The music on the program of this Chandos release is not terribly often programmed, even in Britain, and the title British Tone Poems, Vol. 1, is not one to stir the soul. The six pieces on the program all share the pastoral mood that inspired a British serialist to make light of the Cowpat School. Yet adjust yourself to the rather narrow horizons of this music, and you'll find some gems. Consider the opening Spring, by the almost-forgotten Frederic Austin (who, among other accomplishments, put The Twelve Days of Christmas into the form in which it is known today). It consists of five fleeting glimpses of the season, not profound but immensely tuneful, and it is an all-but-unknown work. Sample its second movement or turn to A Gloucestershire Rhapsody by the hugely underrated Ivor Gurney, who is known mostly for his songs. He wrote this five-movement work shortly after World War I, in which he was hit by poison gas, and shortly before he was permanently institutionalized. Annotator Lewis Foreman suggests that the work has "an elegiac quality absent in the innocent, pre-war sound worlds of Austin, [Henry Balfour] Gardiner, and Vaughan Williams," and even more than that it seems to carry an indefinable intensity. Vaughan Williams is represented by The Solent (1903), one of the early RVW works that has risen in popularity following the end, in 2008, of the composer's ban on their performance within 50 years of his death. The Solent, in case you were wondering, is the little channel between the English mainland and the Isle of Wight. It's significant in Vaughan Williams' oeuvre, containing a clarinet theme at the beginning that recurs in both the Sea Symphony and the Symphony No. 9, from the very end of the composer's life. With fluent, enthusiastic performances by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Rumon Gamba and excellent engineering at the BBC Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff, this is a nice find for lovers of British orchestral music.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Spring, Symphonic Rhapsody|
Moderate movement, easily swinging - Slightly more sustained - Tempo I - Again more sustained - Poco più animato -
|The Witch of Atlas, Tone Poem No. 5 for Orchestra|
|A Gloucestershire Rhapsody for Orchestra|
|A Berkshire Idyll for Small Orchestra|