Decca: The British Music Collection

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Decca: The British Music Collection
CATALOGUE NO: See text for individual catalogue numbers

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The success of the initial batch of Decca’s British Music Collection, which included some bold choices of composer and some previously unissued items, raised hopes of continuing adventure, perhaps drawing on the riches of the Argo LP catalogue.

These hopes have not been fulfilled by a second batch which seems more hastily assembled, with a marked reluctance to commission any new remasterings of analogue originals.

The planning of a double album of ARNE is typified by its duplication of one of his keyboard concertos, in a leaden reading by the organist Jean Guillou and a more energetic one on harpsichord by George Malcolm; more fun than either are the enthusiastic performances of eight Overtures from the early days of Christopher Hogwood’s Academy of Ancient Music (470 372-2).

A DELIUS double album has consistently high standards of performance, with an eloquent Sea Drift from Richard Hickox with the baritone John Shirley-Quirk, an atmospheric Song of the High Hills from Charles Mackerras, and a charming group of miniatures from Neville Marriner; however, more than an hour is given over to performances under Anthony Collins, fine in themselves and well worth reviving (as they have been on Belart), but in mono sound, unacknowledged on the cover (470 375-2).

Among the single discs, ‘Victorian values’ predominate in variable anthologies of vocal music, sacred and secular, by PARRY (470 378-2) and STANFORD (470 384-2); and above all in George Guest’s 1961 recording of STAINER’s Crucifixion, with the St John’s, Cambridge Choir and eloquent soloists in Richard Lewis and Owen Brannigan (470 379-2).

But there are a couple of imaginative reissues of recent works. The Requiem by GEOFFREY BURGON, conducted by Hickox, radiates an impressive stillness and intensity – though the lack of texts and translations of its poems by St John of the Cross is made all the more irritating by the amount of blank space in the booklet (470 380-2).

And the early Piano Concerto by RICHARD RODNEY BENNETT is thrilling, in a superb performance by its dedicatee Stephen Kovacevich; a 12-note work, it seems much more individual in tone than the later, jazz-tinged saxophone Concerto for Stan Getz with which it shares the disc (470 371-2).

The opposite extreme to the ‘job lot’ approach to compilations is the straight reissue of an entire CD. One of the Decca discs is like this, an appealing collection of Shakespeare songs by Weber’s contemporary HENRY BISHOP, performed with great gusto by the Musicians of the Globe (470 381-2).

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