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CD Review

English String Miniatures

Volume 1

  • John Rutter: Suite Antique for Flute, Harpsichord & Strings
  • Charles Wilfred Orr: A Cotswold Hill Tune
  • George Melachrino: Les jeux
  • Peter Dodd: Irish Idyll
  • Cecil Armstrong Gibbs: Fancy Dress, Dance Suite for Orchestra, Op. 82
  • Frank Cordell: King Charles's Galliard
  • David Lyon: Short Suite
  • Roy Douglas: Cantilena
  • Philip Lane: Pantomime
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/David Lloyd-Jones
Naxos 8.554186 DDD 64:22
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This unusual collection is a mixture of unfamiliar and familiar names, although the latter usually have not been associated with composition. Almost every amateur chorister in the English-speaking world knows John Rutter's arrangements. His original choral works are performed with some frequency, but who knows his purely instrumental works? The Suite that is recorded here was published in 1973, and it is made up of English folksongs arranged in the style of Ralph Vaughan Williams. George Melachrino and his eponymous string orchestra made a series of "easy listening" records in the 1950s and 60s. His brief and charming Les jeux comes from a larger collection of music describing facets of everyday life. The ballet Les Sylphides, as most music-lovers know, is based on music by Chopin, yet fewer people are aware that it was Roy Douglas who arranged and scored that music. The Cantilena included here is an original work that shows a similar sensitivity toward string timbres.

The other composers on this disc were completely unknown to me. The oldest is Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, who was born in 1889 and died in 1960. His Miniature Dance Suite is a pastiche of early Classical dance forms. Next oldest is Charles Wilfred Orr (1893-1976) who, like Rutter, recognizes the value of a good folk-tune, although his style of composition is more impressionistic. Douglas and Melachrino were born in 1908 and 1909, respectively. The former is still with us, and the latter died in an accident in 1965. Frank Cordell (1918-1980) has the shortest work on this CD. His King Charles's Galliard also is a pastiche of older music; Cordell adapted it from his score to the film Cromwell. Peter Dodd (b. 1930), David Lyon (b. 1938), Rutter (b. 1945), and Philip Lane (b. 1950) are of the most recent generations. Dodd's Irish Idyll is another short work based on folk-tunes. Lyon's Short Suite and Lane's Pantomime are just a bit more modern, but it is obvious that the composers' intentions were to entertain a broad audience with what is commonly known as "good music."

While little of the music on this CD is as memorable as the work of Leroy Anderson or Eric Coates, it's all impeccably professional and barrier-free. Lloyd-Jones conducts it sympathetically, and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia ("the only regularly contracted ballet orchestra in Britain") plays it with lilting grace. There's nothing else quite like this CD on the market, and if the genre interests you, then don't hesitate.

Copyright © 2000, Raymond Tuttle