Thursday, 9 July 2009

British Music: Three Superb New CDs

Recently there has been quite a little stream of new recordings featuring lesser-known British music or composers. I draw attention to three of them.
Hyperion has released the 48th volume of their superb Romantic Piano Concertos series with a release of two piano concertos by the adopted composer Sir Julius Benedict and a Concertstück by Walter MacFarren. Hyperion writes that the concertos “are very much in the tradition of Hummel, of whom Benedict was a pupil, and combine brilliant virtuosity with an easy lyricism.” So far I have heard the C minor and felt that this is a work that is certainly worthy of our respect. It is an attractive piece that would certainly make a fine alternative to the half dozen or so examples of the genre that more often than not grace our repertoire.
The MacFarren work is certainly not to be missed. Although owing much to Mendelssohn, it is a well wrought piece. Considering that it was composed at a time when Britain was A Land without Music, it is an accomplished piece that “could easily pass as one by the greater master”

I have long been of the opinion that there needed to be a recording of the ‘complete’ songs of Sir Lennox Berkeley. Chandos have to some extent remedied this shortfall with there fine new CD. However, I am not aware if this is the first part of a ‘project’ or whether it is simply a ‘recital.’ Interestingly these songs have been presented in more or less chronological order, allowing the listener to follow the composers ‘development.’ For me the highlight is the 1958 cycle Five poems of W.H.Auden. These are quite different to much that the composer had previously written. There is a sense that Berkeley is moving in new direction. These are beautiful settings of one of England’s great poets. It is surely a matter for regret that Berkeley lost a number of his undergraduate settings of Auden.

The last disc that has caught my eye is the superb piece of musical discovery by Linn Records – the Songs of Muriel Herbert. I will not pre-empt my review of these works here, suffice to say that a) there are precious few women composers from the first half of the twentieth century represented in the CD catalogues, 2) these songs are a real, vital and important contribution to the repertoire of English lieder and lastly 3) the performance of these works is delicious.
Interestingly Muriel Herbert was the mother of the well respected writer and historian Claire Tomalin.

This is my 'must have' CD of 2009 - so far.

1 comment:

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