Elgar¥Holst¥Cowen¥Bridge¥Stanford¥Ronald

COMPOSERS: Bridge,Cowen,Elgar,Holst,Ronald,Stanford
LABELS: Dutton
ALBUM TITLE: British Composers Conduct On Acoustic
WORKS: Works by Elgar, Holst, Cowen, Bridge, Stanford and Ronald
PERFORMER: Symphony Orchestra/Frederic Cowen, Edward Elgar; London SO/Gustav Holst, Charles Stanford; Royal Albert Hall Orchestra/Landon Ronald
CATALOGUE NO: CDBP 9777
As Lewis Foreman says in the booklet, there can be a special immediacy about pre-electric recordings, made direct through a giant horn onto a wax master; and with expert re-mastering by Dutton that’s apparent here. But there was a heavy price to be paid in the many cuts required to fit the 78rpm discs, and in the re-scoring so often deployed to ensure clarity and balance. For example, the tuba constantly reinforcing the bass line of Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet sounds distinctly ludicrous, though it can’t obscure the virile tone and exemplary enunciation of the baritone soloist Harold Williams.

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What these recordings do provide is fascinating documentary evidence. Evidence of the taste of the times for light music such as Cowen’s charming overture The Butterfly’s Ball, or Landon Ronald’s In an Eastern Garden with its slithery solo violin. Evidence of how composers wanted their music played: Frank Bridge is outstanding here, bringing a firm hand and considerable delicacy to his suite The Sea. Evidence of contemporary standards of orchestral playing: wind intonation is frequently suspect, and the finale of Holst’s Beni Mora suite is surely more chaotic than the composer intended (though, of course, the possbility of patching sessions was only to be available decades later with the invention of magnetic tape recording). Most treasurable is the recording of Elgar’s Kipling settings Fringes of the Fleet, made in 1917

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after the performers had been delivering them twice daily for over a month at the London Coliseum. You can almost smell the greasepaint. Anthony Burton