Thursday, 22 March 2018

The Gluepot Connection - 20th century British composers linked by their watering-hole

The Gluepot Connection - Londinium, Andrew Griffiths - SOMM
The Gluepot Connection; Warlock, Rawsthorne, Ireland, Bax, Delius, Lutyens, Moeran, Walton; Londinium, Andrew Griffiths; SOMM
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 Mar 2018
An imaginative disc of 20th century British choral music, full of rarities to the recording catalogue

A pub might seem an unusual theme for a disc of 20th-century choral music but The George (aka The Gluepot) was no ordinary pub. Convenient for the BBC and the Queen's Hall (it was Sir Henry Wood who christened it the Gluepot because his musicians tended to stick there), for a chunk of the 20th century it was a gathering place for British musicians and artists. The composers thus associated are a stylistically diverse bunch, from John Ireland and Arnold Bax through to serialists like Humphrey Searle and Elisabeth Lutyens. It was Lutyens who remarked in her autobiography A Goldfish Bowl, that if a bomb dropped on The George, a large proportion of the musical and literary world would be destroyed.

On this new disc from SOMM, Andrew Griffiths and Londinium chamber choir have taken the Gluepot composers as their theme, missing out some (Constant Lambert wrote no unaccompanied choral music) and adding others such as EJ Moeran's friend Peter Warlock, Warlock's mentor Frederick Delius and Alan Rawsthorne's friend Alan Bush.

Londinium is a London-based non-professional choir with a formidable reputation and, under the leadership of Andrew Griffiths, a reputation for imaginative programming. And here I must declare an interest, I know a number of members of the choir and count two participants on this recording as friends, singing with them in other choirs.
We start with Peter Warlock's early The Full Heart, an evocative setting with a certain bleakness to it, a terrific piece with an interesting harmonic adventurousness. Next comes Alan Rawsthorne's Four Seasonal Songs all setting 17th-century English poets. The first, the rapturous Now the Earth reminded me of early Tippett and the third piece is interestingly chromatic.

John Ireland's The Hills is intelligently pastoral with some interesting harmonies yet the piece must have seemed very old-fashioned when it was premiered in 1953. Bax's I sing of a maiden is full of his typical lyricism, lushness of texture and rich harmonies. Alan Bush's Like Rivers Flowing from 1957 is intelligently tonal and beautifully written, whilst Delius' fabulous On Craig Dhu from 1907 is far more adventurous than many of the pieces by younger composers.

Thankfully Elisabeth Lutyens Verses of Love from 1970 shows a typically adventurous spirit. A setting of verses by Ben Jonson split between men (He) and women (She), it has jagged outlines to the melodies, note-clusters and yet also an intriguing atmosphere.

I have to confess that I find E.J. Moeran's Songs of Springtime a little difficult to enjoy; beautifully written and engagingly performed, the English madrigal / pastoral evocation palls well before the seventh song.

Walton's Where does the Uttered music go was written for the dedication of the Sir Henry Wood window at the church of St Sepulchre without Newgate in 1946 (and the location for Londinium's launch concert for the CD). John Masefield's text is unpromisingly wordy and dense, but Walton produces a striking piece with familiar Waltonisms in the harmony. John Ireland's Twilight Night from 1922 is another of his beautifully constructed pieces, a modern take on the part-song. Alan Bush's Lidice come recognisably from the same tradition but its subject, a commemoration of the massacre at Lidice in a poem by Bush's wife Nancy, gives the work a powerful strength.

Arnold Bax claimed that Mater ora filium was inspired by Byrd's Mass for five voices, but Bax's extravagant textures are well beyond anything that Byrd might write. It is a big, complex work and Andrew Griffiths takes a controlled and concentrated approach which brings admirable clarity to Bax's richly layered textures in a performance which flows well and never wallows.

Whilst Bax's Mater ora filium is well known, this disc is full of things that should be far better known. Andrew Griffiths and Londinium are to be congratulated for such an imaginative programme. And a challenging one, what we lack occasionally in technical perfection we gain in the group's spirit, commitment, complete engagement with the music and vibrant performances

Peter Warlock – The Full Heart
Alan Rawsthorne - Four Seasonal Songs
John Ireland – The Hills
Arnold Bax – I sing of a Maiden that is makeless
Alan Bush – Like the Rivers Flowing
Frederick Delius – On Craig Ddu
Elisabeth Lutyens – Verses of Love
E J Moeran - Songs of Springtime
William Walton – Where does the uttered Music go?
John Ireland – Twilight Night
Alan Bush – Lidice
Arnold Bax – Mater ora filium
Londinium
Andrew Griffiths (conductor)
Recorded at All Hallows Church,  Gospel Oak, 21-23 July, 2017
SOMM SOMMCD 0180 1CD [75.26]
Available from Amazon.

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  • Taking wing: Royal Academy Opera's Flight launches the new theatre - opera review
  • The lure of the East: Soraya Mafi's debut recital at the Wigmore Hall (★★★★)  - concert review
  • Rakastava: the music of Sibelius from Chamber Domaine  (★★★½) - CD review
  • Tradition and innovation: I chat to Hugo Ticciati, violinist and artistic director of O/Modernt - interview
  • Daniel Kramer's new production of Verdi's La traviata at ENO (★★★)  - Opera review
  • Ceremonial Oxford: music for the Georgian university by William Hayes  (★★★½) - CD review
  • Multi-faceted diva: Bampton Classical Opera's Songs for Nancy (★★★½) - Concert review
  • Consume thoughtfully: Niccolò Porpora's cantatas for the Prince of Wales (★★★½)  - CD review
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