George Butterworth enthusiasts now have two versions of the composer’s ‘incomplete’ Fantasia for orchestra: the earliest completed by Martin Yates and the present version by Kriss Russman. Both appear to have been ‘finished’ sometime during 2014/15. The most obvious difference is duration: Russman’s clocks in at 8:36 whilst Yate’s is nearly twice as long at 16:30.
The Fantasia was begun during the summer of 1914 and the full score was left incomplete when Butterworth joined the army. There a note on the front page which states ‘see short score’ which infers that the work was completed in outline: all trace of this has been lost. The sketches extend to some 93 bars of music, lasting for around three-and-a-half minutes.
Russman has ‘completed the work by developing Butterworth’s original ideas and combining them with additional material derived from an analysis of his other music.’ He has not tinkered with the music written in the original full score manuscript.
It seems ironic that after a century, two versions of Butterworth’s Fantasia should appear within a few months of each other. (Yates working has been issued on Dutton Epoch CDLX7326). As part of this review I listened to both a couple of times, and if I am honest, I believe that is impossible to choose one or the other. I cannot say that either ‘completion’ is more or less convincing. The longer version does allow the listener more ‘wallow time’ in this lovely pastoral music: Krissman’s is concise and could not be accused of meandering. The reality is that we have two excellent ‘new’ Butterworth works in the pastoral/romantic idiom influenced not only by folksong, but also Vaughan Williams’ ‘London’ Symphony and developments in continental Europe. Both should take their place in the orchestral repertoire.
The Idyll: The Banks of Green Willow is a stalwart of Classic FM and compilations of British music. There are some two dozen versions of it currently available on CD. However, it always deserves another outing and I feel that Kriss Russman and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales give a splendid performance. The work dates from 1913 and is scored for a small orchestra. It is in the ‘arch’ form beloved by Butterworth. The composer has described the work as a ‘musical illustration to the folk-ballad of the same name.’ The work also includes the tune ‘Green Rushes’ and an original theme.
The cycle Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad is the definitive setting of A.E. Housman’s melancholic poetry. Butterworth’s music seems to epitomise the ‘poet’s evocative portrayal of rural life and untimely death.’ Readers and listeners are reminded that Housman’s verse refers to the years after the First Boer War, not the Great War: it was published in 1896.
George Butterworth began work on this song cycle in 1909 and completed it two years later. The first London performance was on 20 June 1911 at the Aeolian Hall with the baritone Campbell McInnes and Hamilton Harty (piano).
I was a bit surprised to see that the liner notes bill this as ‘World Premiere Recording of the orchestral version’ by Kriss Russman. I understood the honour for this ‘first arrangement’ went to Lance Baker with the version recorded on Chandos (CHAN 8743, 1989) by Stephen Varcoe and the City of London Sinfonia conducted by Richard Hickox. Whatever the history, this is an impressive account of this great song cycle. If I am honest, I prefer the Baker edition, but the present recording is also near perfect. Butterworth’s settings are a perfect fusion of words and music.
Equally striking is the Rhapsody: A Shropshire Lad which has been described as an ‘orchestral epilogue’ to the Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad. The main musical material is derived from the poignant song ‘Loveliest of Trees’ and majors on the sadness implied by ‘fifty springs is little room…to see the cherry hung with snow.’ It was composed in 1911 and received its premiere at the Leeds Festival on 2 October 1913. This is George Butterworth’s masterpiece. It is appropriately placed in the track listings after the Six Songs.
The Two English Idylls is George Butterworth’s earliest surviving orchestral work. I understand that they are considered to be one work and not two. ‘It’ was composed around 1910/11. The first Idyll incorporates the tunes ‘Dabbling in the Dew,’ ‘Just as the Tide was Flowing,’ and ‘Henry Martin.’ The second makes use of ‘Phoebe and her dark-eyed sailor’ and is much more serious in its conception. Both pieces epitomise the ‘pastoral’ school of composition. What makes them valuable, is their charming scoring and nuanced use of folksong which avoids Constant Lambert’s dictum of simply playing it again, only louder.
Love Blows as the Wind Blows is a setting of poems by the poet W.E. Henley. It is the only one of Butterworth’s song cycles to have been orchestrated by the composer himself: it was originally written for string quartet and voice during 1911/12. In the present version, the third song, ‘Fill a glass with golden wine’ was not orchestrated by Butterworth, so is omitted. Perhaps, Russman could have made up this deficit? This orchestral version is subtle and expressive in its exploitation of orchestral colouring and compliments the soloist. They are finely and movingly sung by James Rutherford.
The Suite for string quartet, arranged by Kriss Russman for string orchestra, is a delightful addition to Butterworth’s catalogue of recorded music. The liner notes print ‘quartette’ which was the composer’s chosen spelling of the work; the catalogue in Michael Barlow’s book (Whom the Gods Love: The Life and Music of George Butterworth, Toccata Press, 1997) cite ‘quartet.’
The manuscript of the Suite is undated, but is likely to have been composed around 1910 when Butterworth was living in Chelsea. It must not be confused with the early String Quartet dating from his Eton days and which has been lost.
The Suite has five movements, each between four and five minutes long. So this is a considerable work. Barlow notes a folksong influence in the progress of the music, however this is not based on direct transcriptions of particular tunes. The composer has typically devised themes based on the characteristics of folksong.
Butterworth does use ‘classical’ devices such as sonata form and fugal writing. It is likely to have been an ‘academic’ work, but never becomes pedantic. Russman is correct when he states that the work ‘sometime [reaches] almost symphonic proportions in its breadth of expression.’
I have not heard the original string quartet version of the Suite: the present orchestration is impressive, often very beautiful and is a considerable achievement in its own right. The net result is to add an interesting and attractive work to the string orchestra repertoire in general and the addition of a satisfying Suite from the pen of George Butterworth, in particular.
The music is splendidly played by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under the baton of Kriss Russman. The sound quality is ideal and the duration of the CD good value. The liner notes are in two parts: a helpful overview of Butterworth’s life and work by Anthony Murphy and information about each work by Kriss Russman. The words of the songs are given at the back of the booklet. Dates of Russman’s realisations and orchestrations are not given.
This is a fascinating addition to the catalogue of recorded music by George Butterworth. In fact, it presents an outstanding introduction to his music, with everything (extant) he composed for orchestra as well as two orchestral versions of his best known song cycles.
George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916)
Idyll: The Banks of Green Willow (1913)
Six Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’ orchestrated by Kriss Russman (1909-11)
Rhapsody: A Shropshire Lad (1911)
Two English Idylls 1. (1910/1911), 2. (1911)
Suite for string quartette, arr. for string orchestra by Kriss Russman (c.1910)
‘Love Blows as the Wind Blows’ for medium voice and orchestra (1911-12, 1914)
Orchestral Fantasia completed by Kriss Russman (c.1914)
James Rutherford (baritone) BBC National Orchestra of Wales/ Kriss Russman
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.