For some late night listening, I dug deep into the older parts of my collection and found this English String Orchestra/Nimbus recording from 1986. Nimbus CDs were all the rage in the 80s — no edits, warm sound, and the beginnings of an audiophile following. The sound, recorded here in the cavernous Great Hall of Birmingham University, is ‘bloomy’, but the performances are so good and the music so gorgeous, you’ll forgive the slightly ’substantial’ acoustics.
All three composers are hugely underrated in North America. Both the Bridge Suite for String Orchestra and Parry’s Lady Radnor’s Suite are representative of each composers’ expert orchestration and boundless invention. Parry is composer of Jerusalem, the quintessential English anthem and Frank Bridge’s work includes the amazing The Sea as well as tutor to Benjamin Britten. But it is George Butterworth’s three gems that highlight this disc.
A Shropshire Lad is a masterpiece of subtlety and beauty. The playing of the English String Orchestra (winds and percussion added) is exemplary — the orchestra has some stunning solo players, the oboist chief among them. Conductor William Boughton (appointed recently to the New Haven Symphony Orchestra) adds the equally beautiful The Banks of Green Willow and the two English Idylls. Although recorded back in 1986, the music and performances are timeless. Imagine what could have been. The 31 year old Butterworth was killed by a sniper leading a raid during The Battle of the Somme during the First World War. He was awarded the Military Cross for his heroism.
If you believe that all turn-of-the-century British orchestral music sounds bloated and bombastic (the musical equivalent of St. Pancras Station, as Sir Thomas Beecham described), try the perfect miniatures contained herein. Make a cappuccino or open a nice warm red, and enjoy some lovely musical company.