Essential for any collection of twentieth century English music, this disc contains the four extant orchestral works of George Butterworth -- his Two English Idylls, The Banks of Green Willow, and A "Shropshire Lad" Rhapsody -- in performances by Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra of such complete conviction and deep affection that they might well be dubbed definitive. Boult attended the premiere of A "Shropshire Lad" Rhapsody in 1913 and gave the premiere of The Banks of Green Willow the following year at his first public appearance as a professional conductor, and his understanding of and sympathy for Butterworth's achingly sensual and poignantly nostalgic music is absolute and unwavering. Anyone who wants to know where Vaughan Williams came from and what Delius might have been should hear this music in these performances.
And that's just the first 23 minutes. After Butterworth comes Peter Warlock's half-contented, half-sad An Old Song from 1917 and Patrick Hadley's robustly passionate One Morning in Spring from 1942 followed by a set of four short orchestral pieces by Herbert Howells. The earliest -- the moving Elegy for viola, string quartet, and string orchestra from 1916 written for a friend's death in the Great War -- invokes the solemn sound world of Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia. Next, the rambunctious Merry-Eye from 1920 has the joie de vivre of a man on his honeymoon -- which, in fact, Howells was. The atmospheric Procession from 1922 has a crescendo-decrescendo structure recalling Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia. The festive Music for a Prince from 1948 written for the birth of Prince Charles has the good cheer of an Englishman celebrating the monarchy honeymoon -- which, in fact, Howells was. In every work from Butterworth through Howells, Boult and the London Philharmonic give the music their all -- except in Merry-Eye, Elegy, and Music for a Prince, where Boult and the New Philharmonia give their all instead. Throughout, Lyrita's cool, clean, and vivid stereo sound puts the listener in the hall with the performers.