Friday, 22 June 2018

British Fanfares on Chandos

This is a challenging CD to listen to, never mind write a review about. The reader would not thank me for a 5000-word-plus review discussing each fanfare in turn. It reminds me of the old joke about the schoolboy asked about the dictionary he was reading. “Fascinating,” he replied, “except that the author keeps changing the subject.” I felt a wee bit like that schoolboy as I listened to this huge collection of Fanfares recently released by Chandos.
Fanfares are an ubiquitous part of British Music making, often associated with special civic and national events.  I needed a strategy to get to grips with them. It is simply not possible for most listeners (including me) to put this CD into the player, press ‘Go’, and sit back and ‘relax.’  I thought first about taking it composer by composer. But even that brought problems. Only the most passionate Bliss ‘groupie’ could listen to 13 fanfares one after the other, not to mention eight by Albert Ketèlbey. I then thought about selecting by genre – municipal or royalty, perhaps, but that proved too difficult to categorise.
Yet, here was a collection of more than 50 fanfares by a representative group of fourteen 20th century composers, some better-known than others.
I finally opted to picking them off three or four at a time and then doing something else…

I confess to not having consciously heard many of these fanfares before. Take Malcolm Arnold, for example. I guess I have the most of his works in my CD/download/record collection. Certainly, looking through his work’s list, there seems relatively few major pieces that have not been recorded.  Turning to the ‘Brass Section’ of his catalogue, nearly all the major works are easily available, with Nimbus having issued the Complete Brass Works (excluding fanfares). It is these fanfares that are so hard to track down. So, for the completist, this CD goes a long way towards closing the gaps in the list. Premiere recordings of ‘A Richmond Fanfare’ and a ‘Fanfare for a Royal Occasion’ are given here. I was unable to find current, convenient versions of the ‘Railway Fanfare’, ‘Kingston Fanfare’ and the ‘Festival Fanfare’, all included on this disc, but not marked up as premiere recordings. They do probably exist somewhere in vinyl/cassette/CD/download/web, but I do not know where. On the other hand, the ‘obsessive’ is bound to be disappointed. Could Chandos not have squeezed in Arnold’s ‘Fanfare for Louis’, the composite ‘Fanfare for One, 80 Years Young’ (Bliss) with contributions from at least 13 other composers, the ‘Savile Club Centenary Fanfare’, to say nothing of two other works including percussion.

As noted above there are 13 fanfares composed by Sir Arthur Bliss. I guess examples of this genre was expected of him: he was Master of the Queen’s Music between 1953-1975. Two of the fanfares here, including the ‘Fanfare for a Dignified Occasion’ (1938) and ‘Fanfare for Heroes’ (1930) were written before he received his first butt of sack or whatever… There are plenty more Blissian fanfares to be recorded – at least another 17!

Dipping into the remainder of this CD, there are some splendid treats. As always Elisabeth Lutyens surprises the listener. Her ‘Fanfare for a Festival’ written in 1975 for the University of York, is approachable, piquant and contains none of the horrors so often (wrongly) associated with her musical style. The shortest piece on the CD is by Hamilton Harty, lasting a mere 21 seconds. It is over before it begins. But it is a good piece to have anthologised: it is the only work of its genre that Harty composed. Tick!
The Leiston Suite by Imogen Holst is an indulgence. This is hardly a fanfare, as it has five short movements using two trumpets, trombone and tuba. It was composed for young musicians at a local school.  Eric Coates’ two Fanfares both sound as if they are the opening bars of a forgotten marches. Good to have these.
Frederick Curzon is best recalled for The Boulevardier and The Dance of the Ostracised Imp. The three ‘mini’ fanfares here are extracted from his ‘Six Brilliant Fanfares. All good stuff and not a sign of an imp, an elf or a fairy.
And it is good to have some ‘hard to find’ Arnold Bax, including his ‘Royal Wedding Fanfares’ written for the wedding of Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth in 1947. I had never come across the ‘Hosting at Dawn’ with its hint of the Celtic Twilight.
The spiky ‘Graduation Fanfare No. 2’ (2013) by Joseph Horowitz is a respectable way to bring this CD to a close.

The Onyx Brass ensemble with their friends, and conductor John Wilson provide splendid accounts of all these works. The liner notes, in English, German and French, by Richard Bratby, are a labour of love. I guess that they will become more of an important work of reference, than a ‘right rivetin’ read.’ The recording showcases the brassy sound of these 50-odd works ideally.

I wonder who will buy this CD? I have alluded to ‘completists’ above, and they will be the top candidates. But, as noted, there are plenty more ‘fanfares’ to go at before the catalogues can be marked off as complete. And then there will be the brass enthusiasts, who will demand this CD for its superb performances and great suggestions for repertoire.
I think that most of these fanfares are ephemeral, occasional works, whose ‘occasion’ has long passed. Yet there is much good music here that does not deserve to be lost. Maybe it is necessary for brass bands, ensembles and orchestras to revisit some of them and introduce their concerts with a carefully chosen example. This is the only way that these fanfares will stay in the repertoire beyond the 58 tracks on this CD.

I am sure the reader will forgive me for not discussing the works of Howells, Tippett, Bantock, Haydn Wood or Ketèlbey. I just want to go and listen to something without any brass instruments. Anything!

Track Listing:
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Fanfare for Schools (1943) [0:52]
Sir Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006) Festival Fanfare (1961) [1:16]; Kingston Fanfare (1959) [0:33]; A Richmond Fanfare (1957) [0:33]; Railway Fanfare (1975) [1:32]; Fanfare for a Royal Occasion (1956) [1:17]
Sir Arthur BLISS (1891-1975) Fanfare to Precede the National Anthem (1960) [0:32]; National Anthem [0:55]; The Right of the Line (1965) [1:26]; Fanfare for the Princess Anne (1973) [0:59]; High Sheriff’s Fanfare (1963) [0:28]; A Salute to Painting (1954) [1:20]; Research Fanfare (1973) [1:32]; Peace Fanfare (1944) [0:38]; Let the People Sing (1960) [0:22]; Fanfare for a Dignified Occasion (1938) [0:28]; Fanfare for Heroes (1930) [1:46]; Homage to Shakespeare (1973) [1:07]; Fanfare (1944) [1:17]
Sir Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998) Fanfare No. 3 (1953) [0:57]; The Wolf Trap Fanfare (1980) [1:09]
Sir Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946) Fanfare (1921) [0:22]
Eric COATES (1886-1957) Two Fanfares (c. 1943) [1:02]
Haydn WOOD (1882-1959) Fanfare No. 3 (1938) [0:47]; Six Fanfares (1945) [2:25]
Imogen HOLST (1907-1984) Fanfare for Thaxted (1966) [3:02]
Fanfare for the Grenadier Guards (1966) [2:25]; Leiston Suite (1967) [6:13]
Albert W. KETÈLBEY (1875-1959) Coronation Fanfare (1937/1952) [0:50] Fanfares Nos 1 & 2 for a Naval Occasion (1943) [1:34]; Fanfare for Victory (1944) [1:17]; Fanfare for the Royal Artillery (1944) [0:54]; Short Fanfare for the Air Force (published 1953) [0:33]; Fanfare for a Ceremonial Occasion (1935) [0:57]
Sir Hamilton HARTY (1879-1941) Fanfare (1921) [0:21];
Frederic CURZON (1899-1973) Fanfare Nos 4-6 (1938) [1:31]
Elisabeth LUTYENS (1906-1983) Fanfare for a Festival (1975) [4:18]
Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Hosting at Dawn (1921) [0:36]; Fanfare for a Cheerful Occasion (1930) [0:51]; Two Fanfares for ‘Show Business’ (1951) [1:21]; Royal Wedding Fanfares (1947) [2:19]; Salute to Sydney (1943) [1:11]
Joseph HOROVITZ (b. 1926) Graduation Fanfare No. 2 (2013) [2:09]
Onyx Brass with guest players/John Wilson
CHANDOS CHSA 5221 [59:03]
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Lennox Berkeley: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part II

The continuation of Donald Brook's pen portrait of Lennox Berkeley published in his book Composers Gallery. 

Berkeley had a suite of Catalan dances, Mont Juic, accepted for the festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music [I.S.C.M.] at Barcelona in 1936, and it was there that he first met Benjamin Britten. [1] The two young composers found much in common and have been great friends ever since.
One of Berkeley's best efforts is the music he wrote to Frederick Ashton's ballet The Judgement of Paris, which was produced at Sadler's Wells in the early summer of 1938. Shortly afterwards his setting of the psalm ‘Domini est terra’ was given its premiere at an I.S.C.M. Festival [2] and repeated in September 1938 at the Gloucester Festival. [3]
Since 1935 Berkeley has resided in England, though before the outbreak of the Second World War he made frequent visits to Paris. He at present holds a position on the BBC Music Staff,
to which he was appointed in 1942. [4]
Due perhaps to his French training, he is a great believer in clarity and economy in composition and dislikes the dry intellectual style one finds in what is commonly called ‘composer's music,’ although in my opinion some of his own works have a strong tendency in that direction.
His Symphony, for instance, which was first performed at a Promenade concert in 1943, [5] and which is undoubtedly one of the most important of his recent works, is an interesting but rather discordant effort which abounds with intellectual chatter, entertaining though it may be. Rather more effective are his various piano works, for his percussive style seems more at home on the keyboard. Lennox Berkeley has a deep love for the classics and believes that one's form and technique should always be based on that of the great masters. Mozart is his ‘model’ composer. He is
interested in film music and has written for two productions himself: Hotel Reserve (1944), [6] and Out of Chaos, [7] a documentary film about the lives of the war artists, made in the same year.
Among other recent works we find his Serenade for string orchestra, first performed by the Boyd Neel ensemble in 1940; Sonatina for violin and piano, composed for Max Rostal [8] in 1942; a String Trio, written for the Grinke ensemble in 1943; Divertimento for orchestra, commissioned by the BBC (1943); the Piano Sonata (1945); and the Sonatina for viola and piano written for Watson Forbes [9] in the same year.
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)

[1] Brook omits to mention that the Mont Juic Suite was a joint effort between Lennox Berkeley and Benjamin Britten. When first performed, the composers did not reveal which who wrote what in this four-movement work. Years later, Lennox Berkeley revealed to composer and musicologist Peter Dickinson that he had composed the first two movement and Britten the last two. The four movements are ‘Andante maestoso’; ‘Allegro grazioso’; ‘Lament: Andante moderato’ ("Barcelona, July 1936") and ‘Allegro molto’. Both collaborated in the work’s orchestration.
[2] The premiere of Domini est Terra (The Earth is the Lord’) op.10 was given at the Queen’s Hall during the opening concert of the 16th I.S.C.M. Festival in London on 17 June 1938.
[3] Domini est Terra was heard again at the Three Choirs Festival, in Worcester Cathedral (not Gloucester, as stated in Brook’s Portrait) on 8 September 1938.
[4] Berkeley worked as an ‘orchestral programme planner.’
[5] Berkeley’s Symphony No.1, op.16 was premiered at the Royal Albert Hall, London on 8 July 1943. The London Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by the composer.
[6] Hotel Reserve (1944) is ‘British spy thriller somewhat in the mould of 1930s Hitchcock thrillers like The Lady Vanishes. It combines suspense, some tongue-in-cheek comedy and a little romance.’ (Classic Movie Ramblings blog, 8 Jun 2010). It starred James Mason, Louise Mannheim and Charles Lom.
[7] Out of Chaos (1944) featured Anthony Gross, Kenneth Clark, Stanley Spencer, as well as Henry Moore’s drawings of London Underground during bombing raids. It is available to watch at the British Film Institute website.
[8] Max Rostal (1905 1991) was an Austrian-born violinist and a viola player. He later took British citizenship.
[9] Watson Forbes (1909-1997) was a Scottish-born violist and classical music arranger. Between 1964 and 1974 he was Head of Music for BBC Scotland.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Lennox Berkeley: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part I

Lennox Berkeley Society

Donald Brook wrote a series of books presenting attractive short studies or pen-portraits of a wide variety of musicians and authors. Sir Granville Bantock endorsed Composer’s Gallery by insisting that it ‘will be welcomed by music lovers and the larger public throughout the civilised world.’ Clearly, he had met many of these people and had a chance to speak to them about their achievements and interests.
On a personal note, this was one of the earliest books about music that I bought (second-hand) in the days before the internet: it served as my introduction to a wide-range of composers and their music. 
Clearly, this study was written around 1943/4 when Berkeley was 40 years old. He lived until 1989, so many significant compositions lay in the future. This included three more symphonies, four completed operas and several concertos. He married Freda Bernstein in 1946.
I include several footnotes to Brook’s pen-portrait of Lennox Berkeley and made some minor edits to the text. 

LENNOX BERKELEY, I feel, is something of an enigma, and one cannot help wondering what place he will take in modern English music in the years to come. He was born at Boar's Hill, Oxford, on May 12th, 1903, and there is nothing of unusual musical interest in the details of his childhood. His parents possessed no musical ability, but his father, a naval officer, was sufficiently interested in the art to buy a pianola and an enormous library of rolls. It was by this mechanical means that Berkeley's interest in music was aroused during his early childhood.
At Gresham's School, Holt, and St. George's School, Harpenden, he learned to play the piano, but when he proceeded to Merton College, Oxford, he had no intention of making music his profession. He had only the vaguest ideas concerning his future career. He read modern languages, took his B.A., coxed the Eight, [1] and so forth; in fact, his University career was of the pleasantly conventional type enjoyed by the sons of those in comfortable circumstances. Music was an agreeable spare time activity taken rather seriously, it is true, but it was not until
he came down from Oxford in 1926 that he entertained the idea of making it his career. Then, however, the urge to devote himself entirely to the art impressed itself, and he went to Paris for six years to study with Nadia Boulanger. [2]
Residence in Paris [3] brought him wonderful opportunities of enjoying the company of the sort of people whose companionship, in small doses, can be an exhilarating stimulus to any artist intent upon finding his own soul and expressing it in his own way. His studies of counterpoint, fugue and orchestration were done in the congenial company of such dynamic young men as Aaron Copland and Roy Harris, whom we shall meet later in this book. Then there were occasional meetings with composers who had already established themselves or at least made a stir among the critics: Poulenc and Honegger, for instance; and with the two who exerted a dominating influence upon his development as a student, Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky.

Lennox Berkeley admits that he owes much to Ravel; he knew him quite well and received from him advice that has proved of great value in more recent years. The eminent composer was always extremely kind, and most willing to scrutinize and comment upon Berkeley's early works chiefly compositions of an immature nature which he has now withdrawn. Ravel, he tells me, was always very strict on technical efficiency, and thought that most of the young people trying to compose at that time were too amateurish too keen to dabble in music without troubling to master its technicalities. Incidentally, Nadia Boulanger was always most insistent that her pupils should have a thorough grounding in the classics before attempting to write on modern lines.
Berkeley also acknowledges with gratitude the guidance he received from Stravinsky, [4] whose acquaintance he enjoyed during the latter part of his Parisian days, so that this composer's influence came rather later than that of Ravel. He is a great admirer of Stravinsky's works, some more than others, of course and strongly disagrees with the little group of critics who ridicule the superficiality of them. Few composers, he feels, have been more completely misunderstood than Stravinsky.
When he left Paris, he was obliged to take his invalid mother to the Riviera for a period of two years, and it was during this time that he drew attention to himself as a composer with his Violin Sonata [No.2 in D, op.1] (1933), a work more mature and original than anything he had hitherto produced. At about that time, too, his Oratorio Jonah was written, a more ambitious effort first performed at a BBC concert of contemporary music in 1936 and repeated at the Leeds Festival in 1937. [4] The influence of Stravinsky is apparent in this work, and that perhaps explains why the English listener, rather a conservative fellow when it comes to oratorio, found it difficult to appreciate. Describing the Leeds performance in the Musical Times [5] Herbert Thompson wrote:
‘It is a work almost aggressively modernistic in character and is not easily followed by those who have been accustomed to regard emotion as an essential characteristic in music. For this quality, pattern alone is an inadequate substitute, and though one may somewhat regretfully realize that, as the Romantic period has had a long innings, the wave of fashion is bound to bring along something very different in its wake, one is none the less inclined to wonder whether this intellectual music is likely to retain a place in history. If so, it implies a revolution in aesthetics.’
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)

[1] Berkeley was cox of the Merton College Rowing Eight. Whilst at the College he took a fourth class in French (1926).
[2] Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was a French composer, conductor, and teacher. During the middle years of the twentieth century she was renowned for teaching several generations of music students. This included diverse pupils such as Burt Bacharach, Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, John Eliot Gardner, Nicolas Maw, Astor Piazzolla, Robert Sherlaw Johnson and Richard Stoker.
[3] Lennox Berkeley’s regular ‘Reports from Paris’ were published in the Monthly Musical Record between 1929-34. These letters are a fascinating and informative account of concert and opera life in the French capital during a vibrant era of musical history. They are conveniently collected in Lennox Berkeley and Friends: Writings, Letters and Interviews: edited by Peter Dickinson, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2012. This volume also includes several letters from Berkeley to Boulanger.
[4] A ‘factional’ account of Lennox Berkeley’s meeting with Igor Stravinsky has recently been authored by Tony Scotland: FLÈCHE: Brief Encounter with Stravinsky Shelf Lives, The Pottery Baughurst, Hampshire 2018. This book recounts a meeting of the two composers on the ‘Golden Arrow’ train during November 1934.
[5] ‘Jonah’ was composed during 1935. It was first heard during a BBC broadcast on 19 June 1936. The first public performance was at Leeds Town Hall, on 7 October 1937. The Musical Times review cited by was included in the November edition of this journal. It is a fact that ‘Jonah’ has not retained a place in the repertoire. The is no recording available.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Gráinne Mulvey: Aeolus (2017) & Christopher Fox: untouch (2017)

Once I got over the shock of the ‘minimalist’ duration of this CD, I enjoyed both electronic works. I do not have a passion for this genre of music, although like many people of my generation, I became aware of its the potential with the theme music to Dr Who, composed by Ron Grainer and realised by Delia Derbyshire. As an aside, my first introduction to ‘musique concrete’ was in the comedy film What a Whopper (1961), starring Adam Faith. One of the characters, ‘Vernon’, played by Terence Longdon, is an avant-garde composer. He manipulates sounds to create the roar of the Loch Ness monster. It was some years after this, that I discovered Boulez and Xenakis!

Aeolus was created by Irish composer Gráinne Mulvey to compliment an installation sculpture, Spatial Reverberation (?) by Mark Garry. This was exhibited at the ‘Sounding out the Space’ conference in 2017. Alas, there is no picture of Garry’s ‘masterpiece’ included in the liner notes, nor could I find one in the internet. Mulvey writes that the music alludes to Aeolus, king of the floating island, referred to in Homer’s Odyssey.  He was keeper of the Winds. Aeolus was also the inventor of the Aeolian Harp which was an ancient Greek ‘stringed instrument that produces musical sounds when a current of air passes through it.’ Garry is an expert, apparently. at making these harps. Recordings of this instrument are combined with ‘ambient’ wind and bird sounds ‘captured by chance when making the field recordings’. The stage is now set for Mulvey’s attractive and satisfying exploration of this unique sound world. It is music to sit back to, close one’s eyes and simply enjoy.

Christopher Fox’s untouch (without a capital) is the first section of a composite work called ‘untouch-touch’ written for the percussionist Serge Vuille. It was first performed at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2017.  The composer explains that in the second part (unrecorded here) the soloist plays six Thai gongs suspended around him in ‘slow, almost ritualised repeating patterns.’  Untouch on the other hand, works in a ‘mysterious way’ – apparently the percussionist does not actually strike the gongs but ‘passes his hand over them creating sine waves.’ How this is engineered is not stated.
Despite the fact the ‘sine wave’ is quite penetrating in sound (goes through one a bit) I enjoyed the sheer simplicity of this highly meditative work: I did not want it to end. There is a video recording of the entire work on Vimeo.

The CD liner notes contain biographical notes about both composers and their collaborators, as well as the usual programme notes.

Finally, I read on the Métier webpage that this CD is regarded as a ‘single’ rather than an ‘LP’. So, the short duration is understandable. It is priced at around £6.00.

Track Listing:
Gráinne MULVEY (b. 1966) Aeolus (2017)
Christopher FOX (b.1955) Untouch (2017)
Rec. Both works realised by the composers during 2017
METIER mds29006 
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Charles O’Brien: Scottish Scenes, op.21 for piano

A year or so ago, I wrote a post about Charles O’Brien’s (1882-1968) Scottish Scenes, op.17 and concluded this was a work that was wholly Scottish but devoid of the clichés of rampant tartanry. The second set of Scottish Scenes, op.21 date from the same year, 1917: they are equally effective and musically satisfying. At this stage, I am not sure what works constituted the intervening opus numbers.

Like its companion set, the Scottish Scenes, op.21 consists of three movements. The opening ‘Tor and Tarn’ is powerful and dramatic.  I did wonder if the word ‘Tor’ was particularly Scottish: I rather imagined it was more Peak District or West Country, implying a high rock or top. However, the Oxford English Dictionary assures me that the word is used in Scotland, albeit in a slightly different sense. It would appear to apply to artificial burial mounds. One example given is the village of Torrance in the shadow of the Campsie Fells, to the North of Glasgow. The same could be said for the ‘Tarn’ which seems to be devoid of Scottish usage. This is often associated with the North of England and the Lake District. Word derivations aside, O’Brien has created a work that balances several musical Scotticisms, most importantly the Scotch Snap and its ‘long-short mirror image.’ This is music that is filled with a surprising mix of gloom and grandeur, perhaps appropriate to thoughts of death and still waters. The melodies tend toward ‘pentatonic’ (black notes on the piano), however O’Brien brings several technical devices to this music, including ‘pianistic flourishes’ and subtle chromatic alterations to his tunes.  The formal progress of ‘Tor and Tarn’ never seems to be in the same key for very long. The movement closes with a powerful coda.

I love the gentle ‘Mid the Bracken.’ For me this is a love lilt. The composer has created an attractive melody that sounds Scottish, without quoting any tune. The middle section of this ternary piece is quite beautiful, albeit too short. Philip R Buttall in his review of this work for MusicWeb International, has noted that ‘…the opening few bars sound uncannily like the ‘Young Prince and the Young Princess’ theme from Scheherazade, with a few melodic embellishments.’ Look out also for the subtle use of the whole-tone scale which may be the composer’s homage to Claude Debussy.

Scottish Scenes, op.21 closes with a romping evocation of ‘Heather Braes.’ John Purser (CD liner notes) explains that this movement is ‘to be played with martial decisiveness.’ I am not sure that this is about military manoeuvres in the Western Highlands. There are a few moments of repose, which provides the walker or tourist with a moment for reflection, however the main drive of the piece is quite simply a paean of praise to the Scottish scenery. The massive coda is both exciting and dramatic. Purser wisely concludes that the ‘heather is undoubtedly in full bloom.’

Paul Mann, commenting in the liner notes for Volume 1 of the Orchestral works, summed up the composer’s achievement: ‘O’Brien’s image of Scotland didn’t come from the top of a shortbread tin. His is a country of ruggedly beautiful, sometimes inhospitable landscapes…’  This holds good for the present Suite for piano.

Scottish Scenes, op.21 can be heard on Charles O’Brien: Complete Piano Music Volume 1 Toccata Classics TOCC0256 [65:25] with Warren Mailley-Smith, pianist. Other works on this disc include Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 14 (1910), Deux Valses, Op. 25 (1928) and the Scottish Scenes, Op. 17 (1915)

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Arnold Steck: Riviera Rhapsody

As I teenager I always wanted to go to the French Riviera for my holidays. However, it was beyond my parents’ finances, so we made do with Lytham St Anne’s and Morecambe, which I always enjoyed and look back with many happy and glorious memories. It was not until about 2007 that I made my first visit to this romantic part of the French coast. As I stepped off a boat in the harbour, I discovered that Cannes was in the middle of the Film Festival which made it extremely busy and quite difficult to find a restaurant to have a pleasant lunch. I guess I wanted to be a Boulevardier, sitting on the seafront with glass of vino! It was too busy. I did find the Hotel de Provence which was visited on several occasions by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. And I was able to have a swim in the sea, which compared to the North Sea or the Irish Sea was exceptionally warm, even for Maytime.  

Recently I discovered the short Riviera Rhapsody by Arnold Steck: this reminded me of my visit to Cannes and a subsequent trip to Monaco. Steck’s music is all heart-on-the-sleeve romance, in the style of Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, Charles Williams’ The Dream of Olwen and Hubert Bath’s Cornish Rhapsody. However, the tunes are all his own and the passion, the drama and the romance are all packed into about 6 minutes. It was composed around 1955 and reflects the glamour, the post-war confidence and the beginnings of foreign holidays for the massed with great aplomb.

Arnold Steck is a pseudonym. His real name was Leslie Statham. I had heard of neither incarnation before hearing this Rhapsody. Leslie Statham was born on 18 December 1905. After military service with the Welsh Guards where he played in the Regimental Band, Statham continued to compose and arrange music for military bands and other musical groups. He died on 28 April 1974.

Philip Scowcroft, on MusicWeb International, has written about Arnold Steck/ Leslie Statham: ‘[He was] particularly active in the 1950s and 1960s, is remembered mostly for his marches with titles like Piccadilly, Birdcage Walk, Path of Glory and best known of all as it was the original signature tune for Match of the Day [used between 1964 and 1970], Drum Majorette, not to mention other 'production' music' titles for Chappell’s library such as Morning Canter and Important Occasion.’

Arnold Steck’s Riviera Rhapsody is performed on the Guild CD (GLCD 5132) by the New Concert Orchestra, conducted by Dolf van der Linden. The piano soloist was ‘Alexander Glushkoff’ The original recordong was on Boosey and Hawkes O 2254 and was released in 1955. It took up two sides of a 78rpm record.

Jonathan Woolf, reviewing the Guild CD on MusicWeb International has written: ‘Alexander Glushkoff – real name? – turns up with Dolf van der Linden to deal with [the] Riviera Rhapsody, a pocket concerto opus à la Addinsell; Rachmaninov coupling vigorously with Rhapsody in Blue and all over in five minutes.’
Certainly, this tune seems to be the only one I can find that Alexander Glushkoff has recorded.

Arnold Steck’s Riviera Rhapsody can currently be heard on YouTube in this performance. 

Monday, 4 June 2018

FLÈCHE: Brief Encounter with Stravinsky Tony Scotland

As a young railway enthusiast, I was fascinated by the Golden Arrow (or Flèche d’Or). The thought of a train and boat journey from London Victoria to Paris’s Gare du Nord played to my imagination. In my day, it was hauled by an electric locomotive, so it had lost some of its pre-war romance. I was never to travel on this very special train before it ceased running in 1972.

The idea behind this book is simple. In a letter by Lennox Berkeley to his boyfriend Alan Searle, the composer revealed that he had ‘run in’ to Igor Stravinsky, his ‘secretary’ Vera Sudeikina and the violinist Samuel Dushkin on the Golden Arrow as they all returned to Paris. This was immediately after the premiere of the Russian’s Persephone at the Queen’s Hall, London, on 29 November 1934. Stravinsky invited Berkeley to join his party for a rubber of bridge in his Pullman salon and later for lunch in the ‘celebrated Wagon Restaurant. From this meagre reference Tony Scotland has created a ‘factional’ account of the ensuing conversations.

There are a few books exploring the life and times of Lennox Berkeley. The most fundamental is Peter Dickinson’s The Music of Lennox Berkeley 2nd ed. edition (2003) and Stewart R. Craggs, Lennox Berkeley, A Sourcebook (2000). In 2010 the present author published Lennox and Freda which is a biographical exploration of the composer’s life and times. The most recent offering is Peter Dickinson’s fascinating compilation, Lennox Berkeley and Friends: Writings, Letters and Interviews (2012). The present volume adds something deeply personal and highly imaginative to this selection of books.

The general progress of the book is from London to Paris, with several digressions along the way. Chapter I introduces the reader to the Golden Arrow train, the scene at Victoria and the meeting between Lennox Berkeley and the Stravinsky in the on-board Pullman bar. A brief resume of their careers, their family connections and their ‘complicated’ love lives follows.
The second chapter, ‘En Route to Dover’ deliberates on the recent performance of Persephone, introduces Vera Sudeikina and her relationship with Stravinsky. Tony Scotland imagines Vera’s interrogation of Berkeley about his boyfriend Alan Searle. There is a discussion between the two composers about Persephone, followed by an assessment of the work by contemporary music critics.
‘Crossing the Channel’ (Chapter III) finds the them aboard the SS Canterbury, where they settle down for a game of bridge. There is a conversation between Berkeley and Samuel Dushkin about Stravinsky and his musical and personal ‘paradoxes.’
Soon they are aboard the French train running from Calais to Paris. Chapter IV opens with a brief study of music inspired by steam locomotives. Stravinsky treats Berkeley to lunch where they enjoy Crayfish and several prestigious wines. Vera Sudeikina and Samuel Dushkin have retired and leave the two composers to chat. Perhaps the most important moment for Berkeley on this journey was the ‘discussion’ he had with Stravinsky about his ‘new’ work, the cantata Jonah, with the older man providing suggestions as to the piece’s progress and content.  
Chapter V examines the relationship between Stravinsky’s son Soulima with Daintha Roberts Walker.  Finally, the train arrives at Paris Gard du Nord and the two composers go their separate ways.

Flèche contains several illustrations reflecting the journey to Paris. These include a colour print of a painting showing the Golden Arrow train leaving Victoria, albeit hauled by a British Rail Britannia locomotive (post 1952), rather than a Southern Railway Lord Nelson class engine. Other transport images show the SS Canterbury, Paris du Nord Statin, the French Super-Pacific loco and the ornate hall of the Grosvenor Hotel, Victoria.  There are portrait photographs of all the main protagonists in the story, including characters who are mentioned, but were not aboard the train, such as Alan Searle, José Raffalli, Nadia Boulanger, André Gide, Ekaterina Stravinsky and Freda Berkeley.
There is a good bibliography which details several important sources for this book, including the Meccano Magazine (May 1927), studies of the game of bridge and several railway books. There are references to the standard works on Berkeley and Stravinsky. 
The book is a nicely bound hardback, with the single word ‘Flèche’ (underlined by an arrow) on the front cover. There is no dust jacket and no clue to the volume’s subject matter. I guess a bookshop browser would not begin to imagine what the book was about, unless they opened it.

The book is quite expensive, at £15:00 for 80 pages. Yet it is an attractive production that feels good, is well produced, printed in a readable font, and, as noted, well-illustrated. Flèche was designed by Susan Wightman of Libanus Press and is published by Shelf Lives. It is a signed and numbered limited edition. My copy is No.102 of 250.

This book will appeal to three groups of readers. Firstly, enthusiasts of Lennox Berkeley, one of the most important (but undervalued by concertgoers) of 20th century British composers. For these folks this is a major story of a crucial meeting between ‘their’ man and one of the towering giants of ‘modern’ music. For Stravinsky fans, this story will prove an interesting footnote. And finally, for railway enthusiasts this is an absorbing portrayal of iconic pre-war travel. I guess that it will be the first category that will invest most heavily in this volume.

Clearly, this book as a ‘moment in time’ for the two main characters and does not pretend to provide extensive biographical and musical details of both composers’ music. That said, there is plenty of background information given ‘incidentally’ as the story unfolds. I guess that most readers will have a basic grounding in 20th century musical history and the lives and times of these composers before beginning to read this volume. This book makes an attractive short read. I finished it in a single sitting in the garden on a warm spring day. I felt that I knew a lot more about Stravinsky and Berkeley than I did before I began: this increase in understanding is inversely proportional to the relatively short length of the book.

FLÈCHE: Brief Encounter with Stravinsky Tony Scotland 
Shelf Lives, The Pottery Baughurst, Hampshire 2018
ISBN 978-0-9955503-2-2

Friday, 1 June 2018

Peter Warlock queries Moeran’s Name: A Witty Thought

I first discovered E.J. Moeran on an old Revolution Record (vinyl, RCF.003) back in the early 1970s. This featured his delightful Serenade, featuring Vernon Handley and the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra. The other work was Arnold Bax’s dark, brooding The Tale the Pine Trees Knew. It was to be a few years before I discovered that Moeran’s initials E.J. stood for Ernest John, and that his friends called him ‘Jack.’ Even today writers use the initials rather than his full title. Interestingly, Moeran had a second middle-name: Smeed. It is never used in discussion.  

In in his essay on E.J. Moeran, written for the June 1924 issue of the Music Bulletin Peter Warlock (Philip Heseltine) wrote:
‘I must confess that when I first encountered the name of E J Moeran in the Daily Telegraph [1] some years ago, no clear impression was made upon my mind. In the first place there is something cold and inhuman in the indication of the Christian name by a mere initial. A good tradition has ordained that composers shall be more than N or M until such time as fame bestows on them the dignity of a surname tout court. J S Bach is admissible - though the sonorous Johann Sebastian is vastly preferable; but R V Williams gives but a distorted image of a personality singularly clear in its full denomination; and the monstrosity of F A T Delius has never even been perpetrated by those who are pedantic enough to announce a work by W A Mozart.’
Philip Heseltine, ‘E. J. Moeran’, The Music Bulletin June 1924.

[1] I was unable to find any reference to Moeran in the Daily Telegraph prior to March 1924.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Irish Holidays: for clarinet and piano

You cannot beat a holiday to Ireland, be it Ulster or Eire. I have enjoyed trips to Dublin, Sligo, Donegal, Enniskillen and Belfast over the years. Every visit is a treat. The people, the history, the landscape, the food and drink (especially the drink) and the literary and cultural heritage all conspire to make holidays special. Musically, Irish composers tend to be less-well-known than their English counterparts. There is no Irish Elgar, Vaughan Williams or Britten. Yet, scratch the surface, and there are Irish composers a-plenty. Some write music that is challenging, others compose to delight.  This new recording tends toward the latter. It is a splendid exploration of music written by Irish men and women or those inspired by that country.
The opening work needs little discussion. Arnold Bax, was English, but could be regarded as an honorary Irishman or Celt. His beautiful Clarinet Sonata in D major, composed in 1934, is one of my favourite pieces for that instrument. This two-movement work explores a musical language that owes more to Strauss, Debussy and Scriabin than to any overt Irish influence. However, to my ear, the music is chock full of the Celtic Twilight. This is a challenging piece for clarinettist and pianist, with lots of chromaticism and a thick, complex and often intense piano part. It has been suggested that some of the ‘concentrated’ piano writing may be an acknowledgement of Bax’s long-term love affair with Harriet Cohen. The premiere of this work was given at a London Contemporary Music Centre concert at Cowdray Hall on 17 June 1935. The clarinet soloist was Frederick Thurston, with the piano part played by Cohen.

Eric Sweeney’s Duo for clarinet and piano (1991) is a delight. Apparently, the composer used to utilise serial techniques and extended tonality, before having an ‘Epiphany’ in the late 1980s. His style now appears to be a fusion between Irish folk music and minimalism. It is an exiting and enjoyable piece.

Equally charming is Enniskillen-born Joan Trimble’s short atmospheric The Pool among the Rushes for clarinet and piano written in 1940. It follows an old Irish tradition of naming works after everyday places. My only regret with this piece is that it is too short. I should have liked it to go on for ever.

Gerald Barry’s Trumpeter for clarinet solo seems an odd title. This piece is defined as a three-part melody played over six times, with microscopic alterations. The liner notes suggest that this creates a timeless effect. Hmm. Not sure what the relevance of the title is. I think this could be played on any instrument, including the trumpet…
Barry’s other piece, Low for clarinet and piano was composed in 1991. Here the composer seems to get in the groove, with a jazzy, ragged melody with an equally fraught accompaniment. The work explores all the contrasting registers the clarinet: it is certainly not gentle on the mind, but an enjoyable piece all the same.  Low was written for the present soloist John Finucane.

I have always enjoyed Howard Ferguson’s Four Short Pieces for clarinet and piano, op.6 (1932-36). The movements are entitled ‘Prelude’, ‘Scherzo’, ‘Pastoral’ and ‘Burlesque’. Once again, they suffer from being too short, although they are near perfect miniatures. Ferguson was born in Belfast in 1908.

There is no doubt that Charles Villiers Stanford’s Clarinet Sonata, op.129 is a masterpiece. It was composed in 1911 and dedicated to the clarinettists Oscar Street and Charles Draper.  It is usually described (sometimes sneeringly) as owing everything to Brahms in its style. However, every time I hear this work its innate ‘Irish-ness’ becomes clearer to me. To be fair, it is not a rhapsody of folk-tunes: there is no jigs or hornpipes here. The heart of the work is the beautiful ‘Caoine’ (Keen) which implies a lament. This movement is heart-breakingly beautiful: in my opinion one of the finest things Stanford wrote. It was often excerpted by a previous generation of recitalists: I think it needs to be heard solidly in its context. The overall impression of this Sonata, is quite simply ‘the joy of being alive.’

James Wilson’s Three Playthings for clarinet solo are a bit of a misnomer. They are not quite as much ‘bagatelles’ as the title may suggest. In fact, they are often quite serious. There are some interesting instrumental effects, especially in the long-ish opening movement. The music combines features of lament, jig and folksong. They were composed in 1983. This is another Englishman’s take on Irish music and none the worse for that.

The final work on this CD is Christopher Moriarty’s Opaque Rhapsody for clarinet and piano. This was composed in 2016 for his teacher, the present soloist, John Finucane. I am not quite sure what the underlying concept is, but it is certainly an impressive and eclectic piece. The liner notes explain that extracts from the ‘Dies Irae’ are heard, first in the piano, pounded out on the lower registers, then played in quieter mood on the clarinet. The connection is not explained. There are plenty of colourful effects for both players which are enthusiastically played.

The playing on this CD is superb. John Finucane and Elisaveta Blumina engage with a diverse variety of styles and mood, providing an effective and varied repertoire. The recording is ideal, with all the nuances of the clarinet (and piano) clearly heard. Thomas Böttcher has provided a set of readable and informative liner notes. There are the usual biographies of the two performers.

This is an excellent introduction to music for clarinet and piano, written by Irish or English composers, but inspired by a broad range of musical influences. The performance of the Stanford, Ferguson and Bax is the heart of this CD, but the other works are worthy of gaining a strong place in the repertoire of all clarinettists and their accompanists.

Track Listing:
Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Clarinet Sonata in D major (1934)

Eric SWEENEY (b.1948) Duo for clarinet and piano (1991)
Joan TRIMBLE (1915-2000) The Pool among the
Rushes for clarinet and piano (1940)
Gerald BARRY (b.1952) Trumpeter for clarinet solo (1998)
Howard FERGUSON (1908-1999) Four Short Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, op.6 (1932-36)
Gerald BARRY Low for clarinet and piano (1991)
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924) Clarinet Sonata, op.129 (1911)
James WILSON (1922-2005) Three Playthings for clarinet solo, op.97 (1983)
Christopher MORIARTY (b.1993) Opaque Rhapsody for clarinet and piano (2016)
John Finucane (clarinet) Elisaveta Blumina (piano)
Rec. Mendelssohn-saal, Gewandhaus, Leipzig, Germany 9-12 January 2017
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Hamilton Harty: An Irish Symphony (1924) Bournemouth Programme Note

The text below is from a programme note written by ‘Anon’ and included in the programme of an early Bournemouth Symphony performance the revised  Symphony on 18 April 1925. It describes a picture of Ulster that largely belongs to history, however the 12 July Celebrations are still an important (if sometimes controversial) part of the yearly calendar.  Hamilton Harty was an Anglican, but clearly had a great sympathy towards the Catholic and Reformed Protestant community, as implied by his moving reminiscence of the dead girl.  

"This work, written during the summer of 1924, is an attempt on the part of the composer to produce a Symphony in the Irish idiom, and which should have for poetical basis certain reminiscences of his early youth in the North of Ireland. To this end he has given his themes a characteristically Irish turn, and sometimes, indeed, bases them upon the native melodies of that country. Some of the themes have been used previously by the composer in a youthful Symphony which gained the prize given by the Feis Ceoil, or Irish Music Festival, about twenty years ago.

Though the composer does not desire that his music shall be looked on as ‘programme music’ entirely, each movement has for poetic basis some scene, or mood, which governs the music; and, in that connection, the following extracts are prefixed to the score, with a note asking that they shall be printed in the programme when the music is given.

I.                    ‘On the Shores of Lough Neagh': Allegro Molto
Near where we lived was Lough Neagh, grey and sad, stretching for miles and miles to vague misty shores. Sometimes, when we lay on its mossy banks, old Patsy the Fiddler would hobble out of his lonely cottage to play his tunes for us and tell us stories of a time when Ireland was a land of magic and romance.
But of all his stories, the one we liked best to hear was the story of Lough Neagh itself, and the great city with its cathedrals and palaces which lies buried forever beneath the melancholy waters. Many a time we would stay quiet, thinking we could hear the faint sound of the silvery bells as they swung idly to and fro in the depths, while the mists gathered over the quiet Lough, and the curlews cried forlorn and sad, as if they were lamenting for the days that once had been.

II.                 ‘The Fair Day': Vivace ma non troppo presto
On Fair-Days the streets would be full of kicking horses, and swearing, bargaining men. All was dust and noise, but in the market-place, once it was reached, there were joys and delights. A battered merry-go-round, old women selling gingerbread horses, and ‘yellow boy’ of a surpassing stickiness warranted to ‘draw the teeth out of ye.’ There was also Fat Charlie with his cart of herrings, dancing nimbly in a jig of accomplishing his horrid meal of raw herrings and porter.
Then there was the recruiting sergeant, all martial and glorious and gay cap streamers, offering new shillings to all who would take them. In the evening, we would see him leading off his troop, while the village band marched in front playing ‘The Girl I left behind me,’ very inaccurately, but with fervour.

III.              ‘In the Antrim Hills’: Lento
The day before the 12th of July, I was wandering in the hills which close in one side of our valley. It was a wild and lonely part, and when I came to a little thatched house on the side of a slope I climbed up to ask my way home. The door was opened by a woman with eyes all red with weeping, and I saw that the kitchen was full of men and women dressed in black and drinking, but quiet. There was a bed by the wall on which a young girl lay white and still. Her golden hair was spread all over the pillow and on her breast, was a crucifix. A young man sat near the bed and never took his eyes away from her. Two women with shawls over their heads flung themselves backwards and forwards as they cried a Caoine or lament for the dead. It was a Wake, and I went away, but the young man came after me to show me the way. It had grown dark. Presently he told me his simple story. He had been a hired boy on the farm and went away to try and make his fortune, leaving her to wait for him. But when he came back it was too late.

IV.              'The 12th of July': Con molto brio
The next day was the ‘12th of July’ – the great day of the year when all the Protestant North celebrates the Battle of the Boyne, and the streets are left untrodden by the neighbouring Roman Catholics. The house shook with the din of the drums and flutes and the streets were crowded. The sun was blazing hot, and everywhere were flags and banners with the old defiant inscriptions ‘No Surrender,’ ‘Remember the Boyne,’ [and] ‘The Protestant Boys.’ Everywhere, in great bunches, in button-holes, in hats, on the drums, the orange lilies of the North. Everywhere, as each fresh group came into the little town from the outlying country, there arose the strains of the ‘Boyne Water.’
Later on, when there was ‘drink taken,’ there began quarrelling and fighting. Fights unreasonable and bloodthirsty, quarrels fierce and sudden…
In the midst of the uproar there was a sudden silence, and we saw a simple group carrying a coffin down the steep street on the way to the Catholic burying place. It was the funeral of the young girl I had seen being ‘waked’ the night before, and the coffin was carried by the father and his two sons, and the boy who had told me his story. They brought her through the town even on this dangerous day. Perhaps they had forgotten it was ‘the 12th.’
But the crowd, though sullen and threatening, did not interfere, the drums stopped beating, and it was not until the father and sons had finished their sad business and were returning homeward the angry storm broke loose…
When the night came and nothing was left in the streets but trampled orange lilies and scraps of ribbons I passed by the grave-yard. There was a fresh mound in the corner, and lying across it the figure of a young man with his face buried in the sods. ANON"

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Gluepot Connection: British Choral Music

I have had several enjoyable pints of beer at The George public house in Great Portland Street. There was always a wonderful atmosphere that seemed to exude history. I am not particularly sensitive to the supernatural, but I could not help being conscious of the ‘ghosts’ of virtually every 20th century composer that I admire. The nickname ‘The Gluepot’ was coined by Sir Henry Wood: he was always ‘frustrated’ by his orchestral players’ reluctance to drag themselves away from the bar and back to rehearsals at the Queen’s Hall.  The name ‘stuck.’  The litany of composers frequenting the bar include Arnold Bax, Peter Warlock, Alan Bush, Jack Moeran, John Ireland, Alan Rawsthorne, William Walton, Constant Lambert, Humphrey Searle and Elisabeth Lutyens. And it was not just composers. Poets Louis MacNeice, Randall Swingler, Roy Campbell and Dylan Thomas (what pub did Dylan not frequent?) were habitués. Although I tended to think of musicians and poets when drinking in The George, it is fair to say that it was also popular with employees from the BBC’s Broadcasting House at Langham Place. If only the walls could talk: what fascinating crack and conversation they could recall.

Elisabeth Lutyens wrote in her autobiography A Goldfish Bowl that ‘I remember at one lunch someone remarking that if a bomb dropped on The George a large proportion of the musical and literary world would be destroyed.’ For Lutyens, this pub was the ‘focal point’ of her social and professional life for several years. It is a testament to a largely lost era.

This impressive CD is a perfect introduction to some of the most evocative choral music composed by 20th century British composers -all with connections to The Gluepot. There are some old favourites here, alongside some new discoveries (at least for me).

The programme opens with Peter Warlock’s lovely setting of Robert Nichols poem, ‘The Full Heart.’ This piece was surely written in response to his discovery of Delius’s music whilst he [Warlock] was still at Eton College.

A new work for me is Alan Rawsthorne’s Four Seasonal Songs composed in 1956. This is a premiere recording.  The liner notes describe Rawsthorne’s choral writing here as a ‘bracing, tightly constructed style.’ Certainly, there is a vibrancy about these songs that derive from the mood of the four late sixteenth/early seventeenth century poets. Sebastian Forbes has remarked on ‘the cleaner, mostly diatonic harmony and crisper almost baroque rhythm.’ It is a work that deserves to be in the choral repertoire. Poems set include ‘Now the Earth, the Skies, the Air’ (Anon), ‘To the Spring’ (Sir John Davies), ‘Autumn’ (Joshua Sylvester) and ‘Now the lusty Spring is seen’ (John Fletcher).

I enjoyed the perfect fusion of words (James Kirkup) and music of John Ireland’s ‘The Hills’ written in 1952 as part of A Garland for the Queen. One of my favourite part-songs on this CD is John Ireland’s ‘Twilight Night’. This was composed in 1922, setting a text by Christina Rossetti. The music reflects a friendship sundered by distance and obligation but retaining an optimistic hope of meeting at some future date. A perfect conceit.

Equally effective, is Fred. Delius’s ravishing ‘On Craig Dhu’ with its extensive use of chromaticism making this music hang in the cool air, mirroring Arthur Symons’s thoughts as he sits high on this Welsh[?] Hill surveying the surrounding landscape.

And then there is ‘Verses of Love’ by Elisabeth Lutyens herself.  This gorgeous setting of words by Ben Jonson is the perfect antidote to those who still rail against the music of ‘Twelve Tone Lizzie.’ This is a longish work that explores a wide-range of choral possibilities, including tone-clusters and glissandi. It was originally published in the Musical Times in 1970. Her ubiquitous serialism has been put to one side for something infinitely more universal.

The major work on this CD is E.J. Moeran’s Songs of Springtime. This collection includes some delightful texts by William Shakespeare, John Fletcher, Thomas Nashe, Samuel Daniel, William Browne and Robert Herrick. These part-songs are influenced by Peter Warlock and reflect a charmingly English atmosphere. They are characterised by their appealing rhythmical diversity and piquant harmonies and never lapse into pastiche of their Elizabethan exemplars.  ‘Songs of Springtime’ are not easy to sing: the Londinium Chamber Choir give a perfect account.

William Walton’s ‘Where does the uttered Music go?’ (John Masefield) written for the unveiling of a memorial stained-glass window in St Sepulchre’s Church, Holborn Viaduct dedicated to Sir Henry Wood is given a fine performance. This is an appropriate ‘tie in’ to The Gluepot!

The settings by Alan Bush are first hearings for me. ‘Like Rivers Flowing’ was composed in 1957 and was dedicated to the ‘people of Llangollen and all who sing there.’ Cleary this reflects the annual Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod which was inaugurated in 1943. It was originally ‘For the WMA [Workers Musical Association] Singers, Welsh Festival’ reflecting the composer’s socialist ideals.  The text of this tender, idyllic piece was by the composer’s wife Nancy Bush.  
Bush’s other part-song on this CD is the ‘powerful response’ to the German destruction of the village of ‘Lidice’ in what is now the Czech Republic, during June 1942. This is a deeply moving and often desperately intense setting, as the events suggest, of words by Nancy Bush. The premiere was given by the WMA Singers, conducted by the composer, on the site of the destroyed village. There is a picture of this event included in the liner notes.

Although the immediate inspiration of Arnold Bax’s massive ‘Mater ora filium’ was hearing William Byrd’s Five-Part Mass at Harriet Cohen’s house at Wyndham Place, he has not indulged in parody. This work for double choir is a splendid example of Bax’s individual contrapuntal style. This is an extremely difficult piece to ‘bring off’: it does not defeat the Londinium Chamber Choir. This version is superb. Bax’s setting is timeless: it needs no argument about musical allusions or influences.
The other Bax work is ‘I sing of a Maiden that is makeless’, being a mediation on the Virgin Mary. This lovely chromatic piece is largely through-composed. It is an ideal evocation of Our Lady’s perfection. 

I cannot fault anything about this recording. The choice of music is inspirational. The singing by the Londinium Chamber Choir is near-perfect and the presentation of the CD is ideal. The liner notes give a good introduction to the repertoire and to ‘The Gluepot.’  The texts of the part-songs are included.  Composer and works dates would have been helpful in the track listings.

I understand that The Gluepot, itself has now closed (as in shut for good, not just Time, Gentlemen, Please!). It appears to be ‘under development’ so one wonders what will appear in its place? It is [probably] the end of an era. I am privileged to have drunk there and shared good conversation with friends in that iconic watering hole.

Track Listing:
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930) The Full Heart (1916 rev. 1921)
Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971) Four Seasonal Songs (1956)
John IRELAND (1879-1962) The Hills (1953)
Arnold BAX (1873-1953) I sing of a Maiden that is makeless (1923)
Alan BUSH (1900-1995) Like Rivers Flowing (1957)
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934) On Craig Dhu (1907)
Elisabeth LUTYENS (1906-1983) Verses of Love (c.1970)
Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950) Songs of Springtime (1931)
William WALTON (1902-1983) Where does the uttered Music go? (1946)
John IRELAND Twilight Night (1922)
Alan BUSH Lidice (1947)
Arnold BAX Mater Ora Filium (1921)
Londinium Chamber Choir/Andrew Griffiths
Rec. 21-23 July 2017, All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Hamilton Harty’s Irish Symphony Revisited

Hamilton Harty’s Irish Symphony stands in a line of so-named pieces including those by Sir Arthur Sullivan, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and the Italian composer Michele Esposito.  I listened to this work the other day for the first time in several years.

Hamilton Harty [born Hillsborough Co. Down] had entered several works in the Feis Ceoil in Dublin. This was a festival begun in the days after the death of Parnell in May 1897 and took the form of a competition. Harty became involved as official accompanist and soon became acquainted with the legendary singer John McCormack. Harty's String Quartet in F: Opus 1 was given its first hearing in 1900 to considerable praise from the local press. In 1904 it was the turn of his Symphony to take the prize. It was subsequently revised in 1924. Unlike the Symphonies by Sullivan and Stanford this was based firmly on Irish tunes. And there was a definite verbal programme.

The first movement is entitled 'On the Shores of Lough Neagh' - a sonata-form piece which made use of two well-known Irish melodies 'Avenging & Bright' and 'The Croppy Boy.' These two tunes make the first and second subjects respectively. A third tune - devised by the composer himself in truly Irish vein, is used in the development.
The second movement is entitled 'The Fair Day.’ In its time, this piece has often stood alone -a recording exists of the composer conducting the Hallé playing this. The local fiddler tunes up and then begins a reel - 'The Blackberry Blossom.' Further melodies are used in this well-written scherzo. A respite is gained with 'The Girl I left Behind me.' Harty was attempting to mimic the marching bands from Ulster.
The Third Movement is a Lento ma non troppo. It is given the programmatic title 'In the Antrim Hills' The composer said that this was 'a wistful lament' based on the ancient song – J’imin Mo Mhile Stor.’ A quotation from this poem provided in the liner notes for the Chandos recording:-
You maidens, now pity the sorrowful moan I make;
I am a young girl in grief for my darling's sake;
My true love's absence in sorrow I grieve full sore,
And each day I lament for my Jimin Mo Mhile Stor.'

The development of this tune is not really in a formal style. In fact, it has all the feel of an improvisation about it - this is hardly surprising as Harty was an accomplished organist and choirmaster.
The last movement is a celebration of the Battle of the Boyne - 'The Twelfth of July'. Harty's youthful acquaintance with the Orange marching bands once again coming to the fore. The tune which haunts this movement is 'Boyne Water', although the strains of the slow movement are heard -with the 'Jimin Mo' theme being restated in the finale.

Hamilton Harty’s Irish Symphony is available on Chandos CHAN 8314 and on NAXOS 8.554732.
With thanks to MusicWeb International where most of this was first published.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

It's not British, but...Nan Schwarz & Brrenton Broadstock: Symphonic Jazz

Since first hearing Earl Wild play Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F major with the Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler, I have enjoyed ‘Symphonic Jazz.’ As the years rolled on, I have discovered several works that have become firm favourites including less well-known exemplars such as Leonard Salzedo’s/David Lindup Rendezvous for jazz band and symphony orchestra and Mátyás Seiber’s Dankworth Improvisations for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra. My all-time Desert Island Disc (in this genre) is Richard Rodney Bennett’s Jazz Calendar for twelve players.  So, I was delighted to discover several more splendid examples of the genre on this present CD.

Let’s begin with Australian composer Brenton Broadstock’s superb Made in Heaven: Concerto for orchestra. This long four-movement work is a sheer delight to listen to. The composer writes that it is a ‘musical tribute to the iconic jazz recording Kind of Blue made [by Miles Davis] in 1959.’  Other players on that ground-breaking album included Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane and Bill Evans.  Broadstock is keen to point out that Made in Heaven is not an arrangement, nor a transcription, and does not actually quote any material from the album. It is simply a starting point for an exciting fusion of jazz, rock and classical music. The composer defines it as a ‘symphonic metamorphosis.’

Broadstock’s work was composed in 2009 and had five movements, paralleling the five original tracks on the album. In 2013 the work was revised, with a movement deleted and the others reordered. The title reflects drummer Jimmy Cobb’s comment that Miles Davis album was ‘made in heaven. The four movements are ‘So What’, ‘Flamenco Sketches’, ‘Blue in Green’ and ‘All Blues’. Miles Davis aficionados will know that the missing movement was ‘Freddie Freeloader.’

There is no need to analyse Made in Heaven. It is just quite simply outstanding from end to end. I have listened to it at least three times as a part of my review: it has already become a ‘favourite.’ Although Brenton Broadstock states that it not meant to ‘recapture the jazzy coolness’ of the album, for me it is cool, laid back and thoroughly delicious.
Details of the composer and his music are available on his excellent webpage.

I then turned my attention to the four works by Nan Schwarz. I must hold up my hand: I have never listened (consciously) to any of her music. And the reason is simple. Her massive reputation is largely, but not entirely, built on film-scores both as an arranger and as a composer. I do not watch much television, and when I do, it tends to be DVDs of old favourites such as the Ealing Comedies, Carry On Films, The Avengers and other such light-hearted stuff. I very rarely go to the cinema (too much popcorn crunching for my taste nowadays), so tend to miss out on that experience. So, looking at her entry in the Internet Movie Database, does not tell me much, except that she is extremely prolific and highly regarded in the world of contemporary film music, most of which I have neither seen nor heard of. The present album turns away from the film studio into the concert hall: my interest was immediately aroused.

Four contrasting pieces are presented here.  Each feature one or two soloists. The opening Aspirations was composed in 1984 and was commissioned by Jack Elliot. At that time Elliot was Musical Director of The New American Orchestra. This organisation’s aim was ‘to present works that blend the classical European style orchestra with modern American jazz style.’ Influences on Schwartz at that time included Ravel, Walton and Shostakovich: all these had composed jazz-influenced works.
Aspirations is a through-composed piece that continuously unfolds, rather than expounds, develops and recapitulates. The saxophonist Harry Allen and pianist Lee Musiker bring considerable jazz-inspired, and often ‘smoochy,’ playing to the latter half of this gorgeous and totally satisfying tone-poem. The mood balances jazz harmonies with film music style as well as being an enduring take on the late-romantic musical style.

Schwartz’s second piece is Perspectives. The concept here is twofold: any musical idea, theme or note can be looked at from a different angle or ‘perspective’ and ‘a note can function differently and have a different emotional payoff in a different harmonic context.’
A full rhythm and percussion section is used to ‘propel the music in contemporary jazz fashion.’ Jon Delaney contributes a Pat Metheny style guitar solo.  Whatever the philosophical underpinnings of this piece, the music is once again a subtle balance of jazz and classical. It is a sheer pleasure to listen to this ‘cool’ music.

The third piece, a short Romanza (undated) does not seem to have a programme or philosophical underpinning. Schwarz writes that her aim was ‘to simply write something beautiful that touched me…’  This is well-achieved here.
The violinist Dimitrie Leivici provides a classically-balanced and often passionate solo part. This is the least jazz-inspired work on this CD: this timeless ‘Romance’ is as good as anything written in this form from the time of Beethoven onwards.

Angels among us was composed in 2003, for ‘a trumpet player and well-known symphony orchestra.’ However, the work was not given at this time.  It is finally presented on this CD in its ‘premiere performance.’  The ‘concertante’ part is played by trumpeter Mat Jodrell.  The piece opens with an atmospheric film score type of effect, before the soloist begins his sulky explorations. And there is just the odd hint of ‘Reichian’ minimalism.
There is a theological element to this music: Schwartz writes that ‘the music depicted the internal struggle between evil and good.’ And naturally we are aided and abetted by our ‘good’ or ‘Guardian’ angel. I put this concept aside and just enjoyed this thoughtful tone-poem and Jodrell’s evocative trumpet playing.

The liner notes are excellent, with explanatory essays by the conductor Kevin Purcell, the composers and Conrad Pope. There are the usual brief biographies about the composers and performers. I was unable to find a birth date for Nan Schwartz…
The notes are presented in Japanese and Traditional Chinese as well.
I cannot fault the vibrant recording of all five pieces. The balance of jazz soloists and symphony orchestra is ideal. Clearly all the performers enjoyed this music and entered the spirit of this stunning cross-over music. 

Track Listing:
Aspirations (1984)
Perspectives (2003)
Romanza (?)
Angels Among Us (2013)
The Synchron Stage Orchestra (Vienna)/Kevin Purcell

Brenton BROADSTOCK (b.1952)
Made in Heaven: Concerto for orchestra (2009, revised 2013)
Harry Allen (saxophone), Lee Musiker (piano), Jon Delaney (guitar), Mat Jodrell (trumpet), Dimitrie Leivici (violin) Bratislava Studio Symphony Orchestra/Kevin Purcell
Rec. The Synchron Stage, Vienna, 28-29 June 2016 (Schwartz); Slovensky Rozhlas, Bratislava 3 July 2016
DIVINE ART dda 25165