Solem String Quartet: Rawsthorne and Other Rarities

review rawsthorne x1 cong

This is billed as a sequel to A Garland for John McCabe (DDA 25166), an affectionate tribute to McCabe that doubled as a sampler for various composers’ work. Apparently intended as the second disc in that set, this project grew to be a full album and is also dedicated to McCabe.

It features recordings of works by McCabe’s fellow composers, but it’s got a different air to the McCabe tribute, which was warm and affectionate; this is drier and more prickly, at least early on.

The sleeve notes say the disparate collection was inspired by recorder  player John Turner’s chance discovery of the manuscript of Alan Rawsthorne’s Chamber Cantata, long believed destroyed, in the Library of Congress, Washington DC.

This has been recorded with two other Rawsthorne rarities, one a version of the well-known Practical Cats (i.e. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, later more profitably turned to music as Cats).

As a tribute to McCabe, the CD also includes two short pieces written in his memory by Malcolm Lipkin and David Ellis.

The CD opens with the Camber Cantata, which is prickly and dry, although it does have some lighter moments. It’s the kind of music that puts us in mind of stiff upper lips and starched collars, and English gents talking about the stock market.

Halsey Stevens’s Sonatina Piacevole lightens the mood and is rather jolly, with recorder and harpsichord. It’s a near relative of the courtly music you might hear in a 1950s Hollywood take on Henry VIII.

TS Elliott’s felines follow, the piece predating the famous musical by decades, commissioned for Edinburgh Festival in 1954. It’s just a reciter and piano, and it’s well done. As a piece commissioned for a one-off live performance for kids, it was perhaps never meant to have longevity as a recording, but it’s far from annoying. Post-puss entertainment is warmer and includes a short but charming piece from Vaughan Williams, with Turner on recorder for a world premiere, and The Little Linden Pipe, another short piece featuring Turner. The closer is Mount Street Blues, by Ellis and dedicated to McCabe, which would have fitted well on the A Garland For… CD.

It is a disparate collection, although this adds to its charm. After repeated plays we conclude the earlier section is more difficult, the cat poems never fail to please, and the subsequent sections are easier to listen to; perhaps too easy, as you start to miss the sharper sounds of the opening pieces. Many modern CDS we review lie unplayed thereafter, but we suspect this is one that, like the children’s setting of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, will prove longer lasting in appeal.

This is out on Divine Art, DDA25169.

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