Frederic Austin: Richard Ii; Symphony In E Major; The Sea Venturers; Spring
Austin / Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orch / Corp
Number of Discs:
1 Hours 9 Mins.
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Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Sea Venturers.
Symphony in E
Ronald Corp, cond;
Royal Liverpool PO;
Royal Northern College of Music SO;
DUTTON 7288 (68: 40)
To catalog the doings of Frederic Austin (1872–1952) through the active years of his career would read like one of those
roman à clef
novels setting its protagonist squarely among a host of well-known historical figures. Just briefly: At the Liverpool College of Music he taught first harmony and later counterpoint, becoming friends with one of his best students, Thomas Beecham. While there, he also became friends with Cyril Scott, and through him, with the entire “Frankfurt Gang” of Scott, Percy Grainger, Roger Quilter, Balfour Gardiner, and Norman O’Neill. That in turn led to friendships with their extended group—the Goossenses, Gervase Elwes, and Arnold Bax.
A fine baritone, Austin sang in Beethoven’s Ninth under Hans Richter’s direction, and also took part in Beecham’s London debut. Under Weingartner, he sang the finale to
, and under Elgar,
The Dream of Gerontius
. In 1908, he sang in the English premiere of Delius’s
. Beecham used him extensively in his early operatic ventures (Escamillo, Tannhäuser, Ford, Hans Sachs, Iago,
’s Count Almaviva), and he became a regular in lead roles at Rutland Boughton’s annual Glastonbury Festival. In 1920 he produced (and performed in, as Peacham) the first important, modern restoration of
The Beggar’s Opera
. It was by every account a sensational success, running for more than three years in Britain before going abroad.
Austin composed consistently, though at a slow pace. His song cycles and choral works were regularly published; not so, most of his orchestral and chamber music, nor his operas. (His 1924
sported a libretto by that fine ironic novelist and playwright Eden Philpotts, and his ballad opera of the following year,
, sounds interesting enough for one to wish for a modern performance.) All four of the pieces heard here remain in manuscript, and of the lot, three were previously released on other labels.
The fourth, the overture
, is described as a premiere recording. It is his earliest extant composition, disregarding student works, and deserves to be considered a tone poem, with all the trappings of ambition that implies. A Russian influence hangs over the piece: Tchaikovsky in the handling of the orchestration, the cut of the melody and harmonies, but the opening strongly recalls the introduction to the “Song of the Viking” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s
. The confidence of the work and its handling of counterpoint are masterly. If the overall effect is moderately diffuse, and individual sections, such as the brief funeral march at the conclusion, stand out more in memory than the entire piece, it yet heralds a compositional talent that must have raised eyebrows in turn-of-the-20th-century Britain.
Lewis Foreman notes in his excellent biography of Bax that “when Austin’s  Symphony was recorded … the similarity of form and pacing with Bax’s quasi-symphony
… immediately became apparent. Bax’s score was written almost simultaneously with the Austin, and as the rehearsal pianist for the group it seems very likely that the musical magpie Bax had taken something from Austin’s music rather than the other way around.” By quasi-symphony, Foreman means a personalized hybrid form, without recapitulation, and with thematic material that reoccurs transformed from movement to movement. If structurally this sounds like it has something in common with Liszt’s
, stylistically the work is beholden to Debussy, Delius, and occasionally Bantock. It’s in four continuous movements, and the scherzo and slow movement are best. The change of character and pacing between the two movements is also managed gradually yet strikingly. Their thematic material is masterfully orchestrated, and both interesting of itself and for its transformative possibilities.
The Sea Venturers
was composed in 1934, and given its first performance, under the composer’s baton, two years later. Following Austin’s death in 1952, his old friend Beecham programmed the piece at a Royal Philharmonic concert. It’s meant to convey something of the character of English seamen, according to Austin’s own notes, “who in their sailing ships mastered the ways of the wind and the sea, discovered strange lands, fought on ships and shore, sang their shanties, and took peril and pleasure as it came.” If that sounds romantic, so does the score, taking its cues from Herrmann and Korngold. Again, it’s more than a bit diffuse, but there’s a Big Beautiful Tune that shows up after the vigorous opening, eventually receiving a Baxian harmonic treatment to fine effect.
received its premiere in 1907, under Henry Wood’s baton; two years later, Beecham offered it, and wrote to Delius about its success, and the repeated curtain calls of the composer demanded by the audience. It was revised by Austin in 1939, though there’s no word as to what those changes consisted of. Of all the music on this disc, it strikes me as the most tautly executed—possibly because the languorous, Delian passages fit much better among the rest, and the composer never completely loses sight of the more energetic motto themes he employs.
From the Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra it gets a competent but faceless reading, with a few minor flubs. Douglas Bostock paces and phrases well, but his efforts achieve greater results from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Ronald Corp and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra present the best sectional blend and strings, making the most of
’s impassioned phrasing. The sound is slightly more forward in that work, as well, but all four boast good engineering.
In short, if there’s nothing here of sufficient quality to claim the title of “lost gem,” but much to enjoy. The choice is yours.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Symphonic Rhapsody ("Spring") by Frederic Austin
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1902-1907; England
Venue: Brown Shipley Concert Hall, Royal Northe
Length: 15 Minutes 1 Secs.
Richard II, concert overture for orchestra by Frederic Austin
Date of Recording: 07/20/2011
Venue: Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset
Length: 12 Minutes 50 Secs.
Symphony in E Major by Frederic Austin
Date of Recording: 10/22/2001
Venue: Live Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
Length: 29 Minutes 10 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Neglected British Romantic of the early 20th Cent August 23, 2012
By Paul Cook (Tempe, AZ) See All My Reviews
"As usual, Dutton Epoch has released (or re-released) a gem. Frederic Austin was an older contemporary of Bax and while he wrote little (he became a well-known baritone specializing in Wagner), what he did write remains of considerable interest. Austin's music is definitely romantic, but not tied to that of Elgar but rather that of the generation of Vaughan Williams. His orchestration will remind you of the depth Bax brought to his tone poems--even though Austin preceded Bax by a number of years. Let me just say that Overture; The Sea Venturers and the Symphony in E major are from concert performances but all ambient sound (including any applause there might have been) has been deftly edited out. I highly recommend this release. I just wish Austin had written more than he did."