British composers have had a rough time outside of the Anglosphere. The Europeans disdain them, even though the Germans grudgingly allow Delius and Elgar in the door, and our own musical intelligentsia often seem embarrassed by them.
Frederick Austin was a top opera singer in his day, and a composer. His splendid overture, The Sea Venturers yields place to no one. Stanford and Sullivan are credited with setting a solid platform for the resurgence of English music at the turn of the 19th century. Stanford’s Prelude to Oedipus Tyrannus is impressive and well crafted. Sullivan is represented by his Macbeth Overture, a solid piece of work with strong themes. With Coleridge-Taylor’s overture to The Song of Hiawatha, I expected music more in keeping with the colourful Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. The overture is a mildly attractive piece, though not reflecting the colourful music of the oratorio.
Many of these charming pieces were written for the theatre, like MacKenzie’s Overture to The Little Minister, Gardiner’s Overture to a Comedy and Bantok’s The Frogs. All this music is robust and sparkling with inventive orchestration, far from the self-effacing image we often have of this repertoire.
The playing and recording throughout are first class. There is a special place in my heart for conductors such as Rumon Gamba, who till the fields of some lesser-known and very worthwhile composers.