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On the Coast of Fife at Aberdour by Alexander Nasmyth (1758-1840)
Track(s) taken from CDH55461
Recording details: December 1995
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: September 1996
Total duration: 18 minutes 40 seconds

'Hyperion have once again triumphed in rescuing some inexplicably neglected Scottish music … it is simply unbelievable that the symphonic poems presented here have had to wait till now to be recorded … once again Martyn Brabbins procures superbly assured and crafted performances from the BBCSSO, and the recorded sound too is of the highest quality' (Gramophone)

'Ideal for lovers of late-Romantic music' (BBC Music Magazine)

Sister Helen 'Symphonic Poem No 3'
composer

Largo sostenuto  [4'46]
Vivace  [3'00]
Andante  [3'04]
Con fuoco  [2'04]
Meno allegro  [5'46]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Sister Helen represents the opposite approach to love from that of Beatrice—that of implacable revenge motivated by betrayal and jealousy. This, the third and perhaps the most intense of Wallace’s symphonic poems, is based on a poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rossetti’s poem is in ballad idiom, but coloured with pre-Raphaelite colours:

‘Why did you melt your waxen man,
Sister Helen?
To-day is the third since you began.’
‘The time was long, yet the time ran,
Little brother.’
O Mother, Mary Mother,
Three days to-day, between Hell and Heaven!

The opening Largo sostenuto depicts her brooding jealousy and, in the woodwind, the flame of the waxen image of her betrayer. Recollection of her former love, expressed with great feeling, only wells up to the dotted rhythm of the first fortissimo, cruelly anticipating her ultimate triumph.

The Vivace, Scottish in idiom, describes with lilting innocence the little brother whom she has sent to the window to see if a horseman approaches. And soon, indeed, we hear the approach, leading to a climax at her refusal, meno allegro:

‘But he calls for ever on your name
Sister Helen,
And says that he melts before a flame.’
‘My heart for his pleasure fared the same,
Little brother.’
O Mother, Mary Mother,
Fire at the heart, between Hell and Heaven!

The Andante describes the tokens and pleas of her former lover, forming a kind of slow movement, musically isolated, as it should be, from the perverse emotions of Sister Helen which break out again at the Con fuoco. Others ride to her to beg her to break the spell, but to no avail. The extreme melodrama of the subject might have tempted a lesser composer into a work of unremitting gloom, but Sister Helen’s own memories of true love return in varied form, and it is typical of Wallace’s rounded view of his characters that he allows her a true memory of beauty—something not granted her in the poem.

But the end is indeed inevitable, and the final stanza is brought to its awful fruition with intense power as her dead lover’s ghost is doomed to wander as hers will be until the Last Judgement:

‘Ah! what white thing at the door has cross’d
Ah! what it this that sighs in the frost?’
‘A soul that’s lost as mine is lost,
Little brother!’
O Mother, Mary Mother,
Lost, lost, all lost, between Hell and Heaven!

from notes by John Purser © 1996

Other albums featuring this work
'Hyperion monthly sampler – August 2014' (HYP201408)
Hyperion monthly sampler – August 2014
HYP201408  Download-only monthly sampler August 2014 Release  
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