About this Recording
8.550331 - English String Festival

English String Festival

John Dowland (1563 - 1626)
Galliard a 5
Edward Elgar (1857 - 1934)
Elegy, Op. 58
Introduction & Allegro, Op. 47
Serenade for Strings, Op. 20
Frank Bridge (1879 - 1941)
Hubert Parry (1848 - 1918)
An English Suite
Lady Radnor's Suite

England was once described as the land without music. The judgement, from a German point of view, once seemed to have some justification. For a long time the country and its capital London in particular seemed to enjoy a remarkable degree of musical xenophilia. Foreign musicians, players and composers, were welcomed and often preferred to the native. It was this strange bias that induced the conductor Henry Wood to win his first recognition under the name Paul Klenovsky and that made London always an attractive centre for visiting musicians, a place where money could be earned. Paganini, it is true, met opposition, when it seemed his ticket prices were too high. Liszt later summed up the attitude of the visitor in a letter to his mistress from the remoter English provinces: “The only idea in my mind is to make money: that is why I am here and that is all I think of”.

In spite of or perhaps because of the English attitude to foreign musicians, musical life in London, at least, proved varied. At the same time the fertile mixture of races in the whole country, and the influence of the differing traditions of the neighbouring Celtic countries absorbed into the United Kingdom, always brought performance and creation that was of interest, at times comparable with the best that Europe could match. These peaks of musical achievement, coupled with the domination of new-comers like Handel, have tended to obscure the merit of lesser composers. At the same time it must be added that some English music does not travel well.

The English String Festival opens with a Galliard by the lutenist composer John Dowland, a musician who failed to gain a position at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, but won recognition and accumulated debts instead in the service of King Christian IV of Denmark, before returning to serve the new Scottish King, James I of England, in 1612. Dowland matched the spirit of the turn of the century with his most famous composition, the song “Flow my teares”, the epitome of melancholy, the fashionable humour of the day, “Lachrimae” or “Seaven Teares” later became the basis of seven sorrowful pavans, interspersed with livelier contrasting galliards. Dowland himself punned on his name, using for one of the solemn pavans the title “Dowland semper dolens”, Dowland always grieving. In fact he seems to have been a man of remarkably cheerful temperament. The Lachrimae theme was much admired and imitated, both in England and abroad. The galliard was a fashionable dance of the time, usually paired with the slower pavan, which would precede it. Shakespeare's drunken Sir Toby Belch, it may be recalled, advised his victim, the credulous Sir Andrew Aguecheek, in Twelfth Night, to go to church in a galliard and come home in a coranto, to show off the excellent constitution of his leg.

Edward Elgar, son of a piano-tuner turned shop-keeper, was born at Broadheath, near Worcester, in 1857. His relatively humble birth was to cause social difficulties, as his music won increasing admiration from more perceptive contemporaries. Marriage to a pupil, the daughter of a former Major-General in the Indian Army, was of material assistance to him in his struggle for a more general recognition, achieved in 1899 with the popular Enigma Variations. After the death of his wife in 1920, Elgar wrote little. His orchestral compositions culminate in the Cello Concerto of 1919 and his chamber music with the Piano Quintet of the same year. It is in particular from the final period of his life that we have inherited the image of a relic of Edwardian imperialism, a country gentleman more interested in his dogs and horses than in the arts. The false picture is supported by the continuing popularity of patriotic compositions such as the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, a focus for popular jingoism.

Elgar's position as a leading composer of the day, quite in accordance with the continuing romantic traditions in German-speaking countries, must be clear from the three works included in the present Festival. The Elegy, a work of great sensibility, was written in 1909 and dedicated to the memory of the Reverend R. H. Hadden, Junior Warden of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. It was first performed at The Mansion House on 13th July, 1909.

By training Elgar was a violinist and had earned a living in Worcester by teaching and playing the instrument during his early years. His writing for strings is, in consequence, idiomatic, although he explained his particular ability by claiming the example of a dominant figure in the history of music in England. "Study old Handel", he advised, "I went to him for help ages ago". The Introduction and Allegro for string quartet and string orchestra, completed in 1905, arose from earlier sketches. In particular he made use of a melody that had occurred to him during a holiday in Wales, a Welsh tune, incorporated in a work that he described as "a tribute to that sweet borderland" where he had made his home, and where, indeed, he had been born and bred. The new work was first performed at the Queen's Hall in London by the London Symphony Orchestra under the direction of the composer, but only gradually won its lasting place in orchestral repertoire. It was dedicated to Professor S.S.Sanford of Yale University, which had recently awarded Elgar an honorary doctorate.

The Introduction and Allegro contrasts a small group, a string quartet, with the main body of the orchestra, a form suggested by the Baroque concerto grosso. The romantic texture is enriched by sub-division of the string sections of the orchestra and the characteristic sweep of the composer's writing for strings. The Introduction suggests the principal themes that are to follow in the Allegro, the opening providing the broad second theme and the first entry of the quartet proposing material for the first theme. The work moves forward to a brilliantly worked fugal section that leads back to the re-appearance of the first theme, the second theme, now appropriately changed in key, and a final triumphant reference to the Introduction.

The Serenade was written in 1892, shortly after Elgar's marriage, when he had decided to give up his attempt to gain a foothold in the musical world of London and return to the provinces. Its probable origin lies in an earlier work, Three Pieces for Strings, written in 1888 and first played at the Worcestershire Musical Union. The later Serenade, presumably a revised version of the Three Pieces, was probably first played in Worcester by amateurs, and had its first successful professional performances abroad, before becoming an established and popular element in English repertoire. The first professional performance took place in New Brighton in 1899 under the composer's direction. A work of characteristically sweet melancholy, the Serenade, in the key of E minor, opens with the pulsating rhythm of the viola. The expressive second movement leads to a final Allegretto that explores again the rich possibilities of divided string sections and the briefly contrasted sound of the solo violin.

Frank Bridge has been the subject of undeserved neglect as a composer, in spite of the attempts of his loyal pupil Benjamin Britten to give him the honour he deserved. Trained as a violinist, he was distinguished as a chamber-music player, serving for a time as violist in the Joachim Quartet and later in the English String Quartet. He appeared frequently as a conductor and wrote a considerable amount of music, at first in an idiom that was easily acceptable to audiences in England at the beginning of the 20th century. His later work, after the war of 1914 - 1918, was nearer in manner to contemporary music on the continent of Europe, and thus alien to the relatively isolated world of English music. The Lament was written in 1915 in memory of a child drowned in the Lusitania.

Hubert Parry, a product of Eton and Oxford, exerted a powerful influence over music in England, as a teacher, composer and scholar. In the first capacity he combined for some years the positions of Professor of Music at Oxford and Director of the Royal College of Music, while in the second he was prolific, with a particular gift for vocal writing. His scholarship is evident in his study of the music of the 17th century for the old Oxford History of Music and his work on the music of J.S. Bach. His social position was assured and his importance in the contemporary world of music recognised by the honour of a knighthood and later a baronetcy. It has been his posthumous misfortune to have belonged to a generation of English musicians relatively isolated from the vigorous and revolutionary changes taking place in Vienna and in Paris.

An English Suite was published three years after Parry's death, in 1921. It is a charming enough re-creation of an earlier period of music, in form a Baroque suite, but without the occasional astringency of Peter Warlock's Capriol Suite. Lady Radnor's Suite, of similar inspiration, its title a reference to an earlier mode of composition, was completed in 1894 and published in 1902. It consists of a series of dance movements, a translation of Baroque tradition into a more nearly contemporary idiom, ending with the customary Gigue.

Capella Istropolitana
The Capella Istropolitana was founded in 1983 by members of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, at first as a chamber orchestra and then as an orchestra large enough to tackle the standard classical repertoire. Based in Bratislava, its name drawn from the ancient name still preserved in the Academia Istropolitana, the orchestra works in the recording studio and undertakes frequent tours throughout Europe. Recordings by the orchestra on the Naxos label include The Best of Baroque Music, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, fifteen each of Mozart's and Haydn's symphonies as well as works by Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.

Adrian Leaper
Adrian Leaper studied conducting with Maurice Miles at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he was trained also as a horn-player, later appearing with the London Sinfonietta and the English Chamber Orchestra, as well as serving eight years in the Philharmonia Orchestra, five of them as co-principal. At the same time he undertook a variety of conducting engagements with amateur and professional orchestras, in particular with the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, of which he was appointed Musical Director and Principal Conductor in 1982. He has more recently been appointed to the new position of Assistant Conductor with the Halle Orchestra. Adrian Leaper has appeared at a number of major festivals including Edinburgh, Bonn, Bath, King's Lynn, Greenwich, Cambridge and Henley.

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