About this Recording

English String Miniatures

English String Miniatures



English composers have had a strong empathy for string ensembles from Elizabethan times, whether it be in the works for viol consorts, the fantasias of Purcell, the Italianate Op.6 Concerti grossi of Handel, the suites of Parry,

Elgar's Serenade and Introduction and Allegro, Holst's St. Paul's and Brook Green suites, up to nearer our own time, with Britten's Simple Symphony and Bridge Variations and Tippett's Corelli Fantasia. The works presented here were written between the 1930s and 1970s, and can be viewed very much as part of this great tradition.


Despite his prolific choral writing, the instrumental output of John Rutter (b.1945) has been comparatively small. This suite, based on English folksongs was published in 1973, but has been somewhat overshadowed by his ubiquitous carols and settings of the classic texts of the Gloria and Requiem. In addition to the eponymous folksong of each movement there are additional counter-tunes in the outer ones – I sowed the seeds of love in the first, and The Bailiff's Daughter of Islington in the Handelian finale.


Charles Wilfrid Orr (1893-1976) was almost exclusively a composer of songs, mostly settings of A. E. Houseman. The one exception is this Cotswold Hill-Tune, published in 1939 and dedicated to Eugene Goossens. Stylistically it is very much in homage to Delius but Orr steps out of his 'shadow' sufficiently often during the piece to reveal a more personal voice.


George Melachrino (1909-1976) was a child prodigy on the violin, and earned a living in various dance bands of the 1930s. During the Second World War he was the British equivalent of Glenn Miller, gaining the title 'the sentimental Sergeant-Major' as the head of a fifty-piece orchestra. After the War, he became one of the leading recording artists of the day with a string of best-selling albums with his Melachrino Orchestra. His training as a string player is very much in evidence in Les jeux (The games), the first of a set of pieces for strings relating to everyday living. The music is anything but 'everyday' with its clever marriage of skittish good fun and emotional lyricism.


Peter Dodd (b.1930) has spent much of his working life in a variety of posts in the music department of the BBC. This treatment of the traditional Irish folk tune, The Lark in the clear Air, was published in 1971 and catches perfectly its subject in deceptively simple terms without ever lapsing into the routine or predictable.


The name of Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (1889-1960) is these days associated with songs and partsongs - Song of Shadows, and Five Eyes amongst them, and Dusk, one of those handful of pieces better known when heard than when referred to. However, he wrote concertos and several symphonies (Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3 are available on Marco Polo 8.223553) in a productive career. Yet it is probably as a miniaturist that his reputation will stand, and so his Miniature Dance Suite is particularly representative in its gentle mockery of eighteenth century and earlier models designed initially for amateurs, but, like Holst's St Paul's Suite et al., not out of place in loftier circles.


Frank Cordell (1918-80) was one of the most highly respected arrangers in London after the War, with hundreds of discs to his name, as musical director for numerous recording artists of the 1950s. However, he also happened to be a talented composer in his own right, and showed his worth in such films as Khartoum (with a main theme rivalling Elgar) and Cromwell. From this score, he adapted some of the music associated with the character of King Charles I (played in the film by Alec Guinness) for this Galliard for strings - very much a parody of the music of the time, but in the last bars belying its true vintage with some Warlockian chromatic harmonization.


The Short Suite by David Lyon (b.1938) was written in 1971, and although designed primarily as 'entertainment' music, nevertheless deploys various technical devices to engage the ear at a slightly deeper level. Rustic Dance begins with a simple folk-like tune that quickly develops rhythmic hiccups, while the Gavotte pays unblushing tribute to Prokofiev. In the cool, slightly bluesy Aria there are brief passages for solo viola and violin, while the scampering Moto perpetuo develops two themes, the second of which effectively alternates between 3/4 and 6/8.


Roy Douglas (b. 1908) has been an orchestral player, composer and orchestrator. His version of Les Sylphides, for example, is first choice for most ballet and record companies worldwide. From 1947 to 1958 he was a valued assistant and friend to Ralph Vaughan Williams, about whom he wrote illuminatingly in a later book. His original works are mainly for orchestra or unusual chamber groups. This Cantilena, written in 1957, begins with a long serenely flowing tune, which is later contrasted with more 'disturbing' passages.


Philip Lane (b.1950) wrote his Pantomime for strings while an undergraduate in 1971. The title is used in its light-hearted, entertaining sense, and the three short movements are designed to be succinct and not to outstay their welcome.


Philip Lane




Close the window