Orchestral Works by Armstrong Gibbs

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COMPOSERS: Armstrong Gibbs
LABELS: Dutton Epoch
ALBUM TITLE: Armstrong Gibbs
WORKS: Crossings (suite); The Enchanted Wood; A Vision of Night; Suite in A for violin and orchestra; Four Orchestral Dances, etc
PERFORMER: Charles Mutter (violin), Ben Dawson (piano); BBC Concert Orchestra/ Ronald Corp


Such a tremulous year, 1919, in music, politics, and societies at large. Not that you’d know from the gentle English art of Cecil Armstrong Gibbs. That was the year of his ‘dance phantasy’ The Enchanted Wood, piquantly scored for violin, piano, and strings; and his incidental music to Crossings, a whimsical school Christmas play by Walter de la Mare, festooned with fairies in a haunted house. Given the composer’s dainty skills, particularly ingratiating in the dancing flowers and trees of The Enchanted Wood, there’s no reason to decry his narrow focus, though a wider and more robust sensibility might have saved him from running dry in later pieces like the Four Orchestral Dances of 1959.

Decently performed, lovingly recorded, Dutton’s conspectus, chronologically arranged, sensibly includes his famous slow waltz, Dusk – the half-light is Armstrong Gibbs’s orchestral speciality. All other works, mostly prepared from the original manuscripts, are given premiere recordings. A Vision of Night, a pocket symphonic poem from 1921, enjoys fuller and fruitier instrumentation than usual, plus tinges of Wagnerian chromatics. The Suite in A (1942), featuring violinist Charles Mutter, is less distinctive, drier and neo-classical; music of Bach figurations, doffed hats and curtseys. Armstrong Gibbs was always so polite.


Geoff Brown