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Identifying system components for their sonic neutrality should logically proceed from the interpretation and analysis of their technical, objective performance. Deviations from a flat frequency response at any point along the signal chain from microphone to ear is likely to give an audible sonic personality to the system at your ear; this includes the significant contribution of the listening room itself. To accurately reproduce the recorded sound as Harbeth speakers are designed to do, you would be best advised to select system components (sources, electronics, cables and so on) that do not color the sound before it reaches the speakers.

For example, the design of and interaction between the hifi amplifier and its speaker load can and will alter the sound balance of what you hear. This may or may not be what you wish to achieve, but any deviation from a flat response is a step away from a truly neutral system. HUG has extensively discussed amplifiers and the methods for seeking the most objectively neutral among a plethora of product choices.

HUG specialises in making complex technical matters simple to understand, getting at the repeatable facts in a post-truth environment where objectivity is increasingly ridiculed. With our heritage of natural sound and pragmatic design, HUG is not the best place to discuss non-Harbeth audio components selected, knowingly or not, to introduce a significantly personalised system sound. For that you should do your own research and above all, make the effort to visit an Authorised Dealer and listen to your music at your loudness on your loudspeakers through the various offerings there. There is really no on-line substitute for time invested in a dealer's showroom because 'tuning' your system to taste is such a highly personal matter. Our overall objective here is to empower readers to make the factually best procurement decisions in the interests of lifelike music at home.

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Feb. 2018
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British composers and British music

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  • British composers and British music

    This thread relates to British musical composers from England, Scotland and Wales.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  • #2
    Ralph Vaughan Williams and 'The dim little island' film score from 1948

    I'm ashamed to admit that I know very little about one of our treasured composers, Ralph (pronounced Rayf) Vaughan Williams apart from his The Lark Ascending.

    Today, I was driving and listening to Radio 3 and it featured Vaughan Williams' score made for a short film made by the government's (recently disbanded) Central Office of Information in 1948, shortly after the end of WW2.

    The radio programme is available for the next seven days here. The Vaughan Williams piece commences ten minutes into the program. As the presenter says, The Dim little island was made to cheer-up Britons after the war who, with good reason, felt that we had 'won the war but lost the peace' as the war effort had bankrupted Britain. To quote the British Film Institute -

    "It is an oddly melancholic, tart little piece, which contradicts with its emotional tenor its own declarations of optimism. Jennings may not have set out to make an elegy for British things lately lost or about to be lost, but that is what resulted; and very fine it is, too".

    It is a most beautiful piece. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. The CD is available on Chandos CHAN10244. Streamed samples of other Vaughan Williams film music here. And now to discover more about Vaughan Williams ...
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK


    • #3
      Vaughan Williams - and homesick from USA for England

      Vaughan Williams is probably my favorite British composer (although Delius runs a close second) I have 27 cds of his music but this still only scratches the surface. I remember spending eight rather lonely weeks in Malta ( paintings and Drawing) listening repeatedly to his Symphonies ( nos 3 and 5 in particular as they are the most pastoral ) and being very homesick. Now that I've been living in the USA for the last 6 years I'm even more nostalgic towards his music!

      Everything of his is of course worth listening just to. For starters I'd recommend his 9 symphonies (Andrew Davis, Haitink, Previn and Vernon Handley are good modern cycles) along with 'Job - A masque for Dancing'. His music drama 'Riders to the sea' is wonderful and very moving by it's ending.

      His chamber music is also lovely. His Violin Sonata and Fantasy Quintet are favourites of mine.

      Finally an early piece of his the Norfolk Rhapsody no.1 can easily bring me to tears invoking as it does the British landscape.

      In fact I'm going to listen to it right now ( Haitink's recording) on my M30s.


      • #4
        20th Century British composers are amongst some of my favourites. Another vote here for Haitink’s VW cycle. (Boult I think is very good with VW too.)

        I love the music of Ireland, Bax, Bridge and Alwyn. All wrote stunning music for piano and chamber ensemble and I think the Alywn and especially Bax symphonies are absolutely wonderful. We’re served well by Chandos, Naxos and small labels for much of this underrated music. I’m a fan of the young pianist Ashley Wass who’s been active in this area with Naxos for a while now, both as a soloist and in an ensemble.

        The past had given us some stunning British music too, clearly Tallis, Byrd and Purcell. But Fayrfax, Taverner, Dowland and Field also deserve honourable mention!


        • #5
          Uner-rated English composers ...

          The Lyrita label is a treasury of music, celebrating the great and highly under-rated composers of England.

          The brass section of the orchestra in which I perform ( is always bugging the maestro to program a concert of all English music...but thus far, to no avail!

          Bob LaBarca
          Principal Trombone
          Nittany Valley Symphony
          State College, Pa


          • #6
            Vaughan Williams and learning guitar at school

            Thank you Alan for the wonderful introduction.

            I know very very little about Vaughan Williams. I knew him when I learnt a guitar work call Fantasia on "Greensleeves" in my secondary school day. Then I fell in love with his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. Very very nice feeling...Then I bought a Decca 2CDs albums that including the The Lark Ascending, very nice English Folk Song Suite and same others..

            "Bath with Music"


            • #7
              Alternatives to Vaughan Williams

              The Lyrita label does have some nice stuff. I have a box set of George Lloyd symphonies and a few Rubbra cds.

              For Vaughan Williams fans I would also recommend seeking out the works of these lesser known British composers:
              Gerald Finzi ( his 'Eclogue' is wonderful) , Herbert Howells and Howard Ferguson.

              If you like vocal music Peter Warlock and Ivor Gurney are worth a listen.
              Finally the tragically short lived George Butterworh (1885-1916) small body of work is lovely. His Orchestral Rhapsody ' A Shropshire Lad' is very moving.


              • #8
                Sie Edward Elgar

                Sir Edward Elgar is my favourite English composer, especially his Pomp & Circumstance Marches! We use one of the variations for our University convocation and it never ceases to bring a tear to my eye when I look at the students I taught and how they 'grew' iin the 3 years they were in the University, with parents filled with pride looking on! His Salut D'Armour is also one of my favourite solo piano pieces.


                • #9
                  Now playing... Ralph Vaughan Williams on BBC

                  Ralph Vaughan Williams is Radio 3 composer of the week this week (12 - 1 each day) and on iPlayer/listen again.


                  • #10
                    Harbeth is British to the core

                    Well, I am not only the proud owner of two Harbeth speakers (C7 and P3) but also a member of the RVW Society. There cannot be but a few German members. The British composers which I love very much, are only very rarely performed here in Germany. Berlin saw a Walton #1 last and an Elgar #1 this season.

                    But RVW and Elgar, Walton and Britten are only the peak of an iceberg - what about Finzi, Rubbra and Butterworth? There are quite a few more composers of considerable statue! And Germany in the 20th century? Next to nothing!

                    Hearing British music with my all-British setup (Harbeth - Sugden - QED) is wonderful. I love the British cultures and the literature more than most things German (with the exception of Schiller and Beethoven). And I grew up watching "All creatures".

                    One reason I like Harbeth speakers so much - apart from the pure musicality they convey - is, that they are a British product to the core. May it never change.


                    • #11
                      Benjamin Britten's Year (centenary of his birth)

                      This year is Britten's 100th anniversary of His birth.

                      How this celebration translates into music labels activity?

                      My last findings (both cd and internet flac stream sales, also ):

                      1. Violin Concerto, Double Concerto & Lachrymae Anthony Marwood (violin), Lawrence Power (viola), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Ilan Volkov (conductor), Hyperion
                      The next after Piano Concerto (2009 release, Steven Osborne - piano, enthusiastically received by musical press and listeners - many awards) Ilan Volkov's interpretation of Composer's bigger forms - very good, wit playing of both soloists. BBC Scots, as usual, in great condition.

                      2. Cello Symphony, Cello Sonata & Cello Suites , Alban Gerhardt (cello) BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Manze (conductor) Hyperion 2013
                      I was very curious how very well known early music violinist and performer would read Britten's masterpiece so familiar to audiences while being promoted years ago by great Mstislav Rostropovich. The result is very interesting, superb disposition of cellist - his rendering not-easy, late cello suites - outstanding.

                      3. Decca's "The Complete Works", officially to be released tomorrow, 17th June.
                      Also some interesting, less known original performances of Composer registered by Decca. Maybe not cheap investment into His music but very referencial. "Peter Grimes" under Composer's button in Walthamstow Assembly Hall under the auspices of Covent Garden is unique performance. Real magic. Also, if you can find, try the reading this opera from Sir Colin Davies - lately re-issued by UMG in Originals series. The "Gloriana" under Sir Charles Mackerras at the Welsh National Opera is also an asset to this very extensive Composer's opera omnia (my first brief feedback - 65 cd set!).

                      4. Violin Concerto, op 15 Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra / Witold Rowicki / Wanda Wilkomirska, violin / The Royal Festival Hall, London - Recording: 7th April 1967
                      Amazing reconstruction of very skillful recording from RFH. German Record Critics’ Award in the historical recordings category in 2012. Performance and recording 3 years predecessor to Composer's own "take" at Decca with Mark Lubotsky.
             (sound sample you can hear there is of low quality!!! but gives a view on how exceptionall this performance was.)

                      Rowicki's rendering is somehow special - great friend of the greatest contemporaries - composers and connoisseur of contemporary music, approaches to this masterpiece with great attention, playing a bit more slowly but giving a rich palette of sounds instead and letting violinist for very intimate dialogue with orchestra in the way this concerto deserves for.

                      Another review -

                      More about great Wanda herself, her youngish wilfulness while working on this concerto with Sir John Barbirolli can be read at
                      Also could be interesting to watch how she played year later - (Capriccio for violin and orchestra written specially for her).

                      4. The new recording of "War Requiem" to be released by Signum Records under The Winged Lion label probably in September this year - Paul McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort & Players.

                      More information -
                      I eagerly anticipate this new approach to Composer's oratorio - it's not so frequently to both hear and buy a new recording of this important work (latest I have in my collection is of BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins 1995). Besides recorded in the same hall the Composer worked years ago.

                      It is worth to click on EACH of blue links in a/m Gramophone post -you will encounter how much good can be done by open-minded people who have strong will to move the music forward.
                      Someone said or wrote many years ago that the best in the nation can be found in the outskirts of the country (Taplow, Manchester, Ulster, East-North England, Brinkburn Music Festival). Still up-to-date statement. And for many nations.

                      It is our privilege and honour that our city can somehow support (Wratislavia Cantans and National Forum of Music) that great early music performer, also very comprehensive conductor and choirmaster with his associates in their pursuit to next stages of excellence. Also in Britten commemorating.

                      And your tips for Britten?

                      {Moderator's comment: fabulous contribution: very many thanks}


                      • #12
                        BBC Music magazine, July 2013: Holsts' Planet Suite

                        Recommended (sounds very nice on my Sony CD boombox): Sir Adrian Bolt conducting Holsts' Planet Suite (1973 analogue BBC Prom recording) free as the cover disk on the Proms edition of BBC Music magazine, July 2013.

                        I was first introduced to The Planets in musical appreciation class at school over forty years ago, around the time of this performance. I'd forgotten how wonderful it is. An ideal beginners introduction to serious music?
                        Alan A. Shaw
                        Designer, owner
                        Harbeth Audio UK


                        • #13
                          Holst and Great Conductors.

                          Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                          Recommended (sounds very nice on my Sony CD boombox): Sir Adrian Bolt conducting Holsts' Planet Suite (1973 analogue BBC Prom recording) free as the cover disk on the Proms edition of BBC Music magazine, July 2013.

                          I was first introduced to The Planets in musical appreciation class at school over forty years ago, around the time of this performance. I'd forgotten how wonderful it is. An ideal beginners introduction to serious music?
                          Try to get Neville Marriner/Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra with Abrosian Singers recording on Philips also from '70s. I have heard many fantastic ones from the best orchestras and their great conductors (Boult, Bernstein, Karajan, Mehta, Ozawa, Previn, Rattle, Davis, Haitkink, Gardiner, Slatkin to name few of Them only...) but this one ... is somehow the most magical. Today listeners forgot how great conductor Sir Neville is .....


                          • #14
                            John Hebden

                            Just this morning, I was listening to John Hebden's 6 Concertos for Strings Op. 2 performed by Cantilena and conducted by Adrian Shepherd. It's a pity that he didn't compose more music during his lifetime.


                            • #15
                              Julian Bream on M30.1s

                              And your tips for Britten?
                              I prefer the violin concerto by I.Haendel and Bournemouth Symphony/Berglund, recorded in '77 (EMI) and the piano concerto with Richter under Britten himself (DECCA 1970).

                              Another recommendation is Britten's Nocturnal op.70 for classical guitar, recorded by Julian Bream 2 or 3 times - at least in the remarkable film "My life in Music", the life story of Bream.

                              Beside that the english composers of the Elizabethan age are worth to be discovered, e.g. the lute music by Dowland, Byrd etc.. Julian Bream was a great ambassador for this kind of music ("was" means that he stopped touring in 2002).

                              Listening to these smooth and atmospheric RCA recordings by this famous Englishman via a Harbeth 30.1 - it's really a dream.