This is one of my favourite pieces by Ernest Tomlinson in spite of the fact that I am not normally a fan of a potpourri of melodies being strung together. Certainly, Tomlinson has made quite a collection of tunes in this work. I guess, if I am honest, that there were a fair few that I did not get – my excuse is that I went to Scottish schools and majored on Scottish songs. However, there will be few people from any corner of the British Isles who do not recognise ‘Come Lasses and Lads’, ‘Greensleeves’, ‘Oh! Dear What can the Matter be’, ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, and ‘Lillibulero’. Tomlinson has revealed that this work was originally conceived for brass band, ‘specifically’ for Foden’s Band conducted by Harry Mortimer. At that time is was known more appositely as an Overture on Famous English Airs. When the work was transcribed for orchestra it was renamed. Other tunes that the attentive listener will hear are ‘Here's a Health unto His Majesty’, ‘Old King Cole’, ‘King Arthur Ruled the Land’, ‘Gossip Joan’, ‘Begone Dull Care’ and ‘The Lincolnshire Poacher’. Like so much of Tomlinson’s music it is the skill that he brings to the orchestration of each melody. In fact, there are times that one is not really conscious that this is really just one song after another with a well-judged reprise of the opening tune in the last bars.
Andrew Lamb, writing in The Gramophone magazine considers that the English Overture is ‘clever, but rather brash’, which I guess is the intended effect. I feel that it would be an ideal work for the Last Night of the Proms. However to keep a sense of equality, some similar work would have to be found for Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. Certainly, Haydn Wood could provide the solution for that latter country with his fine ‘Manx Overture’. And then there is Edward German’s ‘Welsh Rhapsody’ and not to be forgotten is Ronald Binge’s ‘Scottish Rhapsody’. Finally, one or two of Stanford’s Irish Rhapsodies would be a good choice for Ulster and Eire. Everyone happy!