Fine tailoring, tobacco, aftershave (‘a spicy woody fragrance’)—the name Dunhill evokes some resonant images, and if I’ve sometimes hazily confused him with Armstrong Gibbs as a composer of light stage scores and conservative chamber pieces, does the music in any way match my rather random associations?
Marion Scott called this music as ‘English as the South Downs’, but expect no folk-inflected melos; Dunhill’s plain and clear-cut themes derive more from Parry (if finally lacking his melodic distinction), and are immaculately and formally tailored.
If the first movement of his Quintet evokes the concert hall more than the Sussex uplands nevertheless it has a breezy energy, with some almost Baxian woodsmoke notes for the viola. Lane and the Goldners play this big-boned movement with Edwardian decorum.
There is more energy in the genial scherzo, which while doing nothing very surprising can still evoke a purr of appreciation. The ‘Elegie’ takes a solemn chorale-like theme through an eloquent series of variations to a climax of sonorous passion—the most satisfying movement, whereas by comparison the finale is enjoyable if slightly inconsequential, taking us back to the salon or recital room.
If Dunhill lacks the troubled shadows of Ireland or the sunlit ecstasy of Howells he has his own merits; this is forthright and tremendously companionable music, and maybe yes, music for a walking holiday—although nowadays probably without a pouchful of Dunhill ready rubbed!
D’Erlanger’s Quintet is at once more overtly dramatic, the pianist as passionate hero or heroine: this is music of high rhetoric, seeming to wrestle with a Grand Statement, if perhaps a little overlong?
Fluent and ardent, the slow movement probes and questions towards an uncertain repose, while the concise scherzo has some of Holbrooke’s manic and lurid gaiety.
The finale plunges back into High Rhetoric, alternating between matters of seething moment and skipping relaxation, until the argument resumes at full throttle to reach a temperamental climax. This is music of a Continental mien and ambition, happy to measure itself and be measured against the best of Franck, Dvorak, et al.
Performances are committed throughout, though several times I wondered if greater familiarity with the music might yield moments of greater passion and temperament in both scores? Recorded sound is exemplary. An eminently desirable and rewarding disc.