OP0312. SCENES FROM THE SONG OF HIAWATHA (Coleridge-Taylor), w.Kenneth Alwyn Cond.Welsh National Opera Ensemble; Helen Field, Arthur Davies & Bryn Terfel. (Germany) 2-Argo 430 356, Slipcase Edition w. Elaborate Libretto-Brochure. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 028943033620
“The Hiawatha triptych is written in a style of Stanford, Bruch and Dvořák. These are picturesque cantatas - smooth and touching diversions rather than heaven-clawing epics of the emotions. That picturesque theme was picked up in the many staged-costumed productions that continued well into the 1950s under Malcolm Sargent's musical leadership and Tom Fairbairn's stage direction. They are linked by a common style, by a choral emphasis and by some leitmotifs such as that which is dominant in the Wedding Feast and which reappears in the Departure - at On the shore stood Hiawatha.
The music is mostly for chorus and across the three linked works - 33 separately tracked scenes - only eleven feature soloists. Of course some of these are staggering hits such as the tenor aria ‘Onaway Awake Beloved’. While there can be a stern-ness about the ideas there is little intimation of tragedy - nothing comparable even with Brahms’ Tragic Overture. The chorus' role is rather to recount in lovely undulating singing the story of Hiawatha, the tribes of the wasteland and of his beloved Minnehaha. While the harp provides some Tchaikovskian colour the effect is of Dvořák's Ludmilla and Spectre's Bride and of the early Elgar cantatas such as Caractacus and The Black Knight….SC-T was no revolutionary but he wrote with great mastery within the compass of pleasing and well-crafted choralism. Despite its outdated idiom it is a tribute to the composer that the cantatas continued their concert life well into the 1950s. However even Sargent, that beloved high priest of the feathered head-dress, recorded only The Wedding Feast. The work had to wait until Kenneth Alwyn and Decca in the early 1990s before it was recorded complete. Alwyn was of course the natural choice as he had lead a BBC revival of the complete triptych broadcast on 31 January 1975 from the Fairfield Hall, Croydon with Stuart Burrows as the tenor.
The Variations…are delicate and gentle inspirations with Tchaikovskian sweetness, the rodomontade of Stanford and the orchestral dramatics of Hamilton Harty. They also reminded me of Hurlstone's orchestral variations. If I am not mistaken the peroration has something of a resemblance to the sunset triumphs of Appalachia by Delius.
The notes are by Kenneth Alwyn. The full sung texts are provided. Essential listening for those in pursuit of the English 19th century romantics especially those who need to document one of the cornerstones of choral society repertory in the first half of the last century. The Variations evince true mastery and defy the hackneyed expectations inflamed by Hiawatha.”
- Rob Barnett, musicweb-international