ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
JOHN JEFFREYS - Idylls and Elegies


JOHN JEFFREYS - Idylls and Elegies - Orchestra da Camera - Kenneth Page (Conductor) - Philharmonia Orchestra - Paul Bateman (Conductor) - Jonathan Veira (Baritone) - Shelley Katz (Piano) - Divine Art 25082

Webster's dictionary defines an Idyll as being a musical composition that evokes pastoral life, and defines an Elegy as being a mournful poem or a lament for the dead. The musical compositions on this new recording by the Welsh composer John Jeffreys (1927-) are perfect examples of those definitions and certainly fall well within the long and established tradition of beautiful English works for string orchestra. It is mournful, evocative music, definitely stemming from the heart but devoid of any saccharine sentimentality. This is traditional, tonal, solid old-school writing. So much so that due to the pressures of the counter-current of the musical establishment of the mid 20th century, most of his works were destroyed as the result of a personal crisis in his life. Some of the pieces on this CD are world premiere recordings.

Some of the highlights of this CD are the Serenade for Strings from 1959, deeply indebted to English tradition and more specifically the long line of bucolic and country inspired works for string orchestra so typical of English composers. The Poem for End for baritone, flute and strings, set to a poem by Ivor Gurney. It was written in the 1960s and had not been performed until now. Jonathan Veira's solid baritone voice fits the poetry and the temperament of the music very well, and underlines the tone or mood of the work. The instrumentation is keen, with the flute creating a chill against the string background. Another gem is the Elegy for a Conductor from 1999. It is scored again for strings with added interjections from the flute, cor anglais, horn and trumpet. The lone trumpet against the strings evokes images of deep melancholy and sadness. There is Toby's Dreams and Elegy, a set of piano variations about a dog named Toby. And for me, the piece that really stands out, because of its emotional intensity wrapped up in true craftmanship, is the Elegy for John Fry. It begins as a string quartet (in honor of the friendship in chamber music with Fry, Mangeot and Barbirolli) but quickly blooms into a somber elegy for full string orchestra, that could stand head-to-head with works in the genre by Elgar and Vaughan-Williams. The closing pages are particularly poignant and keenly written.

The Divine Art recording has lots of body (those double basses in the 'Elegy for John Fry' are well captured) and creates a natural perspective and sense of open space throughout the different pieces. Everyone involved in the music are sympathetic to the emotions behind the scores, and therefore deliver a credible account of each work's intent.

Jean-Yves Duperron