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CD Review

English String Miniatures

Volume 2

English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones
Naxos 8.555068 DDD 69:21
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The enjoyable first volume of English String Miniatures (Naxos 8.554186) contained music by composers generally more obscure than these, including Charles Wilfrid Orr, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, Frank Cordell, and David Lyon. This second volume is no less enjoyable, and this time it's only the music – for the most part – that's obscure. (The Frank Bridge works are heard from time to time, as are Elgar's Sospiri and Ireland's The Holy Boy.)

Upon reading the booklet notes by Philip Lane (whose Pantomime was included in Volume One), one realizes that almost none of these works originally was written for string orchestra. The three works by Bridge and Haydn Wood's Fantasy-Concerto started as music for string quartet, John Ireland's The Holy Boy was a song, and Geoffrey Bush's Consort Music was a set of songs. In some cases, the composer himself arranged the music for string orchestra. In others (for example, Ralph Vaughan Williams' Charterhouse Suite, originally written for solo piano), the arrangement was done by other hands.

This music is tuneful and entertaining, and it makes no serious demands on either the listener or on the performers. Even a relatively recent work such as Bush's Consort Music looks backward, not forward. This program seems to say "Relax and enjoy me." A diet of musical masterpieces needs to be varied with brief, melodic, and well-constructed palate-cleansers such as these. There's no "great" music here, but that doesn't make this CD unwelcome at all.

Lloyd-Jones, the conductor for Volume One, is a professional in the best sense of the word. His name might not be as familiar as Simon Rattle's, for example, but it's hard to imagine how Rattle could conduct this program better than Lloyd-Jones. My only reservations are the (perhaps) excessively sentimental reading of Elgar's Sospiri (although it could be argued that the exaggerated portamenti are nothing more than period style) and the tone of the English Northern Philharmonia's strings, which is not ideally rich. Fat interpretations and a lean sound make an interesting combination. Naxos recorded this program in the Great Hall of Leeds University, which seems to be a rather cavernous locale.

Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle