Rumon Gamba / BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Overtures from the British Isles

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The music on this release, dating from between about 1880 and 1930, has pretty much been rescued from the historical scrap heap; once in a while they fill out collections of British orchestral music. Their neglect is not really due to any intrinsic lack of quality but rather to the decline in the use of non-operatic overtures in general. Audiences don't have a feel for these pieces, which may be linked to literary or stage works, or alternatively may simply be miniature tone poems. The most famous piece here is probably Arthur Sullivan's Overture to Macbeth, part of a forgettable set of incidental music to Shakespeare's play. Sullivan's voice is recognizable in the overture, however, and since even this work is not common, the album will be of interest to admirers of Gilbert and Sullivan. The weightier pieces in general disappoint, although this may be partly a function of the rather safe readings by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Rumon Gamba. For the album's best case, sample the lighter pieces like The Butterfly's Ball (track 6), by the almost forgotten Frederic Hymen Cowen, which suggests a British attempt to come to grips with Tchaikovsky. An X factor working in the album's favor is the complete commitment Chandos brings to projects of this kind; the sound is bracing and clear, and the orchestra handles the serious technical demands of the music well. Recommended for lovers of British music.

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