Naxos' series of "English String Miniatures" continues to delight the senses with both pastoral and sophisticated invention. Some of the music is semi-familiar (the Holst, the Delius), much of it is obscure, and all of it is agreeable and unassuming.
Peter Hope (b. 1930) is perhaps better known as an arranger, but his original work – at least the Momentum Suite – is accomplished if traditional. (To paraphrase an American expression, this music wouldn't say "dissonance" if it had a mouthful of it.) All three movements conjure up, if not English folk tunes, then at least their flavor. The suite gets its name from its final movement, which whirls more and more as it progresses.
Frank Bridge (1879-1941) was a fine composer by any reckoning, although he is more famous for being Benjamin Britten's teacher than for any single composition of his own. Both the Valse-Intermezzo and the Scherzo Phantastick originally were written for string quartet. Paul Hindmarsh's arrangements might make their intimate charms more public, but there's no missing the smooth elegance of the first piece and the cheeky high spirits of the second.
Adam Carse was born in Newcastle in 1878, making him one year senior to Bridge. He died in 1958. The Two Sketches, written in 1924 for a London Proms concert, are "A Northern Song" and "A Northern Dance." The first has a Vaughan Williams-like tenderness – both the Fifth Symphony and the Tallis Fantasia come to mind. The second is bustling, and while traditional, it is too engaging to be dull. Ernest Tomlinson's Graceful Dance follows it quickly. Although Tomlinson, born in 1924, is separated from Carse by two generations, there is little about the Graceful Dance to drive the point home. It is everything its name indicates.
Gustav Holst (1874-1934) and Frederick Delius (1862-1934), as the cliché goes, need no introduction. The Moorside Suite usually is heard played by a brass band, but it makes the transition to strings successfully. In fact, hearing the "Nocturne" in this clothing, it is impossible for me to imagine it dressed otherwise. (The arrangement is by Holst himself.) The suite is both active and serene, confident, and full of love for the English countryside. Delius's Two Aquarelles, originally songs but arranged for strings by Eric Fenby, lend necessary contrast to this CD with their impressionism and sensitively blurred outlines.
Paul Lewis, born in 1943, is the youngest composer here. His English Suite ends the CD with another dose of solid, tuneful, and traditional writing for massed strings.
Conductor Lloyd-Jones gives each work the attention it deserves, and there is no feeling of routine or mere dutifulness in these performances. The Northern Sinfonia, based in Newcastle upon Tyne, makes a good impression with its clean playing and sensitivity. Naxos' warm engineering is finer than it was on the previous volume, which was slightly marred by overly resonant sound.
Copyright © 2002, Raymond Tuttle