Entertainment Music

Sunday 26 January 2020

We all enjoy classical music . . . we just don't know it

People like classical music, it's just that they're not really aware of it. Now, who said that?

It was Britain's pre-eminent cellist, Julian Lloyd Webber, who backed up his argument by pointing to the numerous TV themes and movie scores -- never mind advertising jingles -- that have made standards out of not always obvious extracts from the classical repertoire.

Think of the signature tune of the BBC series The Onedin Line (the Adagio from Khachaturian's second Spartacus and Phrygia suite). Or the film Death in Venice (the Adagietto from Mahler's 'Fifth Symphony'). Or the famous TV ad ('Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet') that underscored its message by laying pictures over Bach's 'Air on the G String'.

Julian Lloyd Webber's latest release could be taken as a statement of that belief, for there is nothing not to like in his selection of music by British composers Frederick Delius and John Ireland (Evening Songs -- Naxos: 8.572902).

We're likely to hear a lot of Delius over the coming months -- 2012 is the 150th anniversary of his birth. It's also the 50th anniversary of Ireland's death, but he tends to get less exposure, which is a shame. In his day, his music was immensely popular, even putting the likes of Holst, Vaughan Williams and Bax in the shade.

Lloyd Webber's collection does ample justice to his two featured composers, taking us somewhere beyond the beaten track.

In the case of Delius, the collection draws on the songs that he wrote which tend to be forgotten in the concentration on his much more famous orchestral output ('On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring', 'Summer Night on the River'). In transcribing 10 of them into songs without words for cello and piano (his collaborator is John Lenehan), Lloyd Webber shines the spotlight specifically on the rich melodies enhanced by evocative harmonies.

'Birds in the High Hall Garden', originally a Delius setting of a Tennyson poem, is a captivating case in point, the sound of the birds circling at twilight a counterpoint to the boy with his girl picking wildflowers in a wood.

The CD's title is inspired by a John Ireland miniature called 'Evening Song' which could easily have been the inspiration for the term "delightful".

Lloyd Webber has turned this into a beautifully lilting cello duet, which he plays along with his wife, Jiaxin Cheng, and which melds, together with the caresses of Lenehan's piano, into the perfect lullaby.

Ireland's most famous song is also here, his setting of John Masefield's poignant poem 'Sea Fever' ("I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky"). Evening Songs is music for reflection and relaxation, an affirmation that classical music is, above all, to be liked.

RTÉ Lyric fm features The Hamilton Scores from 9.30 each Saturday morning, and George Hamilton's Full Score on Sunday afternoons at 3.00. ghamilton@independent.ie

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