Holst, Oldham, Tippett, L Berkeley, Britten, Searle, Walton, Arnold, Hoddinott, Maw, Jones, G Williams, Tippett, Knussen, Saxton, Holloway, Weir, Goehr, C Matthews, Bedford

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Arnold,Bedford,Britten,C Matthews,G Williams,Goehr,Hoddinott,Holloway,Holst,Jones,Knussen,L Berkeley,Maw,Oldham,Saxton,Searle,Tippett,Walton,Weir
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Themes & Variations
WORKS: Variations on an Elizabethan Theme; Severn Bridge Variations; Variations on ‘Sumer is icumen in’
The notion of getting a group of composers to write a set of collaborative variations on a given theme is neither new nor British – Beethoven’s monumental Diabelli Variations began life as part of a similar project. But for some unexplained reason, the idea caught on in Britain after the Second World War. Three sets of composite variations are collected here – from the Fifties, Sixties and Eighties; and though the list of names in each case is hardly all-inclusive, they provide intriguing cross-sections of the nation’s new-musical life in their time. Fascinating, for instance, to find Robin Holloway and – startlingly – Alexander Goehr surrendering to warm pastoral melancholia in the late-Eighties Variations on ‘Sumer is icumen in’. The seven composers of the 1953 Variations on an Elizabethan Theme all seem to have turned their backs determinedly on that – except perhaps Tippett in his strangely haunting contribution (later reworked in the Divertimento on Sellinger’s Round). If you think you know your postwar British music, get this disc, hide track-listings, and see if you can guess the names – some are obvious, others will leave you floundering; and some of these miniatures throw unexpected light on their neighbours. If on the other hand this is not familiar territory, it’s a much better way of starting than a straight sampler. Educational and surprisingly enjoyable. Stephen Johnson