Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934): Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op.20
1. Allegro piacevole 3.34 2. Largo 6.34 3. Allegretto 3.08
Sir Benjamin Britten (1913-76): Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op.10
4. (i) Introduction & theme (lento maestoso) – (ii) adagio 4.44 5. March (presto) 1.09 6. Romance (allegretto grazioso) 1.23 7. Aria Italiana (allegro brillante) 1.23 8. Bourree Classique (allegro e pesante)* 1.36 9. Wiener Walzer (lento-vivace) 2.57 10. Moto Perpetuo (allegro molto) 1.10 11. Funeral March (andante ritmico) 3.55 12. Chant (lento) 1.42 13. Fugue & Finale (allegro molto vivace – lento e solenne) 7.53
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958): “Tallis Fantasia”
14. Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis* 15.19
Sir Michael Tippett (1905-98): “Corelli Fantasia”
15. Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli* 19.13 (adagio-vivace: variations 1a, 1b, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
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Bigger is unexpectedly better in Groves' lush recordings of four English masterpieces for string orchestra.
Sir Charles Groves (1915-1992) was an English conductor who relished British music and programmed a good deal of it. This recording of four English masterpieces for strings was made for the Royal Philharmonic's label in 1990, two years before the conductor's demise. It is a recording of which he was especially fond.
At the time of its release, Groves spoke about the challenges inherent in using such a large number of strings - over 50 instruments - in works that were written with smaller forces in mind. Of course, the more the merrier in Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia, where the composer contrasts three groups: a string quartet, a double quartet with bass, and a full body of strings, in music of grandeur and power. However Britten's Frank Bridge Variations, composed in 1934 for the Boyd Neel String Orchestra (and recorded by the composer with the English Chamber Orchestra), and Michael Tippett's Corelli Fantasia (recorded twice by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields) are usually the province of chamber ensembles. Both have moments of fast music requiring crisp attack. Grove's large-scale version is not as sharp-edged as most, but the gains are obvious. As massed violas and cellos dig into the melodic lines, the beauty of Britten and Tippett's writing is palpable - and beauty is not always cited as a trait of the work these composers.
Groves and the RPO give the pieces a gravitas we barely realised they had. The same goes for Elgar's Serenade for Strings, not just light music in his recording but a warmly substantial composition.