One of the finest British Symphonies of the 20th Century
New transfer and XR remastering of this superb première recording
"This is described on the white-label pressings which I have as a "British Council recording": presumably a subsidised one, by the body which has sent out a good deal of British music, as propaganda, to foreign countries. The new move is a welcome addition to those means; here is a work strong in tensions, with lyrical episodes, most imaginatively scored: informal drama, tragic rather than humanely-comedic (though not for long doom-darkened) : a work to spend a lot of time on. Some of it — a good deal, indeed — should be spent on the score, which I have not seen. (The Rawsthorne fill-up, by the way, has not reached me.) The work was originally, I believe, meant as an invitation-composition, the Hallé Society having asked the composer for a symphony as far back as about 1926.
The music appeals to me by reason both of strength, even roughness, and its notably lyrical sense. You can divide as you like the "influences " in Moeran—the Irish and those of Norfolk, where he long lived. Anything Irish attracts me—the more subtly Irish the better: we had perhaps rather too long a spell of the " Arrah, bedad, acushla, begorrah" school..."
"Only the staunchest followers of British or Irish music will be able to tell you much about EJ Moeran, wounded war veteran, pupil of John Ireland and drinking partner of Peter Warlock. Yet, his Symphony in G Minor proved surprisingly well worth dusting off for the BBC Philharmonic. Perhaps the first real orchestral discovery of this year's proms, it even stood up to the hefty counterweight of Elgar's Second Symphony after the interval.
Like his 1920s contemporaries, Moeran had English folk-music scales in his head, but his way of using them conjures craggy, isolated clifftops rather than cosy, pastoral scenes. He also shared Sibelius's knack for using repeated small ideas to create, almost by stealth, a sense of forward motion as unassailable as that of an ocean liner. Launching straight in with a sweeping string melody sustained over chugging horns, Moeran's score follows the conventional four-movement pattern, but the music's moods are many-layered and mercurial. A lot is packed into 45 minutes, and if the ensemble was not always the tautest, especially when the fastest string passages were revving up, Vassily Sinaisky's wholehearted conducting got a lot out of it..."
"This wartime recording, made with the composer hidden in the hall, is the most distinguished recorded performance of the Moeran Symphony. Handley, Lloyd-Jones, and Boult are wonderful, and feature much better sound. But Howard inspires massive emotional commitment from the players, right from the first movement’s second subject, to the jagged close of the finale. Add a vastly rhapsodic account of the slow movement, plus a fleeting Scherzo, and you’ve a period piece that transcends its time.
The technical limitations can’t all be transcended, and the ends of the 78 sides feature limited sound quality. This is Pristine’s second transfer, and it’s a big success, with space around the strings, clear winds and brass, and power in the drums and basses. If you enjoy Sibelius, Bax, and the English schools, then download or order this with confidence. If you already own the competition, and you like the work, then this intense Howard performance will come as quite a shock: the real thing." - Paul Ingram, Fanfare, Jan/Feb 2010
Review of this release: Classic Record Collector, Winter 2009
Review of this release: Audiophile Audition
Notes on the recording:
This is the third transfer I've made of this recording, which was the first to gain a limited release on the Pristine Audio label as a CD back in 2002. A second, and much more accomplished transfer, is currently available on the Divine Art label, coupled with a many other works by Moeran issued on 78rpm discs during the composer's lifetime. As a long-time promoter of the music of Moeran and editor of The Worldwide Moeran Database, I had long regretted that this Divine Art release was prepared just a few weeks prior to the development of what was to become the Pristine Audio XR remastering system, which has proved so effective in the present transfer, together with a host of other technical advances in the field of audio restoration during the last 3 years.
I was inspired, therefore, by the highly successful resurrection of the Symphony in the 2009 BBC Proms season to revisit the recording with a fresh transfer and see what results might be achieved. Despite the obvious end-of-side shortcomings of the often slightly overlong wartime discs, I was delighted to find further grest advances in sound quality were possible. The composer, told to stay away from the recording sessions, had concealed himself behind closed doors - only to make a tramatic appearance in support of principal clarinettist Pat Ryan over a disputed interpretation of a solo line - ultimately pronounced himself delighted at this definitive recording. I trust he would be equally suprised and delighted at the additional sonic progress made here.
Moeran - Symphony in G minor, R71
musical notes by Andrew Rose
Moeran's only symphony was started in 1924, but abandoned and only taken up again ten years later, being finally completed in 1937. It contains some of Moeran's darkest and most brooding moments, and despite the levity of his brilliant (and it has been said, unique to British music) Scherzo, the final conclusion is one of bitterness.
A variety of interpretations have been put on the symphony, including many references to a perceived similarity to Sibelius, and yet further examination by Geoffrey Self suggests Moeran is also passing comment on works by composers as diverse as Mozart, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. Ultimately, however, it is the firm fingerprint of Moeran himself which defines his longest piece of work.
Unlike the Violin Concerto which followed it, and perhaps offers answers to the questions posed in it, the evocations of landscape and mood are often so bleak as to suggest that in this work Moeran is for the first time confronting some of his own darkest ghosts, those he has apparently avoided comment on in his music up to this point: his experiences of the First World War. Without doubt Moeran had a particularly bad time during the war, and was left with a head injury which never allowed him to forget his trauma, and which probably contributed to his untimely death in 1950. However, during his time in military service he was also stationed in Ireland, and this gave him his first taste of the country he came to love so much.
Thus the third movement, which itself is a brief interlude at less than half the length of any of the other movements, may in some way be representative of Moeran's place of escape during the war. Other pointers to this hypothesis can be heard in the end of the first movement, where after a long, brooding section carried by the horns an almost mechanistic rhythm breaks out, and the movement ends on a series of percussive strikes which might surely be representative of gunfire.
During the second movement we hear an episode which, it has been suggested, is reminiscent of rippling water, seemingly offering a moment of calm in this dark and troubled music. Yet, if one is to push further the war idea, a re-examination of this section can also suggest the freedom of air flight: the twisting this beautiful and light section into something dark and sinister then becomes a commentary on humanity's ability to take a wonderful new invention and turn it to destructive use. Moeran had a love of all things mechanical, indeed, Lionel Hill described how Moeran could identify a steam locomotive by its sound alone, and one can only wonder at his feelings when such marvels of the age were put to wartime use.
This idea of flight returns in the final movement, where a bitter wind seems to blow through the flutes, one which serves to heighten the tension slowly mounting in the tympani before finally breaking into the six percussive cracks of the end of the work.
Geoffrey Self's analysis of the work in his book, The Music of E. J. Moeran comes to a similar conclusion, albeit through a different and more thorough musical analysis. He suggests the use of a folksong, The Shooting of His Dear, may hold some of the melodic keys to the symphony, and in particular homes in on the line "for young Jimmy was a fowler". Self writes: "Could there not be a loose allegory here of a young soldier - Jack [Moeran} rather than Jim - called by duty to the war, his illusions of military chivalry and nobility to be shattered by the awesome reality of the sordid carnage and its bleak aftermath." In addition he believes the Symphony to be "some kind of Requiem or In Memoriam".
Certainly its bleak outlook remains unresolved in this work, and perhaps one does need to look to Moeran's next major work, his Violin Concerto, begun almost immediately after the completion of the Symphony, to find Moeran's personal answers to the existential questions raised here.
E. J. Moeran
biographical notes by Andrew Rose
Ernest John Moeran, or Jack to his friends, was born in Heston on 31st December 1894, the second son of the Rev J W W and Esther Moeran. Shortly after his birth the family moved to Bacton, in the remote Norfolk Fen Country. As a child he learned to play the violin and piano, and made some early compositional efforts while at Uppingham School (works he later destroyed).
In 1913 he enrolled at the Royal College of Music to study piano and composition under Sir Charles Stanford. His studies were cut short by the outbreak of war, and in 1914 he enlisted as a motorcycle despatch rider in the 6th (cyclist) Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.
On 3rd May 1917, at Bullecourt in France, Moeran received a severe head injury, with shrapnel embedded too close to the brain for removal, and underwent what would now be considered primitive head surgery which involved the fitting of a metal plate into the skull. Unsurprisingly this was to affect him for the rest of his life.
After discharge from the services on a disability pension he returned briefly to teach at Uppingham before returning in 1920 to the music course at the Royal College, staying there under John Ireland. This period, the most active in his creative output, saw a number of important early works, including the String Quartet in A Minor, the First Rhapsody for orchestra, the Piano Trio, the Violin Sonata and a number of works for solo piano. Moeran had also by this time begun collecting folk songs, visiting pubs, especially in his native Norfolk, and noting down the old songs that were still to be heard at the time, something he was to partake in for the rest of his life.
Some of these folksongs Moeran set to his own arrangements, and collections for a variety of solo and assemble vocal settings were to follow for the rest of his life. Of particular interest are the setting for voice and piano of Six Folksongs from Norfolk, Six Suffolk Folksongs and Songs from County Kerry.
By the middle of the 20's Moeran had struck up a close friendship with Philip Heseltine, better known under his pen-name as the composer Peter Warlock. In 1925, together with the artist Hal Collins, they rented a house in Eynsford, Kent where they were to live together for three years of allegedly wild, drunken anarchy which brought them an assortment of musical and artistic visitors and the occasional attention of the local police. This period also saw an understandable decline in the regularity of Moeran's musical output. It is also thought that at Eynsford Moeran developed the alcoholism which so often overshadowed his for the rest of his life.
On leaving the house as funds ran dry Moeran began to move towards a stylistic reappraisal which was to see him moving away from the earlier influence of composers such as Delius and Ireland, especially on his use of harmony. The first instrumental works to show signs of this were the Sonata for Two Violins and the String Trio, written during a period of ongoing illness and for the first time created straight onto the page rather than through experimentation at the keyboard, as was the choral cycle Songs of Springtime.
It was also at this time that Moeran began to show a much greater interest in his Irish roots - his father was Dublin-born though raised in England, and Moeran had spent some time in Ireland while serving in the army, but it was not until the 1930's that Moeran began to relate his compositions away from the Norfolk countryside and towards Ireland, particularly County Kerry in the far south west of the country. He became particularly fond of the small town of Kenmare, and for most of the rest of his life it was to here that here would return for musical inspiration.
The work which was to occupy much of the 1930s had in fact been commissioned and started in 1924 - his Symphony in G Minor. Almost finished in the 20's, Moeran abandoned work on it, not to resume until 1934, and finally finish on January 24th 1937 in Kerry. The success of this major work seemed to boost Moeran's confidence, and almost immediately he began work on what has been seen by some as the Symphony's natural companion, the Violin Concerto. This piece, completed in 1942 after five years, is imbued with Irish spirit and lyricism, and whereas the Symphony is often wracked with gloom and despair, the Violin Concerto seems to offer hope and enlightenment in response.
But as the decade wore on his health declined. Moeran was wrestling with a second symphony which seemed imminent at several points in time, yet was never completed and later disappeared. The marriage to Peers, never destined to be one of the great romances, was faltering, and his drinking continued. By 1950 he was living in increasingly poor health in Kenmare, worried that his instability would result in being certified insane, unable to concentrate for more than a short time.
On 1st December 1950, during a heavy storm, he was seen to fall from the pier at Kenmare, and was dead on his recovery from the sea. The cause of death would appear to have been a cerebral haemorrhage following a heart attack. He was buried shortly after in Kenmare.
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