Hugh Canning
The Sunday Times
October 2016

The most quintessentially English composer was also a great European. His breakthrough work, Enigma Variations (1899), established him as a world figure after its performance in Düsseldorf two years later, when it was hailed by Richard Strauss. In the South “Alassio”, his overture premiered in 1904, is as compelling a musical picture of Italy as Berlioz’s Harold or Strauss’s Aus Italien. Both works are well known and given impressively emotional and dramatic performances by Brabbins—who has just been announced as ENO’s music director “with immediate effect”—but three of the shorter pieces here are rarities: Carillon, Une Voix dans le désert and Le Drapeau belge, settings of the poet Emile Cammaerts, are all tributes to doughty little Belgium, under attack in the First World War. The voice in the desert—Kate Royal’s soprano, flanked by Florence Daguerre de Hureaux’s narration—is a gem, lovingly coaxed by Brabbins, and the principal clarinet, Yann Ghiro, makes something special of the song transcription Pleading. The entire disc is a collector’s item.