Thursday, February 13, 2014

'Overtures from the British Isles' on Chandos is a Fascinating Set of 8 Overtures, Including Coleridge-Taylor's Overture to 'The Song of Hiawatha'

[Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) is profiled at, which features a comprehensive Works List and a Bibliography by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma, We are collaborating with the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation of the U.K.,]

Overtures from the British Isles

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Overture to
The Song of Hiawatha
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Rumon Gamba, Conductor
Chandos 10797 (2014) 

Chandos Records
Overtures from the British Isles. Austin: The Sea Venturers; Cowen: The Butterfly’s Ball; Gardiner: Overture to a Comedy; Coleridge-Taylor: The Song of Hiawatha; Bantock: The Frogs; Sullivan: Macbeth; Mackenzie: The Little Minister; Stanford: Oedipus tyrannus – BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rumon Gamba

Rumon Gamba and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales present a collection of rarely heard overtures from the British Isles. 

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor achieved immediate success early in his career with his four-part cantata cycle collectively known as Scenes from The Song of Hiawatha. The Overture, composed in 1899, was intended as a prelude to the complete cycle but is now rarely heard in this context. Indeed, very little of the material in this Overture comes from the other Hiawatha pieces, the principal theme being the spiritual ‘Nobody knows the trouble I see, Lord’.

Coleridge-Taylor: Overture to ‘The Song of Hiawatha’
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912) achieved immediate success when only twenty-three with his narrative cantata Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast – on a text drawn from the epic poem The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – first performed at the Royal College of Music in London on 11 November 1898. This was quickly followed by two further Hiawatha scores:
The Death of Minnehaha (1899) and Hiawatha’s Departure (1900).

Completing the so-called Scenes from The Song of Hiawatha, the Overture dates from 1899 and was first performed at Norwich in October that year. Although intended as the prelude to the complete cycle, it is in fact a separate work, rarely heard in the context of the cantatas and not quoting their thematic material except ‘You shall hear how Pau-Puk-Keewis’, the first choral entry from Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, which is fanfared in the coda. In fact, the principal theme of the Overture, first romantically presented by the strings and sounding for all the world like a forgotten moment from Dvořák’s Symphony From the New World, is the spiritual ‘Nobody knows the trouble I see, Lord’. Coleridge-Taylor had heard this tune when the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a black American choir, toured the UK in the late 1890s.

Overtures from the British Isles is a fascinating collection of eight well-crafted British overtures, one from each composer, which are seldom heard or recorded. The total time of the recording is 77:05.   The composers were born between 1842 and 1877.  The only one who was born after 1875, the birth year of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, is Henry Balfour Gardiner, who was born in 1877.  

A few of the composers, Cowen, Bantock and Sullivan, are represented in our music collection, but except for the Coleridge-Taylor composition, the overtures are all new to us.  It is a rare pleasure to discover so many new and worthwhile works on a collection disc, and even rarer to find them in a coherent program. We have enjoyed many hearings of the complete recording, and expect to continue to do so.

Disclosure: A review copy of this recording was provided by the record label.

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