Sea Sketches: Music of Walters, Walton, Williams, and Warlock (CD review)

Roy Goodman, Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. CBC Records SMCD 5227.

This album of English string music seems well titled, as it is the Sea Sketches by Grace Williams that contain among the most memorable tunes on the disc.

Ms. Williams (1906-1977), probably best known as the first female Welsh composer of distinction, created in the Sea Sketches a series of five descriptive movements that may remind some listeners of Claude Debussy's La Mer or Frank Bridge's The Sea, if not in actual substance at least in mood. The Sea Sketches comprise individual tone poems labeled "High Wind," "Sailing Song," "Channel Sirens," "Breakers," and "Calm Sea in Summer," each of them highly evocative. My favorite is "Channel Sirens," in which one can hear the sounds of the sea nymphs singing in the instruments. It's all quite charming under the guidance of Roy Goodman and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble small enough and light enough to give the music the intimacy and transparency it needs.

Roy Goodman
Not that the other works on the disc are in any way negligible, but like any collection of similar material, in this case short string pieces in the English pastoral mode, things can begin sounding alike after a short while. Anyway, the other compositions include the Divertimento for Strings by Gareth Walters; the Serenade for Strings by Peter Warlock; and Two Pieces for Strings from the film Henry V and the Sonata for Strings, both by Sir William Walton.

It's all quite lovely, personally chosen for inclusion in this collection by their conductor, Roy Goodman, probably better recognized for his period-instruments recording with the Hanover Band but here, as I say, doing a fine job with the Manitoba players.

I wish I could wax as enthusiastically about the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's sound as I can about the performances. Unfortunately, the recording, originally released in 2000, seems to me fairly ordinary by today's best standards. The audio is in no way poor, mind you, but it doesn't exactly jump out at one as sounding particularly live; unless you play it softly and pretend you're sitting in an auditorium at a moderate distance from the players. In any case, the sound displays a good left-to-right stereo spread, a decent illusion of depth, but an overall soft and slightly veiled presence. Perhaps it suits the relaxed nature of the music.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa