Gibbs: Dale and Fell; Suite for Strings; Prelude, Andante and Finale,

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Dale and Fell; Suite for Strings; Prelude, Andante and Finale,
PERFORMER: Guildhall Strings/Robert Salter
Armstrong Gibbs’s reputation long survived, tenuously, on the strength of some echt-English songs and the light-music waltz Dusk; a few years ago a Marco Polo release of two symphonies hinted at a more considerable composer entirely. Much of this miscellany of string orchestra pieces, mostly written for amateurs, treads amiably enough the courtly measures of Warlock’s Capriol and Holst’s St Paul’s Suite, but some items warn us against underestimating Gibbs’s sensitivity and intelligence. The Prelude, Andante and Finale (1945) with its passionate central elegy and wintry, sardonic fugato-style finale shares the altogether darker world of the wartime Westmoreland Symphony (Gibbs’s son was killed in action). The exquisitely gentle and deeply felt Threnody for Walter de la Mare (whose poetry was a lifelong passion for Gibbs; the poet became a close friend) is by any standards a highly personal piece, remarkable for fulfilling its memorial purpose with patent affection, and without unnecessary solemnity. ‘Exquisite’ seems the mot juste, too, for the very late Suite for Strings written the year before Gibbs’s death (actually for double string orchestra, and thus the richest-textured of all these works), whose lyric introspection evokes comparisons with Finzi and Bridge. No masterpieces here, but a quiet mastery of the medium that brings constant pleasure, nicely performed and recorded. Calum MacDonald