Roger Wright programmed it at the Proms this season, for the first time in decades, and it must be hoped that other artists and impresarios will now see how this masterpiece cries out to be performed. On the CD it is coupled with John Foulds’s Dynamic Triptych, which itself had not been performed in 50 years at the time of its first recording. Thanks to Sakari Oramo at Birmingham, Foulds has now been recorded more extensively, but no one has ever surpassed the insight and technical brilliance of Shelley’s Lyrita recording, or matched Lyrita’s vision in having it recorded in the first place.
The second key CD, in my view, is the recording of Moeran’s Symphony in G Minor, again by Boult during his golden old age in the late 1960s. Moeran died in 1950, aged 56, after a life made unhappy by a wound in the Great War, a drink problem and a clumsy attempt at marriage. After living in alcohol-soaked decadence in Kent with Peter Warlock, he migrated to Ireland, where he wrote his Symphony and a ravishing violin concerto (also on Lyrita). Yet it is the Lyrita account of the Symphony that reveals Moeran to be a composer of the highest accomplishment, steeped in feeling, and which makes a mockery of the fact that he is not, these days, even on the fringes of the repertoire.
The next stage in the development of the English musical idea is for it to get beyond the bleeding obvious. Vaughan Williams is being so widely celebrated not so much because it is his anniversary but because he is box office. The Lark Ascending now tops Classic FM’s listeners’ poll, closely followed by the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. I do not question the merits of those works: I do question whether they are as deserving of widespread adulation as the Piano Concerto, the Sixth or Ninth Symphonies, the Partita for Double Stringed Orchestra, Sancta Civitas or Dona Nobis Pacem, to name but a few of the “difficult” works by the composer that do not slot into the chocolate box form and are therefore rarely performed.