Sunday, 31 October 2010

Alan Rawsthorne: Overture Hallé for orchestra

I recently came across a reference to Alan Rawsthorne’s Overture Hallé. I was sure that I have never heard this piece in the concert hall or on a recording. Certainly there is no reference to this overture in the Gramophone archive. Even a ‘Google’ search only locates the fact that the score is available for hire from Oxford University Press.
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I turned to the index of works in John McCabe masterly study of the composer. In the chronology of section he notes that Overture Hallé was first performed in Manchester, February 16, 1958, at the Free Trade Hall. John Barbirolli conducted the Hallé Orchestra at this event.
John McCabe does not rate the work highly. He regards it as ‘a curiously unsatisfying work, with a lengthy slow section after two false starts.’ He further considers that much of the content of this Overture consists of ‘undistinguished re-workings of Rawsthorne style rather than freshly minted tunes.’ He feels that the treatment of the themes is fairly pedestrian.
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It was composed for the 1958 centenary of the Halle Orchestra. The original title of the work was apparently ‘Prelude for Orchestra’. However Barbirolli objected to this title. John McCabe quotes the composer as writing, ‘Well, well, I would settle for ‘Overture Halle’. I only thought my piece is a little less formal than the word ‘Overture’ now suggests.’ Furthermore, Rawsthorne felt that the title will be confused with the town in Saxony.
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I guess that on this assessment the work is unlikely to be heard. Yet it seems a pity that the present day Halle orchestra could not have made just one performance or recording of this work. After all, Alan Rawsthorne is one of Manchester’s greatest musical sons.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Ian Venables: Report of the launch of his new CD of chamber music on SOMM

A few weeks ago I reported that I had been invited to the CD launch of Ian Venables new CD of chamber music. I suggested then that this recording would one of the highlights of the year for British music enthusiasts. Well, I am still listening to the CD, but all the signs are that it is one of the most important retrospectives of the composer’s music. Certainly the CD launch went well...

I always enjoy attending a book or CD launch. Apart from the item being ‘launched’ the most important part of the event is always the people whom one meets. Someone once said that very often it is the ‘usual suspects.’ And so it was last night. I will not name names: suffice to say that I spoke to musical authors, arrangers, composers, performers and the Director of an important composer trust.
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The evening opened with a brief welcome and introduction from Siva Oke who is the leading light of SOMM Recordings. Siva has done so much for music – especially British and to her credit are cycles of piano music from Frank Bridge and John Ireland. Then the composer gave a brief introduction and thanks to all concerned. Then ‘yours truly’ presented a brief introduction to ‘The Man and his Music’. However the highlight of the evening was the musically illustrated talk by Graham Lloyd – who, incidentally plays the piano on most of the tracks on this CD. Apart the ‘dodgy’ sound from the system in the Royal Over-Seas League meeting room, the music was impressive and judging by the applause at the end of the talk, this CD has already begun to make waves.
After a lot more chatting and ‘networking’ I joined Ian and a few friends for supper at the Cafe Richoux in Piccadilly. A good time was had by all until people began to leave to catch trains and tubes home...

As I only got my copy of the CD on Wednesday night, I have not had time to review it! However I have listened to the Quintet: it is a fine work that once again balances the composer’s imagination with his understating of past musical language. I look forward to listening to the rest of this CD over the next few days.
The CD has recordings of Ian Venables Piano Quintet, Op.27; Three Pieces for violin& piano, Op.11; the Elegy, Op.2, the Soliloquy for viola & piano and the bleak Poem for cello & piano.

This CD will be available in the shops soon or from the SOMM website

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Ronald Corp: Guernsey Postcards.

Ronald Corp’s Guernsey Postcards have not been appreciated within the musical press as much as they ought to be. I can find no review of this piece in The Gramophone, the International Record Review or the BBC Music Magazine. However it is represented by two informed reviews on the MusicWeb International site. I guess that one of the reasons may have been the expectation of a work in the form of a ‘light music’ suite from the pen of Eric Coates or Haydn Wood – something a little bit ‘retro’ perhaps.
The work was commissioned in 2004 by the Guernsey Camerata and was written to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the BWCI Group - the largest firm of actuaries and consultants in the Channel Islands and was duly given its premiere in October of that year. The composer conducted this first performance in the St. James Concert Hall on Guernsey.
The composer gives the game away in the sleeve notes for this piece: he writes that this ‘three-movement work is a bright and breezy Sinfonietta (my italics) celebrating the sights and sounds of Guernsey. This compares in scope and context with one online reviewer who praises these ‘delightful miniatures.’ I believe that in spite of the musical topographical associations this work would stand alone as a piece of absolute music.
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There are three contrasting movements in this work, all musically portraying aspects of life on Guernsey. The opening ‘postcard’ is entitled The Viaer March (or The Old Market), which is an annual festival running for more than thirty years. It is held on the first Monday of July. The aim of this celebration is to promote local craftsmanship throughout the history of the island. It has displays which explain how the folk ‘used to live.’ Island recipes are usually available for sampling including local breads and ciders. Entertainment is important, with traditional dancing, bands performing and Punch and Judy shows.
Corp has suggested that he wanted to write something ‘sparkling and lively’: certainly this opening movement evokes the hustle and bustle of the festival. However, there is a more serious side this music: the opening material is more solemn and may suggest the enduring ‘spirit’ of the island. However, after a few bars, the mood becomes relaxed and cheerful: certainly reflecting happy-days and the delights of the festival. Rob Barnett has well suggested that this ‘is a bustling minimalist ostinato (Glass out of Nyman), bell carillons and thronged promenades by the sea. It’s a feel-good piece.’
The second movement of this ‘sinfonietta’ is altogether more serious in intent and realisation. Pembroke Bay is one of the largest beaches on the island. It offers a large unbroken expanse of sand: the gentle slope of the bay makes it an ideal spot for bathing and paddling. The music reflects something more tranquil, however, than a typical day at the seaside. The composer has described this movement as an ‘aria’ or a song without words. Certainly this is introverted music that that has its mood set by the opening bassoon solo and delicious string chords. Perhaps it is a middle-aged man reflecting on past holidays and how time flies so quickly? It is a perfect evocation of a very beautiful beach that is timeless in its musical realisation.
The final postcard is quite definitely minimalist in concept. I guess that it would have been easy to musically portray the pizzazz if St Peter’s Port with a complex Malcolm Arnold-ian ‘scherzo’ or perhaps a Rawsthorne-ian Street Corner Overture soundscape. However Ronald Corp has stated that this music is ‘deliberately minimalist’ as he had in mind ‘the sun glistening on the water and the kaleidoscope of colours’ that make up the atmosphere of the island capital. The piece builds up to a moderate climax with counter-melodies and finally an important reference to the opening movement brings the work to a close. It is an impressive movement that is sadly too short: there is much here that is interesting and musically exciting. Ultimately this is short work that straddles the definitions of ‘light’ and ‘serious’ music. There is a sense of purpose and construction that takes this music away from three cameos and moves it into the realm of a ‘small symphony.’
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Two other pieces of music that describe the Channel Islands spring to mind – John Ireland’s Sarnia-An Island Sequence and Malcolm Arnold’s delicious score for the British Transport Film, Channel Islands (1952). Guernsey Postcards is a worthy successor and must not be underrated simply because of the title and the association with Ronald Corp’s sterling work in promoting ‘Light Music’ on Hyperion.
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Guernsey Postcards was released on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7233 last year and was coupled with the Piano Concerto No.1 and the First Symphony.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Hubert Parry: A review of the English Suite for Strings written by Marion Scott

One of my favourite works by Parry is the gorgeous English Suite in G major which was composed during July 1914. However, the work was not put into its present form by the composer, but by Dr. Emily Daymond (1866-1949). Daymond was a teacher, lecturer, pianist, composer, conductor, authority on Troubadour music. In 1901, she became the first woman in Britain to gain a doctorate in music at Oxford University, however she had to wait twenty years for Oxford to allow women to hold the degrees they had earned.
An excellent recording of this piece is available on Lyrita

New Suite for Strings by Parry
LONDON, England—The orchestral concert at The Royal College of Music on June 4 was marked by the first performance, from manuscript, of a Suite for Strings No. 2, in G minor, by Sir Hubert Parry.
The suite, which is in six movements, forms a valuable addition to concert goers’ knowledge of Parry and to the string orchestra repertoire. It is paramountly English, as English as a Shakespearean comedy or a Herrick poem, and the stately prelude and sarabande, the delicious quasi menuetto, the pastoral with its touching yet happy charm, the expressive intermezzo and lively finale might well stand as incidental music to “Twelfth Night” or “As You Like It.”
The suite, however, was not written with any view to the theater or “program music,” but was designed for one of his most brilliant pupils, Dr. Daymond, who amongst other musical avocations, conducted a string orchestra. A footnote by her says that “The composer completed all the movements of this suite, but did not indicate the order in which they were to be played.” This may have been due to the fact that he composed it at intervals over a number of years and never seemed able to find the finale he wanted, though the movement which now stands in that place serves the purpose admirably.
The lovely pastoral is a movement he wrote and never even showed to anyone for over 20 years. With this knowledge in one’s possession, one cannot but be amazed on listening to the suite, at the homogeneity of the whole thing. Another point that strikes one in the suite is the strong ease, almost Handelian, with which Parry could deal with a string orchestra. He evoked rich, pure-toned masses of sound, or a singing and sympathetic quality from the instruments in combination as naturally as he wrote vital contrapuntally moving parts for each. There is never any stuffing in a score of his.
The suite was played con amore by the college orchestra (many of whom had been under Sir Hubert as students) and was conducted by Dr.—now Sir Hugh-Allen, director of the Royal College of Music.

Marion M. Scott, July 17, 1920, The Christian Science Monitor

With thanks to Pamela Blevins, who is the authority on Marion M Scott.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Frederic Curzon: The Boulevardier

The Oxford English Dictionary rather prosaically defines a ‘boulevardier as ‘someone who frequents boulevards.’ However the word can be expanded considerably to include the ‘man-about-town’ who enjoys fashionable living. Furthermore it could be added that he will frequent public places such as squares, cafes and fashionable streets. In fact he could well be regarded as a ‘bon vivant.’ Although Frederic Curzon in his delicious musical portrayal of this man quite definitely has Paris as the locale of his sketch, it is not too hard to mentally transfer this piece to London. In fact, when I hear this swaggering piece I tend to imagine someone from the pages of P.G. Wodehouse. This is not necessarily Bertie Wooster himself, but may be anyone from the Drones Club, such as Pongo Twisleton, Cyril ‘Barmy’ Fortheringay-Phipps, Tuppy Glossop or Oofie Prosser. .
Ernest Frederic Curzon (1899-1973) was one of the junior members of the pre-war British Light Music scene being considerably younger than Haydn Wood, Eric Coates or Arthur Wood. His music tends to be more melodically and harmonically conservative than later composers such as Sidney Torch and Robert Farnon. He tended to eschew jazz and the more ‘popular’ idioms. However, he did write a number of ‘humoresques’ for Tommy Handley’s ITMA and he contributed to the stock of mood music that was so much in demand by radio and newsreel producers..
Curzon wrote this ‘Characteristic intermezzo in 1939 and it duly appeared in 1941 at a time when London was subject to bombing raids and Paris was in the hands of the Nazis. It therefore looks back in time to an earlier age.
The work is based upon the ‘steady tread’ of a confident young man strolling through the Parisian streets, probably with cane in hand. Although the music does become a little more agitated and flamboyant in the ‘middle eight’ the coolness of the individual never really disappears. It is difficult to know what is going on in his head. Is he thinking about paying a call to a certain Mademoiselle? Or perhaps he is heading towards his club? Or maybe he is just taking in the evening air. What is never in doubt is the ‘boulevardier’s’ confidence, nor that of the composer's portrayal of him.
Like much of Curzon’s music The Boulevardier is a melodic, attractively scored piece of light music that retains its ability to captivate the listener. It certainly achieves its effect of portraying a certain kind of individual long since disappeared from the streets of Paris or London. Yet who knows? Did I not see a gentleman walking down Piccadilly the other day with his cane and spats – or was it a trick of the light...?
Frederic Curzon's TheBoulevardier can be heard on Marco Polo 8.2234425. A short sound sample is available on this website.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Edward Elgar: A Charming Pen-Portrait by Robert J. Buckley

It might be a little humorous, but it certainly deserves to be remembered. It comes from Robert J. Buckley’s short biography of the composer written in 1905. It was originally published in a London Journal in 1903 and, according to the author has ‘been accepted by many good Elgarians...’"You are prone to imagine there are several Dr. Elgars, according to the clothes and the circumstances in which you see him. There is one in evening dress pacing the corridor of a concert-room, in which a conductor is taking Elgarian works at unauthorised tempi. There is another in rough-tweed and leggings, who frequents unfrequented lanes with chosen friends, who, armed with a spirit lamp and other impedimenta, take tea under hedges ' like tramps.' A third, wearing an elaborate waistcoat, smokes genially in front of his own poker-work 'fire-music’ burnt on the panel over the study grate. A fourth walks slowly along the Worcester High Street, buried in a battered Panama pulled down to his chin. A fifth, attired in the customary suit of solemn black, ambulates lento, as though weary, in the precincts of a cathedral during a Three Choir Festival. This one wears a tall silk hat, crushed down on the forehead, and gives the impression of a distinguished colonel home for a year's holiday, and at present attending a funeral.Dr. Elgar is tall, spare, angular, grave and courteous. He will listen with attention to skilled comment on his work, but gives short shrift to aggressive incompetence. Shadowy legends exist of patronising persons who were made to regret the indestructibility of matter, and to wish themselves well out of the Cosmos.

Sir Edward Elgar by Robert J. Buckley John Lane: The Bodley Head, London, 1905.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

John Ireland: Violin & Cello Sonatas on Naxos

John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Violin Sonata No.1 in D minor (1908-1909 rev.1917) Violin Sonata No.2 in A minor (1915-1917) Cello Sonata in G minor (1923)
Lucy Gould (violin); Alice Neary (cello); Benjamin Frith (piano)
NAXOS 8.572497 [79:05]

It is probably a sign of getting old, but it does not seem that long ago since I bought my copy of these three works on the old Lyrita vinyl LPs with Yfrah Neaman, André Navarra and Eric Parkin. However, I had previously heard the A minor Sonata on a SAGA [520S] recording which dated from 1962: this had been issued to commemorate the composer’s death. Alongside the Sonata were performances of the Fantasy-Sonata, Decorations and The Holy Boy. The performers were Tessa Robbins on the violin, Thea King playing clarinet and Alan Rowlands was the pianist. This must be a collectors item now. In this day and age, enthusiasts of John Ireland’s music are exceptionally lucky in having some half-dozen recordings of the two violin sonatas and eight of the cello sonatas currently in the CD catalogue. It is not the purpose of this review to compare them all, although that is a task that would be most rewarding.

The First Violin Sonata was composed in 1908-09 and was revised by the composer in 1917 and again in 1944. It was entered for the 1909 Cobbett Chamber Music Competition, winning first prize out of 134 entries. The Sonata is written in three movements – an allegro, a romance and a ‘very easy-going’ allegro. It is this last movement that may be seen as causing a stylistic and emotional imbalance in what is effectively a reserved work.

It is often noted that this sonata is the first piece to betray intimations of Ireland’s mature style. Whilst this may be the case, it is also true to say that the work is fairly and squarely in the classical-romantic paradigm. It is largely sad and introverted and only really becomes upbeat in the final ‘rondo’ with a light-weight dance tune that fairly bounces along. However the heart of the work is the stunningly beautiful second movement ‘romance’. Interestingly, this makes use of modal scales and harmonies which were to become a typical John Ireland fingerprint. Whether the listener would agree with the reviewer in the Pall Mall journal who states that ‘This Sonata is quite one of the most important works of its kind heard in recent years...’ is another matter. However, Mr. Karlyle, the music correspondent of The Star summed up this work perfectly: ‘Delicacy, lucidity, and tonal charm, are qualities inherent in the music. Coherence of ideas is apparent in the three movements, which are cleverly and definitely contrasted in mood. There is a strong vein of temperament in every one.’

The Second Violin Sonata occupies a rather unique position in British music: it is one of the few chamber works to have become a ‘hit’ with the concert-going public. The first performance of this work was given in 6 March 1917 in London at the Aeolian Hall by Albert Sammons and William Murdoch. It seemed to strike the right chord with a war-weary public and literally became an overnight success. It was after this concert that Ireland became a well-known and respected composer. The style of this music has moved on considerably from the previous violin sonata. The major change is that the entire sound-world is now what most listeners would regard as being typically ‘Ireland’. This is a broadly conceived work that is developed on a large canvass: it covers a wide variety of moods and emotional expression. There is a constant interchange of themes that create what Stuart Scott has described as ‘a kind of romantic ruggedness which Ireland has made his very own.’

The second movement is predictably the heart of this work. The music progresses as a kind of ‘death march’ – which would have not have been missed by the wartime audience. However, there is a gorgeous tune in the middle of this movement that fills the hearer with optimism.

The final movement is a profound balance between something less-troubling than the processional music and a mood of melancholy. There are rhapsodic explorations and some introspective, even valedictory moments introduced into the proceedings. Yet, the mood does lighten towards the end: one feels that the composer has at least managed to escape for a time from his introverted thoughts.

The Cello Sonata was composed in 1923 and was duly given its first performance the following year at a concert for the Federation of Music Clubs. The soloists were Beatrice Harrison and Evlyn Howard-Jones. Harrison was impressed with this work and took it to the ISCM Festival in Salzburg. The sonata is, like the violin sonatas, written in three movements – a ‘moderato e sostenuto’, a ‘poco largamente’ and a ‘finale, con moto a marcato’. The work has been well described by Marion Scott as beginning quietly for cello alone, is cumulative and [ends] very brilliantly!’ Much of the material for this sonata is derived from the opening bars. The work is a fusion of melody, harmony and counterpoint which are combined in a manner that produces as ‘completely amalgamated progression of thought....’ Emotionally the work is passionate without ever exceeding the bounds of firm self-control. I have long felt that the second movement is one of the loveliest things in the literature for cello and piano. There is much beauty in these pages that creates an idealised world that we all surely aspire to. Yet this mood is ripped away in the finale. The opening pizzicato chords on the cello destroy any sense of the ‘pastoral’ dream. However, there is a flair and brilliance about this music that, in spite of a few depressed moments, casts care to the wind.

I have written elsewhere that ‘rightly or wrongly it is hard to listen to this piece without feeling some strong sense of place – in this case the landscape around Chanctonbury Hill and the West Sussex Downs.’ I still hold this view.

I thoroughly enjoyed this CD. For one thing it is appropriate that Naxos have coupled the three string sonatas on a single disc: this allows the listener to understand the composer’s chamber music development from 1908 to 1923 in one convenient form. It is played with a marked assuredness and considerable perception by the soloists and establishes a new benchmark for all subsequent performances. I still hark back to my Lyrita recordings but now and again give an airing to some of the other versions of these works that are in my collection – especially the Chandos issue with Lydia Mordkovitch, Karine Georgian and Ian Brown. However this new release will be a worthy successor to these previous editions.

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

William Wordsworth: Cello Music

The British Music Society has recently released a fine CD of cello and piano music. It includes works by Josef Holbrooke, William Busch and William Wordsworth.
I first came across William Wordsworth on the old Lyrita recording (RCS13) of his Piano Sonata, Op.13 which was coupled with the Cheesecombe Suite, Op.27 and the Ballade, Op.41. I was very impressed with this music but did not expect to hear much more from his pen. A few years later, about 1986, I was staying at a bed and breakfast in Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. One wet day the lady of the house allowed me to look at her record collection. Amongst the Delibes and Schubert was an LP of music by Wordsworth. So I had an enjoyable hour listening to the String Quartet, Op. 30, the Three Wordsworth Lyrics, Op.45 and the Four Lyrics, Op.17. The record player was not great, but I got the message: this was a composer I could do business with. Finally, in 1990 Lyrita (SRCD 207) issued the First and Second Symphonies. These were eloquent and powerful additions to the symphonic repertoire that had lain undiscovered for too long. And then virtually nothing – until this present disc.

Two of the composer’s three Cello Sonatas are presented on this CD alongside the Nocturne, Op.29 and the Scherzo, Op.42. I would suggest beginning the exploration of this music with the Scherzo which was written in 1949 at a time when the composer was at his most successful – at least in eyes of the public. This is a short piece that hovers somewhere between Bartok and something a little bit more British. It is a work that places huge demands on both soloists with complex chromatic writing and incisive rhythms. The programme notes point out that there is no trio section as such; on the other hand a long ‘espressivo’ tune ties the work to its British roots.
The Nocturne (1946) was originally written for the viola da gamba, but was reworked for cello. The opening bars suggest that this is a reflective and introverted piece. However the middle section becomes much more animated with an intense relationship building up between piano and a cadenza-like line for the cellist. The music calms down and the opening mood is restored. Nevertheless, all is not as it seems. The work does not close with a sense of calm, but with suppressed despair.
Turning attention to the two cello sonatas. Wordsworth had already composed his Sonata No.1 for cello in E, Op. 9 back in 1937. Unfortunately, this is not presently available on CD. The programme notes suggest that the Sonata No.2 in G minor, Op. 66 is the composer’s most important work for cello and piano. It was composed in 1959, the year that he met Dmitri Shostakovich and it certainly manages to reflect some of the musical thought of that composer. However, I have to disagree with Malcolm MacDonald in his view that this present work is ‘often depressive’ although I agree with him that it is certainly ‘dark-hued’. Certainly, there is no doubt that this is a deeply serious work – yet the Sonata is in a rhapsodic form that balances an unyielding musical force with a strong sense of the lyrical to great effect. Although it is written in a single movement, it is subdivided into three sections with the two outer ones being thematically related. The ‘adagio’ is a different matter. This is much more expressive and is largely introspective, without becoming too disheartening. Scott Goddard, writing in a contemporary review, has suggested, ‘The whole work has the quality of intelligent communication between two interested parties intent of solving a mutually rewarding problem.’ It is a good summary of this fine work that most certainly should be in the repertoire of all cellists. The work was first performed at the Wigmore Hall with William Pleeth and Margaret Good.
The last of Wordsworth’s pieces on this CD is the Sonata for Violoncello, Op.70. This was written in 1961 around the time that the composer had returned to Scotland. Compared to the ‘large-scale and strenuous’ G minor Sonata, this is a much more relaxed piece that surely owes more to J.S. Bach than to more contemporary composers. The work is written in a well-balanced three movements with the slow movement being first. Perhaps the most impressive part of this work is the fine ‘allegro scherzando’ which contrasts disjointed melodic phrases with an eerie essay in harmonics. The final bars are complex and involve chords and pizzicato. The third movement opens with a ‘sostenuto’ passage before launching into a ‘rough, acidulated’ jig-like ‘allegro.’ The sleeve notes point out that the final coda reveals this jig as a variation on the sonata’s opening theme. I do not normally get pleasure from music for solo cello, but this Sonata is both enjoyable and often quite moving. Once again it demands recognition: there are other solo cello works that Bach, Britten and Kodaly!

William Wordsworth's cello music can be heard on British Music Society BMS436CD

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published

Friday, 15 October 2010

Shelford Walsh: Two Short Anecdotes from his book Operatics.

I quote two anecdotes from a book by the opera coach, a certain Mr Shelford Walsh who may have hailed from Harrogate! His best known piece of writing is a book called “Operatics or How to Produce an Opera with numerous G&S anecdotes. It was published in 1903. Naturally what counted as great wit in those days would probably not raise more than a wry smile nowadays. However, the two anecdotes below are good examples of his humour. G&S enthusiasts will need no commentary on these stories.

One evening, after rehearsal, at a neighbouring hostelry the conversation turned upon the question as to which was the chef-d'ouvre of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. After some discussion a gentleman who had imbibed rather freely, and who had listened to the expression of divers opinions, said, "Well, gentlemen, I think the two best of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas are ‘Pirates of the Guard’ and ‘Yeomen of Penzance.'" Like his drinks, a little bit mixed forsooth.

Cries from "the Gods" are sometimes most disconcerting. A policeman named Murphy had got into great disfavour in a town in which an amateur performance of "The Pirates of Penzance" was being given. He was like the constable who was said to have arrested "a pair of boots for being tight," as he was always running in some poor beggar for a trivial offence. When the gentleman impersonating the sergeant of police in the opera made his entry, accompanied by the stalwart members of the force, a local gallery wag shouted out, "Hallo! Murphy, who are you after now? "And yet the noble band of "Coppers" maintained that stolid expression which is required in the scene.
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Shelford Walsh, Operatics, or How to produce and Opera, Littlebury Brothers, Liverpool, 1903 (with minor edits)

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

John Ireland: Piano Music on SOMM Volume 3

John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Rhapsody (1915) Two Pieces (1929-30) February’s Child & Aubade Four Preludes (1913-15) The Undertone, Obsession; The Holy Boy & Fire of Spring; Two Pieces (1925) April & Bergomask; Ballad of London Nights (1930) The Almond Tree (1913) Three Dances (1913) Gipsy Dance, Country Dance & Reaper’s Dance; Prelude in Eb (1924) First Rhapsody (1905-06) Mark Bebbington (piano)
SOMM SOMMCD 099 [75:48]

This is the third volume of John Ireland’s piano music to be recorded by Mark Bebbington for the SOMM label. I imagine that the remaining works will be squeezed onto a fourth volume which I hope will be released as soon as possible.

The Rhapsody (1915) is a work that could call forth a lot of comment and analysis. I shall spare the reader by making three observations. Firstly, this work balances two important thematic statements- the first is ‘rugged and assertive’ and the second is ‘more pastoral and reflective in tone.’ The progress of the music between themes is assisted by complex and largely decorative passages which are in themselves a vital part of this work and are totally satisfying. Secondly, this contrasting structure and the general mood of the music surely reflect the dark days of the First World War –the work was composed during 1915. And thirdly, it has long been known that in spite of the title, this work has connections –both emotionally and musically with The Forgotten Rite, Sarnia and even Chelsea Reach. The Rhapsody has been declared as being a ‘symphonic poem for piano’. It is a good assessment for what must be one of the composer’s finest works. It is given an excellent, perceptive performance here.

February’s Child (Two Pieces) was composed in 1929 as a birthday greeting to A.G.M. (Arthur G. Miller). Christopher Palmer has written that this piece has more than a hint of ‘wild flower freshness’ and that winter has been banished and spring welcomed in. The piece is more subtle and harmonically complex than the opening phrase may suggest.
Aubade, the second of the Two Pieces is interesting in that it was conceived as a complexity of metrical patterns with changes to the time signature in almost every other bar. This ‘morning song’ is a beautiful evocation of (possibly) the Sussex countryside. Yet there are some harder edged moments in this work that belie any naively pastoral interpretation. It is a world away from some of the earlier pieces such as Daydream and Meridian.

I have long felt that the Four Preludes are a somewhat mixed bag. In fact I am not convinced that they need to be played as a group, although they usually are. They were composed over a period of time between 1913 and 1915 and were first performed by the composer at the Aeolian Hall in June 1918. The Undertone is one of my favourite pieces of Ireland’s piano music; the introverted, reflective nature of this piece is so typical of the composer. The second prelude, Obsession was described by the Musical Times correspondent as being ‘a difficult and somewhat repellent movement’ a view which although I do not agree with entirely, I have some sympathy with. The Holy Boy has been ‘dished up’ in a wide variety of arrangements over the years; however the piano piece was the original. This deceptively simple piece was written on Christmas Day 1913 and was dedicated to Bobby Glassby, who was a chorister at St Luke’s Church, in Chelsea. The last prelude, The Fire of Spring is the finest of the set. Edwin Evans called it a ‘rhapsodical outburst’ and the Musical Times critic described it as ‘a highly original and effective piece.’

April (Two Pieces) was one of John Ireland’s favourites, which he recorded several times. For many listeners this music epitomises the natural world that the composer so loved. Ireland had taken up lodgings at Ashington in Sussex and had recently visited Dorset. This is an impressionistic piece that surely evokes images of blossom and spring flowers? Bergomask (Two Pieces) uses material from April but is in a totally different mood. This is dance music and as Christopher Palmer has noted, may be inspired by Verlaine or the Commedia dell’arte. Bergomask was originally a ‘rustic dance, so called in ridicule of the people of Bergamo, in Italy, once noted for their clownishness.’ The title was also used by Debussy and Fauré. Both April and Bergomask were composed in 1925.

I have always enjoyed The Ballade of London Nights since first hearing Eric Parkin play it on the Chandos edition of Ireland’s piano music. The composer had left this work unfinished at the time of his death in 1962. However Stewart Craggs dates this piece as having been composed in 1930. After the composer’s death the work was found in a ‘drawer full of manuscripts’ by Norah Kirby. It was completed by Alan Rowlands who did not add new material but made use of the piece’s opening material. It was published by Boosey and Hawkes in 1968. It is one of a group of works in which the composer defines the mood of London – these include the London Pieces and the London Overture. Bruce Phillips suggests that the work may have been inspired by a reading of Arthur Symons’ book of poems entitled London Nights. The work may or may not be programmatic in its concept – either way this music is impressive and thoroughly enjoyable. The ‘programme’ may suggest a ‘night on the town’ in Soho followed by a late night walk along the river to Chelsea.

The impressionistic The Almond Trees is a piece that is rarely performed. It was published in 1920, but was probably composed in 1913. Christopher Palmer has explained the genesis of this piece. Ireland was walking back to Gunter Grove in Chelsea when he saw an old Japanese print in an antique shop. It showed an almond tree blossoming against a gorgeous blue sky. The shop was closed and the composer was unable to buy the print there and then. When he returned the next day, the print had already been sold. As Palmer put it, ‘Print, tree, sky, and disappointment’ – all are heard in this evocative piece.

I am glad that SOMM have seen fit to record the Three Dances from 1913, in spite of the fact that they are usually regarded as educational pieces aimed at children; I have always enjoyed these short pieces – perhaps because I can play them! However, the listener should not be misled by their presumed simplicity- they are excellent examples of didactic music that can easily trip up the careless or over confident player. Needless to say they are played to perfection here. As far as I am aware, only Daniel Adni has previously recorded them. Bebbington takes these works seriously and gives a convincing performance.

The Prelude in E flat is the only piece of Ireland’s shorter piano pieces that does not have a descriptive title. This ‘grimly serious bit of work’ was dated 22 February 1924 and was probably written to fulfil a demand from the publisher. The piece was originally entitled Penumbra, which means a shadowy, indefinite area or image. Bruce Philips suggests that this work is about ‘youth and the passing of pleasure and passion’, a subject that was very much part of John Ireland's psyche. In spite of the ‘academic’ title this piece comes very close to revealing the heart of the composer.

The ‘First’ Rhapsody dating from 1906 is given its first performance on this CD. However I do wonder if anyone hearing this piece with an innocent ear would conclude it was composed by John Ireland. Bruce Phillips notes that the composer may have withheld this work from publication because of its ‘overt, but nevertheless, striking virtuosity.’ There is no doubt to any listener that Ireland has produced a piece of music that nods fairly and squarely towards Rachmaninov and Liszt. So, on face value this is not a typical piece by the composer. We could not deduce Sarnia, or even his published Rhapsody of 1915 from this music. Yet there are moments when Ireland does step up to the plate. Some of the quieter passages may reflect the mood of the slow movement of the 1st Violin Sonata or even the later Soliloquy for piano, for example. Yet the vitality and drama of this piece is never in doubt: it is a work that often wears its heart on its sleeve, yet never becomes simply a pastiche of the above mentioned composers. I am pleased to have been able to hear this ‘new’ Ireland work and can safely say that I believe it must now be added to the ‘received canon’ of his piano music. It is a beautiful piece that is fully worthy of its composer.

It is good that enthusiasts of John Ireland now have (nearly) five editions of the ‘complete’ piano music, although none of these are actually complete editions of all the published and manuscript works. It would be a brave reviewer who chose between editions – Alan Rowlands on Lyrita, Eric Parkin on Chandos and Lyrita and John Lenehan on Naxos. However Mark Bebbington does given an excellent account of all the pieces played on this third volume (as he did on the other two) and has shown himself to be a strong advocate for John Ireland’s piano music. Ultimately, there is no choice to be made between these versions. Anyone who loves this piano music will need and demand all these recordings. Bebbington is, therefore essential listening.
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Alan Gray: The Legend of the Rock-Buoy Bell

Recently I posted a list of some twenty cantatas and oratorios from the Novello catalogue which have totally disappeared from repertoire. I suggested that it was unlikely that any of them would be heard this side of paradise. One of them was Dr. Alan Gray's 'The Legend of the Rock-Buoy Bell' I had learned that this piece was first performed on the 18th October 1893 at the fifth Hovingham Festival, so it was not difficult to track down the review. Whether this will inspire anyone to perform the work is a matter of debate – but it certainly shows that Gray was no slouch and that the work was well received and contained much fine music.
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Hovingham is a small village in the North Riding of Yorkshire with less than a thousand inhabitants. In 1893 it was considerable less possibly reaching three figures. Certainly it was seen as being the smallest concert venue in the country. Nevertheless the reviewer noted that this village is ‘fortunate in having three gentlemen who, among them, possess both the will and the ability necessary to carry the Festival to a successful issue. Canon Hudson, Rector of the neighbouring parish of Gilling, who, since his Cambridge days, has been well known in the musical world as an amateur of conspicuous ability, is the Conductor and artistic head of affairs; Sir William Worsley provides the concert-room in a spacious riding-school attached to his residence; and in Mr. E. S. Horton the Festival is provided with an honorary secretary whose energy and good nature make him well fitted for the endless duties that fall to his lot.’
A number of works were performed over the two days including Sir Arthur Sullivan’s The Golden Legend, Robert Schumann’s Piano concerto, Mendelssohn’s 'Hymn of Praise' and J.S. Bach’s Concerto for two violins. However, it was the first performance of Alan Gray’s work that engaged most of the review. I quote the relevant section in full.
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“To those, on the other hand, who hold that a Festival which produces no fresh work, or revives no neglected work, has, in a measure, failed of its purpose, the presence in the programme of a new choral composition by Dr. Alan Gray, the Organist of Trinity College, Cambridge, would be a matter for satisfaction. Dr. Gray, who, as a native of York, had a locus standi [1] not to be gainsaid, had chosen for his subject a poem by Mrs. S. K. Phillips, ‘The Legend of the Rock-Buoy Bell.’ Of this he has fashioned a choral ballad, very much on the lines of Professor Stanford's ‘Revenge.’ The tradition embodied in the poem is to the effect that a soul whose chief sin has been the leading astray of others is condemned to expiate its fault by adding its voice to that of the rock-buoy bell at the entrance to Whitby harbour. As the mission of the bell is to direct mariners in the right direction, the significance of the punishment is obvious. Dr. Gray's Leeds Cantata ‘Arethusa’ had led us to expect a more than ordinary measure of constructive skill, refinement, and thoughtfulness in his music. All these are to be found in his latest work, which also shows a power and an ease not so traceable in its predecessor.
The suitability of the subject for musical treatment lies chiefly in the opportunities it presents for the musical suggestion of natural phenomena. Thus we have the ‘Sweep of the great North Sea,’ the ‘Rising gale,’ the ‘Fog veiling all beneath,’ the ‘Ripples laughing and leaping,’ and the ‘Fierce Nor'-Easter,’ all of which in turn are very happily depicted, or rather suggested, for Dr. Gray has, with the possible exception of a few bars of storm music in which vigour may be thought to predominate over abstract beauty, been most careful to observe Beethoven's maxim: ‘Mehr Ausdruck der Empfindung als Malerei.’ [2] But, as this musical landscape-painting is hardly the highest effort of which the art is capable, we should be inclined to lay greater stress on the beauty of the more emotional passages in the work, such as that in which the erring spirit seeks for grace on the plea of a Saviour's atoning death. Here the halting utterances of the voices and the general impressiveness of the music call for warm commendation, as does the poetic ending of the ballad, in which the voices and orchestra alternate with admirable effect. The performance, under the composer's direction, was, on the whole, the best in the whole Festival, the chorus-singing being in particular remarkable for its vigour and accuracy.”
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The Musical Times November 1 1893 (with minor edits)

[1] locus standi – right to be heard
[2] Mehr Ausdruck der Empfindung als Malerei – More expression of feeling than painting

Saturday, 9 October 2010

William Alwyn: Cricketty Mill -review of the sheet music.

William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Cricketty Mill for piano
Published by The William Alwyn Foundation WAF001

I was delighted to receive a copy of the sheet music for this fascinating little piano piece by William Alwyn. The publication of Cricketty Mill is a new venture for the Foundation, and represents the first of a series of works by the composer that will be published for the first time. The main emphasis will be on instrumental and chamber music.

Three things make this particular score outstanding –apart from the music itself! Firstly, there is an excellent mini-biography of the composer written by Andrew Knowles, which succinctly provides an overview of the composer’s life and works. I have often wondered when a pianist or piano teacher picks up a piece of music, just how much they actually know about the composer and their other work. Supplementary to this biography is a short paragraph or two about the work of The William Alwyn Foundation, which carries out such an important role for the furthering of the composer’s music. Secondly, there is an excellent black and white studio photograph of the composer at his piano. The front cover of the work not unnaturally has a picture of Cricketty Mill itself. And thirdly, the most innovative part of this score is the 300 word programme note for the piece. It is most welcome, and must surely help any pianist to interpret this short work.
The score was realised from the original manuscript by John Turner

For many years I have known (and attempted to play) William Alwyn’s Green Hills, which is an impressionistic piano piece that effectively paints a musical picture. However, this work was one of a pair – the other was Cricketty Mill. Both pieces were written for the pianist and composer Hugo Anson, however only the former was accepted for publication by Oxford University Press. Apparently the latter was deemed to be ‘too hard.’

‘Cricketty Mill’ is a ‘real’ place and not a creation of the composer’s imagination- in spite of the Walter de la Mare-ish title. Andrew Knowles states that it refers to a small mill “situated south west of Bisley Village in the Cotswolds, on the stream that flows down to join the Toadsmoor Brook.” Perhaps this suggests Kenneth Grahame and his Wind in the Willows as the inspiration!
William Alwyn has prefaced his score with the following original poem:-
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Clear and anxious
Murmurs the stream
At Cricketty Mill
Under the Hill
Hang dark shadows…
…fairy haunts.
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The air is hot
With busy sounds
And, always echoing
Wedding Bells
Ripple in the Brook.

The piece opens with the sound of the murmuring of the mill stream in the accompaniment. Slowly a tune emerges which is surely influenced by John Ireland and his The Island Spell. The melody expands into chords, before being subjected to subtle changes of harmony and soon building up to a nice bitter-sweet climax. The second section is less liquid – in fact it could suggest a hardness of even iciness. The main tune is finally presented in big chords before the music comes to a virtual stop. The murmuring begins again –with the pedal being used to blur the music. Once again the music comes to a halt. The third section is really quite dreamy: Alwyn uses soft chords to suggest a hot summer’s day. Yet the water returns and the figuration of the mill wheel reappears for one last time. After a drowsy passage the works ends quietly.
The work is not easy and demands a considerable technique to both play and interpret.

As Cricketty Mill is a recent ‘discovery’, and was probably not given at recitals there is little in the way of reviews. However Jonathan Woolf, writing for MusicWeb International notes that this work is ‘replete with tricky John Ireland impressionism – fluent, fluid, rising to a more assertive chordal bronze tone when required.’ William Norris reviewing for MusicalCriticism.com notes that Cricketty Mill harkens back to impressionism, painting a musical picture of a tranquil location in the Cotswolds.
In conclusion, this publication is a model of how a score should be presented – biography, programme note and photo of the composer –and not forgetting a well edited and clear musical notation by John Turner. I look forward to reviewing further titles as and when they are released.

Meanwhile, Cricketty Mill can be heard played by Ashley Wass on Naxos 8.570359 Other works on this CD include the Sonata alla Toccata, the Fantasy Waltzes and some ‘educational’ pieces that are attractive and deserve our respect.

This sheet music can be purchased from:-
Mr Andrew Knowles
30 Florida Avenue
Hartford, Huntingdon
Cambs. PE29 1PY
TEL: 01480-456931
Mobile: 0788 1785274
http://www.blogger.com/apkmusicprom@ntlworld.com
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

A Pause for Thought: Some Lost Choral Works

I recently found a copy of Hamish MacCunn’s dramatic cantata The Lay of the Last Minstrel in a second-hand music shop. It is one of the many published by Novello in the distinctive buff and carmine cover.
However it was not this particular piece of music that immediately demanded my attention: it was the list of the Novello Edition of Oratorios, Cantatas, Operas and Masses that take up some eight pages at the back of the score and listing some eight of nine hundred works. Naturally some are famous – many of Bach’s cantatas, Elgar’s contributions to the world of choral singing and Masses by Schubert, Mozart and Palestrina. However it is the dozens of works that have totally and utterly disappeared that interested me. These fall into two main categories – forgotten composers and their music and composers who are still appreciated and listened to (even if only sporadically), but whose essays in these categories have been largely lost in the mists of time. I will give ten examples of this latter category and then list ten pieces by the former composers that seem to promise much.

Granville Bantock: The Great God Pan
Rutland Boughton: The Skeleton in Armour
Samuel Coleridge Taylor: Bon-Bon Suite
Benjamin Dale: Before the Paling of the Stars
Gustav Holst: King Estemere
C.H. Lloyd: Sir Ogie and the Ladie Elsie
Alexander Mackenzie: The Witch’s Daughter
Hubert Parry: The Pied Piper of Hamelin (from many)
Charles Villiers Stanford: The Battle of the Baltic
Arthur Sullivan: The Exhibition Ode

The ten works by forgotten composers are based simply on the attractiveness of the title and not any objective evidence as to their style and musical quality. Hubert Bath is recalled for his Cornish Rhapsody and Percy Fletcher still holds a position in the world of brass bands –but they are hardly household names!

Hubert Bath: The Wake of O’Connor
Hugh Blair: Trafalgar
W.H. Cummings: Fairy Ring
Percy E. Fletcher: Toy Review (for children)
M.R. Foster: Bonnie Fishwives
Alan Gray: The Legend of the Rock-Buoy Bell
J.A. Moonie: Killiecrankie
R. Luard Selby: Summer by the Sea
J.M. Smieton: Ariadne
A.G. Thomas: The Sun-Worshippers

The list could go on and on. I guess that we will never hear these works this side of paradise. But it is a sobering thought to imagine that each of these works and the dozens of others were once deemed worthy of publication. Each and every one of the above pieces must have raised the spirits of their composers.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Ian Venables: Forthcoming CD of Chamber Music on SOMM

One of the highlights of British Music for 2010 will be the launch of Ian Venables’ new CD from SOMM. Venables is well known in musical circles for his vocal music and has been described as 'one of the finest song composers of his generation.’ He has written more than fifty works in this genre, including a number of song-cycles:many of these songs have been recorded and issued on CD.
However, Venables has written a good deal over the years for chamber ensembles including music for wind instruments and piano and a string quartet. So it is good to see that SOMM have chosen to release a retrospective of some five pieces from this repertoire.

Quoting from the pre-release notes from SOMM:-
Of the premiere recordings on this disc, The Piano Quintet Op. 27 (1995) - described by Roderic Dunnett in the Independent as ‘…lending a new late 20th- Century dimension to the English pastoral…’ was premiered at the Malvern Festival in 1996 by The Duke Quartet and pianist Scott Mitchell. The Soliloquy for piano and viola Op. 26 was commissioned by the Three Choirs Festival in 1995, as a result of the composer’s friendship with the then Three Choirs Secretary, the author, Anthony Boden. The Poem for Cello and Piano Op. 29 was written as the result of a commission from Thomas and Doreen Somerville to celebrate the 40th birthday of their son Bryce. This is a sombre work which belies the celebratory nature of the commission and is passionate, despairing and resigned by turns.

Based on Ian Venables’ String Quartet, Op. 32 and his Elegy for Cello and Piano, Op.2 this will be a disc well worth waiting for. And what is more, I have been invited to the CD launch – so a report on that as well as a review of the CD will feature in future posts!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Cyril Scott : Violin Sonatas on Naxos

Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Violin Sonata No. 1, Op.59 (1908) Sonata Melodica (1950)Violin Sonata No. 3 (1955)
Clare Howick (violin); Sophia Rahman (piano)
NAXOS 8.572290

In 2007 Dutton released a CD of violin and piano music by Cyril Scott that included a number of his shorter essays in this medium alongside the major, mature Sonata Lirica. Some three years later Naxos has just issued a further three Sonatas from both ends of the composer’s creative life. Nothing is said on the CD cover (or elsewhere) as to whether this is a ‘first volume’ or whether it is simply a one-off. Yet one thing is clear – on the basis of the recorded music presently available for violin and piano from Scott’s pen, we desperately need to complete the canon, as it were. Two major sonatas remain unrecorded alongside the two Sonnets, the Irish Suite, Cherry Ripe and the Irish air Gentle Maiden. Let us hope that these pieces will be forthcoming. Meanwhile the three Sonatas presented in this CD are all important contributions to the genre.

The First Sonata was composed in 1908 and was premiered in March of that year. It was dedicated to the composer Ethel Barns. This is a large four movement work that lasts for nearly half an hour. At the time of its performance it was regarded as extremely advanced and technically challenging. It is full of big themes that are marshalled with skill and power. Typically the shifting harmonies used in this work are gorgeous – some reviewers have suggested that parts of this work are ‘Delian’ in their mood.

The first movement is tightly controlled, in spite of often being rhapsodic in mood. The music is not written in a formal sonata-form as there is no recapitulation of the two main themes. In fact, after the development section the music moves immediately to a powerful and imposing coda.
The ‘andante mistico’ is exactly that: it is deliberately unfocused music that creates an impressionistic mood that captures the imagination in spite of the fact that it reminds the listener of a number of composers including Ravel, Ireland and Delius. Yet this is beautiful music that remains in the mind long after the work has concluded.
Eaglefield Hull has noted that the third movement, which is really the ‘scherzo’, has been likened to the ‘playfulness of monkeys in a tropical forest.’ It is not a metaphor that strikes me as being pertinent, save that it does highlight the total contrast between this music and the preceding ‘exotic melancholy’ of the second movement. However, monkeys or not, the ‘allegro molto scherzando’ is exhilarating and balances fine violin playing with piano writing that includes glissandi and spread chords. There is a reflective middle section that nods back to the previous movement; however this does not last long, before the exuberance returns and brings this short scherzo to a rollicking end.
The final movement is similar to the first in that it is composed in a modified sonata form: it has two contrasting themes and once again dispenses with a formal recapitulation. These subjects are developed with care and skill, providing music that never loses interest.
This Sonata is deeply felt and blends feelings of highly charged emotion with a sense of resignation. Somehow Cyril Scott has, in this Sonata managed to square that particular circle.
The second piece is subtitled Sonata Melodica. This three movement work was composed in 1950 and was first performed at the Music Teachers Association Concert in London the following year. The conventional wisdom appears to be that this is, by definition more relaxed than many of Scott’s chamber works. However, I have listened to it twice and I do not really feel that it is particularly less intense or involved than other works of this period. In fact, the melodic and harmonic resources used are both complex and at times aggressive. Yet, there are moments when a filigree of magic takes to the air. Certainly, the first movement, which is nearly as long as the second and third combined, manages to present a huge contrast in emotional resources. On face value the ‘adagio ma non troppo’ would seem to be reflective and ‘pensive’ but even here there are attempts to destroy the mood by the use of forceful piano chords that dispel the enchantment. However the serenity finally triumphs and brings the movement to a quiet close. This mood of tranquillity is shattered by the dynamic ‘allegro vigoroso’ that balances a well-crafted toccata-like melodic line with something a lot wilder and perhaps improvisatory. The conclusion of this movement and of the work is positive, but somewhat disturbing. The calm of the last bars of the adagio are not reiterated.

The latest piece on this CD is the Third Violin Sonata, written in 1955 when the composer was 76 years old. It certainly cannot be seen as the work of an elderly man at the end of his composing career. In fact Scott was to live and compose until he was nearly ninety years old.
From the opening unaccompanied violin statement this work unfolds its argument in a lyrical, but much more astringent manner than the previous two sonatas. The programme notes suggest that in spite of the first movement being signed ‘tranquillo’ the music gains a darker colouring and ‘expressive fervour’. Here and there pastoral phrases ease the tension but never entirely dissipate the concentration of the argument. The intensity is relaxed a little as the violin recollects earlier material, before bringing the movement to an ‘impassioned’ close.
The second movement, a ‘pastorale: andante amabile’ is described as ranking ‘amongst the most lilting and unaffected in all Scott’s chamber output.’ Certainly, this music is in total contrast to the previous movement. However, the musical material is not in any way ‘typically’ pastoral: this is not a sunny landscape in the Home Counties, but something just a little bleaker. In fact, this is deeply introspective music that haunts the listener.
The final Rondo Capriccioso is in complete contrast, yet this is not a jolly rondo that casts care to the winds. It is an intense piece that balances a vigorous tune with a ‘secondary theme [that] brings a measure of calm’ but never manages to raise the largely dark tones of this movement and work.

All the music on this CD is played with conviction and sympathy. To my knowledge, there are no other recordings of these three Sonatas available for comparison; however my impression is that these works are given an absolutely ideal performance.

The sleeve-notes are well written by Richard Whitehouse and provide sufficient information for listeners to appreciate the music. Apart from a few pages about the First Sonata by A. Eaglefield Hull in his 1918 study of the composer, there is virtually nothing written about these works: there is a need for a major study of the music of Cyril Scott. When this book is eventually written it will be discovered that Scott’s music developed in a very subtle but quite definite manner over the years of his composing life. There is also a tension between his art music and his more commercial pieces: there is a huge difference between the potboilers such as Rainbow Trout, Lotusland and the Irish Reel and the slow movement of the Third Violin Sonata. However, great as the differences may be, they are clearly by the same composer.

Finally, these three Sonatas are all important and rewarding pieces that deserve to be in the repertoire. I have a personal preference for the ‘capricious and ruminative’ First Sonata; however, the other later works are both absorbing and demanding. The Second is a little more ‘relaxed’ in mood whilst the last is ‘one of most inventive works from Scott’s later years’.

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published