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Moeran: In The Mountain Country; Rhapsodies; Overture For A Masque

Moeran / Frith / Ulster Orchestra / Falletta
Release Date: 01/28/2014 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8573106   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ernest John Moeran
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ulster Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



MOERAN Overture for a Masque. In the Mountain Country. Rhapsodies Nos. 1 and 2. Rhapsody in F?1 JoAnn Falletta, cond; 1Benjamin Frith (pn); Ulster O NAXOS 8.573106 (57:06)


Vernon Handley, a conductor whose service to British music should be praised in the same breath as that of Adrian Boult (but too seldom was in his lifetime), recorded these works with the Ulster Orchestra for the Chandos label between Read more 1987 and 1989. This was the first integral set of the three rhapsodies, and very fine it is, too—still a significant part of Anglo-Irish composer Ernest John Moeran’s discography, split onto two mid-price Chandos reissues. Now, 25 years later, the orchestra revisits this repertoire, under the direction of its American principal conductor JoAnn Falletta.


The Rhapsody No. 1 in F Major is a student work. It was completed in 1922 after Moeran had returned wounded from World War I to finish his studies at the Royal College of Music with John Ireland, to whom it is dedicated. It and In the Mountain Country, a rhapsody in all but name, are works written under the spell of folksong. Moeran had resumed his collecting of such songs while composing these two pieces, and though the themes he uses are original, they could easily pass as traditional. The other major influences on these, and in fact on all of the works presented here, are the music of Frederick Delius, Jean Sibelius, and friend Peter Warlock, and—perhaps most importantly—the picturesque landscapes of the east of both Ireland and England. The blend creates a bucolic lyricism and nostalgic tonality which makes him the target of those who sneer at the so-called “pastoral” school of English composition. This is a label Vaughan Williams’s reputation has been able to rise above, but not so much that of Moeran. Yes it is tuneful, and sometime the influences show too much, but it is hard to understand why this beautifully crafted, colorfully orchestrated, and immediately engaging music should be so neglected. It cannot be, even in the more youthful works, for want of refinement or emotional depth. And the two later works, the Rhapsody in F? for piano and orchestra and the Overture for a Masque, though written for the more populist needs of wartime audiences, are works of substance that achieve their audience appeal with real artistry.


The least obscure of the works on this program is the Rhapsody No. 2 in E Major, written just two years after the first, and notably the more mature work. It still sounds rather like Delius—that common criticism of Moeran’s earlier works—but the succession of great tunes is stitched together with impressive skill. Adrian Boult’s more expansive and Impressionistic reading for Lyrita has been my favorite, but I find that Falletta’s cooler and somewhat swifter approach—less Delian, it might be noted—with its emphasis on the characterful wind writing, brings out a delightful Celtic swagger. I think Falletta’s may be my new favorite.


Otherwise, if I was looking for differences between the two complete rhapsody editions—none of them all that significant—it would be that Falletta is consistently more direct, a quality to which these pieces respond well. Handley is inclined to emphasize dynamic and tempo contrasts, and to bring out an undercurrent of melancholy. The result, at slightly slower tempos, is more thoughtful but less engagingly jaunty. The Ulster Orchestra is, if anything, more polished and expressive than its counterpart of a quarter-century ago. Soloist Benjamin Firth is not as assertive in the Rhapsody in F? as Margaret Fingerhut was for Handley, in part the work of the engineers who integrate him more into the orchestral texture. That, and his somewhat less fulsome approach to the part, is at one with Falletta’s easygoing approach, and delivers much in the way of subtle beauty while yielding little in exuberance when the score demands it. I welcome both approaches, and am thrilled to have both conductors’ readings in my collection. This new disc joins the equally fine Falletta/Ulster release on Naxos of the cello concerto, serenade, and Two Pieces for Small Orchestra. Both discs are highly recommended.


FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames

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E.J. Moeran really was a good composer. His style sounds a bit like a mixture of Vaughan Williams and Walton: the folk-influence of the former, with a bit of the rhythmic flexibility and edgier harmonic style of the latter. His death in 1950, while still in his mid 50s, resulted largely from alcoholism, a problem he shared with so many of his British musical colleagues, including John Ireland, Constant Lambert, and Peter Warlock, to name only a few.

The five pieces on this disc include his earliest orchestral work, In the Mountain Country, the delightfully snazzy Overture for a Masque of 1944, and the three Rhapsodies, the last of which features a virtuoso piano solo very ably rendered here by Benjamin Frith. All five works come recognizably from the same pen, and although none borrows obvious folk tunes the inspiration is clear and invariably attractive. Any one of these works would grace a concert program today, and it’s a pity that so few of them do.

If any orchestra can be said to know these works, then it would have to be the Ulster ensemble since it recorded this music under Vernon Handley for Chandos. JoAnn Falletta does an equally fine job with it, offering spirited and vigorous renditions that time out almost identically to Handley’s. This isn’t music, after all, that offers much opportunity for huge interpretive variation, but that’s just an indication of how directly expressive and unfussy it is.

Do I hear a tiny bit of ragged ensemble between the brass and strings at a couple of points in the First Rhapsody? No matter. With excellent sonics, the result is an extremely enjoyable release that deserves wide circulation.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

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Works on This Recording

1. Rhapsody no 2 for Orchestra by Ernest John Moeran
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ulster Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924/1941; England 
2. Rhapsody no 1 for Orchestra by Ernest John Moeran
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ulster Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1922; England 
3. Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra in F sharp major by Ernest John Moeran
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ulster Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943; England 
4. Overture for a Masque by Ernest John Moeran
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ulster Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; England 
5. In the mountain country by Ernest John Moeran
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ulster Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921; England 

Sound Samples

Overture for a Masque
In the Mountain Country
Rhapsody No. 1 in F Major
Rhapsody No. 2 in E Major
Rhapsody in F-Sharp Major

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Outstanding July 31, 2014 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "Under JoAnn Falletta, the Ulster Orchestra is in top form on this superb Naxos disk, which features five relatively short orchestral compositions by Irish-English composer EJ Moeran. In the Mountain Country and Rhapsodies 1 and 2 are atmospheric, generally pastoral works seemingly derived from impressions of the Irish and English countryside. Rhapsody in F Sharp adds a piano soloist, turning this work into a lyrical, 17-minute long mini concerto, with pianists Benjamin Frith overlaying a delicate, gorgeously woven piano structure over the carefully controlled orchestral background- a superb piece, in my opinion. Naxos' audio engineers did a great job with this recording; the sound is spectacular, with plenty of dynamic range and perfect balance. In summary, here is a recording which does English music proud, and it absolutely merits my 5 star rating. Try it, and I think you'll agree. Highly recommended." Report Abuse
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