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Overtures from the British Isles / Gamba

Austin / Bbc National Orchestra Of Wales / Gamba
Release Date: 01/28/2014 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10797   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Charles Villiers StanfordSamuel Coleridge-TaylorFrederic H. CowenGranville Bantock,   ... 
Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 17 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

OVERTURES FROM THE BRITISH ISLES Rumon Gamba, cond; BBC Welsh Natl O CHANDOS 10797 (77:05)

AUSTIN The Sea Venturers. STANFORD Oedipus Tyrannus: Prelude. COLERIDGE-TAYLOR The Song of Hiawatha: Overture. COWEN The Butterfly’s Ball. Read more class="COMPOSER12">BANTOCK The Frogs. MACKENZIE The Little Minister: Overture. SULLIVAN Macbeth: Overture. GARDINER Overture to a Comedy

When we think of the early years of the 20th century, we see them in terms of musical experimentation and the beginnings of radical Modernism––but not every composer was Stravinsky or Schoenberg. In England at that time, a distinctive Victorian well-being continued to permeate the work of middle-aged, conservative composers such as Frederick Cowen and Henry Balfour Gardiner. (This, despite the fact that Queen Victoria passed away in 1901.) By the mid-century, the music of those composers had been discarded for symbolizing a stuffy Imperial mindset that no longer existed. Even Elgar’s work suffered this reaction in some quarters. It was only later that scholars and music lovers returned to the best of these fin de siècle works to reassess the technical skill and acute imagination that characterized them. Gamba has assembled an engaging collection of British overtures, spanning the years 1888 to 1935, and the musical standard is high.

Arthur Sullivan is incontestably the best known of these composers (though Stanford and Bantock maintain a presence in CD catalogs, the latter due to an excellent series of orchestral recordings under Vernon Handley). Sullivan was a dab hand at writing overtures. His early Overture Di Ballo was one of the works that established his composing credentials, and the two overtures he wrote and scored personally for the Savoy operas Iolanthe and The Yeomen of the Guard are minor masterpieces. (The rest were basically pot-pourris cobbled together at the last minute by Sullivan’s assistants.) His Macbeth Overture is part of incidental music for Henry Irving’s production of the play in 1888, and therefore a work of the composer’s maturity. A dramatic tone is established at the outset with punchy minor chords, and ghostly music appears halfway through to represent Banquo. Typically, the piece is economically scored and owes a considerable debt to Mendelssohn. A brass fanfare theme at the close is reminiscent of The Yeomen of the Guard , composed in the same year.

Charles Villiers Stanford’s Prelude to Oedipus Tyrannus , op. 29, is the other older work in the collection, dating in its final form from 1888, and also comes from a set of incidental music. The piece is notable for a plaintive oboe melody, while a regal passage depicting King Oedipus suggests he might have been on the throne of England rather than ancient Thebes. Stanford’s harmonic sophistication and assured orchestration demonstrate why his reputation was so high among composers of his generation.   

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s cantata The Song of Hiawatha , op. 30, was frequently played in Britain in the early 20th Century, when it rivaled Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius in popularity. The first section, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, contains an aria, “Onaway, Awake Beloved” which was in the repertoire of most English tenors of the time, professional or amateur. The overture to the trilogy was composed in 1899. It has breadth, is replete with flowing melodies and is skillfully scored, and its wide-open-spaces Impressionism may have had some later influence on film composers. Coleridge-Taylor’s cantata fell out of favor by the mid-20th century, when the “noble savage” image of Native Americans was undermined by their cutthroat role in Westerns.

Three other works from around the turn of the century are closer to the realm of light orchestral music. The Butterfly’s Ball (1901) by Frederick Cowen is a lightly scored piece of gossamer with a rousing ending, and was immensely popular. According to Lewis Foreman’s note, it was played 20 times at Prom concerts between 1901 and 1940. A recording of this overture was made in 1916 under the composer’s baton: He was well regarded as a conductor, succeeding Hallé as conductor of the Hallé Orchestra. Alexander Mackenzie’s overture to The Little Minister (1897), written for the production of a play by J. M. Barrie, and Balfour Gardiner’s Overture to a Comedy (1906, rev. 1911) are similarly lighthearted.

Finally, two concert overtures date from the 1930s. Frederick Austin’s The Sea Venturers is a rollicking piece with a lyrical central section, befitting a composer who was also renowned as a baritone. Granville Bantock’s comedy overture The Frogs (1935) makes amusing use of clashing semitones to represent frogs croaking, and boasts a lilting counter-melody in the violins. At 8 1/2 minutes, this piece certainly does not outstay its welcome (as some of Bantock’s larger orchestral works do), and is as enjoyable as his earlier comedy overture Pierrot of the Minute , which has been recorded by Handley and Norman del Mar.

The repertoire choices and highly sensitive performances speak of a labor of love on the part of conductor Rumon Gamba and the BBC Welsh Orchestra. They could not lavish more care and affection on this music if it were Brahms. Recording quality is of Chandos’s highest standard. I first listened to this disc on a chilly, wet Sunday afternoon; it provided the perfect warming accompaniment (along with a hot cup of Earl Grey tea).

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Oedipus Rex Prelude, Op. 29 by Charles Villiers Stanford
Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1887; England 
Venue:  BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff 
Length: 8 Minutes 34 Secs. 
The Song of Hiawatha, Op. 30: 3. Overture by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
Period: Post-Romantic 
Written: 1898-1900 
Venue:  BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff 
Length: 11 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Butterfly's Ball, concert overture for orchestra by Frederic H. Cowen
Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
Period: Modern 
Venue:  BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff 
Length: 11 Minutes 55 Secs. 
The Frogs: Overture by Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
Period: Modern 
Venue:  BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff 
Length: 8 Minutes 35 Secs. 
The Little Minister: Overture by Alexander Mackenzie
Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1897 
Venue:  BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff 
Length: 8 Minutes 18 Secs. 
MacBeth: Overture by Arthur Sullivan
Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888; England 
Venue:  BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff 
Length: 8 Minutes 20 Secs. 
Overture to a Comedy by Henry Balfour Gardiner
Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906; England 
Venue:  BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff 
Length: 8 Minutes 31 Secs. 
The Sea Venturers, concert overture for orchestra by Frederic Austin
Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
Period: Modern 
Written: 1934 
Venue:  BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff 
Length: 11 Minutes 15 Secs. 

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