Unaccountably, this important release of British works for viola and orchestra, including what seems to be a premiere recording of the McEwen concerto, did not get a full review on this site when it was released in 2011, just a brief mention in a Download News. I say 'seems' because Hyperion makes no claims that it is a premiere, but it is the only entry in Mike Herman’s discography of British concertos, and Googling doesn’t unearth anything.
All three works here were first performed by Lionel Tertis, and the McEwen was his first commission. My previous experiences with this composer were his string quartets on Chandos, which are in general much influenced by Debussy and Impressionism. This work is very different: indeed, I think it is reasonable to say that it is the viola concerto that Bruch never wrote. It is full of grand flourishes and noble melodies, and in the third movement a hint of Scottish folktunes.
The two Vaughan Williams pieces are relatively well known, especially Flos Campi. Power and Brabbins take a relatively pared-back approach to both works. It is the only version of Flos Campi that I own which comes in under twenty minutes. By way of comparison, the much admired version from Christopher Balmer with Vernon Handley and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic is three minutes longer (see CHAN6545). The worry might be that the rapturous nature of the work is lost but that isn’t the case. There is no sense of rush but nor is there is a feeling of meandering. Given the composer’s reputation for briskness as a conductor, I think he would have approved of this.
My only other version of the Suite is with Frederick Riddle on Chandos, and while the two versions are almost identical in timing, the new one has a greater sense of forward momentum. The closing Galop is really splendid, and in case you are thinking that the poetry is being lost, let me assure that it isn’t, it just isn’t being smothered.
Lawrence Power is one of the pre-eminent viola soloists performing today, and has a number of well-received recordings of British viola works under his belt (Walton & Rubbra concertos—Bowen & Forsyth concertos—Bowen sonatas). His performances here are everything you would expect, and the support he gains from Martyn Brabbins and the Welsh orchestra and chorus are first class.
Production values are the usual high standard from Hyperion, and there is really nothing more I can say than if you are a lover of British music and this passed you by in 2011 as it did all but one of our reviewers, make haste to your usual source of record purchases.