Thursday, 30 July 2009

John Ireland: Piano Music Volume 2 played by Mark Bebbington on SOMM

John Ireland (1879-1962)
Sarnia (1941) Le Catioroc, In a May morning, Song of the Springtides; Sea Idyll (1900) Two Pieces from a Downland Suite (1932) Elegy & Menuet; Greenways: Three Lyric Pieces (1938) The Cherry Tree, Cypress & The Palm and May; The Darkened Valley (1922) Two Pieces (1921) For Remembrance & Amberley Wild Brooks; Villanella (1900s arr. for piano by the composer 1912) Love is a Sickness (freely transcribed by Robert Helps) (1995)
Mark Bebbington (piano)
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 088

I recently reviewed this second volume of piano music by John Ireland. I began my discussion of this great CD by insisting that there can never be too many recordings of these important works. I suggested that the quality of the playing and sound on the present disc make it into a must-buy for all British piano music enthusiasts.

One of most interesting things about this CD is the inclusion of a number of rarities. Although these are not crucial parts of the Ireland canon, they are nevertheless valuable to have on disc. I spent a considerable part of my reviews discussing these pieces.

I concluded my review by suggesting that it is “invidious to try to suggest which is the best version of John Ireland’s piano works to purchase. I was introduced to him by the Rowlands and Parkin recordings on Lyrita: I still regard these as the high-water mark of Ireland interpretation. Yet again John Lenehan has produced an interesting survey of these works on Naxos and Eric Parkin did a re-run for Chandos. I guess that most enthusiasts of Ireland will have all these CDs in their collection – along with Desmond Wright. However, Mark Bebbington’s interpretation is excellent. I enjoyed listening to all these pieces and hearing the younger generation’s approach to these masterpieces (and lesser works) by one of Britain’s finest composer’s for the piano.

I suggested that you add this to your collection. Lastly, I eagerly await the next volume from SOMM. I am hoping that this will be a true ‘complete’ cycle of John Ireland's piano music, published and otherwise.

Please listen to my full review on MusicWeb International and please also read Rob Barnett’s thoughts on the same ‘page’.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Songs of Muriel Herbert - A Great New Discovery

The Songs of Muriel Herbert
1) Loveliest of trees (A.E Housman) 2) I cannot lose thee for a day (George Meredith) 3) The Crimson Rose (Enid Clay) 4) I hear an army charging (James Joyce) 5) Jour des Morts (Charlotte Mew) 6) She weeps over Rahoon (James Joyce) 7) On a time (Anon) 8) Have you seen but a white lily grow? (Ben Jonson) 9) I dare not ask a kiss (Robert Herrick) 10) Horseman (Gerald Gould) 11) To Daffodils (Robert Herrick) 12) How beautiful is night (Robert Southey) 13) Renouncement (Alice Meynell) 14) I think on thee in the night (Thomas K. Hervey) 15) Faint Heart in a Railway Train (Thomas Hardy) 16) Rose kissed me today (Austin Dobson) 17) Lean out of the window, Goldenhair (James Joyce) 18) Love's secret (William Blake) 19) MS of Benedictbeurn (Carmina Burana) 20) Autumn (Walter de la Mare) 21) The Lost Nightingale (Alcuin) 22) Jenny kiss'd me (Leigh Hunt) 23-28) Six children's songs (Ada Harrison) 29) In the Days of November (Ada Harrison) 30) The Lake Isle of Innisfree W.B. Yeats 31) David's Lament for Jonathan (Peter Abelard) 32) Most Holy Night (Hilaire Belloc) 33) When Death to either shall come (Robert Bridges) 34) Cradle Song (A.C. Swinburne) 35) Violets (George Meredith) 36) Tewkesbury Road (John Masefield )
Ailish Tynan (soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor) & David Owen Norris (piano)
LINN CKD 335

I was immediately impressed by the first piece on this CD - a fine setting of A.E.Housman's Loveliest of Trees. It is surely a brave person who dares to write a new version of a song that seems to have had its definitive setting made some dozen or so years earlier by George Butterworth. Yet history suggests that at least ten composers have thrown their hat into the ring with this text. Muriel Herbert's edition of this melancholy text is superb. It adds value to both the words and to the history of setting. There is a simplicity about the music that captures the sense of the transience of life, and there is a freshness and subtlety of the melodic line that does not attempt to parody any previous settings. For me, this is the ‘signature song’ on this disc.

I confess that I had never heard of Muriel Herbert before this CD was released. To be fair, there is no entry in Groves and, although I do not have it in front of me, there is, I believe, no reference in Sophie Fuller’s The Pandora Guide to Women Composers. There is one mention of her in Stephen Banfield’s Sense and Sensibility, and that is only a name check in the middle of a list of composers who had set Housman in the year 1923. The Internet only helps if one knows of the existence of somebody. So, like another ‘lost’ composer Janet Hamilton, Herbert has remained in the shadows- virtually forgotten.

This review is not the place for a full biography of Muriel Herbert, but a little thumbnail sketch may prove of interest.
Muriel Emily Herbert was born in Sheffield in 1897 and grew up in Liverpool in what was a musical household. By 1913 she had abandoned plans to become a concert pianist and had begun to write music – exercises for the piano and song settings of Herrick, Browning, Bridges and Christina Rossetti.
She entered the Royal College of Music in 1917 and under the auspices of composers and teachers such as Roger Quilter and Charles Villiers Stanford she began to develop her own musical voice. She was well read in poetry and had an especial fascination for Y.B. Yeats, Thomas Hardy and James Joyce. For a time, she earned money by teaching before her musical career took off – in a somewhat limited way. Roger Quilter was impressed with her songs and arranged for a number of them to be published. Barbirolli included her Two Violin Pieces in a concert in the 1920s. She also gave broadcasts of her music on the BBC. All this slowly came to an end when Muriel Herbert was married and began to raise a family. The author and historian Claire Tomalin, one of her daughters, writes that from the early nineteen-forties her mother wrote less and less music, although there were a few recitals and she still taught music and composition. The memory of what had been was largely forgotten: it was not discussed with her children. Her confidence as a composer had been lost as new styles of music began to permeate the concert halls and recital rooms.

The songs on this CD are from a wide variety of literary authors. I mention a few that particularly impressed me. These include James Joyce’s Goldenhair, I hear an army charging and She weeps over Rahoon. Ada Harrison, who was a neighbour of Herbert’s provided some charming verse for the set of six Children’s Songs and the haunting In the Days of November. A particular favourite of mine is the great poem by John Masefield, Tewksbury Road. The music is equally as great as the imagery of the words. It is strange that this poem was not set by Gurney or Finzi or Gibbs. Leigh Hunt’s Jenny Kiss'd Me is charming and imaginative. It is invidious to describe all thirty six songs, but I must mention the setting of Thomas Hardy’s Faint Heart in a Railway Train. I am not sure that this has been set before: none is noted Michael Pilkington’s book British Solo Song. Herbert’s setting is subtle, appropriate and quite moving. It captures exactly the mood of Hardy’s ‘what might have been’ poem.

It is difficult to try to suggest the influences that inform Muriel Herbert’s music. When this present CD has ‘sunk in’ to the repertoire and a deal of her music is republished, it will be possible to tie down allusions and references. Certainly, as a pupil of Stanford she has imbibed some of his style and mood. Her infatuation with Roger Quilter (until she realised that he was gay) is the most noticeable stylistic marker, yet even this is not universal. Other notes are present in this music, and it would not be too fanciful to detect echoes of Richard Strauss, Frederick Delius, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. Certainly at the time when Herbert was at the Royal College of Music all these composers would have been part of the regular diet of recitals and concerts.

There is a fascinating essay included in the CD notes by Claire Tomalin, which explores the career of Muriel Herbert and her work. The saddest part is that her mother “spoke very little about the early years and she never showed me any of the songs written when she was young.” Sadly a number of researchers and students did visit her to ask about her ‘famous’ meeting with James Joyce in Paris. However no one cared to see the manuscripts that were the source of the anecdote. It is depressing that Tomalin initially had little success in promoting her mother’s music. After Muriel Herbert’s death in 1984 she “packed up all the papers she had left, and stored them in folders”. She lamented that no one was interested and recalled that one musician, to whom she showed them dismissed the songs with the comment, “Everyone’s mother wrote songs….”

Ailish Tynan and James Gilchrist along with their accompanist David Owen Norris give an impressive and committed performance of these songs. The sound quality is excellent and the presentation of the programme lends itself to listening to this CD in the order presented.

There are further possibilities for future recordings: there are two published pieces for Violin & PianoEnchanted April and Giboulée, there is possibly an extant Violin Sonata and a number of other songs, either published or unpublished.
On the basis of this present recording, any further exploration of Muriel Herbert’s music is to be welcomed and encouraged.
This is one of my major musical discoveries of the year.

John France July 2009 ©
[With thanks to MusicWeb International]

Monday, 27 July 2009

Sir Edward German: Glorious Devon


It is surprising that a song once as popular as Glorious Devon! does not seem to have more than one contemporary recording. In its day it was probably as a well-known as such gems as the The Lost Chord, The Holy City and The Road to Mandalay.
The song was composed by Sir Edward German in 1905 as the last of a set of Three Baritone Songs. The other two were Come to the Woods and My Lady with words by S. Waddington and F.E. Weatherly respectively. However Glorious Devon! was the song that was set to become the best known –especially after the recording made by the Peter Dawson in 1929.
The style of song was aimed at the drawing room rather than the recital hall and made a considerable impact on Edwardian society. Another famous number from this time was German's setting of Rudyard Kipling’s Rolling Down to Rio.
Glorious Devon! was published in 1905 by Boosey & Co. and was available in three keys C, D & F. The copy I have has instructions for repeating the ‘chorus’ if there was a choir available.
www
Coombe and Tor, green meadow and lane,
Birds on the waving bough.
Beetling cliffs by the surging main,
Rich red loam for the plough.
Devon's the fount of the bravest blood
That braces England's breed,
Her maidens fair as the apple bud,
And her men are men indeed.

When Adam and Eve were dispossess'd
Of the Garden hard by Heaven,
They planted another one down in the West,
'Twas Devon, 'twas Devon, glorious Devon.

Spirits to old-world heroes wake,
By river and cove and hoe;
Grenville, Hawkins, Raleigh and Drake
And a thousand more we know.
To every hand the wide world o'er
Some slips of the old stock roam,
Loyal friends in peace, dread foes in war
With hearts still true to home.

Old England's counties by the sea
From east to west are seven;
But the gem of that fair galaxy
Is Devon, is Devon, glorious Devon.

Dorset, Somerset, Cornwall, Wales,
May envy the likes of we;
For the flower of the West, the first, the best,
The pick of the bunch us be;
Squab pie, junket and cider brew,
Richest cream of the cow'
What 'ud Old England without 'em do?
And where 'ud 'un be to now?

As crumpy [soft] as a lump of lead
Be a loaf without good leaven,
And the yeast Mother England do use for her bread
Be Devon, be Devon, glorious Devon.

The poem was the work of a certain ‘second baronet’ called Sir Harold Boulton (1859-1926) He combined many activities in his seemingly hectic life, including as a business man, a hospital chairman, an editor, a director of the Royal Academy of Music, a Welsh Bard and a philanthropist. Not the least of his achievements was as a song writer. Perhaps his best known text was the Skye Boat Song (“Speed bonny boat, Like a bird on the wing, Over the Sea to Sky”) If anyone had asked me when this song was written I would have said back in the days of Burns!
Glorious Devon! opens with a short piano introduction which consists of a little flourish followed by a short descending sequence. It recurs another twice during the song, linking the chorus to the following verse. The soloist enters with ‘spirit’ for the first verse. There is little in the way of complexity in this verse, save an impressive modulation to Eb major at the words “Her maidens fair as the apple bud…”
Certainly the chorus is a rollicking affair that would have encouraged those listening to join in. Played ‘con anima’ the piano accompaniment has a march like rhythm that soon leads to the strong melodic line of “Devon ‘twas Devon, glorious Devon” ending on C major, before a dominant seventh leads to the piano interlude and the following verse. There is little variation in the solo music or the accompaniment in the subsequent verses save adapting to the metre of the song. The final chorus ends on a high note, as would be expected.

Little criticism of this song has been attempted, however The Times (Thursday 28th June 1906) reported that a singer by the name of Mr. Claud Powell had given this song at a recital at the Aeolian Hall on Monday 25th The reporter was “critical of his Devonshire dialect…it seemed neared to that of Somerset than a son of Devon would approve.” Nonetheless the song was popular and had to be repeated.
I found a reference in David C. H Wright’s Imperialism and Music: Britain 1876-1953. He notes that Glorious Devon! “while celebrating the joys of the countryside (beetling Cliffs by the surging main, rich red loam for plough’) and bygone heroes (‘sprits of old world heroes wake, Granville, Hawkins, Raleigh and Drake’) also stress the manliness of the west-country man.
Perhaps the conclusion that this is somehow a jingoistic or imperial song is a little far-fetched., he concludes that “…it hymns the English racial Diaspora and its imperial links:-
To every hand the wide world o'er
Some slips of the old stock roam,
Loyal friends in peace, dread foes in war
With hearts still true to home.

It seems to me to be more about good old fashioned county rivalry, of the sort that is indulged in even today on the cricket pitch and elsewhere rather than a manifesto for English domination of the world!

This is hardly an important song, or a major contribution to British music – but it was once popular and a song that I rather like. Perhaps some baritone such as Bryn Terfel, could take it up and give us a brand new recording?
Meantime, listen to Al Bowlly singing Glorious Devon! on YouTube

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Walter Wilson Cobbett: Apostle of Chamber Music.

I recently read this (another!) excellent article about the great champion of chamber music in the United Kingdom Walter Wilson Cobbett, by the great critic Marion M. Scott. It orignally appeared in the Chrisitan Science Monitor in March 3, 1923.

To an imaginative student of musical history the great Viennese composers appear to move against a background of cultivated appreciation, sympathy, and encouragement supplied by the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy. Prince Esterhazy, the Archduke Rudolph, Prince Lichnowsky, and many others are indissolubly linked with one of the greatest periods in music by the support and close cooperation they gave to the musicians of their day. They literally helped to make the period. Later, times changed. It became fashionable to repudiate patrons and to assert instead the Spartan value of independence. What did musicians want with patrons! But further experience of modern conditions shows that patrons can be as useful as ever provide they are of the right sort, and British music owes much to the beneficent activities of some distinguished amateurs who have patiently devoted themselves and their wealth to helping music.
Lord Howard de Walden, Sir Ernest Palmer, Bart, and Walter Wilson Cobbett, are some of the men whose names should stand beside those of Archduke Rudolph and Prince Lichnowsky for their fruitful work. Not long ago a music correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor sought an interview with Mr. Cobbett. It was given at his home one December morning, when the garden – in London as rare luxury –showed still green through the window of the drawing room. And what a characteristic room it was: large, but not over large, furnished in the French style; a room that might well have formed the setting for Prince Lichnowsky’s weekly quartet parties and which, in fact, is constantly used for chamber music.
All the best known British professionals and amateurs are welcome guests here, besides many distinguished foreign players and composers. As an instance of this it may be mentioned that Mischa Elman had his first experience in quartet playing when with Mr. Cobbett.
In Mr. Cobbett’s study were further signs of his tastes. Two violin cases containing his favourite instruments, books on music, a desk –and (typical of his alert outlook on modern music) the score of Zoltan Kodaly’s Quartets lying on the table. At every turn one felt the culture, wise eagerness, enthusiasm, and generosity of this man, who has spent long years in evangelising England for chamber music. His artistic creed is simple and conclusive. If, as practically all musicians agree, chamber music is the purest, most altruistic from of the art, then the more widely it is known and practiced the better for everyone. “There must be something in it, for every year it seems more wonderful to me,” he said. The interviewer was anxious to know what had first turned his thoughts toward it, and gathered that the old ‘Monday Pops’ at St. James Hall had been responsible. He had not learned music as a child, and consequently when he began to study the violin comparatively late, he had to practice doubly hard to attain his technique.
His love of chamber music has splendid results. Though prepared to find the list of his activities as long one, the interviewer was amazed as item was jotted down in the catalogue- even then left incomplete, for, as Mr. Cobbett said with a laugh, “I’ve forgotten a lot of them myself.”
To enumerate them in a single article is impossible, but, broadly speaking, his work (beyond home) has run in three channels: (1) Promoting composition and performance of chamber music, and the construction of instruments for the string quartet; (2) literary work; (3) work on committees. Everything he has done has been done thoroughly. Take for instance his Chamber Music, a paper which, though nominally a supplement to The Music Student, was practically a separate magazine, and was the only thing of its kind in the world. His chamber music competitions, however, are the things by which he is best known. The wise lines on which they are planned, and the liberal prizes offered, have attracted the right sort of competitors: and to be a Cobbett prize man is recognised as a distinction of lasting value. The first of the competitions was organised in 1905, in conjunction with the Worshipful Company of Musicians, an old London City guild of which Mr. Cobbett is a member. It was for a phantasy string quartet, and this revival of the old English form of the ‘Fancy’ was also due to Mr. Cobbett’s recognition of the need for short chamber works which should be complete in themselves.
The competition in 1907, for a phantasy trio, was carried off by Frank Bridge. Later came one for a sonata (in full sonata form) which went to John Ireland.
Then followed a most interesting set of commissions for chamber works, of which one of the most notable results was the exquisite Phantasy String Quintet by Vaughan Williams.
Despite the war and despite much work designed to meet the special needs of the time, Mr. Cobbett carried on his main activities, and latterly has enlarged their scope by various competitions for different teams of chamber music players at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal college of Music.
M.M.S London February 24th

Marion M. Scott (MMS) The Christian Science Monitor March 3, 1923, p. 16 (with a few minor edits)
[With thanks to Pamela Blevins]

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Gordon Jacob: Clogher Head Overture

Coincidence is a strange thing. I first came across Clogher Head over sixteen years ago whilst on a holiday in Eire. I was staying at Howth in a lovely hotel. Each morning, before breakfast, I climbed to the top of Howth Hill and took in the magnificent view over Dublin Bay and the up seacoast towards Rush and Lambey Island. On one occasion I guessed I could see Snowdon on the North Wales coast. One day I met a gentleman on the hilltop who suggested I made a trip to Clogher Head. Two days later I did and discovered one of the loveliest parts of the British Isles that I have ever seen.
Later that week, I was in a second-hand bookshop in Dublin. In amongst a box of bits and pieces I discovered a prospectus for the 1928 Henry Wood Promenade Concerts. Back at the hotel in Howth, over a pint of Guinness, I was amazed to discover that on the evening of Saturday 29th September 1928 the Symphony Orchestra gave a performance of a piece of music called Overture: Clogher Head by Gordon Jacob. In the days before the Internet it was not possible to check out if this piece had been recorded, or whether the score had been published. Even more difficult was the location of reviews or programme notes. I forgot about the work until a week or so ago when I read that Clogher had lost the ‘Blue Flag’ status for its beach. I hunted out the prospectus in my filing system and then got to work on the ‘net, on email and in the RCM Library.
I contacted the composer’s widow, Margaret Hyatt-Jacob, who very kindly sent me a copy of the composer’s programme note, which I quote in full:
The Overture is named after a promontory on the East Coast of Ireland, a few miles north of the mouth of the River Boyne. It is not intended to be pictorial or topographical, though it may be taken as an attempt to express in terms of music something of the exhilaration one feels when standing on a rocky point overlooking the sea and, in its quieter moments, one’s response to the romantic views to be obtained from this particular spot- to the north Dundalk Bay and the Mourne Mountains: to the south the hills of Wicklow: inland Tara’s ruins on the skyline, and out to sea, if the day be a clear one, the Isle of Man, an elusive wraith on the far horizon. And, over all, the charm of “Ireland green and fair.”

The work is cast in classical symphonic form. There is no introduction, the principal subject being delivered at the outset by the full force of the orchestra. After some brief development a climax is worked up over a rhythmical ground-bass and then the music dies down to make way for the second group of subjects, the chief of which is an oboe melody accompanied by the harp. The quiet mood thus set up prevails for some time during which the main themes undergo various transformations and developments until the recapitulation is reached and the vigorous atmosphere of the opening is re-established. During the recapitulation, the themes are continually developed and the work ends with a quiet Coda based on the chief second subject and a mysterious passage unconnected with the main themes, which has previously been heard in the middle section of the work. The Overture is scored for the normal symphony orchestra".
Even a brief perusal of the note suggests that this is a work that may well bear revival. At least there should be one recording made of a piece that was a significant part of the composer’s output. I am intrigued by the reference to a ‘mysterious passage’ and wonder if there is a little bit of the Celtic twilight about this. However until the work is heard or the score is studied all that the musicologist can rely on is the reception history of this work. The concert was reported in the Times, the Guardian and the Musical Times: the reviewers appear to be a wee bit mixed in their thoughts about the Overture.
Rather than paraphrase I have included them below ‘verbatim.’ The reviewer in the Manchester Guardian ([EB] October 1, 1928), writing a couple of days after the concert wrote that:
“At the Promenade Concert Mr. Gordon Jacob conducted the first performance of his overture “Clogher Head”, an orchestral work named after the promontory on the east coast of Ireland, the wonderful view from which is said to have inspired the composer. The work falls into three sections, the first of which is breezy, the second dreamy and the third a modified recapitulation of the first. In spite of this formal scheme one was struck by a curious lack of shape as its main defect. The moments of exhilaration are very good indeed, spontaneously invented and convincingly presented. The lyrical contrast, though less incisive is also capable of making its impression, but the two are not reconciled into a single work of art. Strangely enough in this instrumental work Mr. Jacob seems to have fallen into the trap that so often waylays composers of songs. He is so occupied with enforcing a contrast, which happens to be only one element in his scheme that it comes to dominate and to some extent impair the coherence of his work as a whole”.

The Times reviewer (October 1, 1928) initially pointed out that there were “no less than four tone-poems” of one sort of another” at the Saturday night concert:-
“Mr Gordon Jacob himself conducted the first performance of his overture “Clogher Head”. He warns us in a programme note not to look for pictorial or topographical interest in this work bearing the name of an Irish cape, but it is still programme music full of the feeling of the sea.”
He considers that the work is less impressionistic than de Falla’s Nights in the Garden of Spain. 
His description of the work’s progress continues:
“It plunges straight into the heart of its subject, moves forward on strong rhythms with some fine writing for brass, and is ingeniously scored with a sure hand to secure effects that are new without calling undue attention to themselves. The quieter moods of the second subject are no less apt, but the contrasts seemed too strong for the unity of the work. Mr. Jacob wastes no notes on transitions from his first to his second group of themes and he is direct to the point of brusqueness in all that he wants to say, so that a strange contrast is not out of the picture. None the less the work, for all its strength, tends to fall into pieces.”

The Musical Times (November 1, 1928) declared that:
“The novelty on September 29 was Gordon Jacob’s Overture ‘Clogher Head’. It is named after an Irish cape, and is a well-made bit of programme music. There is much sound, strong writing, and the scoring, both in the finely vigorous opening subject and in the quiet, expressive sections, is consistently sure. Here is another composer who shows a fine gift for turning out music and compelling our respectful admiration for the product. High-sounding, deeply felt, skilfully worked- these are the calculated praises that give the show away. Clogher Head lacked thrill. Not a loved moment survived the listening. As to the truth of the landscape-painting, one must run down to the nearest wind-swept promontory before presuming to judge.”

The other pieces given at this concert were the Marche au Supplice from Berlioz’s Fantastique Symphony, Träumerei by Schumann arranged for Strings and Horns, Abscheulicher from Fidelio by Beethoven and Nights in the Garden of Spain for pianoforte and orchestra by Manuel de Falla. The soloist in this last work was Harriet Cohen. The second half of the concert included The Prologue from Pagliacci by Leoncavallo, Francesco da Rimini by Tchaikovsky and the Valse Caprice by Rubenstein. Perhaps the most important work played at this concert Richard Strauss’s tone poem Don Quixote.

On the 31 January 1929 the work was given on the radio at 3 pm In fact two of Jacobs’s works were broadcast from the weekly Bournemouth concert. The second work was his Concerto for piano and strings. It is the last time I can find reference to Clogher Head and I assume that it largely disappeared from view.
It is always difficult to pontificate on a piece of music that one has not heard. However, unless there are some later performances that have been overlooked by the reviewers, it would seem that no one has heard the work for over 80 years. I have established that the score is in the possession of the composer’s widow, however she tells me that the parts are missing. Jacob dated the score as having been completed on March 2nd 1928. Margaret Hyatt-Jacob told me that the score has blue pencil work, which she suggests may be publisher’s marks. However, they may have been corrections and rehearsal notes.
I could arrange to see the score and I may well do that one day - certainly if there is ever any interest shown in producing the work. However, unless it is part of a major project, I guess that the work may well remain unheard for another eighty years.

I am grateful to help, advice and comments from a number of people including Rob Barnett, Dr Geoff Ogram, Eric Wetherell and especially Margaret Hyatt-Jacob.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Marion Scott, her mother and William Hurlstone - a great anecdote

Pamela Blevins, the Gurney and Scott scholar, sent me this note concerning my recent post about the Marion Scott Quartet concert at the Aeloin Hall on 10th December 1908. The story that Pam tells is excellent and I quote it verbatim with pleasure and thanks.

“This review is one that Marion did not have in its entirety in her own collection of reviews so it's a good find! Marion knew both Stanford (as his student, as a musician in the RCM Orchestra and later as a colleague) and Hurlstone. The connection with Hurlstone is interesting because it says a lot about the character of Marion's mother and sheds some light on why Marion was such an open-minded person who stepped beyond the constraints of class. First, her mother was an American and was a liberal thinker and rather bold for a woman of her day. Second, she had a great sense of justice and kindness that extended to all people. So, I'll let Marion tell the story after a little introduction from me.

Her parents had been invited to a dinner-party "of Victorian splendour" by some well-off friends who informed the Scotts that they had hired a young man to play the piano and let it be known that they were paying him a good fee. They had not thought to include him in the dinner or to feed him at all. Marion takes up the story: "When dessert ended the hostess gave the signal and the ladies withdrew to the drawing room. There, sitting awaiting them in the otherwise lonely room was a dark, shy young man. After briefly introducing him, the hostess left him in the cold by the piano while the ladies engaged in lively local chatter around the fire. She was not being consciously rude; she was merely acting in accordance with the custom of her kind. But the sight was altogether too much for my Mother. The spirit of her [American] ancestors rose up in her. She herself rose, crossed the room, sat down by William Hurlstone and drew him into such interesting talk that his shyness vanished and he and she were soon like old friends....In the future Hurlstone was often to be a guest at our house, and I think that my Mother (remembering the evening when he had been left dinnerless) took particular pleasure in providing extra dainties [for him]".
From an undated piece by Marion Scott which was later incorporated into William Hurlstone: Musican Memories and Records by his Friends edited by Katharine Hurlstone 1947

Sunday, 19 July 2009

M Mungo-Park: Travelling Along Thirty Short Sudies for Piano

Following on from my recent discovery of Alec Rowley’s piano album called Train Journey, I found another little gem in a second-hand bookshop. This time it is by a composer called M Mungo-Park. Now for people of my generation who were still allowed to have heroes, Mungo Park was the great Scottish explorer of Africa who is credited with being the first white man to see the Niger River. Yet his dates are a wee bit wrong for this music which was published in 1933 by that great Mancunian institution Forsyth Brothers. The explorer died on his travels in 1806.

A web search revealed little about M. Mungo- Park, however I did discover that the composer’s Christian name was Muriel. Nothing else if clear except that she wrote a deal of what appears to be teaching pieces. She seems to have been active between about 1931 and 1948. I guess that she was one of the Forsyth ‘house’ composers who at that time included Leslie Fly, Gladys Cumberland and most famously Walter Carroll. Further biography will have to wait.

Travelling Along is a fine collection of thirty short studies for pianoforte which was “written with the purpose of surmounting a particular technical difficulty”. I sight read them – and tripped up quite a few times. They are not obvious and have a number of little twists and turns designed to catch the over-confident of the unwary. Moreover the foreword to the studies states that these “should be memorised and transposed by ear into all the keys, beginning of course with the easier keys.” Way beyond me and I guess a lot of other amateur pianists!
Technical points explored include rotary exercises, study in five time, arpeggio practice, a modern scale (actually mixolydian) and a legato study on the black keys. Each exercise is given a picturesque title, such as Sad Bells, The Dancing Girl, Spring in a Strange Land and Little White Butterflies.

The work was highly praised by none other than the great Myra Hess: she writes “These are delightful little studies, full of imagination, and instructive both musically and technically.”

However, I guess that is was the fine artwork of the cover that made me part with a pound coin to add this attractive album to my collection of piano music.

Friday, 17 July 2009

The Marion Scott Quartet: A Review from The Times 10th December 1908

As part of my preparation for an article about the music of Marion M. Scott I came across this review in The Times newspaper. It seems to have been a successful concert in spite of the reviewer’s misgivings about her leadership qualities. It is another small contribution to the life and times of this talented woman. Pamela Blevins has champion Scott, who was a musician, a writer, a musicologist and a composer. The key (only!) biographical text is Blevins’s book Ivor Gurney & Marion Scott: Song of Pain & Beauty.

The first of the two concerts, which together make up an excellent scheme, was given by Miss Marion Scott at the Aeolian Hall on Tuesday night. The concerts are undertaken for performance of the larger forms of British chamber music of various periods. In arranging the programmes the concert-giver has wisely avoided the chronological order which is apt to turn such special programmes into historical lectures rather than concerts.
An artistic propriety and contrast were maintained as the chief consideration, we were given a delightful programme, in which one of Purcell’s fantasies for strings was followed by the late W.Y Hurlstone’s beautiful Fantasy in A minor. In the centre of the programme was placed Sir C. V. Stanford’s quartet on G minor (Op99), and the concert ended with a Sonata for strings and harpsichord by Arne, which made a genial and most effective ending. Miss Scott led an able quartet completed by Mr. Herbert Kinze, Miss Sybil Maturin, and Mr Ivor James. She is herself a good violinist, and everything she undertakes is the work of a thoughtful musician. But she is not always a strong leader, and there were moments in the allegros of Stanford’s Quartet which suffered from the lack of a decisive lead. The expressive slow movement was, however, played with true insight and with beautifully balanced tone. Mr W.H. Harris played the harpsichord part in the Sonata upon the piano, and also accompanied Miss Maria Yelland in a number of songs. These included several by Sir Hubert Parry, and Hurlstone’s “Baby Ballads” in which the singer’s beautiful voice was most effective.

Alas neither the Stanford Quartet nor the Hurlstone Fantasy is currently in the CD catalogues.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Alec Rowley: Train Journey

Ever since I began to learn to play the piano, I have been conscious of the music of Alec Rowley. Early on, I found a set of Five Miniature Preludes and Fugues in the piano stool. Now these are hardly to the standard of JSB, but the important point was that I could play them! A few years later I learnt his evocative Hornpipe which is still a favourite of mine. Last year on this blog I noted the fine sea sketches called Outward Bound.
The other day I was in an ephemera shop and came across a work of Rowley’s that I had never heard of – the ‘twelve little pieces for beginners’ called Train Journey. Now technically speaking these are what in the old days would have been called preparatory or even elementary pieces – probably only just scraping into Grade 1 level. Yet, I was impressed by these little numbers and their presentation. The sheet music was published in 1945 by Edwin Ashdown of London. The pieces are not mentioned in Beryl Kington’s biography of the composer.
For interest sake, and because I guess no other musicologist has written or will write about this work, I will list the titles:-
At the Station
Off We Go
Tickets Please
A Block on the Line
Continuing the Journey
Through the Tunnel
Cattle Grazing
Fog on the Line
Crowded Carriage
Wayside Factories
Soldiers Passing
End of the Journey
.

I guess that what impressed me as I played these pieces through was that they were tiny, miniature tone poems. From the pastoral 6/8 tune given to the livestock, through the simple 'rhythm of the rails' to business of the factories, each of these pieces encourages the young player to exercise not only their fingers, but their imagination. Each one becomes slightly harder as the journey progresses. To assist the young pianist the composer has provided a text for each piece. The lines of verse are actually ‘barred’ so they can be sung along to the tune! I will only quote one:-
Here are we at our journey’s end,
See the train’s just round the bend,
Tired and sleepy, quite are we,
Now very soon we’ll be home for tea.

Naturally there is little of innovation here; however there are a few felicitous harmonies in these elementary pieces. For example there is single bar of ‘whistle’ sound based on two minor second chords. Continuing the Journey again opens with the whistle and has some good 3/8 railway onomatopoeia. Wayside Factory nods to an old study by Burgmuller and the Soldiers Passing is a real miniature march. Rowley uses a well placed dominant thirteenth chord in the End of Journey.
Now this is all rather tame for today's more ‘sophisticated’ children, but something tells me that quite a lot of young pianists whose teachers or parents shelled out the 2/- for this music would have enjoyed the pieces. And who knows, in those days before political correctness ensured that boys played with dolls, it may have encouraged one or two lads to stick in at their piano studies. They could play Alec Rowley and dream of being a train driver!
Alec Rowley wrote a deal of music that is rarely heard these days. There are a number of major pieces including Sonatas, Piano Concertos and a wealth of music for the organ. However, I guess it is the educational pieces that have so far survived the test of time.

Monday, 13 July 2009

John Ireland and James Friskin: Phantasie Trios

As part of my preparation for a recent review of John Ireland’s chamber music, I came across this review in the May 1909 copy of the Musical Times. There are many versions of the Phantasie Trio by John Ireland currently in the catalogues. My review was of the Naxos release played by the Gould Trio. However, a convenient edition is the BMS Society CD BMS418. This may be difficult to purchase, but is well worth the effort in tracking down a second-hand copy. It includes music by Bridge & Moeran.

THE LONDON TRIO AND BRITISH PHANTASIES. Since the demise of the Monday and Saturday Popular Concerts, London amateurs of chamber music have to rely upon local organisations for the public performance of concerted music, and amongst them the London Trio is one of those most firmly established in artistic favour. Madame Amina Goodwin, Signor Simonetti and Mr. Whitehouse have now played together for many years, and as all of them are excellent artists a perfect ensemble is the result. But not content with the adequate performance of the great masterpieces written for the pianoforte and two stringed instruments, they have this season had the enterprise to undertake the performance of the three so-called Phantasie trios, prize compositions in the 'Cobbett' com-petition of the Worshipful Society of Musicians. At their latest concert, given at Aeolian Hall on January 26, the London Trio performed the Phantasie composed by Mr. John Ireland, a pupil of Sir Charles V. Stanford, to whom it is dedicated.
The work is characterised by extreme brilliancy and strenuousness, and is rich in musician-ship. Although in one continuous movement, it has four well-defined sections corresponding with those of an extended sonata movement, marked as follows: (I) In tempo moderato (statement of principal and subsidiary themes); (2) Meno mosso quasi andantino (middle section); (3) Tempo primo (recapitulation); (4) Vivace e giocoso- -vivacissimo (Coda). At the conclusion of the performance the composer was twice recalled, and considering that the programme included Brahms's monumental Trio in B (new edition), it was a triumph for British chamber music.
At the concert given by the London Trio at Aeolian Hall on November 24-inadvertently omitted to be noticed in these columns-there was produced a prize Phantasie by Mr. James Friskin. Laid out in five sections, the Phantasie opens with a passage in E minor for the violoncello, conceived in a vein of melancholy to which the violin responds in similar mood. This initial figure dominates a work which, even in the Allegro molto in B minor which follows, retains a dirge-like character, tinged by the Highland sentiment which is a characteristic of Mr. Friskin's compositions. The next section, an Adagio in E major, is of considerable beauty, followed by a resumption of the Allegro molto in A minor. Later on the strings are muted, and, after some modulations, the work concludes with a remarkable Coda, the last bars of which consist of a chord in E minor sustained by the violin for several bars until the violoncello arrives with a pizzicato chord and brings down the curtain upon this little drama. For a Phantasie, in the full acceptance of the term, the work is, we think, too sombre, but it will prove attractive to lovers of the reflective in music.

The Musical Times 1 March 1909 pp 178-179

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Marion M. Scott: Music as a Profession

I came across this article in the Daily Express by Marion M. Scott. It was quoted in part in an essay written by Pamela Blevins for the 2006 edition of the Ivor Gurney Society Journal – Marion Scott and the Society of Women Musicians. A reading of this article surely explains much of the motivation that led Scott, Katherine Eggar and Gertrude Eaton to found the Society a couple of years later. This is a valuable text for the history of the place of women in British music.

Music as a Profession
The musical profession has become a very popular one nowadays, and, to be truthful, one must say: “Profession crammed full: scarcely standing room.”
Professional life is a really hard struggle, which has been made infinitely worse by the crowds of unsuitable or badly trained people who rush in, prove unfit, and end either by taking starvation fees or posts as lady-helps and nursery governesses.

Therefore much careful thought ought to be given to the subject before a girl adopts music as a profession: but if after all the pros and cons have been considered, she still seems to possess such real talent as to justify the choice, then the thing that is absolutely essential is that she should have a good training.
When a well-trained girl leaves the student stage, and actually enters on her profession, what openings is she likely to find?
There is no simple path to success for any one, but a singer of real ability can generally find work either in opera, concerts, “at homes,” teaching, or musical comedy.
A pleasing appearance and personality are, however, essential for the stage or platform, and good health is also a necessity, as long rehearsals and late hours are very trying.

Salaries for Teachers
A pianist will probably have to gain her main income by teaching or accompanying, as solo concert work is uncertain. A girl can either try for private teaching, or else take a post in a school.
Many of these are resident posts, and the mistress is expected to teach piano, class singing, theory, and perhaps the violin. The salaries vary from £50 to over £150 a year in good schools, and competition is keen.
String players will also find their safest openings in teaching, either in schools or privately, while to this they can add concert, ensemble and orchestral work. There is usually more scope in these latter directions for viola players and ‘cellists than violinists, and with orchestral work it must be remembered that all the best engagements are filled by men, with the exception of the harpists in some orchestras. As composers and organists there are few openings for girls; in the first case because composition pays very poorly, and in the latter because all important posts in churches are held by men.
Finally, there remain the less usual instruments, such as flute, oboe, etc. Several women have taken them up, and play well, but at present the opportunities for work are very restricted.
Training should be carried out with the utmost thoroughness and devoted patience, for it is precisely those artists who have the widest grasp of their art who succeed in specialising the best.
The ideal training is for a child to begin lessons young, under some trustworthy teacher, either privately, at school or in a junior department of some such place as the Royal College of Music; and when the time for more serious work comes, she should go for several years as a full course student to one of the big English musical institutions -this to be followed by foreign travel, to become acquainted with other ideas and methods.
Such as scheme would naturally be modified to suit individual cases, and the most essential part is the middle period, which covers the best years for training.
The tuition in England is now fully equal to what can be obtained abroad – in some cases it is better; and while it is always open to train privately, the advantages from joining one of the great music schools are so real that a girl will do well to avail herself of them.
These are the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music in London, also the Guildhall School of Music and Trinity College: while in the provinces there are the Royal Manchester College of Music, The Birmingham and Midland Institute, etc.
In several institutions the choice and the duration of the studies are left to the student: fees varying from £1 1s to £1 4s per subject per term, but at the R.C.M., the R.A.M., and the R.M.C.M no pupil is admitted for less than one year, while the full course is at least three years and the complete course is obligatory on each pupil.

Fees
This consists, roughly speaking, of two lessons in a first study and one in a second study each week; also weekly classes for theory, harmony, counterpoint, choral singing, orchestra, ensemble, etc. Additional classes can be taken for elocution, languages, dramatic deportment, etc. by payment of something extra. These latter subjects are most important for singers.
The ordinary fees for the full course are:-
R.A.M. – Total entrance fees, £5 5s, Fee per term, £11 11s
R.C.M. - Total entrance fees, £2 2s, Fee per term £12 12s
R.M.C.M – No entrance fee, Fee per term £10
There are also scholarships, exhibitions etc.
This training is the most thorough to be obtained, and in after life it is often a valuable asset to have either the R.A.M. or the R.C.M. as an alma mater.

N.B. £5 5s in 1909 would be the equivalent of about £470 at today’s (2009) value.
£1.0.0d is equivalent to about £88.


Marion M Scott The Daily Express Tuesday 23 March 1909 [with minor edits]

Thursday, 9 July 2009

British Music: Three Superb New CDs

Recently there has been quite a little stream of new recordings featuring lesser-known British music or composers. I draw attention to three of them.
Hyperion has released the 48th volume of their superb Romantic Piano Concertos series with a release of two piano concertos by the adopted composer Sir Julius Benedict and a Concertstück by Walter MacFarren. Hyperion writes that the concertos “are very much in the tradition of Hummel, of whom Benedict was a pupil, and combine brilliant virtuosity with an easy lyricism.” So far I have heard the C minor and felt that this is a work that is certainly worthy of our respect. It is an attractive piece that would certainly make a fine alternative to the half dozen or so examples of the genre that more often than not grace our repertoire.
The MacFarren work is certainly not to be missed. Although owing much to Mendelssohn, it is a well wrought piece. Considering that it was composed at a time when Britain was A Land without Music, it is an accomplished piece that “could easily pass as one by the greater master”

I have long been of the opinion that there needed to be a recording of the ‘complete’ songs of Sir Lennox Berkeley. Chandos have to some extent remedied this shortfall with there fine new CD. However, I am not aware if this is the first part of a ‘project’ or whether it is simply a ‘recital.’ Interestingly these songs have been presented in more or less chronological order, allowing the listener to follow the composers ‘development.’ For me the highlight is the 1958 cycle Five poems of W.H.Auden. These are quite different to much that the composer had previously written. There is a sense that Berkeley is moving in new direction. These are beautiful settings of one of England’s great poets. It is surely a matter for regret that Berkeley lost a number of his undergraduate settings of Auden.

The last disc that has caught my eye is the superb piece of musical discovery by Linn Records – the Songs of Muriel Herbert. I will not pre-empt my review of these works here, suffice to say that a) there are precious few women composers from the first half of the twentieth century represented in the CD catalogues, 2) these songs are a real, vital and important contribution to the repertoire of English lieder and lastly 3) the performance of these works is delicious.
Interestingly Muriel Herbert was the mother of the well respected writer and historian Claire Tomalin.

This is my 'must have' CD of 2009 - so far.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Jane Joseph: An Appreciation written by Gustav Holst

I recently found this charming appreciation of one of Gustav Holst's pupils. It needs no commentary.
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Jane Joseph (1894-1929)
by Gustav Holst
XVIII The Younger English Composers
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Jane Joseph was born in London on May 31, 1894. She was educated first at Norland Place School, then at St. Paul's Girls' School, where she entered with an open scholarship in 1908, and finally at Girton, where she took her Classical Tripos. After leaving College she lived at home until her death on March 9, 1929.
It was my good fortune to be her teacher in composition. She was the best girl pupil I ever had. From the first she showed an individual attitude of mind and an eagerness to absorb all that was beautiful.
While at St. Paul's she wrote, among other things, her setting of 'The Carrion Crow'; then at Girton she composed the incidental music for a College performance of Yeats's 'Countess Cathleen.' This was later performed in London.
These are typical of most of her work, inasmuch as they were written for definite occasions. She, like the composers of the eighteenth century, wrote music because it was wanted. Many of her MSS. are pieces written for birthday or Christmas parties, for the first appearance of a school orchestra, for amateur theatricals, for a festival in a village church. There are beautiful things among them still unpublished.
This desire and capacity to do what was needed most were characteristic of her whole life. So, while at St. Paul's, she was not content to work only at piano and musical theory besides her ordinary school work, but made a point of learning whatever instrument was most needed in the orchestra: at one time the double bass, at another, the French horn.
Jane Joseph, more than anyone else I have known, had that infinite capacity for taking pains which amounts to genius. It was something instinctive in her, and it was combined with great sensitiveness and a passion for accuracy. In all her sayings and doings there was a complete absence of anything superficial or casual. No detail in a scheme was too small, and no scheme, however big, was allowed to be obscured by too much concentration on detail, whether the scheme were a charitable one for helping someone in trouble, organizing accommodation for visitors during a Whitsuntide Festival, or arranging a ballet.
Her powers of organization were well shown in her production of Purcell's ‘Dioclesian' in 1921. Purcell wrote some charming incidental music to a play of this name. As the play had not been considered worthy of revival, the music, which consists of isolated songs, choruses, dances, and so on, had also been neglected. Jane .Joseph, after careful preliminary study, contrived to weave all these fragments into a delightful out-door pageant founded on a fairy story, complete with lost princess, dragon and princely hero; and she achieved this with only one alteration in the words- 'she' was substituted for 'he' in one of the choruses.
The pageant was rehearsed in the morning and performed in the afternoon of a Whit-Monday' in Bute House garden. Many of the performers met for the first time that day. Each one was provided with written instructions, together with a plan of the garden. Not content with this, Jane had secretly prepared an alternative indoor scheme for the whole production in case of wet weather. The performance was such a brilliant success that it was repeated a few weeks later in Hyde Park and, some months later, at the 'Old Vic'. Each time important alterations had to be made with very little time for rehearsing or even for explanation. Only those who have had experience in such productions can appreciate the wonderfully smooth working of every detail and the splendid way in which each was fitted into the whole. Jane gave the minimum of worry to each person concerned by giving herself the maximum of hard work and forethought.
Working with her was made a constant delight by her courtesy- a recognition of what was due to other people and a real consideration for their feelings. Nothing gave her greater joy than the discovery of this sensitive courtesy in others.

Gustav Holst The Monthly Musical Record April 1 1931 p97-98 (with minor edits)
Jane Joseph’s works list to follow on a later post.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Choral Songs in Honour of Queen Victoria

A.M. GOODHART (1866-1941) Lady on the silver throne (Edmund Gosse) Arthur SOMERVELL (1863-1937) With still increasing benefits (Marquis of Lorne) C.H. LLOYD (1849-1919) A thousand years, by sea and land (Henry Newbolt) Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) To her beneath whose steadfast star (Frederic W.H. Myers) C.V. STANFORD (1852-1924) Out in the windy West (Arthur C. Benson Sir Frederick BRIDGE (1844-1924) For all the wonder of thy regal day (Earl of Crewe) Sir John STAINER (1840-1901) Flora's Queen (J.F.R. Stainer) Charles WOOD (1866-1926) A Century's Penultimate (Arthur C. James) Sir A.C. MACKENZIE (1847-1935) With wisdom, goodness, grace (Alfred Austin) Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918) Who can dwell with greatness! (Austin Dobson) H. Walford DAVIES (1869-1941) Hark! The world is full of thy praise (Robert Bridges) Sir George MARTIN (1844-1916) The seaboards are her mantle's hem (John Davidson) Sir Walter PARRATT (1841-1924) The Triumph of Victoria (T.H. Warren)Spiritus Chamber Choir/Aidan Oliver TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0012

Recently I had the pleasure of reviewing this fine CD of High-Victorian choral music. I began by noting that:-
I have been waiting for this collection for many years. Ever since I heard a recording of the 1953 A Garland for the Queen and did a little bit of research into the history and genesis of that project, I have known of the existence of these thirteen excellent examples of Victorian part-song composition. The only problem was that I had never heard any of them. The score is also hard to obtain, there having been only 100 copies in the original print run. So it is hardly likely to turn up in the Oxfam Shop alongside the Crucifixion and Olivet to Calvary.

The idea of a set of Choral Songs for the Queen was an emulation of the great volume of music published by Thomas Morley, The Triumphs of Oriana. This was dedicated to Good Queen Bess, Queen Elizabeth I. Some three hundred years later, Walter Parratt, the then organist at St. George's Chapel in Windsor, and the writer Arthur Benson collaborated in selecting poets and composers to produce these madrigals for Queen Victoria's 80th birthday which fell on 24 May 1899. A goodly number of poets and authors produced a series of fine and inspiring texts.

Toccata has done the British music enthusiast proud. Here is a collection of music and texts by the great and the good from the dying days of the nineteenth century. It is a series of part-songs or madrigals that are worthy of the composers and poets represented. It has a stature that easily allows it to claim a place as a successor of its earlier model and the precursor of its more recent successor. It is the premier recording of this work.

These Choral Songs in Honour of Her Majesty Queen Victoria represent the high-water mark of Victorian choral writing and certainly reveal a supremely confident picture of the state of music shortly before the 'official' Renaissance began in earnest.

Please read the full review at MusicWeb International

Friday, 3 July 2009

Frank Bridge: Chamber works on SOMM

Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) Piano Quintet (1905-12) Three Novelletten for string quartet (1904) Rhapsody Trio for 2 violins and viola (1928) Lament for 2 violas (1912) Cherry Ripe (1916) Sir Roger de Coverley (1922) Bridge Quartet (Colin Twigg and Catherine Schofield (violins); Michael Schofield (viola); Lucy Wilding (cello)); Michael Dussek (piano) SOMM CD087

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing this new CD of chamber music by Frank Bridge from SOMM. As is to be expected from this company it is an excellent recording – both from the point of view of the performance and the sound quality.
I began my review by noting the sudden seeming rise in popularity of the Piano Quintet, which I felt was a bit like the “legendary No.8 London bus – they seem to arrive in twos and threes. Only a few weeks ago I had reviewed the fine Hyperion recording of this work, coupled with the Three Idylls and the great Fourth String Quartet”.
When approaching this Quintet it is important to realise that it was extensively rewritten in 1912. The original work was composed in 1905 and was conceived in four ‘muscular’ movements. After a few performances the composer chose to withdraw it. However a few years later he decided to completely rework the piece. The major changes involved the fusing together of the second and third movements and the re-use of scherzo material from the former ‘allegro con brio’ which became the central section of the ‘adagio.’ And finally Bridge made the work cyclic by re-introducing themes from the first movement into the final allegro.
After noticing the Novelletten, which I think are much more important in the Bridge catalogue than may normally be given credit for I considered the great, late Rhapsody Trio for two violins and viola is the only work on this disc that I had not heard before. And my initial reaction is that it has suddenly become one of my favourite pieces of Bridge – overnight...
I concluded my review by suggesting that “the Bridge Quartet and Michael Dussek give a fine account of all the pieces on this well balanced programme. It would be invidious to try to compare all the various complementary recordings of the works on this CD. If I had to choose between this and the Hyperion version of the Quintet I guess that I would nudge toward the latter – simply because I feel it is played more passionately. But the other side of the coin is that this CD is worth buying quite simply for the Rhapsody. This was the major discovery for me and it is great to have an excellent rendition of what must surely be regarded as one of Frank Bridge’s chamber music masterpieces. It is a disc that all Bridge enthusiasts will insist on having in their collections".

Please read the full review at MusicWeb International

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Adam Pounds: His New Website

I have discussed Adam Pounds and his music on this ‘blog’ a few times. I have given a couple of updates of his latest compositions and have written essays on his Cradle Song, his Festival Overture and his fine Northern Pictures. Pounds is a composer who impresses me with his style of music which is at one and same time traditional and forward looking.
I am delighted to see that he has a fine new Web Site designed by Thomas Daly: it both professional and user friendly. There is always a danger that composers and other artists settle for second best when it comes to promoting their artistic achievements. Pounds's site is straightforward, does not have adverts, it is not spoilt by pyrotechnics or flashing lights! And perhaps most importantly it allows the interested music lover to hear a number of extracts from his works: the quality of these samples are excellent. The entire site is really a model for any composer.
Unfortunately relatively few of Pounds’s works are available on CD - see the discography section of his website for details. But listening to a number of the samples suggests to me that the time is certainly right for the Symphony and the Violin concerto to be recorded. I feel that if the Symphony in particular were widely known it would take its rightful place in the symphonic repertoire of Great Britain.
Adam Pounds was a pupil of Sir Lennox Berkeley and his music certainly seems to be a credit to both his teacher and his own hard work.

Please visit the ADAM POUNDS WEBSITE