British String Miniatures Vol 1 ASV

Déjà Review: this review was first published in July 2003 and the recording is still available.

British String Miniatures 1
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland
rec. 2001, Sony Music Studios, London
Presto CD
ASV Whiteline CDWHL2134 [72]

As with others in this ASV series of British light music and overtures, we have here a digestible selection of the unfamiliar and the established. Familiarity comes in the shape of Elgar, Delius and Walton and they’re very sensitively performed. However most interest will centre on the more unusual repertoire, starting with Gareth Walters’ 1960 Divertimento with which the disc opens. Walters worked as a BBC producer for a number of years and his Divertimento was commissioned for performance by its own orchestra in Cardiff. In five movements the commission specified that Walters should use Welsh folk music as a base, but he has actually used only two melodies and these are well subsumed into the fabric of this perky, well-argued and rhythmically acute work. Especially attractive are the vaguely neo-classical opening Allegro vivace and the relaxed lento cantabile. When the folk-embellished influence comes – in the fourth movement Largo – it’s the tune Lisa Lân and the melody is very graciously presented. Michael Roberts, another talented BBC man, composed these “light classical” works over a decade or so, between 1962 and 1971; they were brought together as a Suite for this recording. They have a delightful and vivacious charm – listen to the colour and warm heartedness of the Perpetuum mobile – and can rise to Haydnesque delicacy, as in Cherubim. A number were in fact used as television signature tunes and they do have a melodic immediacy that’s very pleasing.

Fiddler’s Green refers to dance houses and appealing-sounding “places of frolic” frequented by sailors. Anthony Hedges evokes the fiddle dances and buzzy Arnoldian shanty style with aplomb. The Andantino – the third of the four little movements – is a real winner, deliciously affectionate, the violins leading with pliant delicacy. Then there’s the quick-fire conclusion, full of bustle and brio. John Addison’s Partita (1961) is cut from rather different cloth. The five-movement work shows its allegiances to Bartók in some tough, sinewy writing, especially in the toccata-like opening but there’s also plenty of room for lyrical relaxation here as well. He doesn’t indulge the slow movement. Instead it’s quite toughly affecting and the March finale likewise is brisk and stern. Interspersed we have Elgar’s Elegy – touching if without quite the Barbirolli touch and Delius’s Two Aquarelles, of which the first is delightfully expressive. Walton’s pieces from Henry V make up the trio of older works. Sutherland has the measure of the Death of Falstaff. I’d like to hear him conduct the Viola Concerto (has he?).

Well up to the now expected standard, it hardly need be said. I enjoyed this disc as much as the others in the series. These are lithe and insightful traversals.

Jonathan Woolf

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Presto Music

Gareth Walters (b 1928)
Divertimento (1960)
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Elegy, Op. 58 (1909)
Michael Roberts (1927-1996)
Suite: Spring Serenade (1971); Compline (1965); Perpetuum mobile (1962); Cherubim (1965); Divertimento (1962)
Frederick Delius (1862-1934)
Two Aquarelles (arr. Eric Fenby 1938)
Anthony Hedges (b 1931)
Fiddler’s Green (2001)
William Walton (1902-1983)
Two Pieces from Henry V (1944): The Death of Falstaff; Touch her soft lips and part
John Addison (1920-1998)
Partita (1961)