Henry Cotter Nixon Volume 2 – Sophomore Slump?

I loved the first installment of this three-part series. This, the second, I have a few reservations about. Henry Cotter Nixon spent most of his professional life at the edges of the English musical world. Although his music won awards, his career outside of London hampered performances.

This volume features a variety of works that, to my ears, sound uneven in quality.

Among the best is the Concert-Stück (sic) for piano and orchestra. Perhaps modeled on the Konzertstück of Weber, this lyrical work is an expressive journey of beauty. The liner notes point out that some of the piano passages are harder to play than they sound.

I wouldn’t know. The music seems to simply flow from Ian Hobson’s fingers. His committed performance is a pleasure to experience.

The Concert Overture “Anima et Fide” is also an engaging work. The second of three concert overtures, “Anima” shows the influence of Schumann, especially in Nixon’s harmonies. Still, it’s a well-crafted work that holds up very well on its own. I especially enjoyed the rousing finale — this would make an excellent opener for a concert.

The 1889 Dance of the Sea Nymphs is a pizzicato work for string orchestra. It’s a light and lightweight composition. The music advance in a fairly predictable fashion. Since it was something of a novelty piece (and a short one at that), I gave it a pass.

The May Day Scherzo strongly resembled Mendelssohn. And perhaps because of that, I thought it sounded a little old-fashioned. After all, Mendelssohn died 37 years before Nixon wrote this work.

The release opens with the Prelude to the Witch of Esgair (1889), a romantic opera that (apparently) was never produced. It’s packed with tunes and there’s a major part for solo euphonium. I couldn’t help but think of Gilbert and Sullivan. The solo euphonium also conjured up images of Sunday band concerts in the park.

And there you have it. If you like classic Victoriana, then you should enjoy every track. Even if you don’t, the Concert-Stück and the Concert Overture No. 2 are both worth a listen. If you’re in the latter camp, purchasing digital tracks a la carte may be the solution.

Make no mistake, though, I’m still looking forward to Volume Three.

Henry Cotter Nixon: Complete Orchestral Music, Volume Two
Kodály Philharmonic Orchestra; Paul Mann, conductor
Ian Hobson, piano
World Premiere Recordings
Toccata Classics 0373

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