On record – Hail Caledonia: Scotland In Music (City of Glasgow Philharmonic Orchestra / Iain Sutherland) (Somm Recordings)

hail-caledonia

Trad. arr. Sutherland The Black Bear Salute
Docker Abbey Craig (1974)
Tomlinson Cumberland Square (1960)
Coates The Three Elizabeths – Elizabeth of Glamis (1944)
Mendelssohn Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56, ‘Scottish’ – Vivace non troppo (1842). Blake Take the High Road (1980)
MacCunn (arr. Sutherland) Sutherland’s Law (1886/1973)
Docker Faery Dance Reel (1958)
Sutherland Three Scottish Castles (1966)
MacKenzie (arr. composer) Benedictus, Op. 37 No. 3 (1888/1895)
Bantock Two Heroic Ballads – Kishmul’s Galley (1944)
Arnold Four Scottish Dances, Op. 59 (1957)
Williamson (arr. Sutherland) Flower of Scotland (1967)
Trad. arr. Sutherland Amazing Grace
Whyte Donald of the Burthens – Devil’s Finale/Reel o’ Tulloch (1951)

David Wotherspoon, Iain MacDonald (bagpipes), City of Glasgow Pipe Band, City of Glasgow Chorus, City of Glasgow Philharmonic Orchestra / Iain Sutherland

SOMM Ariadne 5014 [79’32”]

Digital Remastering Paul Arden-Taylor

Live performances at Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow in 1995 and 1996

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

SOMM releases via its Ariadne imprint this compilation of shorter pieces and arrangements which, between them, afford a wide-ranging and not at all hackneyed overview of ‘Scotland in Music’, realized with great flair by Iain Sutherland and the City of Glasgow Philharmonic Orchestra.

What’s the music like?

Whether or not the fastest regimental march in the British army, The Black Bear Salute duly launches proceedings with a gusto continued by Robert Docker’s breezy take on battle-song Scots Wha Hae in Abbey Craig. Ernest Tomlinson furthers the jollity with his amalgam of traditional Borders tunes in Cumberland Square, to which the quiet rapture of Eric Coates’s ‘Elizabeth of Glamis’ (central panel of The Three Elizabeths triptych) provides an admirable foil. The scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony makes for an ideal interlude in its rhythmic vivacity and formal ingenuity, then come pieces made famous through association with television series – Arthur Blake’s atmospheric theme-tune for the soap drama Take the High Road and the corresponding sequence for crime drama Sutherland’s Law, derived from Hamish MacCunn’s overture Land of the Mountain and the Flood as has regained its place in the concert hall. Docker’s contribution to the light-music repertoire is typified by his Faery Dance Reel, a lively and infectious medley of traditional tunes that wears its heritage lightly.

Iain Sutherland displays his compositional skills (with respective nods to Arnold and Coates) in Three Scottish Castles with its evocative tribute to those of Stirling, Dunvegan (Skye) and Edinburgh. Next comes a contrasting brace of pieces – the burnished eloquence of Alexander MacKenzie’s Benedictus here followed by the unfailing extroversion of Kishmul’s Galley by Granville Bantock, whose immersion in all things Scottish was enduring. Malcolm Arnold’s Four Scottish Dances are then given a memorable reading which points up the trenchant gait of ‘Strathspey’ or the latterly inebriated progress of ‘Reel’, before ‘Hebrides’ casts a suitably rapturous spell that is summarily curtailed with the headlong energy of ‘Highland Fling’. One half of influential folk duo The Corries, Roy Williamson created his own standard in Flower of Scotland, here given an opulent arrangement comparable to that of the ubiquitous Amazing Grace – after which, the closing section from the ballet Donald of the Burthens by Ian Whyte (founder conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra) makes for a scintillating finale.

Does it all work?

Yes. Compilations such as this are often no more than the sum of their parts, however enticing those parts may be, but Hail Caledonia is one to sample at leisure as well as worth playing at a single sitting. It helps when the City of Glasgow Philharmonic renders all these pieces with alacrity and enthusiasm, aided by being captured on various live occasions, and owing in no small part to its founder Iain Sutherland. A familiar radio presence over several decades, he brings an authority to music whose outward flair is not without its corresponding substance.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The remastered sound lacks nothing in realism or immediacy, while there are detailed and informative notes by composer, critic (and no doubt ecosophile) Robert Matthew-Walker. Any listeners who are looking to add such a compilation to their collections need not hesitate.

Listen & Buy

You can discover more about this release and listen to clips at the SOMM Recordings website, where you can also purchase the recording.

On record – Peter Dickinson: Lockdown Blues (Somm Recordings)

lockdown-blues

Barber (arr. Dickinson) Canzonetta Op. 48 (1977-8)*
Berkeley
Andante Op.23/6 (1945)
Cage
In a Landscape (1948)
Dickinson
Blue Rose (1978); Freda’s Blues (2016); Lockdown Blues (2020)
Ellington (arr. Dickinson)
Twelve Melodies (1932-43)*
Gershwin
Three-Quarter Blues (c1925); Who Cares? (1931)
Goossens
Lament for a Departed Doll Op.18/10 (1917)
Lambert
Elegiac Blues (1927)
MacDowell
To a Wild Rose Op.51/1 (1896)
Poulenc
Pastourelle IFP69 (1927); Bal fantôme IFP64/4 (c1934)
Satie
Trois Gymnopédies IES26 (1888); Trois Gnossiennes IES24 Nos.1-3 (1889-90)

Peter Dickinson (piano)

SOMM Recordings SOMMCD0644 [68’24”]

Producer & Engineer Peter Newble

Recorded 16 and 17 April 2021 at Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk. * indicates first recordings

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Peter Dickinson here turns the third phase of lockdown to his – and our – advantage with this collection of piano music touching on the blues and jazz which have long been a mainstay of his careers as performer and composer, and which also includes two notable first recordings.

What’s the music like?

The programme commences with the pensive sadness of Dickinson’s Freda’s Blues, written in memory of the widow of Lennox Berkeley, continuing with a poised and refreshingly non-mawkish take on MacDowell’s perennial To a Wild Rose – its blues and rag idioms made the basis of Dickinson’s Blue Rose. The empathetic feel of Lambert’s Elegiac Blues in memory of singer Florence Mills is affectingly caught, while Dickinson’s marrying of blues and Bach in Lockdown Blues recalls George Shearing’s pioneering such fusions. After the drollery of Poulenc’s Bal fantôme, Dickinson’s reworking of the Canzonetta which Barber intended for his unrealized Oboe Concerto proves a focal-point in its searching pathos. Such a quality is also to the fore in Berkeley’s limpid Andante, as is the alluring charm of Gershwin’s Three-Quarter Blues – and to which the whimsy of Poulenc’s Pastourelle provides a pertinent foil.

Whether as solo pianist or in recital with his sister Meriel, Dickinson has been unstinting in his advocacy of Satie and his reading of the original Gnossiennes (not those three published decades after the composer’s death) lacks for nothing in perception. Such is equally the case when, after the insinuating charm of Gershwin’s Who Cares? then the wistful eloquence of Goossens’s Lament for a Departed Doll, he renders Satie’s evergreen Gymnopédies with an objectivity that not unreasonably plays down the mystical aura often attributed to this music.

Perhaps the highlight here is Twelve Melodies that Dickinson has arranged from Ellington’s big-band numbers in what proved a veritable ‘golden age’ for such music and not previously recorded in this guise. Picking out a selection might hardly seem necessary, but the yearning of Solitude, eloquence of Lost in Meditation, questing emotions of Azure then the expressive warmth of Mood Indigo stand out in a sequence which concludes with the phlegmatic charm of Day-Dream then haunting atmosphere of Prelude to a Kiss. Moreover, Dickinson has one final trick up his sleeve with an elegant rendering of Cage’s In a Landscape – music in which this most recalcitrant of composers comes closest to his beloved Satie with its ineffable grace.

Does it all work?

Very much so, thanks not merely to the range of music covered but also through Dickinson’s insight. Into his 87th year when these recordings were made, his technique remains as fluent as his understanding and enjoyment are audible. Long able to accommodate the populist and the experimental within his own music, such inclusiveness extends to the idiomatic aspect of his interpretation and the deftness of his touch. Surely nothing can now prevent the Ellington set being taken up by pianists everywhere, with the numerous shorter pieces ideal as encores.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The piano sound has a naturalness and clarity ideal for this music, while few writers other than Dickinson would be equally aware of technical details and chart standings. Here is looking forward to further releases by this always resourceful pianist in his ‘Indian summer’.

Listen & Buy

You can discover more about this release and listen to clips at the SOMM Recordings website, where you can also purchase the recording. For more information on Peter Dickinson, click here.

On record – Peter Cigleris: Dedication – The Clarinet Chamber Music of Ruth Gipps (Somm Recordings)

gipps

Ruth Gipps
The Kelpie of Corrievreckan Op.5b (1939)
Quintet Op.16 (1941)
Rhapsody in E flat major Op.23 (1942)
Clarinet Sonata Op.45 (1955)
Prelude, Op.51 (1958)

Peter Cigleris (clarinet) with Gareth Hulse (oboe); Duncan Honeybourne (piano); Tippett Quartet [John Mills and Jeremy Isaac (violins), Lydia Lowndes-Norcott (viola) Bozidar Vukotic (cello)]

SOMM Recordings SOMMCD0641 [67’37”]

Producer Siva Oke
Engineer Michael Wright

Recorded 1 and 2 November 2020 at Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon, Surrey

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

SOMM Recordings marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ruth Gipps (1921-99) with this collection of her chamber music featuring clarinet, all of which was written with Robert Baker (her husband for 57 years) in mind and all of which here receives its first recordings.

What’s the music like?

A gifted oboist, pianist and conductor, Gipps was an all-round artist whose accomplishment was matched by a feisty temperament (as this writer recalls) laced with bitterness at the lack of recognition latterly accorded her, though nothing of this is audible in the music heard here.

The Rhapsody in E flat for clarinet and string quartet is one of this composer’s most lyrical pieces – its single movement twice alternating ruminative content and trenchant interplay, if without losing sight of the music’s essential poise, for all that a deeper and more ambivalent vein of expression comes to the fore – to be encapsulated by the clarinet cadenza at its close. Inspired by a poem from Charles Mackay’s 1851 collection, The Kelpie of Corrievreckan for clarinet and piano evokes its source in lively and often wryly humorous terms – its capering progress evidently not intent on taking this tale of the ill-fated protagonist unduly seriously.

Most substantial here is the Quintet for oboe, clarinet and string trio. Its four movements open with an Allegro of elegant restraint, whose modally inflected writing denotes allegiance to an English pastoralism prevalent over its deftly wrought and self-effacing course. There follows an Adagio whose calmly methodical progress admits of appealingly wistful emotion, then the Energico injects a welcome degree of wit into proceedings; before the final Allegro returns to more serious matters as it steers this work to a close the more affecting for its understatement.

British music for solo bass clarinet is not abundant, but Gipps’s Prelude is a notable addition to a mainly radical repertoire; its stealthy unfolding informed by an acute sense of continuity across this instrument’s timbral and registral extent, so it unfolds as an unbroken melodic arc. Finally, the Sonata for clarinet and piano – its initial Allegro starting with a Maestoso gesture which has a pervasive influence over what follows. If this opening movement feels relatively impersonal, the Andante must rank among Gipps’s most eloquent in its unforced pensiveness, then the Scherzando abounds in a quizzical humour continued by the final Allegro – its stern Maestoso prefacing music whose limpid asides do not offset the carousing energy at its close.

Does it all work?

Yes, on its own terms. As with many composers who took against the more radical aspects of British cultural policy after 1960, Gipps was inherently a conservative whose music is often less reactionary than often supposed. It certainly provides a stern test of musicianship which the present artists – not least clarinetist Peter Cigleris – meet head-on, in performances that bring out the idiomatic feel of Gipps’s writing for the instrument(s) at hand while conveying the reticent, yet discernible and often appealing personality that comes through in her music.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, not least given detailed and realistic sound, along with informative notes from Robert Matthew-Walker. Hopefully the cycle of Gipps’s symphonies will be completed by Chandos – but, for now, the present release marks her centenary as she would doubtless have wished.

Listen & Buy

You can discover more about this release and listen to clips at the SOMM Recordings website, where you can also purchase the recording. For more information on Ruth Gipps, click here – and for more on Peter Cigerlis, click here. More information on the Gipps symphonies, as recorded by Chandos, can be found here

On record – Peter Fisher & Margaret Fingerhut: Malcolm Arnold – A Centenary Celebration (Somm Recordings)

arnold-centenary

Malcolm Arnold
Violin Sonata no.1 Op.15 (1947)
Violin Sonata no.2 Op.43 (1953)
English Dances (arr. Harris) – Set 1 Op.27 (1950): nos.1 & 3; Set 2 Op.33 (1951): nos.1-3
4 Scottish Dances (arr. Gedge) Op.57 (1957)
5 Pieces Op.84 (1965)
Miscellaneous Pieces (all arr. Poulton): Hobson’s Choice – Suite (1954); Solitaire – Sarabande (1956); Trapeze – Lola’s Theme (1956); The Chalk Garden – Madrigal (1964); Thème pour mon Amis (1965, rev 1985)

Peter Fisher (violin), Margaret Fingerhut (piano)

SOMM Recordings SOMMCD0640 [69’03”]

Producer / Engineer Michael Ponder

Recorded 21 November and 4 December 2020 at Henry Wood Hall, London

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

SOMM Recordings marks the centenary of the birth of Malcolm Arnold with this collection of his music for violin and piano, including a number of arrangements as are here receiving their first recordings, in what is an (unexpectedly?) wide-ranging overview of his creativity.

What’s the music like?

The three original pieces find Arnold gradually evolving a distinctive personality. If his First Sonata is indebted in many aspects to Bartók or Shostakovich, the tensile expressive contrasts of its opening Allegretto then the plaintive melancholy giving rise to wrenching anguish of its central Andante posits an emotional disjunction that the final Allegro’s stealthy tarantella can only waylay prior to a scabrous close. Its tensile single movement unique in Arnold’s output, the Second Sonata unfolds as oblique variations on a pensive theme whose speculative final guise implies much more than is being said. Playable separately, the Five Pieces (for Yehudi Menuhin) is a cannily integrated sequence that moves from an acerbic Prelude, via an edgy Aubade and a bittersweet Waltz, to an impassioned Ballad then a jazzy Moto perpetuo.

The arrangements from Arnold’s sets of dances provide ready-made encores. David Gedge’s take on the Scottish Dances is wholly idiomatic – hence the strutting gait of the Pesante with its ‘Scotch snap’, careering toward inebriation of the Vivace, wistful naivety of the Allegretto and whirling energy of the final Con brio. The English Dances selected by Paul Harris makes for a viable collection as it moves from the insouciant Op.33/2 and wistful Op.27/1, via the melancholic Op.27/3 and ruminative Op. 33/2, to the resolute Op.33/1.

The miscellaneous arrangements were all done by Alan Poulton – who, as Arnold’s manager during the 1980s, played a vital role in his rehabilitation as a composer. One of two specially written additions for Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet Solitaire, Sarabande is a mellifluous gem – as, in its rather more sensuous way, is Lola’s Theme from Carol Reed’s film Trapeze. Nor is a ‘Suite’ derived from David Lean’s Hobson’s Choice found wanting as a breviary of this inimitable film (Arnold’s favourite from his more than 120 scores), and the suave Madrigal from Ronald Neame’s The Chalk Garden gives no hint of that film’s ominous subject-matter. Conceived as a jingle for Player’s cigarettes then refitted for BBC2’s My Music series, Thème pour mon Amis is a delightful jeu d’esprit with which to recall this much-missed personality.

Does it all work?

Yes – given that Arnold, a professional trumpeter and skilled composer for brass, had ‘across the board’ mastery of instruments such that his writing for strings is hardly less idiomatic, as is witnessed by the original pieces. The arrangements should not be regarded as mere pièces d’occasion, given that these include several of Arnold’s most appealing melodic ideas and are worthwhile recital additions. The performances by Peter Fisher and Margaret Fingerhut, both long-time advocates of British music, could hardly be improved on for sensitivity and insight.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The recording is well-nigh ideal in terms of the balance between these instruments, with Alan Poulton’s booklet notes highly readable and informative, though note the correct running-order of the English Dances as discussed above. Great booklet-cover artwork too!

Listen & Buy

You can discover more about this release and listen to clips at the SOMM Recordings website, where you can also purchase the recording. For more information on the Malcolm Arnold society, click here – and for more on the artists, click here for Peter Fisher and here for Margaret Fingerhut.

On record: Simon Callaghan: The Open Window – Sir George Dyson: Complete Music for Piano (Somm Recordings)

Simon Callaghan (piano) *Clíodna Shanahan (piano)

Dyson
Concerto Leggiero (1951)*
The Open Window (1919)
Primrose Mount (1928)
Bach’s Birthday (1929)
Untitled Piano Piece (1890)
Six Lyrics (1920)
My Birthday (1924)
Twelve Easy Pieces (1952)
Prelude and Ballet (1925)
Epigrams (1920)
Three Wartime Epigrams (1920)
Four Twilight Preludes (1920)

Somm Recordings SOMMCD0622-2 [101’58”]
Producer Siva Oke
Engineer Paul Arden-Taylor

Recorded 17-18 January 2020 The Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon, UK

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

As the cover suggests, this double album gives us the complete music for piano of Sir George Dyson, including five world premiere recordings ranging from the first piece the composer wrote at the age of seven to a two-piano version of Concerto Leggero, a substantial three-movement work for piano and orchestra completed in 1951.

Paul Spicer, the composer’s biographer, contributes a wonderful booklet note telling the story of Dyson’s life and highlighting the importance of the house piano, brought by Dyson’s parents to encourage his obvious gift for musical in the midst of an impoverished upbringing. It is rather moving to read of the composer’s progression through these years, the piano by his side at every turn.

What’s the music like?

The album is beautifully programmed, taking the biggest piece first. The Concerto Leggiero has many harmonic sleights and twists and turns, especially through its first movement, to which Simon Callaghan and Clíodna Shanahan are alive. This is in complete contrast to the early Dyson piano pieces, which are little nuggets you might expect to encounter in early piano learning – but which have an emotional substance ensuring they last well beyond that sphere.

The Open Window itself is charming, with a softly undulating Field and Wood the first of its eight short movements. Dyson’s descriptions are often little picture postcards, such as the restless description of Swallows, but they frequently have an emotive core, found most poignantly in the closing Evensong. In the same way this short suite was written for young pianists to develop their prowess, the Six Lyrics offer the same opportunity through their melodic cells.

Dyson’s very first Untitled Piano Piece is also included, the seven-year old composer offering a bold attempt lasting just under a minute. At the other end of the scale the Epigrams are slightly shady but intense pockets of emotion, each one somehow finding the uncertainty of post-First World War Britain. The Four Twilight Preludes are disarmingly simple, too, elusive portraits that hang in the air and on occasion call Debussy’s music for children to mind. These small but meaningful pieces show the composer’s ability to bring emotion from what on the outside appears to be simple material.

Bach’s Birthday, meanwhile, shows the composer’s skill at working tight compositional procedures into his music. He uses fugues here in music of remarkable density and expression.

Does it all work?

Yes – because Simon Callaghan proves a very sympathetic interpreter, and the programming gives exactly the right balance of light and shade. Given with affection, it is a charming set of music that works as a pleasant background but is more substantial when listened to closely. Dyson is a composer who, in these piano pieces, packs a lot of meaning into short duration. The experience becomes even more rewarding when enjoyed with Paul Spicer’s commentary.

Is it recommended?

Yes. The Open Window fills a notable gap in the British piano music archive, and its support from the Sir George Dyson Trust has secured the completion of an important release. It tells us much more about a composer revered primarily for his choral and orchestral music, illustrating the intimacy he could find in his work. It also serves as a timely reminder of the rich tradition of keyboard music on these shores throughout the 20th century.

For further information on this release, visit the Somm Recordings website