Sunday, 13 April 2008

Robin Milford: Festival Suite Op.97

Further to my musings on the recent DVD of the film 'Festival of Britain 1951' and music contributed by William Alwyn to that score, I discovered this short Suite by the Oxford-born composer Robin Milford.

The work was written during 1950 for Reginald Jacques and his String Orchestra to specifically mark the Festival.
The Suite is written in four easy going movements that could be defined as neo-classical. However, there is definitely a feel of ‘pastoral’ here – although it is not ‘cow and gate’ music. Certainly this Suite does not relate to the more popular examples by Eric Coates or Haydn Wood. In fact, it is hard to pin this work down as being ‘English' : it is often quite ‘international’ in its soundscape.

The Festival Suite opens with an “easy-going” overture which is followed by a particularly lovely and quite pastoral (in a Theocritian sense) siciliano. The heart of the work is the minuet which becomes more introverted as the movement progresses. The finale is in the form of a scherzo and is perhaps the finest part of this short work. After a few bars of intense writing, this becomes quite an extrovert little essay. It soon develops into a confident movement that reveals Milford as a master of invention and having an admirable grasp of the technical necessities of writing for strings.

It is easy to play ‘spot the influence’ and it would not be too disingenuous to mention the Serenade for Strings by Anton Dvorak or the Holberg Suite by Edvard Grieg. However, Milford may well have had in mind the Serenade by Jack Moeran – this work had been first heard in 1948.

Perhaps Ian Lace on MusicWeb International sums up this work by pointing out that the music “celebrates a cosy past that was hardly conducive to the required thrusting spirit of modern post-war optimism…[Milford’s] music was simply out of joint with the times.”
Fortunately we live in wiser (musically) times when fashions matter less than quality. We are free to enjoy this attractive and well wrought miniature.

Milford on Hyperion CDA67444

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