I had eagerly anticipated a CD of a major work by Stanley Bate (1911 - 1959), and this stunning performance of his Viola Concerto confirms that he was a composer of considerable substance, whose neglect is incomprehensible (the BBC and Britten both hated Bate, which may have something to do with it). It is a big work, with memorable themes, that grows in stature with every playing. Yes, there is a strong whiff of Vaughan Williams about it and echoes of the Walton Concerto, as well as hints of Prokofiev and Shostakovitch. But the composer's own character shines through, and the first movement in particular is magnificent. Perhaps we can now have a recording of his Third Symphony that caused such a sensation at the Cheltenham Festival in 1954. It would also be good to hear the Concerto Romantico for Viola by his first wife, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, another much underrated composer (try in particular her opera, The Transposed Heads).
The other works on the CD are not makeweights. The Vaughan Williams Romance, orchestrated by Robert Chase, the outstanding viola soloist, is exquisite. In some ways it sounds less like RVW than does Bate's Concerto. W H Bell's Rosa Mystica is also a lovely work. Bell went to teach in South Africa, and taught most of the other well-known South African composers. Unfortunately, it means his compositions are not as widely known as they should be, though his fine South African Symphony is available on Marco Polo. If Rose Mystica does not sear the soul in quite the same way as Bate, it is still a work of enormous beauty that I have listened to several times with growing affection.
For the third year in a row, a Dutton Epoch CD has been my CD of the year. Please buy it and share the pleasure it has brought me.