Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Rule, Britannia!

So, I'm on a British music kick lately. I just finished reviewing the excellent 2-CD re-issue of British Cello Concertos, with Raphael Wallfisch, and I've lined up a couple of other discs from the excellent Chandos label. So I'm sitting here with a glass of stout (Seaport Vanilla Stout from the excellent local Lighthouse Brewing Company) and imagining myself at our local pub, which happens to be in Hammersmith, 6,500 kilometres away.

The Dove from the river jetty. Public Domain. Photo: Fin Fahey

The Dove is a historic pub on the Thames, close to Hammersmith Bridge. You can sit on the deck and look out on the river just as James Thompson did when he wrote the words to the 1740 song Rule, Britannia!, or so says Wikipedia. All he needed next was Thomas Arne to write the tune, and one of the great British songs was born. That song shows up in more than one of the Overtures on this disc, the second volume in a series of some of the best British light music you could hope to hear (volume 2 will be released later this month). Alexander Campbell Mackenzie's Britannia Overture is based on the tune, but even better is the delightful Plymouth Hoe, by John Ansell. There are other nautically themed works here: Walton's Portsmouth Point and the great Ethel Smyth piece The Boatswain's Mate. I've always loved Eric Coates, ever since a portion of his Three Elizabeths Suite was used as the theme song for the BBC adaptation of The Forsyte Saga, and his overture The Merrymakers is reliable light entertainment. And I'm also a big fan of Roger Quilter, who wrote some great songs, as well as the superb Christmas entertainment Where the Rainbow Ends. His Children's Overture seems so familiar to me. This kind of music was often used as a television or radio theme song, so I expect it's from some long-forgotten puppet show from the days when the only TV station we got was CBC.


I've read more than one review of the first volume in this Overtures from the British Isles series that ended with a wish for a second volume. So here we are; this is everything we could hope for, with more great playing from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, under the baton of someone who knows British light music backwards, and provides it with the best possible advocacy. Bravo to Rumon Gamba for his mastery of this perfectly British music, and bravo to Chandos for providing us with more.

To end on a sad note, James Thompson, who should be celebrated by music lovers not only for his Rule, Britannia lyrics, but also his poem The Seasons which was set by Haydn, met his end not far from The Dove. As Samuel Johnson tells the tale, in his Lives of the English Poets, "...by taking cold on the water between London and Kew, he caught a disorder, which, with some careless exasperation, ended in a fever that put end to his life." The next time I'm at The Dove, I'll make a toast to Thompson: 
The Muses, still with freedom found,
Shall to thy happy coast repair;
Blest Isle! With matchless beauty crown'd,
And manly hearts to guard the fair.
"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
"Britons never will be slaves."

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