Cliffe: Symphonic works

Review by: ClassicsToday

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 7

A contemporary of Parry, Stanford, and Elgar and a pupil of Sullivan, British composer Frederic Cliffe (1857-1931) received some early critical acclaim upon the premiere of his First Symphony, but his career pretty much spiraled down thereafter and he settled for performing and teaching. His legacy consists of only six mature compositions, so this disc is purely for novelty-seekers. On evidence of the pair of works on this program (both of which represent first-time recordings), Cliffe possessed a modest gift for melody and a keen if academically inclined ear for structure. His First Symphony (1889) pays an obvious tribute to a veritable pantheon of Austro-German composers, stretching from Beethoven to Bruckner, and listeners may find some appeal in these familiar sonorities, especially when they are explored so confidently. The opening two-note motif that forms the symphony’s rhythmic underpinning recalls Beethoven’s Fifth; the jocular scherzo brims with Mendelssohnian exuberance, and the slow Ballade resounds with Wagnerian overtones. Grand Brucknerian brass chorales make startling appearances in the outer movements–really, something for everyone. Oddly, Cliffe makes his best contributions in some of the least likely places, such as the lush, arching second subject of the first movement and in various transitional sections that suggest a further affinity with Bruckner.

The impressionistic tone poem Cloud and Sunshine (1890) pretty much mirrors the symphony, with a similar orchestral and harmonic pallette but with a more rousing and brassy finale. The Malmö Opera Orchestra performs yeoman’s work with these unknown pieces, but the recording engineers were unable to tame the ultra-reverberant acoustic of the church venue, resulting in a cavernous, unfocused sound. That makes Cliffe’s recorded debut–which frankly is neither overdue nor essential–less impressive than it might have been. Listeners interested in this school already know if they want to add this to their collections.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

FREDERIC CLIFFE - Symphony No. 1 in C minor Op. 1; Orchestral picture: Cloud and Sunshine

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