Thursday, 10 April 2008

Victor Hely-Hutchinson: The Young Idea: Rhapsody for piano and orchestra

It is hardly possible to be an enthusiast of the music of Christian Victor Noel Hope Hely-Hutchinson (1901-1947) -for the simple reason that only five of his works are currently logged in the CD catalogues. And three of these are songs, one is a well scored and attractive Overture to a Pantomime and the last is the ubiquitous Carol Symphony. At least there are two versions of that score available. However, Dutton CDs have recently added a sixth – The Young Idea: Rhapsody for piano and orchestra.
Now whether this work will raise Hely-Hutchinson’s awareness with the musical public is a matter of opinion. It is certainly not a piece that demands a great deal of attention or study: however, it is a lovely work that exploits the jazz influenced moods of William Walton, Constant Lambert, Arthur Bliss-and most significantly Billy Mayerl.

The Rhapsody was first performed on 27th September 1930 at the Queens Hall. Fortunately the composer himself provided a programme note. He writes, "There are three themes: the first introduced by the strings, is not quite so serious as the ominous tone of the introduction might lead one to expect; the second…is still less so; but the third…would like to be thought dignified.”

Lewis Foreman, quotes a ‘po-faced critic’ who apparently wondered whether this work's true home ought to be the Savoy Hotel rather than the Queens Hall. In fact, Hely-Hutchinson himself had appended the score with ‘Cum grano salis’ – with a grain of salt. Yet I love the piece – it is far removed from some of the more ponderous pieces of music that carry intellectual approval. It has one overriding quality – it is downright fun – a quality lacking in music in all generations.

Hely-Hutchinson divided his time between academia and composing – he worked in South Africa as well as in the United Kingdom. Latterly he worked at the BBC in London until his early death.
Apart from the three songs alluded to – of which two are for children Hely-Hutchinson composed a string quartet, a piano quintet, a piano sonata, a viola sonata, and perhaps most urgently in need of reappraisal, the orchestral Variations, Intermezzo, Scherzo and Finale, This work was sufficiently regarded in its day to have been published by the Carnegie Collection of British Music in 1927.

This work is available on CDLX 7206

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