John Andrews conductor
BBC Concert Orchestra


Quilter’s setting of The Faithless Shepherdess opens this recital, and (aided by a delicious arrangement c/o anon) proves a real charmer – a period piece in the very best sense. The second track might almost be from his theatre music, but no, this is an entirely unknown early work by Delius – the Petite Suite D’Orchestre no.1 – not that you would guess the composer.

True, the scherzo has the cakewalk swagger of his Florida days, but elsewhere the music ranges anywhere from Massenet to Sullivan. Delius does not do much with his modest tunes, even in the cymbal-dominated ‘variations’ – but as an insight into his early efforts it is revealing.

Holst’s Ornulf’s Drapa is another early work, and while the notes speak of a Wagnerian influence, initially the rather cheery setting seems at odds with the grief-stricken tone of the bleak saga. Roderick Williams makes every faux-archaic word clear (not necessarily an advantage) and while the music does become more passionate, I did wonder if a slightly more vehement performance might do it better justice.

Norman O’Neill’s setting of the famous Keats poem of the title initially ticks off each stanza professionally, but rather unmemorably; however it gets better, and rises to a climax of real eloquence, followed by a beautifully desolate epilogue. This is a work which grew on me.

However, Cyril Scott’s setting of (Walter) Scott’s Ballad of Fair Helen is on a more imaginative level from the start – a brief but (from this composer) surprisingly bitter lament. (BTW will anyone ever record his own fine choral setting of the Keats?) 

Rupert Marshall-Luck plays his orchestration of Havergal Brian’s Legend (violin and piano) with real fire. I find it more approachable than the original, though it is still (typically) enigmatic. Brian manages to be simultaneously florid and curt, passionate and laconic. For me it is over too soon, and it is by some distance the most probing work on the disc.

Mackenzie’s opera Colomba sounds like a lurid blood-and-thunder affair from C19th Corsica – not that you’d guess that from the music, which has nothing of the sunburnt Mediterranean about it, but on its own terms it is a noble and dignified (if slightly anonymous) swelling orchestral prelude.

A slightly dry acoustic sometimes robs this music of a little aural glamour, and the performances are good, if occasionally a little polite. The booklet is an absolute model – each work and composer given a detailed separate essay. Given the early nature of some of the works this is inevitably a mixed bag, but there is enough that is rewarding here to appeal to a wide audience.

Review by Kevin Mandry