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S. H. Smith
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The Complete C.W. Orr Songbook - Volume 1
The Complete C.W. Orr Songbook - Volume 1
Price: £13.68

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars C. W. Orr: Songs, 5 Jun. 2012
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Charles Wilfrid Orr (1893-1976) was one of Britain's most underrated song composers. There are several reasons for this. First, as a man of private means, he did not need to compose for a living, and so was not very prolific (around 40 works in total). Secondly, his output was perhaps blighted by a fairly narrow range. His songs, certainly, are more for the connoisseur, and are rarely of immedaite melodic appeal. Having said that, he was highly-regarded by his fellow composers, and much admired by both Delius and Warlock when he submitted songs for their scrutiny. The latter, in particular, was very generous in copying out Orr's songs and submitting them for publication. When Warlock died in 1930, Orr lost a good friend and mentor.

This Stone recording is the first volume in a projected two-volume set of the complete songs. Orr's claim to fame is that he set more Housman poems than any other composer. Two-thirds of the songs on this present disc are Housman settings. The "Seven Songs from 'A Shropshire Lad'" comprise a collection rather than a cycle, as they were composed at various times between 1927-31 and then grouped together. Orr's approach to Housman is not particularly bucolic. While the composers of the folksong school, such as Vaughan Williams, Butterworth and Moeran, latch on to the rural setting underlying the personal interest, either in the landscape painting of the accompaniment (RVW), or in its folklike simplicity (Butterworth), Orr focuses on the personal element itself - on the emotional responses of the people involved. Not that this makes for dry, academic music. Orr knows how to respond to the words of each individual poem when he wants to. In "Along the Field", for example, the sustained rippling effect of the piano clearly represents the "rainy-sounding silver leaves" of the aspen as it overshadows the love-struck couple beneath it, while "Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree" responds to the balladic form of the text by taking on the guise of a Scottish border ballad. "When Smoke Stood Up from Ludlow" is the only one of the set to have a folksy air about it.

Orr's non-Housman settings are largely of minor poets ranging from John Digby (1580-1653) to Noel Lindsay (1909-87). The one well-known poet represented is D.G. Rossetti. Orr's setting of his "Silent Noon" will inevitably be compared to that of Vaughan Williams (which came first). Orr felt that the RVW rendering sounded too much like a church voluntary. Both settings, it seems to me, attempt to capture the rapt stillness suggested in the title of the poem and in the text itself, and in this - at least for me - RVW's effort is the more successful, notwithstanding Orr's criticism.

Along with others, Trevor Hold ("Parry to Finzi", pp.314-15) has criticised Orr for his lack of vision and imagination, as well as his narrow range, but he does devote a full chapter to him, thereby counting him among the top twenty English song composers of the twentieth century. An initial hearing of this CD will surely convince the listener that Orr was a much more accomplished song-writer than Mr. Average.

Mark Stone has a rich, ringing baritone voice that does the songs full justice, while Simon Lepper's piano accompaniment is, as ever, exemplary. Recommended listening. Can't wait for volume two!

Fetler: Violin Concerto No.2 (Violin Concerto No.2/ 3 Poems By Walt Whitman/ Capriccio)
Fetler: Violin Concerto No.2 (Violin Concerto No.2/ 3 Poems By Walt Whitman/ Capriccio)
Price: £7.72

5.0 out of 5 stars Paul Fetler Orchestral Music, 7 May 2012
One of the great achievements of Naxos, over the years, has been the introduction to the general public of the music of little-known composers through budget-priced CDs - discs which are cheap enough to encourage music-lovers to "give it a go". Paul Fetler (b.1920) is a case in point. Before trying this disc I had never heard a note of his music. What I received was a pleasant surprise, and a sense of astonishment as to why his works are not better-known. Certainly, on the evidence of this disc, there is nothing drily academic about them; they can perhaps best be described as neo-romantic in tenor, influenced by the great American tradition established by the likes of Copland and, especially, Barber.

The first work on the programme is "Three Poems by Walt Whitman" (1976), for speaker and orchestra (a genre popularised by Copland's "Lincoln Portrait"). The first movement, "I am he that walks with the tender and growing night", is essentially a nocturne for orchestra which is completely in tune with the words of Whitman's poem. The unity of the movement is enhanced by a simple four-note phrase at the beginning which recurs throughout. The second movement, "Beat, beat drums", to a text from Whitman's "Drum Taps" is suitably martial in mood, but tenderness is restored with "Ah, from a little child", with its endearing violin solo. Fetler's subtle orchestral colouring is particularly effective here.

"Capriccio" (1985), written for the Minnesota Chamber Symphony, has no programme other than the music itself. It is a playful, light-hearted piece as befits its title; no further comment is really necessary.

The full-blooded lyricism of the Violin Concerto No.2 is evident from the opening bars, and makes a welcome addition to the repertoire. In some respects its heart-on-sleeve romanticism makes it a direct descendant of the better-known Barber concerto. The delicate scoring, and quiet restraint of the solo instrument in much of the first movement rather belies its allegro marking (although note should be taken of the "non troppo"). The ruminative adagio is followed by an allegro molto finale in which the first really fast music of the concerto is presented (again, the slow-slow-fast tempo pattern may suggest Barber as the model).

All the works on this disc were recorded live, and the snatches of applause at the conclusion of these performances adds something of a concert-hall atmosphere. The performers - the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arie Lipsky, with Aaron Berofsky as the violin soloist, may not be household names, but they give fully committed performances, and have helped to put Paul Fetler on the map. I, for one, would be happy to see his music made more widely available. Devotees of the Copland-Barber strain of American music will welcome what is on offer here.

Gorecki: Concerto-Cantata (Naxos: 8.572872)
Gorecki: Concerto-Cantata (Naxos: 8.572872)
Price: £5.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gorecki Orchestral Music, 6 May 2012
This Naxos recording of orchestral music by Henryk Gorecki (1933-2010) offers an interesting survey of music written between 1973-93, a period during which the composer developed his most recognisable musical characteristics - slow, almost static progressions, contrasted with stong, driving rhythms of impulsive energy. These are immediately obvious in the first work on the disc, "Little Requiem for a Certain Polka" (1993). The rather frugal liner notes tell us nothing about the motivation behind the piece, or its intruiging title. Suffice it to say there are four short movements: slow-fast-fast-slow, and the scoring is for 14 instruments including piano (played here by the composer's daughter). The first movement is very slow and sparsely-scored, except for a brief contrast in the middle - bells, piano and solo violin carrying most of the movement. The second movement is robust and rhythmic, with an important role for trombone. The contrast this time lies in a dreamy clarinet solo and the solemn coda in the strings. The third movement is full of driving rhythms, but rather more skittish than its predecessor. In the finale the solemn theme of the second movement returns, this time underpinned by the bells heard in the first. Now, all the edginess is gone, and we are drawn into the world of the traditional requiem.

The "Concerto-Cantata" (1992), another four-movement piece, is a flute concerto in all but name. The opening is given to unaccompanied flute which seems completely detached from anything but its own musing, the long-breathed phrases providing a sense of spaciousness. Eventually the strings add a few bars of comment, leading to the second movement in which the flute reappears in a higher register, although the dreamy tempo seems unaffected. In the third movement allegro the flute demonstrates its more nimble side. Eventually the full orchestra stirs into life, sounding for a moment akin to Shostakovich, before a return to the filigree music of the opening. After a final orchestral tutti, the finale breaks in with a return to the slow, languid mood of the first movement, the flute meandering into silence on a soft bed of strings.

The Harpsichord Concerto (1980), (recorded here in its piano version), at less than eight-minutes duration, would perhaps better be described as a concertino. The short allegro is a kind of moto perpetuo for piano over robust string accompaniment. The vivace finale picks up the pace still further, piano and strings combining to produce music of unrelenting white-hot energy.

The Three Dances (1973) is one of Gorecki's most immediately accessible works. In the initial presto, the high-octane energy and rhythm, so much characteristic of this composer's music, is much in evidence. The second dance, by contrast, is a delicate andante cantabile, with a gently rocking rhythm underlying a spacious theme for violins. The final dance opens with an engaging theme over chugging lower strings, the theme itself being tossed from one instrument to another. Of the three movements, this is the most folksy in character, as if it might be based on traditional Polish music.

The excellent Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Polish music aficianado, Antoni Wit.

Willan - In the Heavenly Kingdom
Willan - In the Heavenly Kingdom
Price: £7.34

5.0 out of 5 stars Willan Choral Works, 25 April 2012
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Although Healey Willan (1880-1968) made his name in Canada, and was justifiably dubbed "the Dean of Canadian composers",the fact that he was born, brought up, and studied music in London, as well as plying his trade as an organist in various English churches, surely allows us to claim him as one of our own. He delighted in saying of himself: English by birth, Canadian by adoption, Irish by extraction, Scotch by absorption! Willan was phenomenally prolific, composing over 700 works in a wide variety of genres, including operas and symphonies, as well as chamber pieces and songs, but he is undoubtedly most feted for his choral and organ works.

As with any composer, Willan absorbed his early musical influences, including plainchant for which he had a lifelong passion. The grand manner evident in "In the heavenly kingdom" (1924), and to some degree in the earlier "I looked, and behold, a white cloud" (1907), however, is reminiscent of the musical style of Stanford and Parry which was in vogue at the turn of the century. On the other hand, the motets, such as "O how glorious" and "Preserve us, O Lord", owe something to Palestrina, not only in form, but in style.

During a 35-year period as organist at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Toronto, Willan composed no fewer than fourteen settings of the Missa Brevis. These are represented on this disc by No.11 (Missa Sancti Johannis Baptistae). None of the four movements lasts much more than two minutes, but there is plenty of polyphonic complexity in their short span, again harking back to an earlier age.

In addition to Willan's mass settings, larger anthems, and motets, this CD also contains some fine examples of his hymn-anthems on tradtional or pre-existing melodies, the most familiar of which is probably the anthem on "Picardy" ("Let all mortal flesh keep silence").

To some extent, Willan is a name that has passed us by. Had he remained in England, he might have become as well-known as Howells as a composer of church music, and at his best, his works are equally as accomplished, although we can hardly expect such a prolific composer to come up trumps every time. Still, for lovers of the church music of the English choral tradition, this Naxos CD provides an interesting introduction, should one be required, to one of its finest exponents - a composer who absorbed the styles of his predecessors, but used them to forge his own path.

The performers on this disc are the Elora Festival Singers, conducted by Noel Edison, with Matthew Larkin at the organ.

Dove: Choral Music (Bless The Lord O My Soul/ Missa Brevis/ I Am The Day)
Dove: Choral Music (Bless The Lord O My Soul/ Missa Brevis/ I Am The Day)
Price: £15.12

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jonathan Dove Choral Music, 25 April 2012
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Having recently heard, and enjoyed, the new Naxos CD of Jonathan Dove's choral music, I was all afire to hear its Hyperion counterpart. There is some slight overlap between the two, but the Hyperion disc focuses exclusively on settings of Christian texts, while the Naxos concentrates more on the secular. Either way, Dove's marvellous musicianship and powers of invention are equally evident.

The programme opens with the impressively ebullient "Bless the Lord, O my soul", with its prodigiously florid organ accompaniment. This sets the tone; the remainder of the programme makes for a profound spiritual experience. Dove has the knack of marrying words and music in a way that provides true insight into the power and meaning of the chosen texts.

The main piece on this recording is the Missa Brevis of 2009. The Kyrie receives a fully polyphonic treatment with fairly subdued organ accompaniment, rather in the style of Kenneth Leighton. By contrast, the Gloria is largely rhythm and sparkle with short, staccato phrases in unison choir, and a dancing, upbeat organ. There is a more subdued central section before the return of the opening mood. The Sanctus/ Benedictus maintains the zest of the Gloria before the more contemplative Agnus Dei in which the choir sings in unison over a low organ pedal. There is a brief climax before the final subdued "Dona nobis pacem".

"I am the day", for unaccompanied choir, never flags in interest throughout its seven-minute duration. The interaction between the reflective "I am the day, soon to be born" and the dancing "I am the Alpha, O, and Omega", is particularly effective, and the setting of the line "I am the first and the last" is magical.

"Wellcome, all wonders in one sight", a nativity piece, is built around a rocking mantra on the word "Wellcome", and has a slow, unhurried feel to it. The next three pieces are also about the nativity. "The Star Song" leans heavily on a syncopated rhythm set up by the choir over a sparkling "moto perpetuo" on the organ. "The Three Kings" is a gentle and simple setting, as befits its Dorothy Sayers text, and has some affinity with Howells' Carol Anthems. Each verse treats one of the three "kings", each of whom is individually characterised in the music. "Run, shepherds, run" is a thickly-textured piece which requires audience participation, considerable precision and, one feels, a good measure of luck to bring the whole thing off!

"In "Ecce beatam lucem", the choir responds to the ecstatic nature of the text, while the organ figurations sound distinctively minimalist. By contrast, "In beauty may I walk" is a simple part-setting for unaccompanied choir. "Seek him that maketh the seven stars" is a dramatic setting of Amos 5:8 and Ps. 139:12, not dissimilar from the choral writing of John Adams in places. The organ paints the scene - a star-spangled night sky - while the choir exhorts the listener to seek him who made it. The final piece, "Into thy hands", has a suitably benedictory quality about it. The writing is spacious, with plenty of pregnant pauses allowing for reverberation such as would be expected in a spacious building like a cathedral.

The performers on this disc, the Wells Cathedral Choir conducted by Matthew Owens, are old hands at recording contemporary music in the British choral tradition, having already released discs of music by Howells, Leighton and Mathias on the Hyperion label.

Various: Beyond All Mortal Dreams: American A Capella
Various: Beyond All Mortal Dreams: American A Capella
Price: £12.33

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars American A Cappella Choral Music, 22 April 2012
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"Beyond All Mortal Dreams" is a Hyperion CD of (mainly) late twentieth century American "a cappella" music. The list of composers represented reads like a Who's Who of people no-one has ever heard of. I must confess that the only name familiar to me is that of Healey Willan. When, however, we see that the artists on this disc are the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Layton, we are entitled to expect music (as well as performances) of the highest quality, and in that we are not disappointed. Certainly, I was left amazed as to why the output of these composers is not better-known. All the works here are firmly rooted in the long-standing Western choral tradition, and borrow a good deal from Tudor polyphony and, in some cases, medieval plainchant. Some, such as Steven Stucky's "Three New Motets 'in memoriam Thomas Tallis'" and Frank Ferko's "Hildegard Triptych" openly acknowledge this debt of gratitude. Yet these are undoubtedly contemporary works, never descending to the level of mere pastiche. There is a gentle spiritual ambience throughout which fully justifies the title of the disc - a distinct impression that, for the duration of the music, we have been transported into a higher sphere. How appropriate that the final piece, by Ola Gjeilo, is entitled "Phoenix". There is nothing harsh or dissonant about this music. Healey Willan's perfectly-crafted motets, with their beautiful harmonies and cadences, are representative of the tone and quality of all the other pieces here.

The helpful liner notes include brief biographies of the various composers, along with full texts. The recording quality is up to the usual Hyperion standard, and the performances are near-flawless. This disc was a revelation to me, and is to be highly recommended.

Speaking Christian - Recovering the Lost Meaning of Christian Words
Speaking Christian - Recovering the Lost Meaning of Christian Words
by Marcus J. Borg
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Borg: Speaking Christian, 19 Mar. 2012
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Like Bishop John Spong, Marcus Borg is among a growing number of scholars who are committed - as they see it - to rescuing Christianity from the clutches of fundamentalism and making it relevant for the twenty-first century. Borg argues that the literalist approach to the Bible and to Christian language in general is a relatively recent phenomenon which does not do justice to the language as originally intended. The Christian faith, in fact, is all about language - it is a matter of "speaking Christian" much as one might speak French or German. Just as we would not be able to call a person French who could not speak or understand the language, so we cannot regard someone as a Christian who cannot play the Christian language game. But here we have a quandry, Borg suggests. Church-goers are adept at speaking the language - indeed, they do it with aplomb every Sunday - but most do not understand it, so in that sense they cannot properly be called Christian. What is required is the recovery of the original meaning of the language which Christians use with such matter-of-fact assurance. By way of illustration, let us refer to one particular term: "ascension". In Borg's words: "For many people today... the ascension refers to an event within the space-time world - a historical event, even if supernaturally caused, a 'public' event in the sense that anybody who had been there would have seen it." (p.176).

So most Christians still presuppose that Jesus ascended to heaven on the clouds, quite literally. But is this how the Bible itself sees it? The departure of Jesus is seen by different writers in different ways. In Matthew's Gospel (28:16-20) Jesus parts from his disciples on a mountain in Galilee, and the language of ascension is absent. In Luke 24:50-53, he parts from them on the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem, apparently on Easter Sunday, and, again, the language of ascension is absent. Only in Acts 1:9-11 (also written by Luke) do we get the classic ascension story "after forty days". These inconsistencies suggest that the story of ascension was always meant to be taken metaphorically. It symbolises Jesus' lordship, that he is with God beyond space and time, and so can be with us always, not as a ghostly being "up there", but as a living presence with us and among us. This is how Christians of today should understand the ascension, and not as a once-upon-a-time event.

Borg applies this same method to all the stock words and phrases used by the Christian (salvation, mercy, sin, righteousness, heaven, born again, only way -even God), and argues that the most useful interpretation of all these is metaphorical. Why should all this matter? Perhaps because the greater part of the troubles and conflicts caused by religion can be put down to bigotry over particulars: which religion is correct? which demonination is correct? which is the "proper" way to observe the Lord's Supper? and so, ad infinitum. Treating the Scriptures and religious language as metaphor releases the believer from commitment to any one way, and into the freedom of worshipping God according to personal conscience.

Borg's book is easily accessible, and highly recommended.

Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them)
Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them)
by Bart D. Ehrman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.50

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ehrman: Jesus Interrupted, 19 Mar. 2012
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Bart Ehrman's "Jesus Interrupted" will be "old-hat" to Bible scholars, but for its intended audience, the general church-going public, may well be, as the Boston Globe reviewer suggests, "... a grenade tossed into their tidy living rooms of religious faith". Ehrman's aim is to demonstrate to such people that the Bible, far from being a single, inspired work of Scripture that is wholly self-consistent, is in fact a conpendium of diffreent theologies which often conflict with one another, creating obvious inconsistencies and contradictions. No-one is better placed than Ehrman to undertake this task, for he begins by describing his own painful journey from his initial position as a dyed-in-the-wool literalist to his current liberal stance in which he takes the Bible to be largely metaphorical.

It is impossible to summarise the book adequately in such a short review. Let me simply pick on a few salient points. In Chapter 1 he outlines and champions the "historical-critical" method of studying the Bible. Rather than taking the Bible as the literal Word of God which must be taken literally, we should examine in detail how it was put together, the purposes of the many different authors, their intentions for their particular communities, their sometimes contradictory theologies, and so on. Ehrman laments the fact that although all the mainstream denominations require their clergy to be exposed to the historical-critical method in their initial studies prior to ordination, most of them fail to pass on what they have learned, and are content to keep their congregations in blissful ignorance.

In Chapter 2 Ehrman begins to apply the historical-critical method, turning first to the matter of contradictions, which fundamentalist Christians deny exist. When we look carefully, the existence of such contradictions is glaringly obvious. For example, in Matthew's Gospel (26:32; 28:7,10) Jesus insists on the disciples meeting him in Galilee after the resurrection, whereas in Luke 24:49 he commands them to stay put in Jerusalem until he has ascended and they have received the Holy Spirit. There are literally scores of other contradictions in the gospels alone.

In Chapter 3, Ehrman shows how the different New Testament writers, using a common stock of pre-gospel traditions, often take radically different theological stances, and see Jesus in different ways. We therefore need to study each book of the Bible in its own right in order to determine what each particular author was trying to convey to his particular community. When we simply pluck verses from the air willy-nilly, we simply sow the seeds of confusion.

Chapter 4, "Who Wrote the Bible?" challenges the assumption that all the books were written by those to whom they are ascribed, while Chapter 5 demonstrates the virtual impossibility of arriving at the real heart of the historical Jesus. All we can know about him is what his first disciples tell us, and that inevitably distorts the picture. Chapter 6 provides us with a potted history of how the 27 books of the New Testament came to be selected for the "canon" and pronounced scriptural. The story is one of centuries of development; there was no such thing as "the Bible" until the sixth century A.D., and even then, transmission depended on several centuries more scribal copying prior to the invention of printing, with all the scope for error which that afforded.

As I noted above, this book is not aimed at Bible scholars and teachers who know (or should know) all this already, but at a largely evangelical church-going public. My main concern, as with all books of this kind, is whether the intended audience will ever pick it up, let alone read it. Most evangelicals are complacently content to live out their faith without ever wishing to turn to critical questions of this kind, and my fear is that Ehrman will be a voice crying in the wilderness. Still, if there are any evangelicals out there reading this review - please! - pick up Ehrman's book and give it a go. It may change your entire attitude to the Bible.

Lionel Sainsbury - Cello Concerto (1999) & John Foulds - Cello Concerto (1908-09)
Lionel Sainsbury - Cello Concerto (1999) & John Foulds - Cello Concerto (1908-09)

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sainsbury and Foulds Cello Concertos, 18 Mar. 2012
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This Dutton CD contains a pair of full-blooded romantic cello concertos from opposite ends of the twentieth century which explore the melodic, singing qualities of the instrument to the full. The first offering is by Lionel Sainsbury (b.1958), an unashamedly tonal composer whose works deserve to be better-known, despite the fact that they could be considered restatements of a romantic idiom more in vogue at the turn of the last century. For listeners drawn to music with an immediate melodic appeal, however, Sainsbury will be right up their street. The first movement is a vigorous "allegro assai" in which the singing voice of the cello is evident from the outset. The lively opening yields eventually to a slower, more reflective moment, but on the whole the fairly brisk tempo is maintained.

The adagio is always tuneful and never morbid, despite its predominant lamenting mood. Here the composer wears his heart on his sleeve. Soloist and orchestra share the dialogue more or less equally, both contributing to the deep feeling expressed in the music, the romantic intensity of which is reminiscent of the Barber concerto at times. The final bars grow darker and more sombre before the fade-out. The third movement, by contrast, is an energetic allegro with a splendid breezy melody announced in the orchestra before being taken up and developed by the solo instrument. Soon, a jig-like theme is introduced by the cello, dancing along to a muted orchestral accompaniment. Following further development, the concerto ends in high spirits and bravura passagework for the soloist.

John Foulds' Cello Concerto (1908-09) is a comparatively early work, written when the composer was 28 years old. As such it has all the hallmarks of the late romantic tradition, and is somewhat different from the mature Foulds as heard, for example, in the Three Mantras. There are echoes of Elgar here and there, although it is as well to remember that Elgar's own cello concerto was still a decade into the future at this point. Whatever Foulds lacks in originality is more than recompensed in sound orchestral technique and glorious melody.

The tuneful nature of the piece is evident from the outset as the orchestra bursts into an exalted and melodious introduction before the solo instrument enters pizzicato, eventually working up to a statement of the opening theme. The short slow movement is in ternary form, with the slow music enveloping a brisker middle section. The initial cello theme in this movement is particularly memorable.

The spirited finale is in sonata-rondo form, and puts the soloist through his technical paces, including allowing for improvisation in the cadenza. Malcolm MacDonald has made the point that Foulds' models in this movement are Brahms, Bruch and Tchaikovsky. The springy rondo theme announced by the soloist sets the tone, and despite some more ruminative moments, the good-humoured nature of the music rarely flags, right up to muscular coda.

The soloist on this recording is the evergreen Raphael Wallfisch, who is beautifully supported throughout by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Sainsbury) and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (Foulds), under Martin Yates, a conductor who by now can surely lay claim to be the chief successor to Vernon Handley in the recording studio as far as neglected British repertoire is concerned.
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Ralph Vaughan Williams - Symphony No.5 (New Edition) & Christopher Wright - Violin Concerto
Ralph Vaughan Williams - Symphony No.5 (New Edition) & Christopher Wright - Violin Concerto
Offered by Vocalion/Dutton Epoch Direct (Crazygreen8)
Price: £10.99

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars RVW: Symphony No.5 (New edn.); Wright: Violin Concerto, 18 Mar. 2012
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This Dutton CD takes the form of a traditional concert programme: overture, concerto, symphony. The first two pieces are by the contemporary composer Christopher Wright (b.1954) who writes in a refreshingly tonal and lyrical vein. "Momentum" (2008), as the name implies, is a short, high-spirited piece with plenty of fast music, and one or two more reflective episodes by contrast, just the thing as a "starter". The serious business begins with the Violin Concerto, "And then there was silence..." (2010), written in memory of Wright's wife, who had recently died, and had herself been a violinist. The pattern of the three movements, like that of the Moeran concerto, is slow-fast-slow. The central movement recalls happier times, but is a fairly brief interlude bringing some light relief from the lamenting character of the remainder. The first movement hints at despair, and contains some anguished writing in places, particularly for the orchestra. The violin, meanwhile, has the leading role, and is given some beautiful, sinuous passages, as well as some reflective moments.

Unusually for an instrumental concerto, the finale focuses on a verse from Christina Rossetti's poem "Echo", sung by a tenor soloist (Christopher Watson on this CD), the words of which hold the key not only to this movement but to the entire work. The voice of the composer's late wife sings on in the violin solo, while his instructions for the movement ("lento e lacrimoso", for example) set the intended mood, the anguish and despair of the opening movement giving way, finally, to resignation.

This is a beautiful, lyrical concerto which it is difficult to divorce from its raison d'etre, once it is known. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, under the baton of Martin Yates, does full justice to the piece.

The remaining work on the disc is Vaughan Williams' Symphony No.5. Although this has been recorded many times over the years, this one lays claim to being the first recording of the symphony's "new edition". However, listeners expecting a repeat of the Chandos recording of the original version of the London Symphony, with its extra twenty minutes of music, will be disappointed, as the changes made in the new edition of the Fifth Symphony are purely technical in nature, an alteration to the precise timing of a timpani entry in the slow movement (Romanza) being the most radical. However, the symphony is played with admirable feeling by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, again under Yates, and is certainly up to the standard of alternative interpretations.

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