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Customer Review

on 4 March 2005
At the tail end of 2004, this got a lot of review space on the radio with many critics singing the praises of the "Lyra Celtica", a two movement Concerto for voice that employed microtonal devices even though written in the 1920's. I was very intrigued by the tale of this innovative composer whose reputation faded to practically nothing after his death in 1939.
Whilst the aforementioned piece is interesting, particularly the second movement, it is the Three Mantras from "Avatara" that open the first third of this 78 minute disc that really captures the imagination. The burst of horns that open the first movement remind me somewhat of Strauss's infamous bedroom scene music from the "Rosenkavalier" Here is a contemporary of Elgar and Delius writing in a style that is pitched somewhere between the mysticism of Holst and the sensuous exoticism of early Messaien. (Before he discovered his own style. )This is stirring music, the second movment of which features the haunting sound of a children's choir. The composition concludes with the stirring strings and brass creating a maelstrom of sound punctuated with various percussion. Echoes of Holst's "Mars" here, but really this is something wholly superior. This is a work of a truly amazing talent, a composer in the ranks of the very greatest.
The "Lyra Celtica" is also of interest , although the second movment is the better part. Concertos for Voice are a bit of an acquired taste and this struck me as being a something of a period piece. (Almost like something you would hear on one of those old sci-fi films of yesteryear.)
After this comes the earliest composition, a one movement orchestral piece for Orchestra and violin called "Apotheosis" that opens by suggesting something else before quickly settling into the Romantic idiom of the late Nineteenth Century. However, we are still talking about very good music - even if Foulds was yet to find his voice as a composer.
The final Orchestral piece , "Mirage", similarly demonstrates Fould's ability to write and is nearly as good as "Avantara". This music has a brooding menance, far removed from the pastoralism usually expected by English composers. In many respects, it bears a closer resemblence to Rickard Strauss. This too is a significant composition and he again employs microtonal devices, this time in the strings. "Mirage" is another composition of real gravitas, the emotion almost over-powering in the final movement.
The playing of the Birmingham S.O under Sakari Oramo, a champion for Foulds, is some of the best that I have in my collection of classical records. I cannot imagine this music getting a more sympathetic reading.
In conclusion, I would give this fantastic CD more than 5 stars if possible. It is amazing how music as brilliant as this could be neglected for seventy years. I cannot recommend this record strongly enough and would urge all fans of classic music to explore the music of John Foulds as, based on the music on this disc, he was one of the foremost composers of his day. The question to be asked is surely that if of what little else remains of his music is as good as this, was John Foulds not this country's greatest ever composer ?
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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