About this Recording
8.570573-74 - BEST OF BRITISH



These discs offer the ideal starting point to explore the rich and rewarding legacy of British Music. By and large they reflect a "golden age" of British music, when the late nineteenth and early twentieth century produced a flourishing of composers who all gained stature on an international stage.

The recordings of British music on Naxos are rightly celebrated as being among the highest achievements of the label. Matching innovative repertoire with superb performances, Naxos has brought the work of under-recognised composers such as Bax, Bridge and Harty to the musical forefront.

We take pride therefore in presenting a selection of the very best of British music both sacred and secular - some of the most rousing, triumphant and uplifting ever written, alongside more serene and contemplative pieces evoking the rolling green countryside so unique to the British Isles.


[1] Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Enigma Variations: Variation IX (Nimrod) (From Naxos 8.553564)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, George Hurst (conductor)

Perhaps the most popular and well known of all Elgar's pieces, the Enigma Variations began life as something of a joke, picturing his friends in music. This variation represents A J Jaeger, Elgar's great friend and allegedly depicts a discussion between them on Beethoven's slow movements. Nimrod has become a work in its own right, entering the world of 'pop' classics.

[2] William Walton (1902-1983)
Crown Imperial (From Naxos 8.555869)
English Northern Philharmonia, Paul Daniel (conductor)

Walton used the music of Elgar as his inspiration when he was commissioned by the BBC to compose a March for the anticipated coronation of Edward VIII. As that event never took place owing to Edward's abdication, the new work, Crown Imperial, was played at the coronation of George VI on 12 May 1937. This march exudes characteristic Waltonian joie de vivre and exuberance.

[3] Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
Two Poems: Allegro con brio (From Naxos 8.557167)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, James Judd (conductor)

Frank Bridge has been largely neglected as a composer until recent years. This piece, one of two inspired by the poetry of Richard Jefferies about the English countryside, was written in 1915. A pacifist, Bridge had been appalled by the atrocities of war, and these war-time compositions can be considered as an escape into a kinder world.

[4] Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)
Sea Songs (From Naxos 8.570332)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Paul Murphy (conductor)

Ralph Vaughan Williams viewed his rôle as writing for all types of music-making, and for both professionals and amateurs. The military band benefited from his composition, including a march based on three Sea Songs - Princess Royal, Admiral Benbow and Portsmouth. This version for orchestra became familiar to television viewers in the 1950s as the theme for Billy Bunter.

[5] Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986)
Violin Concerto Op. 103: III Allegro giocoso (From Naxos 8.557591)
Krysia Osostowicz (violin), Ulster Orchestra, Takuo Yuasa (conductor)

Rubbra began working for the railways when he left school, but later won scholarships that allowed him to study music as a pupil of Gustav Holst. His Violin Concerto was first performed in February 1960. This, the finale has been called a country dance; it makes clear allusion to folk-music and bagpipe drones. But it is a very sophisticated dance, teasingly irregular in its cross-rhythms and changes of time.

[6] Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)
Communion Service in C major: Gloria (From Naxos 8.555794)
Choir of St. John's College, Cambridge, Christopher Robinson (conductor), Christopher Whitton (organ)

Although born in Dublin, Stanford spent much of his life in England and is considered a seminal figure in the British classical music renaissance of the late 19th century. He is mainly known for his church music, and the piece we hear here is part of his setting (or arrangement) for the church's standard communion service. Stanford's Gloria is a joyful uplifting piece, lush in its harmonies and typical of grand Victorian church music.

Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006)
Four Scottish Dances Op. 59 (From Naxos 8.553526)
Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Penny
[7] No. 1 Pesante
[8] No. 2 Vivace

A prolific composer of works including some eighty film scores (Bridge on the River Kwai won him an Oscar), Malcolm Arnold lived for much of his life in Cornwall and Norfolk, participating actively in the musical life of these counties. These Dances, however, emanate from the folk music of Scotland, although they also show the jazz influences which first fascinated Arnold as a young boy after hearing Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet.

[9] Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Give Unto The Lord (From Naxos 8.557288)
Choir of St. John's College, Cambridge, Christopher Robinson (conductor)

More Elgar, this time a choral piece written in 1914 and one of the last pieces Elgar was to write for several years, temporarily silenced by the horrors of a war which changed the way of life in Britain forever. It gives us magnificent examples of how Elgar uses words to great effect, for example when the voices loudly proclaime 'the God of glory thundereth' against running downward scales played on the organ, like thunder against a violent rain storm.

[10] Benjamin Britten (1913–1976)
Four Sea Interludes: II. Sunday Morning (From Naxos 8.557196)
London Symphony Orchestra, Steuart Bedford (conductor)

Britten had a strong affinity with the sea, having been born in the East Anglian seaside town of Lowestoft, and a number of his works have a sea connection including his opera Peter Grimes, from which the Four Sea Interludes are taken. The Interludes were included to divide the scenes of the opera, and this, the second of the four, introduces Act II with church bells and bright sunshine, as the townspeople gather before church.

[11] William Walton (1902-1983)
Spitfire Prelude and Fugue (From Naxos 8.553869)
English Northern Philharmonia, Paul Daniel (conductor)

This stirring 1942 piece was originally written for a highly successful film The First of the Few about RJ Mitchell, the designer of the Spitfire. The Prelude originally accompanied the film's titles and has a strong patriotic vein, while the Fugue uses a subject which soars just like the Spitfire it represents.

[12] Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
The Planets: IV. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity (From Naxos 8.555776)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, David Lloyd-Jones (conductor)

The Planets, Holst's most famous work, immediately won him fame when it received its first public performance in 1920. Although Holst was interested in astrology, he later wrote that he had intended only to 'suggest' the character of the planets, expressing a mood rather than painting a picture. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity is full of extrovert good humour, as well as memorable tunes. The central theme will be familiar to many in its later adaptation as the patriotic hymn 'I Vow To Thee My Country'.

[13] Hubert Parry (1848-1918)
I Was Glad When They Said Unto Me (From Naxos 8.553981)
Leeds Festival Chorus, English Northern Philharmonia, Paul Daniel (conductor)

Although the majority of Hubert Parry's work is largely unperformed today, his anthem 'I Was Glad', using the words of Psalm 22, was written as the processional anthem for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 and has been repeated at every coronation since then.

[14] Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Enigma Variations Op. 36: Var. XIV (E.D.U.): Finale (From Naxos 8.553564)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, George Hurst (conductor)

This is the fourteenth and final section of the Enigma Variations and while the other sections are character studies of the composer's friends, this grandiose movement represents Elgar himself, with the initials E.D.U. or 'Edoo' being his wife's pet name for him.

CD 2

[1] Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)
The Lark Ascending (From Naxos 8.553955)
English Northern Philharmonia, David Lloyd-Jones (conductor)

Quintessentially English, this idyllic, dreamy pastoral piece for violin and orchestra written in 1914 is among the best known of Vaughan Williams's shorter pieces. The lark's infinitely variable song is clearly heard in the cadenza-like raptures of the violin solo.

[2] Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)
The Blue Bird (From Naxos 8.553088)
Oxford Camerata, Jeremy Summerly (conductor)

After the sacred music by Stanford on CD1, we now hear one of his secular partsongs (an accompanied song for two or more voices). As with Vaughan Williams's lark, Stanford's music creates a texture over which the soprano can soar like the bird whose reflection is described in the lake, the disjointed calls of 'blue' being glimpses of expectation as the bird comes in and out of sight.

[3] Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Cello Concerto in E minor: III Adagio (From Naxos 8.554409)
Maria Kliegel (cello), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Halász (conductor)

Elgar's Cello Concerto, written after the First World War, was given a lukewarm reception at its first performance, largely owing to the face that it was grossly under-rehearsed. The concerto was finally justifiably made famous by Jacqueline du Pré's interpretation in the mid 1960s - its beautiful and haunting slow movement is heard here.

[4] Arnold Bax (1883-1953)
Summer Music (From Naxos 8.557144)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, David Lloyd-Jones (conductor)

Much of Bax's music is permeated by his love of Ireland, sparked by a love for the poetry of W. B. Yeats. However Summer Music is very definitely English – Bax himself described it as 'a musical description of a hot windless June mid-day in some wooded place of Southern England'.

[5] John Ireland (1879-1962)
Four Preludes: No. 3 - The Holy Boy (From Naxos 8.557777)
Maggini Quartet

John Ireland studied composition with Stanford and later taught Benjamin Britten, both at the Royal College of Music. His lonely, shy personality had its roots in an unhappy childhood, and, added to the fact that he had embarked on a disastrous marriage in 1926 which was quickly annulled, perhaps accounts for the melancholy strain in his music. This sweet lilting piece, a lullaby for the infant Jesus, was originally written for piano.

[6] John Stainer (1840-1901)
The Crucifixion: God So Loved The World (From Naxos 8.557624)
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, Timothy Brown (conductor)

Sir John Stainer was organist of St Paul's Cathedral and professor of music at Oxford, but he made it his vocation to provide good music for parish choirs of moderate abilities. This graceful choral anthem forms part of one larger such work, The Crucifixion, although it is also often performed as a stand-alone piece.

[7] Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)
Clarinet Concerto Op. 31: I. Allegro vigoroso (From Naxos 8.553566)
Robert Plane (clarinet), Northern Sinfonia, Howard Griffiths (conductor)

Finzi lost his father and three older brothers before he was 18, and his music teacher was killed in action during the First World War. As a result, his music often displays a sense of the transience of life although he later found solace living in the Hampshire countryside, the period from which this bright yet contemplative piece comes. The first movement of the concerto begins with strident chords but the clarinet's entry introduces the lyrical and beautiful main theme.

[8] Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Serenade for Strings: I. Allegro Piacevole (From Naxos 8.554409)
Capella Istropolitana, Adrian Leaper (conductor)

The Serenade for Strings was written in 1892, when Elgar had decided to give up his attempt to gain a foothold in the musical world of London and return to his beloved Worcestershire. A work of characteristically sweet melancholy, the Serenade opens with the pulsating rhythms of the viola.

[9] John Rutter (b.1945)
Requiem: The Lord Is My Shepherd (From Naxos 8.557130)
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, City of London Sinfonia, Timothy Brown (conductor)

The immediate success of John Rutter's Requiem was phenomenal. It received over five hundred orchestral performances in America alone in the first six months after its publication in 1985. It has an unquestionable optimism conveyed by its sense of hope and comfort, and it is perhaps for this reason that it became a preferred choice of music at memorial services following the tragic events of 11 September 2001.

[10] John Tavener (b.1945)
The Lamb (From Naxos 8.555256)
Choir of St John's College, Cambridge, Christopher Robinson (conductor)

John Tavener like Rutter was born in 1945 and both attended the same school. Tavener has a startling originality of concept and an intensely personal idiom, making his compositional voice, with its deep spirituality, quite separate from those of his contemporaries. The Lamb has been described as a sacred lullaby, built on a very simple melodic idea and its inversion.

[11] Hamilton Harty (1879-1941)
Piano Concerto in B min: II. Tranquilllo e calmo (From Naxos 8.557731)
Peter Donohoe (piano), Ulster Orchestra, Takuo Yuasa (conductor)

Irish influences can be felt in much of Belfast-born Hamilton Harty's music, including his Piano Concerto, although it was composed while Harty was staying in Italy in 1922. The second movement features a long, pensive melody on the piano punctuated by orchestral interludes, with the soft chimes of a bell, and solo violin and cello adding to the magical effect.

[12] Frederick Delius (1862-1934)
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (From Naxos 8.557143)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, David Lloyd-Jones (conductor)

Often considered a quintessentially British composer, Delius was born Fritz Delius to German parents while the piece on this disc develops a Norwegian folk-song. However the overall sound Delius achieved is certainly a pastoral English idyll and this piece won instant success with its evocative melody.


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