The English Connection
Bantock: Pagan Symphony; Maxwell Davies: Five Klee Pictures; Parry: Symphonic Variations
Argovia Philharmonic/Douglas Bostock
Coviello COV92017 58:17 mins
This curious programme demonstrates both that there is no single defining 20th-century ‘English’ style, and the versatility of this Swiss orchestra. If not the slickest of ensembles, the Argovia Philharmonic is never less than characterful and engaging here under its former principal conductor Douglas Bostock.
Perhaps surprisingly, Parry’s Symphonic Variations (1897) proves the most strikingly innovative of the three works. Its abrupt juxtaposition of different styles – one moment Tchaikovsky high tragedy, the next careless classical grace – suggests Mahler and even, in its use of jump cut, anticipates Stravinsky; one variation, little more than woodwind tremolo with some pizzicato underpinning, foretells Petrushka.
In contrast, the biggest surprise offered by the Bantock is that this lush and delectable work, though composed in the mid-1920s and titled Pagan Symphony, so totally bypasses Stravinsky’s influence. Rather – inspired principally by Richard Strauss (particularly Ein Heldenleben) with hints of Borodin and, in its closing pages, a clear debt to Sibelius’s Third Symphony – it sounds as if written at least 15 years earlier, yet will surely please those who enjoy John Williams’s exuberant film scores.
Ironically, Maxwell Davies’s Five Klee Pictures sounds rather more dated. A worthy attempt to write modern music for school children in the 1950s, the material – though pithily evocative and performed with spirit by Bostock and his musicians – does not repay much relistening, its brassy dissonances too readily suggesting the bargain basement horrors of a 1960s Amicus film.