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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ernest Farrar - Orchestral Works (Alasdair Mitchell)


Composer: Ernest Farrar
  1. Rhapsody No. 1, The Open Road, Op. 9
  2. Variations for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 25
  3. The Forsaken Merman, Op. 20
  4. Heroic Elegy, Op. 36
  5. English Pastoral Impressions, Op. 26: 1. Spring Morning: Allegro moderato
  6. English Pastoral Impressions, Op. 26: 2. Bredon Hill: Andante
  7. English Pastoral Impressions, Op. 26: 3. Over the Hills and Far Away: Allegro moderato

Howard Shelley, piano (2)
Philharmonia Orchestra
Alasdair Mitchell, conductor

Date: 1997
Label: Chandos



A victim of the First World War, Ernest Farrar (1885-1918) studied under Stanford at the RCM (where he distinguished himself greatly, winning a number of prizes). After spells in Dresden and South Shields, he settled in Harrogate where, in 1912, he was appointed organist of Christ Church. His name will perhaps be more familiar as the dedicatee of Frank Bridge’s magnificent Piano Sonata, while Gerald Finzi inscribed his Requiem da camera “in memory of E. B. F.” (he had been a composition pupil of Farrar). Of the five offerings gathered together on this long-overdue anthology, only the English Pastoral Impressions (which had been published within the prestigious Carnegie Edition) were available with printed parts. Now, thanks to the pioneering efforts of conductor Alasdair Mitchell and the RVW Trust (who prepared performing materials from the manuscript scores held within the Bodleian Library), a major reassessment of Farrar’s achievement can at last begin.

From the bagpipe drone which greets the dawn of the 1908 orchestral rhapsody, The Open Road, to the jaunty gait of the third (and last) of the English Pastoral Impressions from 1915, this 72-minute collection spells firm enjoyment. Especially striking is The Forsaken Merman (1914), an extremely well-made and colourful 27-minute tone-poem, which contains not only plenty of memorable ideas but also ample evidence of a most impressive, budding orchestral resource (those imaginative string textures from 14'10'' in the development section possess an almost Regerian delicacy). Granted, the shadow of Gerontius looms large over Farrar’s stylistic landscape (there are even one or two near-cribs), but it’s a stirring, immensely likeable creation for all that, and enthusiastically performed here.

A similarly deft touch illuminates both the charming 1914 Variations on an Old British Sea Song for piano and orchestra (with Howard Shelley a stylish and affectionate soloist) and the English Pastoral Impressions. In the latter’s opening movement, “Spring Morning”, with its attractive incorporation of Sumer is icumen in and the Angelus, annotator Bernard Benoliel finds Farrar’s inspiration “so delicate and atmospheric [that] it is almost felt rather than heard”, an observation that extends to the poignantly evocative outer portions of the ensuing “Bredon Hill”. The concluding “Over the Hills and Far Away” has a Grainger-like perkiness and harmonic tang. Last but not least, we have the Heroic Elegy of 1918, a deeply moving processional, incorporating “the fine old English ‘Song of Agincourt’” (to quote the composer’s own words). It was Farrar’s last orchestral work and he returned from France on leave to lead its Harrogate premiere in July 1918; ten weeks later, he fell in the Battle of Epehy Ronssoy.

Mitchell and the Philharmonia do Farrar proud, and Chandos’s sound is glowingly realistic to match. The disc represents an exemplary rescue-act and all concerned in its production deserve much gratitude.'

-- Andrew Achenbach, Gramophone


Ernest Farrar (7 July 1885 – 18 September 1918) was an English composer, pianist and organist. He studied with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Sir Walter Parratt at the Royal College of Music. Farrar took up several posts as organist in Dresden, South Shields and Christ Church, High Harrogate. His career was cut short by the outbreak of World War I, as he enlisted and was killed on the Western Front at the Battle of Epehy Ronssoy. Despite his short life, Farrar wrote a large body of music for orchestra, voices and organ. Today, Farrar is perhaps best known as the teacher of Gerald Finzi.


Born in Glasgow, Alasdair Mitchell studied at Edinburgh University, The Royal Academy of Music and at the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia in Rome. He was for several years a conducting pupil of Igor Markevitch, and Herbert Blomstedt at the Monte Carlo Opera and also worked in Rome and Siena with Franco Ferrara. In 1974 he won second prize in the Nicolai Malko International Conducting Competition in Copenhagen and undertook conducting engagements with various Scandinavian orchestras. Mitchell teaches conducting at Edinburgh University and at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow.


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