Monday, 30 August 2010

John Foulds: Isles of Greece, Op.48 No.2

Over two years ago I wrote a short appreciation of John Fould’s best known work: April-England, Op.48 No.1 for orchestra. It is a miniature that has been lucky enough to have had at least four recordings made –two for orchestra and two in the work’s piano solo incarnation. However, I do wonder how many listeners asked themselves about the companion piece Op.48 No.2. I am lucky enough to have Malcolm MacDonald’s excellent study of the composer and his music. In the detailed pages of the catalogue of Fould’s music I found an entry for Impressions of Time and Space Op.48. The second piece was Isles of Greece, for a small orchestra, although this may have been a reworking of an earlier work. It too was issued as a piano solo. There appears to have also been a third movement to this putative suite planned – however only sketches remain of Sea-Moods (c.1925).
In 1927 John Foulds and his family left England for Italy. His wife Maud was involved in the plans to reopen the Greek theatre at Taormina on the Isle of Sicily. This plan was ultimately to bear fruit –with regular performances of opera and plays being held here to the present. According to Malcolm MacDonald, John joined his wife at Taormina for a time, and whilst there he wrote at least three pieces of music – the Strophes from an Antique Song, the Sicilian Aubade and the Isles of Greece.
There is no doubt that Isles of Greece is a piece of light music and it does not belong to the more complex and esoteric world of the Dynamic Triptych or the Hellas. Yet it is music of the highest quality, balancing melody with fine instrumentation and softly impressionistic harmonies. But its most important asset is the piece’s ability to evoke what the title implies. Anyone who has seen (or even dreamt of) the Greek Isles will feel moved and inspired by this work. It is an example of how a miniature can in fact be a ‘major’ piece. There is a delicious feel to this sun-drenched piece, and also a sense of timelessness. It is not just the present day traveller looking over the rail of the Cunarder Queen Victoria as she sails between the Cyclades, but also recalls the age of Byron and even Pausanias of old.

The Isles of Greece can be heard on Dutton CDLX 7252

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