Julius Harrison (1885-1963) was yet another in that seemingly endless line of composers (the pre-eminent being Elgar and Vaughan Williams) who were either born in, or associated with Three Choirs country - Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire. He came from Stourport, and his love for his county is reflected in some of the pieces on this disc. In many ways he was a journeyman musician, taking work wherever he could find it.
Undoubtedly his most celebrated and accomplished work is the rhapsody for violin and orchestra, "Bredon Hill" (1941), which some critics, with good reason, have described as a latterday Lark Ascending. During the war it was eagerly seized upon as the kind of thing that epitomised the spirit of England, and one has only to listen to the music to appreciate why.
The other pieces on the disc are lighter in vein. The Worcestershire Suite (1918) is effectively a group of sketches depicting Harrison's childhood haunts and memories. There is a folksong feel to the outer two movements; in fact the latter is based on an actual Worcestershire folk tune, "The Ledbury Parson".
The Troubador Suite (1944) is based on troubador melodies of the thirteenth century, and is somewhat in the style of Warlock's Capriol Suite. "Romance: A Song of Adoration" (1930) is a light-music encore piece of three minutes duration. More substantial is the early "Prelude-Music" for harp and string orchestra (1912). The opening has the feel of Edwardian salon music, and is very much of its time, but it enjoyed a wide vogue in the 1920s. "Widdicombe Fair" (1916) is described as "a humoresque for string orchestra", and is based on the familiar traditional tune.
Harrison was not a major composer, and never seems to have tackled the more extended forms, neither can he be said to have developed a distinctive personal style. He was an unabashed popularist whose music was written for immediate appeal. As a composer of lighter music he was as competent as any. His piece de resistance, "Bredon Hill" is deeply-felt, and deserves to be much better-known.
After all this music by Harrision, it comes as something of a surprise to find the work of a different composer serving as a "filler". Hubert Clifford (1904-59) was an Australian who came to study with Vaughan Williams, then stayed on in Britain to work for the BBC. Clifford was capable of working on a large canvas, and impressed with a wartime symphony (1940). The Serenade for Strings recorded here is much lighter in tone (the first of the four movements was widely-used as an encore piece), although the third movement lento is more profound.
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