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English String Miniatures, Volume 4

Peter Hope was born in Stockport and studied at Manchester University and then the Royal Manchester College of Music. He worked for a London publisher before going freelance from the age of 24 as a composer and arranger. In the latter field he has produced work for the singers Jessye Norman and Jose Carreras, and for other composers, John Williams and James Horner. His compositions include the suite, Ring of Kerry, which won an Ivor Novello award in 1968/9. Momentum Suite dates from 1959 and derives its title from the lively last movement, which gets faster and faster to its conclusion. This is preceded by an opening rustic dance and a lyrical intermezzo with a Celtic flavour.

For many years Frank Bridge was better known as Benjamin Britten’s teacher than as the highly original composer he himself was. His experience as a professional viola player allowed him to write for strings with an authority gained from sitting among the instruments rather than viewing them from afar as so many composers have to do. Most of his string miniatures were written for string quartet but are more often heard today in their string orchestral guise. Such was the case with the Scherzo Phantastick in E minor, dated 8th July 1901, written for a concert in the Students’ Union of the Royal College of Music, and brimming over with musical jokes, including a ‘sneeze’ at the end of the mock-serious Trio section. In the original version, the first violin disappears to play his part from various places in the hall, finally emerging in the gallery. Paul Hindmarsh, who has arranged and edited these pieces, retains the sneeze but not the off-stage moments. The Valse-intermezzo in

E minor was completed on the 22nd August 1902 on holiday in Eastbourne, and displays Bridge’s penchant at the time for French and Russian music. Perhaps there is something about the Sussex coast’s proximity to the continent, but a year or so later Debussy chose to write parts of La Mer in the same location, although one would have to look very hard indeed to find any mutual cross-fertilisation in terms of English influences in that music.

The name of Adam Carse crops up on dozens of string pieces for young players, all skilfully written, within predetermined technical parameters, and interesting to play and listen to, unsurprisingly for a man for whom string instruments were almost an extension of himself. He was born in Newcastle and educated at the Royal Academy of Music in London and in Germany. He later taught at Winchester College, and at the Royal Academy as Professor of Harmony and Counterpoint. His Two Sketches date from 1924 and were performed at the Proms. In both pieces he pits solo players and groups of soloists against the main body of strings, as well as using the full ‘band’ with consummate skill.

Ernest Tomlinson was born in Lancashire and began his musical training as a choirboy at Manchester Cathedral before pursuing the same higher education as Peter Hope. He is very much the figure-head of British Light Music with not only a substantial body of work to his name but a passionate devotion to the preservation of the genre through his indispensable library of scores and sets. His Graceful Dance comes from a suite for strings composed in 1965 and is quintessential ‘ET’ in its lyrical charm married to expert craftsmanship in its ‘voicing’ and ever-changing harmonic shifts.

Gustav Holst had played the trombone professionally in his youth and so he was naturally drawn to writing for wind instruments, hence the two suites for wind band, and A Moorside Suite for brass band. A great many leading British composers in the 1920s and 1930s, Elgar included, were approached to write for the brass band without the specialist knowledge to score for the medium, so it is probable that the composers wrote in short score and had the detailed scoring undertaken by other hands. It is therefore reasonable to surmise that Holst had instruments in mind other than brass ones while writing this suite. In fact, a few years after the work’s appearance at the National Championships in 1928, Holst produced a string version for the junior orchestra at St Paul’s Girls School in Hammersmith, in London. Even in its ‘toned down’ version (some more virtuosic moments from the original were smoothed out for the young string players) it proved too tricky, so the Brook Green Suite, included in Volume 3 of the present series (Naxos 8.555069), was composed for them instead. The solo aspects of the original, written for solo cornet, tenor horn and euphonium, are transferred to a string quartet in the slow movement, while the outer movements are both robust and rustic with allusions to the English folk-song and folk-dance that Holst so loved.

Delius’s Two Aquarelles started life as part-songs ‘to be sung of a summer’s night on the water’. In 1938 his amanuensis Eric Fenby arranged them for strings, in which form they have firmly established themselves in the repertory of string ensembles.

Paul Lewis eschewed the formalities of university and music college to work in television from the age of twenty, first administratively, and then as a composer for numerous programmes including Arthur of the Britons, and the children’s classic, Woof! The first two movements of the English Suite date originally from the 1960s and were written for a British string quartet to take on a Spanish tour. With the subsequent movements added, the work was re-scored for string orchestra in 1993 and proudly stands at the end of the English pastoral tradition at its reflective and riotous best.

Philip Lane

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