WORKS: A Passer-by; Sinfonietta; Fantasy Quintet; Friends Departed
PERFORMER: Janice Watson (soprano), Stephen Varcoe (baritone); LPO & Choir/Paul Daniel
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9657
Britain was never really a ‘Land ohne Musik’. But it was (and remains) notorious for allowing exquisite scores to slip from the repertory, for rejoicing in flashy ‘premieres’ before consigning its composers to dusty cupboards, or falling prey to feeble ephemeral fashion.
Thomas Armstrong served in the trenches in France, and both the major works here for voices and orchestra are clearly stirred by memories. A Passer-by (1922), which sets Robert Bridges’s vivid poem (‘Whither, O splendid ship..?’), and Friends Departed (1928), a profoundly moving setting of Henry Vaughan’s text ‘They are all gone into a world of light’ (whose first line might easily have been Wilfred Owen) are rhapsodic works, beautifully designed, contrasted and orchestrated.
Soloists Stephen Varcoe and Janice Watson, with the LPO Choir, give touching performances, while the orchestra, on top form, is beautifully coaxed and controlled by Paul Daniel in the exquisite Sinfonietta, whose snatches of cor anglais prove hauntingly unforgettable. Armstrong joins Rubbra, Hadley, Farrar and Howells among Chandos’s wonderful English rediscoveries. Rutland Boughton and Cyril Scott next, perhaps? Both the booklet notes and the full-blooded Chandos sound are excellent. Roderic Dunnett