EMI: British Composers

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Auden is at the heart of another of EMI’s British Composer reissues, but this one’s a compilation celebrating the LENNOX BERKELEY centenary (5 85138 2, £5.99).

Rather than take on Chandos with its Berkeley Edition – new recordings of major orchestral works – EMI has gone for the more cost-effective but historically invaluable back catalogue.

Thomas Hemsley’s reedy baritone inhabits the Five Poems by Auden, the first recording from 1959, with Ernest Lush at the piano. The Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila aren’t otherwise available, and Colin Horsley’s first recording of the Six Preludes for piano is fine.

It was Horsley who commissioned Berkeley’s Horn Trio, and this is the absolutely essential recording on the disc: Horsley, violinist Manoug Parikian and Dennis Brain – who provides some miraculous horn-playing at the end of the slow movement.

There’s a sudden flowering into stereo for the piano-duet Polka, and the compilation ends with two bland King’s College performances of two rather bland choral pieces; passively beautiful is about the best you could say of them.

EMI’s slogan for this British Composers series is ‘Celebrating the past – shaping the future’, and this last reissue comes closest to doing exactly what it says on the tin.

It’s NICHOLAS MAW’s Odyssey (5 85145 2, 2 discs, £9.99), the longest continuous orchestral span ever created – 95 minutes of concentrated, comprehensive brilliance, almost a potted history of the development of Maw’s own musical language and his changing relationship to music of the past.

It’s not just the composition that is an awesome achievement; Simon Rattle’s performance and the EMI recording do it full justice.


Add the less searching but more obviously entertaining brilliance of Maw’s Dance Scenes as a bonus (conducted by Daniel Harding), and you have a mid-price package that ought to find a new generation of fans.