a Comedy'.

In a personal note from the conductor, Rumon Gamba explains his choice of repertoire and offers a hope that future volumes may be planned along similar lines - there is certainly no shortage of worthy candidates to choose from by composers ranging from Cipriani Potter (1792-1871), George Macfarren (1813-1887) and Henry Hugo Pierson (1815-1873) to Learmont Drysdale (1866-1909), Joseph Holbrooke (1878-1958) and Rutland Boughton (1878-1960). Hopefully, the success of this revelatory disc will encourage Chandos to further exploration.


Sullivan: The Beauty Stone [Rory Macdonald, Elin Manahan Thomas, Toby Spence] [Chandos: CHAN 10794(2)]
Sullivan: The Beauty Stone [Rory Macdonald, Elin Manahan Thomas, Toby Spence] [Chandos: CHAN 10794(2)]
Price: £27.51

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful vindication of Sullivan's last years, 4 Nov 2013
This is a truly superb recording of one of Sir Arthur Sullivan's most unfairly-maligned scores: 'The Beauty Stone' can at last take its place with 'The Yeomen of the Guard' and 'The Golden Legend' as one of the composer's crowning achievements. Composed just a couple of years before his premature death, Sullivan was still at the height of his powers and he produced a musical drama of great colour, melodic richness and emotional depth. The alert and vigorous pacing of this new performance is just how I imagined it should be, having known the Prince Consort version (Sullivan - The Beauty Stone) for nearly thirty years: "O'er Mirlemont city", "With Cards and dice" and "Hobble, hobble" are here taken respectively fast, faster and even faster. The public scenes are given an appropriate sense of bustle, and the final sections of the Act 1/ Act 3 finales are thrilling. This is not to imply that anything is hurried over - Rory Macdonald is clearly someone who simply has dramatic blood in his veins and instinctively knows when the push on. I was also pleased that he does not take the entire Act 3 finale at crotchet=dotted crotchet, which the PC recording does (thus leaving Jacqueline with the most laboured plod).

Chorus and orchestra alike are superb and the recording is slightly more forward than that given to "Ivanhoe" - the soloists seem to have given perhaps more character and thought to their roles than (generally) those in the "Ivanhoe" recording. Rebecca Evans aptly portrays the sultry and exotic (though faded) charms of Saida with a breathy quality to her voice which contrasts her character well with the voices of the other female soloists; Toby Spence is refulgent and uses his voice cleverly to convey the opposing moods of Philip; and all the other principals are more than adequate to the task: Elin Manahan Thomas, in particular, is deeply affecting as Laine and has a most appropriate purity of tone (her Act 1 Prayer is a revelation). David Stout as Guntran has just the right tone of authority when challenging Philip about his wayward behaviour and Richard Suart is delightful as the pompous burgomaster Nicholas Dircks.

The integrity of the opera is bolstered by the extra exits, interludes and entries replete with musical quotes from elsewhere in the work - it is so valuable that these various linking ('fitting') sections have been recorded. That these have been included (along with numbers cut after the opening night) is due to the production of a brand new full orchestral score prepared directly from Sullivan's autograph by Robin Gordon-Powell of the Arthur Sullivan Society. For anybody who is used to the 1984 Prince Consort recording, the opening duet for Joan and Simon will bring a surprise - three "Click-clack"s at the beginning of each verse, rather than two as printed in the 1898 Chappell vocal score. I contacted Robin to query this and there are indeed three in Sullivan's autograph score. Altogether, a wonderful release in every respect with excellent booklet essays and illustrations from the original production. This lavish production deserves every accolade and will, hopefully, lead to the first professional recordings of other major Sullivan works, particularly the oratorio "The Light of the World" (1873) and the sacred musical drama "The Martyr of Antioch" (1880).


From A City Window: Songs by Hubert Parry
From A City Window: Songs by Hubert Parry
Price: £13.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some of the finest British songs, 23 Jan 2013
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For reasons which escape me, Parry's songs have received very little attention in the recording studio (and still less in live recital): there are two alternative selections available using single soloists, namely Stephen Varcoe on Hyperion Parry: English Lyrics & Songs and Robert Tear on Decca (originally an Argo LP) The British Music Collection: Sir Hubert Parry, but this disc breaks new ground in offering the interpretations of three distinguished soloists thus bringing greater variety to the listener. The singers are excellent, each clearly very finely attuned to Parry's naturalistic declamation and sensitive to every musical and emotional opportunity. As for the songs themselves, these are some of the very finest that have been written (and not only in the English language) and this selection includes several of Parry's most impressive creations such as "From a City Window", "Bright Star", "Nightfall in Winter" and "Willow, willow, willow" - there is often a perhaps-unexpected air of melancholy which more truly reflected the composer's personality than the ceremonial confidence of his well-known choral scores "I was glad" and "Blest Pair of Sirens". Anybody who has responded to Parry's profoundly moving "Songs of Farewell" for unaccompanied chorus should investigate his solo songs and this disc is definitely the place to begin exploring. Iain Burnside's accompaniments are exemplary and the recording is clear and beautifully balanced with an attractive warmth. Recommended with the strongest enthusiasm.


Parry: Orchestral/ Choral Works (Amanda Roocroft/ BBC National Orchestra of Wales/ Neeme Järvi) (Chandos: CHAN 10740)
Parry: Orchestral/ Choral Works (Amanda Roocroft/ BBC National Orchestra of Wales/ Neeme Järvi) (Chandos: CHAN 10740)
Price: £14.36

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive Choral Parry, 8 Oct 2012
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Here is a very welcome new release from Chandos: it has been many years since the company recorded their splendid discs of "The Lotos-Eaters" (1892), "Invocation to Music" (1895) and "The Soul's Ransom" (1906) Parry: Invocation To Music / The Soul's Ransom / The Lotos-Eaters / Blest Pair Of Sirens and no other company has stepped into the breach in the meantime, apart from Lyrita's reissued "Ode on the Nativity" (1912) The Sons of Light (Atherton, Lso) and Dutton's provision of "The Chivalry of the Sea" (1916) Elgar: The Spirit of England; Parry: Chivalry; Gurney: War Elegy. Hyperion's recording of the short oratorio "Job" (1892) Parry: Job has now been deleted but can still be obtained through their archive service.

The two most significant discoveries on this new disc are the 1911 Coronation Te Deum and the 1897 Magnificat: the former can now be heard as one of Parry's most impressive achievements, and the latter as a fascinating but unequal work. I have to admit that I didn't initially hold out much hope for the the Coronation Te Deum, but it is simply marvellous - imposing choral climaxes as only Parry can build, expertly varied choral textures (including a supremely beautiful unaccompanied "Holy, Holy, Holy") and a firm structural grasp which integrates the contrasting sections of the text into an ultimately satisfying whole - this is emphatically not just "occasional" music.

The Magnificat begins with some bustling on the strings which just seems to hang fire until the first choral entry: this is a problem which afflicts sections of several of Parry's larger scores, a business which is simply that and nothing more. Once things get going, however, there is much to admire: two contrasting soprano solos and a pastoral central choral movement of great beauty with a very Bachian solo violin obbligato. Although the final fugue is taken marginally too fast by Järvi, the effect is invigorating and the piece ends with the type of splendid peroration we expect from Parry in a Three Choirs commission. I have to own up to the fact that I didn't care for "The Glories of Our Blood and State" - the vital melody that would lift the piece out of the commonplace seems elusive, and the inclusion of "Jerusalem" in Parry's orchestration just proves how thrillingly Elgar re-imagined the piece. The suite from "The Birds" is a real delight (as so much of Parry's unrecorded incidental music will prove to be when it finds a committed advocate), but the unison choral song "England" (despite Boult's appreciation) is inconsequential and justifies the composer's own dismissal of his efforts.

The performances are very secure under the direction of Järvi, with the Welsh choral and orchestral forces rising fully to the occasion (as they so often did under the late Richard Hickox). Amanda Roocroft proves a sensitive soloist in the Magnificat, suggesting appropriate vulnerability in her first extended solo "Quia respexit humilitatem" and resolute vigour in her second "Fecit potentiam". A slightly mixed bag in terms of chosen repertoire, then, but well worth five stars for "The Birds", the Magnificat and (most of all) for the Coronation Te Deum. What we need now are first-class recordings of several other choral scores, including "Prometheus Unbound" (1880), "L'Allegro ed il Pensieroso" (1890), "Ode to Music" (1901), "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" (1905) and the larger-scale Te Deum (set in Latin, 1900, revised and expanded in English, 1913).
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 3, 2013 1:15 PM GMT


Macfarren: Robin Hood
Macfarren: Robin Hood
Price: £12.04

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Further Victorian Operatic Enterprise, 30 Sep 2011
This review is from: Macfarren: Robin Hood (Audio CD)
The second Naxos release by Victorian Opera Northwest brings us to a major work by one of the 'big names' in Victorian music, (Sir) George Alexander Macfarren (1813-1887). Long-term Principal at the Royal Academy of Music, he was as famed in his lifetime for his operas, cantatas and oratorios as he was for his dogged determination not to let encroaching and finally total blindness stem his creative output.

If William Wallace's 'Lurline' is cake and champagne (Wallace: Lurline), Macfarren's 'Robin Hood' is most definitely bread and ale. Gone is the harp-festooned luxury and easily-assimilated melody of the former, replaced with - what, exactly?

There is a bluff open-heartedness in the musical idiom which suits the story and setting down to the ground. The lack of surface allure may seem somewhat stark to listeners on first hearing, but on repetition little melodic motifs catch the attention and the folk-like character of many of the tunes begins to etch them in the mind. There is colour in the orchestration, but it seldom pushes its way forward for prime attention.

From the opening of the overture to the final chorus, we are in no doubt that this is most definitely a self-conscious attempt to continue and advance a specifically English operatic style, with its evocative horn calls, simple diatonic melodies and occasional `rustic pipe-and-tabor' approach. The influence of Weber is shown in several extended scenas, but for the most part this is very much a `ballad' opera in the honourable English tradition.

There is quite a substantial quantity of purely orchestral music in the opera, with lengthy character-entrances, Entr'actes and a section of country dances in Act II; and there is considerable work for the chorus to do - several numbers are effectively unaccompanied part-songs (there is a particularly lengthy one towards the end of the last act which, beautifully sung though it may be, perhaps outstays its welcome as a second verse is taken). This is a long opera on two discs filled to capacity, but I was so fascinated by what Macfarren was clearly trying to do (and largely succeeding) that my attention was held throughout.

The performance is, on the whole, extremely capable: if you can listen past the occasional violin frailty or lack of absolute choral precision there is more than enough good work on display to ensure that the opera comes to life. Although the impression is of simple melodies, this is not easy music to sing - Macfarren's vocal lines often have unexpected interval leaps and turns to catch the unwary: the soloists acquit themselves well in this completely unfamiliar music. The one concession to the public's appetite for show involves Marian's occasional coloratura trilling and swooping up and down scales (in the Act III finale she literally stops the show with an extraordinary display of vocal gymnastics) - otherwise, it is remarkable how little Macfarren relies on operatic `tricks' to tickle the ear.

Shaw's comment that Sullivan's 'Ivanhoe' (1890-91) was no great advance on Macfarren's opera was, of course, an intentionally provocative piece of 'smart' journalism with very little substance but there are distinct links between these two composers. Sullivan's melodic talent and orchestral sophistication was leaps and bounds ahead of his predecessor, but to hear "Englishmen by birth are free" may well put you in mind of the (real or mock) patriotism in several Sullivan scores, and Sullivan's skilled economy of instrumentation may have at least some of its roots in Macfarren's lean, no-nonsense scoring. The first act opens with what develops (briefly) into a double-chorus, a structure later to become so characteristic in Sullivan's armoury.

Am I glad to have heard this recording, will I want to listen to it again, and do I now still want to hear Macfarren's other large-scale operas 'Charles II' (1849), 'She Stoops to Conquer' (1864) and 'Helvellyn' (1864)? Yes. It would also be a treat to hear one of Edward Loder's very fine scores, particularly 'The Night Dancers' (1846) based on the 'Giselle' story, or the Victor Hugo-inspired 'Esmeralda' (1883) by Arthur Goring Thomas.

All power to this highly enterprising semi-professional opera group as they continue to fill important gaps in our knowledge of Britain's musical heritage.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 1, 2011 9:27 AM BST


Bowen: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
Bowen: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
Price: £12.90

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A British Romantic, 14 May 2011
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"If modern life is ugly, then there is all the more reason why music should bring beauty into it" (York Bowen).

York Bowen (1884-1961) never sustained the success which came easily to him in his early years. A fellow pupil of Arnold Bax at the Royal Academy of Music, Bowen burst onto the British music scene in the early years of the twentieth century with numerous orchestral and concertante works including three piano concertos designed with his own keyboard prowess in mind (Bowen - Violin Concerto; Piano Concerto No 1, Bowen - Piano Concertos Nos 2 and 3; Symphonic Fantasia). Bold, melodically profuse and colourfully orchestrated, his music chimed in well with the opulence of pre-World War One tastes. However, from the 1920s onwards, he found himself increasingly neglected - he had forged his style and stuck resolutely to it for the remainder of his life: despite several more highly accomplished major works, including the gorgeous tone poem 'Eventide' (Heroic Elegy & Triumphal Epilogue), a fourth piano concerto (Bowen: Piano Concerto 3, 4. The Romantic Concerto - 46) and a highly effective Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra (York Bowen, Alan Bush, Havergal Brian - Cello Concertos) he came to be regarded as a musical dinosaur and a large number of his scores never found their way into print.

Symphony No.1 (1902), an attractive 'student' work in three movements, remained unperformed in its entirity until last year's English Music Festival and this present release is it's premiere recording - nothing ground-breaking here, but plenty to enjoy in Bowen's already-assured handling of symphonic structure. The composer is not making any statement here, but rather honing his craft.

Although written only seven years later, Symphony No.2 (1909, first performed 1912) is an entirely different matter: Bowen's musical voice has now fully developed, engagingly influenced by his affinity with the later-nineteeth century Russian school of composers. Bold, brassy statements, sweeping string melodies and glittering orchestration (especially in the kaleidoscopic Scherzo) mark this out as a real discovery: anybody with a liking for Glazunov will find much to enjoy in this work.

Chandos, Sir Andrew Davis and the BBC Philharmonic do Bowen proud with fully committed performances and a wide-ranging recording remarkable both for the characteristic luxurious sound which is a hallmark of this company, and the clarity with which orchestral textures can be discerned: this recording of Symphony No.2 far outstrips the pioneering (and now deleted) recording on the Classico label.

There is plenty more York Bowen to explore, especially the following later orchestral works - Somerset Suite (c.1940), Symphonic Suite (1942), Fantasy Overture on 'Tom Bowling', Op.115 (c.1945), Symphony No.3, Op.137 (1951), Three Pieces for String Orchestra, with Harp ad lib., Op. 140 (c.1951), Sinfonietta Concertante for Brass and Orchestra (1957) and Jig for Two Pianos and Orchestra. These manuscripts are held by a publisher in London.

Let's hope that it won't be long before further forays are made into the music of this richly-rewarding composer.
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 15, 2013 10:33 AM GMT


Keltic Suite: Holiday Sketches
Keltic Suite: Holiday Sketches
Price: £14.00

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb first recordings of John Foulds, 28 Nov 2010
Once again, Dutton have done us proud with an outstanding collection of 'lighter' music by maverick composer John Foulds (1880-1939). Seemingly able to transform his musical style at will, it is difficult to believe that all of the music here came from the same pen - but this is one of the endlessly fascinating aspects of Foulds, an eclectic and often visionary genius.

The 'Lament' from the 'Keltic Suite' has been heard quite often, but this new recording sets it in it's proper context within a 'Keltic Suite' (1911) and further complements this with the much later 'Keltic Overture' (1930) - all glorious music. The very early Suite 'Holiday Sketches' (1908) with its whistle-stop evocations of Nuremberg, Bohemia, the Odenwald and Coblentz is already an incredibly assured and mature composition with strong melodies and colourful orchestration. The 'Suite Fantastiqe' (1924) which concludes the disc is an excellent example of Foulds' incidental music for the theatre - the seperate overture ('Le Cabaret') to this same production can be heard on another excellent Foulds compilation from Lyrita (Foulds - Hellas; (3) Mantras).

The performances by the BBC Concert Orchestra under the ever-reliable baton of Ronald Corp are immaculate and Dutton have provided their customary high standard of recording. A quite exceptional release which deserves the highest accolades, as does the second volume of Foulds' music from the same company (Foulds, Vol 2).


John Foulds V.2
John Foulds V.2
Price: £15.82

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An eclectic genius, 28 Nov 2010
This review is from: John Foulds V.2 (Audio CD)
Those who have already enjoyed Dutton's first volume (Keltic Suite: Holiday Sketches) of orchestral music by John Foulds (1880-1939) will need no prompting to acquire this second splendid release. Due to recent revivals of his 'World Requiem', 'Dynamic Triptych' and 'Three Mantras' (both on disc and in concert) Foulds is no longer quite the unknown that he was, say, a decade ago. However, there is still much to explore in his prodigious output: this latest Dutton disc carries on from the first in showcasing the enormous breadth of the composer's stylistic range - this is predominantly 'lighter music' than the works mentioned above but not exclusively so. Two quite exceptionally beautiful stand-alone items included are 'The Florida Spiritual' (redolent of the Deep South in its sultry portamenti and thrumming pizzicato) and 'Strophes from an Antique Song'. Also highly impressive is the later 'Indian Suite', drawing melodic inspiration from the music of India but fusing it with Western structural and orchestral technique in a beguiling way. There is not a dull number here and quite a lot of music that is of the highest inspiration. Once again, Dutton, the BBC Concert Orchestra and Ronald Corp have put us in their debt - recommended without reservation.


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