Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Henry Wood Promenade Concerts: The Sins of Omission

I pointed out in my post the other day that there are a fair few British works being performed in the 2010 Henry Wood Promenade Concerts. But as usual I was disappointed by the relative lack of British composers and their music over the 76 concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and the 13 chamber music recitals at the Cadogan Hall. More to the point I was once again surprised by some important ‘anniversary’ omissions – both of composers and works.
On a positive note I am pleased that both Mark-Anthony Turnage and George Benjamin are having works performed in the year of their half-centenaries. However, there is nothing by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (200 years), William Wallace (150 years), Ronald Binge and Robert Still, both of whom celebrate their centenaries. I can understand why perhaps lesser names have been ignored such as John Hiles (200 years) and W.L. Reed (100 years).
From the point of view of continental composers it seems to be Robert Schumann’s year with a complete run of his symphonies and a grand total of thirteen works! At least Samuel Barber (Centenary) has two works played including his great Violin Concerto. Alas, William Schuman, another worthy American composer has had his centenary entirely ignored.
Turning to the music, I believe that there were some golden opportunities for some fine ‘centennial’ and ‘half centennial’ performances that have been missed or ignored. Perhaps the most obvious candidate for a ‘centenary’ performance was R.V.W. Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis. This is the work that was given at the 1910 Gloucester Three Choirs Festival, and so impressed Herbert Howells and Ivor Gurney that they walked the streets after the concert trying to understand the implications of what they had just heard.
Bax’s In the Faery Hills (first performance anniversary) would have been a good call rather than the lesser-known London Pageant although anything by this composer is always welcome. However, it would have been a faint hope to have heard Hamilton Harty’s With the Wild Geese, Roger Quilter’s Three English Dances or Frank Bridge’s Suite for Strings.
Yet it is the omission of the half-century compositions that has me totally baffled. Where is Sir Malcolm Arnold’s great democratic Fourth Symphony? Havergal Brian completed at least three symphonies in 1960. Not a squeak! And where is the Welsh contingent? It would have been a good time to hear Alun Hoddinott’s fine First Piano Concerto. And how about Priaulx Rainier’s Trio for flute, oboe and piano at one of the chamber concerts?
But the biggest omission must surely be no performance of William Walton’s great Second Symphony, Roberto Gerhard’s Third, and an opportunity to introduce Humphrey Searle’s and Peter Racine Fricker’s Third Symphonies both of which were complete in 1960.

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