WORKS: Mêlée fantasque; Rout; Adam Zero; Serenade; The World is Charged; Hymn to Apollo
PERFORMER: Rae Woodland (soprano), John Shirley-Quirk (baritone)Ambrosian Singers, LSO/Arthur Bliss
CATALOGUE NO: SRCD 225 ADD
Back in the Sixties and Seventies the Lyrita record company pioneered many first recordings of British music. They were highly praised for performance and sound in their day, and now they are being reissued on compact disc with very successful analogue-to-digital transfers.
These recordings rival the best available today: it is as though a veil has been lifted to reveal their full bloom and detail. Compare, for instance, the original LP of the Bax symphonic poems – the difference is immediately apparent. The opening brass chords of Northern Ballad No. 1 reach out at you from the CD; and now you really feel the roll and swell of the Atlantic in Boult’s reading of The Garden of Fand.
These Bax CDs, especially those of Symphonies Nos. 1 and 7, are well worth having alongside Bryden Thomson’s sumptuous, modern (DDD) Chandos recordings. Whereas Thomson often tends to dawdle over the detail of these complex but rewarding works, Fredman and Leppard are more concerned with the structure. Fredman successfully conveys the drama and conflict of No. 1 and Leppard’s reading of No. 7, especially the tricky slow movement (‘In Legendary Mood’), remains unsurpassed.
The Alwyn records are a delight. Alwyn’s experience of writing for the cinema is very apparent. His music is dramatic, emotional and accessible: there is always something happening to interest the ear. The symphonies are all impressively colourful and dynamic works, and the Lyra Angelica for harp and string orchestra is particularly lovely.
Alwyn is a fine conductor of his own works. However, the new Chandos recording is also well worth considering – the sound is excellent – but comparing the two readings of Derby Day, for instance, Hickox has not quite the wit and panache that the composer brings to bear.
Another valuable document is Sir Arthur Bliss’s interpretation of his own works. The programme on this CD reflects his love of the theatre, with all its brilliance and bustle captured in Mêlée fantasque, and of the ballet, with excerpts from Adam Zero, the evocative music of which charts a man’s life from cradle to grave. The World is Charged, with its bright fanfares and ethereal middle movement, is another highlight.
Edmund Rubbra had passionate religious beliefs which are reflected in his noble and deeply spiritual music. The symphonies unfold organically, developing into structures of luminous beauty and architectural grandeur. All the works on these CDs, including the jubilant Festival Overture and the gently reflective Soliloquy for Cello and Orchestra, are given first-class readings by two sympathetic conductors (Adrian Boult and Vernon Handley).