ALBUM TITLE: Butterworth
WORKS: The Banks of Green Willow – Idyll; Six songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’*; A Shropshire Lad – Rhapsody; Two English Idylls; Suite for string quartette; Love blows as the wind blows*; Orchestral fantasia (completed by Russman)
PERFORMER: *James Rutherford (baritone); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/ Kriss Russman
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2195 (hybrid CD/SACD)
It’s good to see the growing international regard for British composers extended to the tragically unfulfilled George Butterworth. Not that conductor Kriss Russman is exactly foreign – Estonian-born but an alumnus of the Royal College of Music, Cambridge and the BBC Concert Orchestra. Nevertheless, his knowledge of and depth of feeling for this ill-fated Edwardian are striking. In the most famous pieces, The Banks of Green Willow, the Shropshire Lad Rhapsody, and the Two English Idylls, he brings out their poignant lyricism with exceptional freshness and strength, avoiding any ‘Cowpat School’ preciosity. Russman has also orchestrated two smaller-scale pieces, the six Shropshire Lad songs and the Suite for String Quartette, to good effect. To the AE Housman settings James Rutherford brings characteristic mellow-toned vigour and expressive delivery, although they underline how straightfaced Butterworth’s style seems next to his mercurial friend Vaughan Williams.
More controversially, Russman has even completed a 92-bar fragment left at Butterworth’s death in WWI, the Orchestral Fantasia, adding fully five minutes of music. How valid can this be? As with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Musorgsky and Borodin completions, the results are always ambiguous. Russman undoubtedly pastiches Butterworth’s orchestral textures quite convincingly, but can only suggest how he might have developed the folk-flavoured melodies and distinctive harmonies, possibly rather too forcefully. A last trumpet and trombone figure indicates new ideas and explorations we can only guess at. Nevertheless, congratulations are due to Russman and BIS, and this disc’s crowdfunding sponsors, on such powerful advocacy for one of British music’s most grievous losses.
Click here to listen to an excerpt from this recording.