MusicWeb International Recording of the Month

"Back in 1983 I interviewed conductor Vernon Handley about Arnold Bax. I asked which Bax work was his favourite and why. His reply was a little surprising. He remarked that as an orchestral conductor he was drawn to the Sixth Symphony because of its “apocalyptic vision and the fact that Bax was clearly very moved when he wrote it…”, but Handley also said that he was much drawn to Mater ora filium and quoted Norman Demuth as having remarked that it had been written in the “white heat” of creativity. Recordings of Mater ora filium have been reasonably frequent since the early 1980s and I find myself totally in agreement with Nick Barnard when he prefers the Ralph Allwood and the Rudolfus recording and that this [by Londinium] runs a close second in the field.

This SOMM CD has already been reviewed very enthusiastically and in great detail by Nick Barnard and I urge readers to read his in conjunction with mine. This whole collection is of a very high standard, the choice of pieces inspired, the singing articulate, voices disciplined and finely tuned to shape and line and sensitively coloured to the atmosphere and character of every song.

I don’t intend to offer my impressions of every piece here because I know I would be treading in Nick Barnard’s footsteps. But I will make one or two comments. As Nick has pointed out every song here is finely executed and enjoyable. I was surprised for instance that I enjoyed Elisabeth Lutyens’ Verses of Love having previously been so often repelled by her avant-garde music; I liked the humming and the not-so-gentle irony. I was also impressed with the Alan Rawsthorne Four Seasonal Songs. His salute to Spring is joyous and bracing with some interesting multi-part writing and he invests a wintry chill as his Autumn anticipates the season ahead; his is an uncompromising physical vision not the usual warmish nostalgic Autumnal ruminations.

I was a little disappointed that there was only one song by Delius. It would have been nice to have had another – The splendour falls on castle walls, for instance, best recorded in my opinion by the Louis Halsey singers (now on Eloquence 480 2077). The opening item on this SOMM collection, by the way, is Peter Warlock’s impressive and imposing The Full Heart with its lovely closing descant (Warlock was a great admirer of Delius, of course).

I could rhapsodise further, but enough, Nick Barnard has said it all. This collection is heartily recommended. No doubt it will figure in my Recordings of the Year choice."

Ian Lace, MusicWeb International (April 2018)

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Read Nick Barnard's review on MusicWeb International