The latest installment in Naxos' series of "English String Miniatures" (and at least a fourth volume is in the works) contains even more delights and surprises than the first two. Lloyd-Jones and his orchestra, given their experience with ballet scores, bring exactly the proper light and graceful touch to this program, which, despite the various styles that it encompasses, holds together beautifully.
Gerald Finzi and Gustav Holst are the familiar names here. Finzi's Prélude (1925) is sensitive, and beautifully written for divided strings, while his Romance (1922) increases the emotional temperature more than one might suppose for this composer. The Brook Green Suite (1934, the year of the composer's death) is another one of Holst's works for students of London's St. Paul's Girls' School. (The earlier work, written for the older and more accomplished string-players of St. Paul's, was the St. Paul's Suite.) Simpler in its demands, the Brook Green Suite nevertheless challenges and charms in
equal measure. Student who could play it well would be fine musicians indeed.
As his name suggests, Carlo Martelli's father was Italian. (He was, however, born in London in 1935.) Persiflage is a sort of Leroy Anderson Holiday for Strings European-style, and quite brilliant for all that. William Blezard (b. 1921) wrote his smoothly contrapuntal Duetto in 1951. Simple and agreeable, it is an interesting way to spend six minutes. And, if you know the song "Roses of Picardy," you know at least some of the music of Haydn Wood (1882-1959). His 18th Century Scherzo is a happy English pastiche of Mendelssohn and Rossini (who were, of course, not 18th-century composers!)
and more modern ideas. Presumably the Scherzo is meant to depict aspects of life in the 18th century, and not to be a copy of that century's music.
The two most substantial works are by composers whose names are quite unfamiliar, particularly outside of the United Kingdom. Michael Hurd (b. 1928) has contributed a work of merit to the string orchestra genre with his neo-classical Sinfonia concertante, which is a gently emotional showpiece for the violin soloist as well. Not even ten minutes long, Hurd concentrates many lovely thoughts within. The music seems, like a brook in spring, to want to bubble over its boundaries. Bruce Montgomery (1921-1978) was the composer of music for films in the "Doctor" and "Carry On" series. As such, his work is well known, although he is not. His Concertino contains many hints of a major talent whose opportunity never came. Its chromatic and compact writing bring
the disc to a darker and more serious (but not unhappily so) ending.
The recording, made in St. Paul's in New Southgate, London, is very resonant, and some of the music's more complicated textures are obscured. Still, this is a very enjoyable disc, and I look forward to future volumes.
Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle