Nearly every great European nation had a fin de siècle composer who died tragically young. Russia had Vasily Kalinnikov, dead at 34 of tuberculosis. Austria had Hans Rott, dead at 25 of insanity. Poland had Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, dead at 33 after falling off a mountain. France had Ernest Chausson, dead at 44 after driving his bicycle into a wall. Belgium had Guillaume Lekeu, dead at 23 of typhoid fever. And England had William Hurlstone, dead at 30 of bronchial asthma. Hurlstone's story is possibly more tragic than most. Born into an artistic family slipping slowly into poverty, he was sick by the time he was a teenager, and after his blind father died he just got sicker, dying within the year he was appointed professor at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Asked by his sister his final winter if he wanted to go to Bournemouth for his health Hurlstone replied, "No, thank you. I'd rather die here."
This 1993 Lyrita recording is the only extant disc of Hurlstone's orchestral music -- and a honey of a disc it is. Featuring performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Nicholas Braithwaite, this disc contains the Variations on an Original Theme from Hurlstone's 20th year, the Variations on a Hungarian Air from his 23rd year, and The Magic Mirror Suite from his 24th year. While perhaps none of them could be called an out-and-out masterpiece, each is an amazing piece of work. From a structural point of view, the two sets of variations, with their cogent forms and skillful organization, are the most impressive. But from a melodic and coloristic point of view, the most impressive work is The Magic Mirror Suite, a musical retelling of the Snow White fairy tale with movements depicting Snow White's Death-Sleep, The Coming of the Prince, The Witch's Death-Dance, and, of course, the March of the Dwarves. Braithwaite and the LPO play like they mean it, giving Hurlstone his best shot at immortality. Anyone interested in fin de siècle English music will enjoy hearing Hurlstone.Lyrita's digital sound is loud, clear, and colorful.