Saturday, 31 March 2012

British Light Music on Regis


Charles Williams (1893-1978) Devil’s Galop (Dick Barton, Special Agent) Robert Farnon (1917-2005) Portrait of a Flirt (In Town Tonight) Ray Martin (1918-1988) Marching Strings (Top of the Form) Arthur Wood (1875-1953) Barwick Green (The Archers) Robert Farnon (1917-2005) Sunny Side Up (BBC Light Programme) Ron Goodwin (1925-2003) Red Cloak Sidney Torch (1908-1990) London Transport Suite:-‘The Hansom Cab’, ‘Rosie The Red Omnibus’, ‘5.52 from Victorloo’ Angela Morley (1924-2009) Starlight George Siravo (1916-2000) Bumps-A-Daisy Eric Coates (1886-1957) By the Sleepy Lagoon (Desert Island Discs) Television March , ‘Knightsbridge March’ from London Suite, The Merrymakers, Miniature Overture,  Calling All Workers (Music While You Work) ‘Oxford Street March’ from London Again Suite  Percy Grainger (1882-1961) Country Gardens, Shepherd’s Hey, Molly on the Shore, Londonderry Air
REGIS RRC1381
Regis has presented the listener with a perfect introduction to British (Australian!) Light Music. These historical recordings cover a diverse group of composers; however most of the tunes will be familiar, if not by title then by ‘sound’. Enthusiasts of this genre will probably have umpteen examples of each of these pieces in their CD or iPod libraries. However, for someone wishing to explore the field there could be no better place to begin.
There are many Light Music recordings these days: I recall some 30 years ago trying to track down a copy of Robert Farnon’s ‘Portrait of a Flirt’. I eventually found one on an obscure cassette tape! Nowadays there are seven versions listed on Arkiv and no doubt many more lurking in compilations.
Recordings of this type of musical work tend to come in two guises- one is ‘historical’ and the other is freshly minted. Ronald Corp’s adventures on Hyperion are a good example of the latter, whereas the massive cycle of Guild Light Music CDs reflects the huge interest in the former.
The present collection has been lightly ‘themed’. The first ‘part’ includes works by a number of composers, the second has six well-known pieces by Eric Coates and finally there are four tunes by the Australian composer, Percy Grainger.
Many light music pieces have been used in TV or Radio programmes as ‘signature’ tunes. Appropriately these have been noted in the liner notes. I confess that some are before my time! However many are still in use such as Coates’ ‘Sleepy Lagoon’ used for Desert Island Discs, and Arthur Wood’s ‘Barwick Green’ from The Archers. Special highlights on this CD include Robert Farnon’s rarely heard ‘swinging’ piece ‘Sunny-Side Up’. Another gem is the London Transport Suite by Sidney Torch. Here we can enjoy the escapades of travel in the Capital from an earlier day. ‘The Hansom Cab’ rattles down the Strand, ‘Rosie the Red Omnibus’ waits for passengers outside Harrods and the shoppers are on-board the ‘5.52 from Victorloo’! Intellectuals will enjoy Ray Martin’s ‘Marching Strings’ which was used in Top of the Form! Detective-novel enthusiasts will relish Charles Williams’ once ubiquitous ‘Devil’s Galop’ that featured in Dick Barton, Special Agent. I had not come across Ron Goodwin’s ‘Red Cloak’, with its lavish Iberian mood: it is an impressive little piece.  And finally, Angela Morley’s romantic ‘Starlight’ is the perfect complement to Farnon’s ‘Flirt.’

Eric Coates is well represented on this disc with extracts from his two fine London Suites – the ‘Knightsbridge March’ and the equally catchy, but less often heard ‘Oxford Street March’.  I particularly enjoyed the hard-to-find ‘Television March’ dating from 1946 – the early days of ‘telly’ indeed.  The ‘Merrymakers Overture’ is a little gem which really epitomises the genre, was composed as early as 1922. All the Coates pieces are recordings of the composer conducting the London Philharmonic or Symphony Orchestras. So they are in many ways definitive, although I do wonder if they were ‘paced’ to fit on one side of a 78rpm record.

It is a little unusual to include Percy Grainger in a compilation such as this –especially with four pieces. However these ‘favourites’ performed by Frederick Fennell and the Eastman-Rochester ‘Pop’s Orchestra will belay any concerns. Whatever genre they fall into these are four little masterpieces. And Grainger did spend time on London, so he could be perhaps he regarded as an ‘honorary’ Englishman’ – at least for the purposes of this CD! I especially enjoyed ‘Molly on the Shore’, although ‘Country Gardens’ and the ‘Londonderry Air’ are by far the best known pieces.

This CD is billed as ‘super budget’ and certainly at £5.50 is excellent value for money. The liner notes are helpful and the programme is broad. Finally the sound quality of these pieces is excellent, bearing in mind that they were ‘laid down’ between 1931 and 1960. 
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Ina Boyle: The Magic Harp – a contemporary review

Further to my post about Ina Boyle’s beautiful tone pome The Magic Harp, I discovered this review in The Musical Time. I have to say that I find it somewhat patronising. I have included the notice of S.H. Braithwaite’s Symphonic Scherzo, 'A Night by Dalegarth Bridge' as it is one of a number of works that I hope are rediscovered.
‘The date (December 16) of the eleventh concert of the series coinciding with the anniversary of Beethoven's birth, it was only natural and fitting that Mr Dan Godfrey should include in the programme one of the master's finest works-the Seventh Symphony.
Another interesting feature of the afternoon was the first performance here of a I920 Carnegie award composition: Ina Boyle's Rhapsody, 'The Magic Harp.' It is a pleasure to welcome the advent of another recruit to the small company of women composers, and though 'The Magic Harp' cannot be accounted a work of great significance or originality, yet it yields no small measure of fragrance and charm.
One of the cleverest novelties of the present season was produced at this concert- the Symphonic Scherzo, 'A Night by Dalegarth Bridge' (S. H. Braithwaite), which had its first public performance. A composition of the most delicate fancy - and, too, of mature workmanship -it reaped an instantaneous success, creating an impression that Mr. Braithwaite will go far as a composer. The delightful music was beautifully played’.
The Musical Times, February 1921 [with minor edits]

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Joyce Book of Songs: 13 songs by (mainly) British Composers

As part of my background reading for the review of The C.W. Orr Songbook I consulted Jane Wilson’s excellent biography – C.W. Orr – The Unknown Song Composer. This book was published in 1989 by Thames Publishing.  I discovered a reference to The Joyce Book of Songs.
Wilson explains that in 1929 friends of James Joyce were concerned about the writer facing poverty in Paris after the scandal resulting from the publication and subsequent banning of Ulysses.  Apparently, the composers Herbert Hughes and Arthur Bliss met in Paris whilst attending a chamber music festival organised by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge.  It was decided to publish a volume of songs which were to be settings of James Joyce’s collection Pomes Penyeach.  Thirteen composers were to set one poem each.  Naturally, this was to be ‘gratis’ as all royalties were to go to the author.
According to Jane Wilson, Herbert Hughes was to be editor. Hubert Foss designed the book. Augustus John drew the frontispiece which was a sketch of Joyce. The Irish poet James Stephens wrote the 'Prologue' and a poem. Padraic Colum and Arthur Symons provided a written text.  Only 500 copies of the music were published.
The songs were as follows:-
E.J. Moeran: Tilly
Arnold Bax: Watching the Needleboats at San Sabba
Albert Roussel: A Flower given to my daughter
Herbert Hughes: She weeps over Rahoon
John Ireland: Tutto e sciolto
Roger Sessions: On the beach at Fontana
Arthur Bliss: Simples
Herbert Howells: Flood
George Antheil: Nightpiece
Edgardo Carducci: Alone
Eugene Goossens: A memory of the players in a mirror at midnight
C.W. Orr: Bahnhofstrasse
Bernard van Dieren: A prayer
Finally, Wilson notes that ‘the publicity gained for the songs in The Joyce Book of Songs was minimal as there does to appear to have been a performance of them until the Joyce Centenary in 1982.’  As far as I am aware, there is not a recording of the entire sequence of songs, although some have been issued as individual items.
Stephen Banfield in his essential study of English Song, Sense and Sensibility has given a good discussion of the songbook. Finally, the composer Peter Dickinson wrote an essay on The Joyce Book of Songs for the BBC in 1982.  They are leads that can be explored.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Ralph Greaves: Overture High Halden- a lost work.

At the moment I do not known much about the composer Ralph Greaves. However, I came across this programme note of the first performance at Bournemouth on 23 October 1924. Little critical commentary seems to have been made of this work. Yet the description makes it sound interesting. Maybe the manuscript is out there somewhere. 
If there is any doubt as to how good this work may have been, then consider this. One of Ralph Vaughan Williams' most popular works, the Fantasia on Greensleeves was adapted from the opera,  Sir John in Love and arranged by Ralph Greaves for strings and harp with optional flute(s).
‘This little work has no ‘programme’ in the accepted sense of the word, but was suggested to the composer by the prospect of the Weald of Kent [1] seen from Sutton Hill. In the middle-distance rises High Halden, overlooking the peaceful Weald on one side, and the wide expanse of the Marsh on the other.
The two subjects of the Overture, which may be called ‘Weald’ (First Subject) and ‘Marsh’ (Second Subject) respectively, are designed to portray these two aspects.
The first subject, in 4-4 time, somewhat playful in character, is announced by bassoons, and taken up by the strings. The rest of the orchestra soon joins in; the subject is discussed and enlarged upon briefly, a short link then leading to the second subject.
This is given out by four horns in unison, in 3-4 time, to the accompaniment of spread chords on the strings. This, in turn, is taken up and elaborated by the full orchestra, in the course of which the first subject is introduced contrapuntally by celli and basses. A sudden pause is made, and then the first subject is recapitulated. A short working-out follows during which the second subject is heard given out in augmentation by the trombones. Just before the end there is a moment of calm, the celli and basses doing a muttering pizzicato figure against sustained chords on the horns. The work ends with a prolonged crescendo trill on the full orchestra’.  
Footnotes
[1] Thirty miles south of London and half way to the South coast of England lies an area of outstanding natural beauty combined with a fascinating history called the Weald.  This was, to the Saxons of 900AD, part of Andredesweald (the forest of Andred the Roman fort at Pevensey), that stretched from the marshes of Kent to the New Forest in Hampshire - 120 miles long and 30 miles wide. The Weald of Kent, Surrey and Sussex encompasses the Lancaster Great Park formed in 1372 and renamed as the Ashdown Forest in 1672. From the Weald of Kent Website

Monday, 19 March 2012

Ina Boyle: The Magic Harp: Rhapsody for Orchestra


I recently reviewed the new Dutton Epoch CD (CDLX 7276 ) of Dan Godfrey Encores. One of the treats on this disc was Ina Boyle’s ‘The Magic Harp’: Rhapsody for Orchestra.  The work was given its first performance on 16 December 1920 with Sir Dan Godfrey conducting.  It was played a number of times in succeeding years.
Ina Boyle (1889-1967) was a pupil of Ralph Vaughan Williams and this is reflected in this stunningly beautiful work. The Rhapsody received a Carnegie Award in 1919 and then taken up by Dan Godfrey in the following year. It proudly stands alongside Stanford’s Irish Rhapsodies and Hamilton Harty’s With the Wild Geese, for evoking the mood of the Emerald Isle. This magical piece achieves its success by eschewing the sentimentality of the Moore’s Irish Melodies but manages to create a mood that evokes history, myth and landscape. It is a masterpiece.

The other day, I found a programme note for the work in the Bournemouth Library: it is worth posting here.
‘The Rhapsody is based on the following note by Eva Gore-Booth [1] to her poem ‘The Harper’s Song of the Seasons.’  The Durd Alba (the wind among the apple trees) was the magical harp of the ancient gods of Ireland. It had three strings – the iron string of sleep, the bronze string of laughter, and the silver string, the sound of which made all men weep. These three strings were supposed to evoke the three seasons into which the year was then divided.’
After a short introduction, consisting of the ‘Magic Harp’ motif, followed by fragments of themes to be used later, comes the first of the three chief sections of the work, ‘molto lento e sostenuto’[2], descriptive of the frozen sleep of the earth in winter. The theme is given by the lower strings. – later brief phrases of flute and oboe suggest a gleam of wintry light, which quickly fades away. This is followed by an episode, ‘pui mosso’[3], leading to the second section, allegro leggiero e animato [4], illustrative of the gradual awakening of earth, the bursting forth of bud and blossom, and the light winds of summer. After a central portion, ‘meno mosso tranquillo’[5], the solo woodwind against a background of harp and sustained strings, the allegro is resumed working to a climax. This is interrupted when at its height by the ‘Magic Harp’ motif, the allegro is broken off, and the music dies down, leading, after a pause to the third section, ‘adagio ma non troppo’, and a lament for the fragile and fleeting loveliness of spring. A repetition of the ‘Harp’ motif brings the rhapsody to an end’.
Ina Boyle’s The Magic Harp: Rhapsody for Orchestra can be heard on YouTube

Footnotes
I have given the English terms for the musical directions. I had an email from somebody telling me that I must not assume everyone understands the terminology!
[1] Eva Selina Laura Gore-Booth (1870-1926) was an Irish poet and dramatist, and a committed suffragist, social worker and labour activist. (Wikipedia)
[2] Very slow and smoothly
[3] Faster
[4] Fast, lightly and lively
[5] Slower and calmly
[6] Slow but not too slowly!


Friday, 16 March 2012

The Complete Delius Songbook: Volume 2 on Stone Records

THE COMPLETE DELIUS SONGBOOK - VOLUME 2
Frederick Delius (1862-1934)
Five Songs from the Danish (Set 1) (c.1897) Noch ein Mal (1898) Lieder nach gedichten von Friedrich Nietzsche (1898) Four Posthumous Songs –Danish (1895/1901) Songs to Words by Various Poets –Danish & Swedish Songs to Poems by Paul Verlaine Avant que tu ne t’en ailles (1919) Eleven Early Songs –Danish, German & French (1885-1898) Five Songs from the Danish (Set 2)
Mark Stone (baritone) Stephen Barlow (piano)
STONE RECORDS 5060192780109
An excellent task for the train journey between Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston was the collation all the tracks on the first and second volumes of the Complete Delius Songbook against Mary Christian Huismann’s catalogue of Delius’ music.  ‘Volume 1’ of the Songbook contained 27 songs; ‘Volume 2’ has 34 numbers. The collation produced a couple of interesting results.
Firstly it would appear that the project is now largely complete. Out of the section listing the  ‘Songs with Pianoforte Accompaniment’ only three numbers appear to be missing. They are ‘When other lips shall speak,’ ‘Aus deinen Augen fliessen meine lieder’, from the Heine settings, although this is actually by Franz Ries, and the second of the Two Songs for Children, ‘The Streamlet’s Slumber Song.’  Included in this present volume are the Seven Danish Songs, which were issued with orchestral or piano accompaniment. Interestingly two pieces from the catalogue section II (Voices and Orchestra) have been included: - ‘Mitternachtslied Zarathustras’ (The Midnight Song of Zarathustra) and one of the Songs of Sunset. Piano accompaniments for these songs were provided by the composer.

I am not sure as to whether there is another CD due to be released: I emailed the record company to ask them, but they have not replied. Perchance they are going to issue the orchestral songs including the Maud cycle, A Late Lark and Cynara along with the remaining two songs noted above?

This brings me to my first criticism of this CD (and its predecessor). The selection of songs for each volume appears to defy analysis. The groupings given in the track listings bear little resemblance to the catalogue (Huismann’s or Threlfall’s), either in batting order or in chronology.  For example, Volume 1 included two songs from the Eleven Early Songs and the present CD has the remaining nine. The Four Posthumous Songs are split equally between the two volumes.  There is no rationale presented for this splitting and reforming of cycles and groups.

The second issue to address is whether it is a good idea to have all the Scandinavian songs sung in English. I am a bit of an anorak when it comes to this sort of thing and I like the language to be that in which it was conceived and published. I do not suggest that I am fluent in Danish or Norwegian: I am not. However, with a good translation, the original text and a following wind I get a lot of pleasure out of hearing the original language. Interestingly, the songs that were originally published in German and French are performed in those languages.

Yet as I pointed out in my review of Volume 1 of the ‘Songbook’ there are precedents for the use of English. Many of the songs have an English translation above/below the ‘foreign’ text in the vocal score, suggesting that Delius was not averse to the songs being sung in English. In fact, the composer provided some of the translations himself. It is a question on which my particular jury is currently out.
It is not necessary to comment on every song. This is a CD to explore slowly and I suggest listening to it in ‘bite-sized chunks.’ The place to begin is with the two sets ‘Five Songs from the Danish’. These are presented as they have been collected in the Complete Delius Edition. I liked the rather melancholic ‘In the seraglio garden’ and ‘Irmelin’ out of the first set and the delicious ‘Summer Night’ (On the Seashore) from the second. There is a rare beauty about these songs that makes them almost timeless.

The Four Songs by Verlaine are grouped here, but are a combination of ‘Deux Melodies’ dating from 1895 and two individual numbers composed in 1910 and 1911.  They are beautiful examples of a cosmopolitan Englishmen writing fine ‘chanson’ in the French style. There appears to be little stylistic dislocation between the former and latter songs. They are delicious numbers that are ‘with perfume laden’.
The Eleven Early Songs were only published in 1974. However, they were all composed between 1885 and 1898. The liner notes suggest that these are amongst the most conservative of the composer’s songs. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that there is little to suggest the ‘Delius that we all know and love’ these are attractive numbers that well-deserve their place in the singer’s repertoire. I was especially taken by the Heine settings ‘With your blue eyes’ and ‘A beautiful star.’
It is good to have Delius’ last completed song here – the Verlaine setting ‘Avant que tu ne t’en ailles’ – ‘Before you go away’. This was composed in 1919 and was completed and published in 1932, just two years before the composer’s death. It is a harmonically involved number that reflects the unusual structure of the poem.

 My comments about the general presentation of this CD differ little from the first volume. The performance by baritone, Mark Stone and the accompanist Stephen Barlow is superb. I was impressed with the liner notes, which include the concluding part of a short essay entitled ‘An Englishman abroad, a foreigner at home – Composing in sickness and in health.’  The commentary on the songs themselves is thorough and helpful. Text and translations are given along with a paragraph giving a brief description of their literary and musical content.
I noted in my review of Volume 1 of the Songbook that I was a little concerned about the ‘uniformity’ of the baritone voice throughout this recital. I guess I would rather have had a variety of singers where appropriate. However, this personal preference does not detract in any way from the brilliance of Stone’s performance or the validity of the Songbook project.
I have no doubt that all Delius enthusiasts will want to buy a copy of this CD. Once again, the two performers convince listeners that whilst Delius may not be in the first rank of song composers, the many songs that he did write are invariably interesting, well-constructed, often beautiful and sometimes quite moving.
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Captions (Five Glimpses of an Anonymous Theme): a couple of references


I reported the other day about this tantalising work that I discovered in the programme books of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. As I surmised, there is little 'paper trail' of this work in the ‘archives.’  However Eugene Goossens in his fascinating autobiography Overture & Beginners (Methuen, London 1951) gives a very brief account of the work’s première at the Goossens Chamber Concerts at the Aeolian Hall, London.  He writes:- 'The programme of the fourth concert was chiefly conspicuous for the first performance of a suite for chamber orchestra entitled Captions, being Five Glimpses of an Anonymous Theme. [Herbert] Bedford perpetuated the theme, and the ‘glimpses’ in the form of variations were as follows:-
Arthur Bliss: ‘Twone, the House of Felicity’
Herbert Bedford: ‘The Lonely Dancer of Gedar’
Eugene Goossens: ‘The Strange Case of Mr. X’
Felix White ‘Lament for a Long-Cherished Illusion
Gerrard Williams ‘Valsette Ignoble’
...and a finale to which, I think we all contributed anonymously. My own variation, which parodied every (up till then) known jazz device, was dedicated to Ernest Newman [1], who loathed jazz, and pretended to see its influence on the contemporary trend of the group. The rest [of the variations] including my own, were all too, too clever, and would probably be repudiated by their composers today.’

Finally I found a review in The Musical Times 1 June 1925. The reviewer, reviewing the Fourth Bournemouth Musical Festival noted that ‘the work called Captions, which was played on April 23, is amusing. It is described as five 'glimpses' of an anonymous theme-in other words, five variations of a simple theme, which are by Arthur Bliss, Herbert Bedford, Eugene Goossens, Felix White, and Gerrard Williams. Arthur Bliss is, as usual, very cheerful, Eugene Goossens brilliantly clever, and Felix White is cryptic and melancholy.’

[1] Ernest Newman (30 November 1868 – 7 July 1959) was an English music critic and musicologist.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Captions (Five Glimpses of an Anonymous Theme): A long-forgotten multi-composer work

I recently came across a programme-note for a little orchestral work that has fascinated me: in fact, I had never heard of the piece. Captions (Being Five Glimpses of an Anonymous Theme) was composed by five British composers:-
  1. ‘Twone, the House of Felicity’ (Moderato) Arthur Bliss
  2. ‘The Lonely Dancer of Gedar’ (Andante grazioso  Herbert Bedford
  3. ‘The Strange Case of Mr. X’ (Molto ritmico) Eugene Goossens
  4. ‘Lament for a Long-Cherished Illusion' (Adagio) Felix White
  5. ‘Valsette Ignoble’ (Allegro) Gerrard Williams

Now, I have not had an opportunity to investigate the ‘reception history’ of this piece in the newspapers and musical journals. Nor have I looked at the Bliss catalogue and source-book. Information about the other four gentlemen is sparse. However, there is a footnote in Goossens excellent autobiography Overture and Beginners (London, 1951/R). We do know that the piece was first performed at the Bournemouth Winter Series on Thursday, 23rd April 1925 at 3p.m. Either Adrian Boult or Dan Godfrey conducted. The work had its first performance at one of the chamber concerts given by Goossens in London in 1923.
The programme-note (which I quote in full) by Hamilton Law suggests that the work ‘partakes somewhat of the character of a musical jeu d’esprit. The theme is in three parts, and each of the composers concerned in the making of the Suite was given a free hand to invert the order of either of the parts, if desired, and also to vary the keys. Furthermore, the five composers were at liberty to handle the theme in any way they chose, adapting it to meet the ends they severally had in view. 

The fact that the theme led them into entirely different ways of thought and of elucidation is clearly apparent by the titles of the movements; these have no relationship to each other, notwithstanding the permeation of each movement by the theme that is common to them all. It was, too, only after completion of the entire Suite that the order of the movements was settled, this question being decided by the need of arranging the various sections into a shapely whole.
It is probable, therefore, that the composition affords us a kind of manifestation of the psychology and characteristics of the composers who are grouped together in this collective work.  Whether we accept this view or not, it is at least certain that the opening movement emphatically reveals the brisk buoyancy which always distinguishes Arthur Bliss. In the following movement Herbert Bedford moulds the thematic material into an oriental dance, a sense of mystery mingling with the inherent charm of the music. In the third movement Eugene Goossens presents us with a musical paradox, drollery and quizzical humour prevailing. Felix White, in the succeeding movement, has conceived the subject from an entirely different angle, his version of it being couched in the deepest melancholy. Finally a merrier mood is regained with the gay and frivolous ‘Valsette Ignoble’ by Gerrard Williams’.  Hamilton Law 1925

I will look forward to investigating the genesis and reception of this piece in a little more detail. However, I guess that the score is highly likely to have vanished without trace –although there is a copy of the holograph of Bliss’s ‘caption’ in the British Library. Meanwhile, one can reflect on what this interesting, if somewhat ephemeral work may sound like. Something tells me that it may be just a little bit unbalanced between the parts.  Finally although two of the composers are largely ‘household names’ – at least amongst British Music enthusiasts- the other three are largely forgotten. So, a few words on Messrs. White, Bedford and Williams may be of interest.  




Friday, 9 March 2012

Frederick Delius: Dance Rhapsody at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester

March 7 1912 marked an interesting date in Mancunian musical history. For one thing it was the occasion of a performance of Richard Strauss’ great opera Elektra. This work had received its UK premiere at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in 1910 with Edyth Walker in the title role and Sir Thomas Beecham conducting. However, in Manchester it was the turn of the Bavarian Mr. F. Cortolezis to conduct the work at the Theatre Royal. Beecham, for his part, was directing the Hallé Orchestra at the Free Trade Hall. The Manchester Guardian reviewer, ‘X’ notes that Elektra ‘seriously interfered with the attendance’ at the Halle concert.
The second worthy event of that day was the fact that, according to ‘X’, this was Sir Thomas’ first appearance at a Hallé Concert in the city, in spite of the fact of him being then one of the most prominent figures in the musical life of the country, and is unquestionably a brilliant and accomplished musician’. However, Michael Kennedy has noted that this was not actually Beecham’s first encounter with the ‘band.’ This will be the subject of another post.
And the third significant event of that day was a performance of Frederick Delius’ Dance Rhapsody – probably the first in Manchester. 

The Manchester Guardian reviewer writes that this piece was ‘the most interesting and at the same time the most completely successful work given by the orchestra. Here Mr. Beecham was evidently thoroughly at home, and we are grateful to him for a performance that should do much to convince our musical public that in Delius we have a composer of real genius –a man who stands entirely outside and above the so-called young English ‘school’ with which, unfortunately, he is frequently identified by some of our impatient and not too discriminating enthusiasts, who would have us believe that he is but one of a shoal of equally gifted English writers’.
The reviewer analyzes the Dance Rhapsody, and in so doing is a wee bit unfair towards Clause Debussy, although I guess I can see where he is coming from.
‘His music has a subtle and exotic charm that belongs to no ‘school,’ and arises chiefly from his exquisite harmonic sensibility, in which quality the only composer at all comparable to him is Debussy. At the same time one does not feel the sense of monotony that sometimes becomes oppressive through Debussy’s constant use of a restricted scale and even when he [Delius] embarks on a veritably sea of chromatic harmonies there is no trace of the restless feeling that accompanies the mere mechanical invention so largely relied upon by many modern German as well as English composers and too often mistaken for originality of thought.’
The other works at the concert included Mozart’s Prague Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, Liszt’s Symphonic Poem Tasso: Lament and Triumph, Gretry’s Ballet Air for Strings and Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel.  So all in all it was a good night in Manchester for Richard Strauss!
Finally Michael Kennedy in his book The Halle Tradition has noted that the Guardian reviewer who was signed as ‘X’ was in fact R. J. Forbes, the Principal of the Royal Manchester College of Music. Apparently, in a letter to James Agate, critic and diarist, he had written the review, Samuel Langford (1862-1927), the regular correspondent being ‘indisposed’ by attendance at the opera. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Cincinnati Musical Festival & Sir Edward Elgar: May 1906

I was recently investigating Edward Elgar’s Overture: In the South and I came across a citation in Stewart R. Craggs Edward Elgar Source book to a review in the Musical Times, June 1906. This refers to the attendance of the composer at the The Seventeenth Biennial Festival of the Cincinnati Music Festival Association. The article is worth posting – with a few footnotes.

The seventeenth biennial festival of the Cincinnati Music Festival Association held in this city on the first five days of the month was made notable by the presence of Sir Edward Elgar who came from England to conduct several of his works ; by the memorial character of the first concert, which was a tribute to the memory of Theodore Thomas (1835-1905) who established the festivals in 1873 and conducted all the predecessors of the present meeting ; and by an artistic and financial success which saved the enterprise from threatened dissolution and made a remarkable disclosure of the city's choral resources.
Dissensions between the Choir maintained for years by the Festival Association and the Directors of the Association culminated a year ago in the withdrawal of the Choir in a body. Pitiable and pathetic was the fact that the quarrel grew out of an amiable desire on the part of the choristers to give a memorial concert in honour of their dead leader. Mr. Thomas's memory was as dear to the hearts of the Directors as to the singers, but the former preferred to couple the memorial service with the approaching festival and refused to sanction the plan of the Choir. The differences were discussed in an unwise spirit, and after a year had been spent in preparing for the seventeenth festival the Choir seceded. This made necessary a new enlistment of choral forces.
Meanwhile Mr. Frank Van der Stucken (1858-1929) conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra had been elected as Mr. Thomas's successor. He began his labours in October last and within six months accomplished the surprising feat of training the new choir of 350 voices till all were letter perfect in The Apostles, The Dream of Gerontius, Brahms's German Requiem, Bach's Actus Tragicus [1] and the choral portion of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. A supplementary choir of 1,000 children from the public schools was also trained to sing Benoit's cantata Into the world [2]. The little people acquitted themselves so bravely that the performance of the cantata was one of the red-letter features of the festival from a purely artistic point of view.
Sir Edward Elgar was on the scene a fortnight before the festival began and took upon himself the induction of choristers and instrumentalists into his conception of his two oratorios and the two orchestral works of his composition which were on the festival scheme. They were the overture In the South and the Introduction and Allegro for strings, dedicated to Prof. Sanford, of Yale University [3]. Sir Edward's methods of conducting differed radically from the incisive ones of Mr. Van der Stucken, but the singers were firm in the saddle, and Sir Edward did not find it difficult to imbue them with the spirit of his music. As a result the two oratorios-the first of which was wholly new to the festival audience-received the most impressive performance that they have had in America. The rendering of The Dream of Gerontius was spiritually much more uplifting than at the performance here under Mr. Thomas two years ago, when much more attention was paid to the externals and less to the tender, mystical mood of the composition.
Amongst the musicians gathered to hear Sir Edward's reading of the oratorios were Dr. Frank Damrosch [4] who had been the first in the American field with both The Apostles and The Dream [of Gerontius], giving both with his New York Oratorio Society before the echoes of their first English performances had died away-and Mr. Harrison Wild, of Chicago, who performed The Apostles with his Apollo Club [5] on the Monday of festival week. Sir Edward found seclusion at the Country Club where, amid scenes of great natural beauty, he spent most of his spare time reading proofs of the work which is to be the sequel [6] to The Apostles and working on its orchestration. He had already withdrawn himself from most of the social attentions which the people of Cincinnati wished to show him when the mournful intelligence of the death of his father reached him. His manner toward the choristers had won their affection for him and his music before the performances were reached, and the feeling seemed to be reciprocated.
On the afternoon of the last day, when The Dream of Gerontius was to be given in the evening, he sent to each member of the chorus a copy of the following letter: - I wish to express my gratitude to each member of the chorus for the fine singing in The Apostles. At the public concert tonight it is of course not possible for me to say anything, so I take this opportunity to write that the performance was in every way satisfactory and in many points supreme. I look for the same care and enthusiasm in Gerontius this evening, and feel assured that a great performance will be given. This word of thanks must also be my adieu, an adieu regretfully written to my many friends in the Cincinnati chorus. Farewell, and God bless you. (Signed) Edward Elgar.
The Musical Times June 1906 (from our own music correspondent, May 06)

Notes 
[1] Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (God's Time is the very best Time), BWV106, also known as Actus Tragicus, is a sacred cantata composed by Johann Sebastian Bach in Mühlhausen, intended for a funeral.
[2] Petrus Leonardus Leopoldus "Peter" Benoit, Flemish composer (August 17, 1834, Harelbeke, Flanders – March 8, 1901)
[3] Samuel Simons Sanford (1849–1910) was an American pianist and educator. Sanford joined the Yale Music Faculty as Professor of Applied Music in 1894, along with Horatio Parker as Professor of Theory. During the sixteen years he worked at Yale, he refused to be paid any salary as he was independently wealthy (Wikipedia)
[4] Frank Heino Damrosch (1859 -1937) was a German-born American music conductor and educator.
[5] The 33-member men's chorus of the Apollo Musical Club was founded in 1872. It is now called the Apollo Chorus of Chicago and as still among the largest American volunteer choirs.
[6] The Kingdom, Op.51 Oratorio for soprano, contralto, tenor and bass soloists, mixed chorus and orchestra. (1906)

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Alfred Hollins Organ Works

Alfred Hollins (1865-1942)
A Concert Overture in C major (1889) Benediction Nuptiale (1898) A Trumpet Minuet (1929) Allegretto grazioso (1906) Concert Overture in C minor (1899) Evening Rest (1917) A Concert Overture in F minor (1922) Andante in D (1895)  A Song of Sunshine (1913) Maytime Gavotte (1927) Theme with Variations and Fugue (1911)  
Timothy Byram-Wigfield, organ
Delphian  DCD34044

This CD has three distinctive elements. Firstly it places all three Concert Overtures onto one disc. Secondly it gives what would appear to be the only current recordings of Evening Rest, Benediction Nuptiale, and most importantly the Theme with Variations and Fugue.  The last bit of added value of this CD is that fact that the Caird Hall organ in Dundee was designed by Hollins himself. Even the most cursory examination of the music will reveal that the organ appears to be ideally suited to the composer’s music.

Hollins gave his opening recital on the Caird Hall instrument on Wednesday 27 June 1923.  His programme included Mendelssohn’s 1st Organ Sonata, Rossini’s William Tell Overture, a Bach fugue, two short pieces by Alexandre Guilmant and a few of his own compositions including the somewhat enigmatic Evening Rest. Interestingly the Toccata from Widor’s great 5th Symphony was given - some 40 years before being played at the Duke and duchess of Kent’s wedding in York Minster and subsequently becoming the bane of all parish-church organists’ lives.

Well over a third of this CD is devoted to the three great Concert Overtures.  The first, in C major was published in 1889 and represents Hollins’ first published piece. The work is conceived as being ‘classical’ sonata form. Yet there is nothing pedantic about this music. The sleeve notes sum it up well- “this is a work bristling with youthful vigour, from the swaggering confidence of the opening to the virtuosic display of the main allegro theme.” 
The second Concert Overture in C minor (1899) has remained in the repertoire thorough changes in Hollins’ fortunes over the years. It is a work that reveals the composer’s ability to write ‘orchestral’ music for the organ. Cyril Rootham is alleged to have written to Hollins, “You know that is a splendid overture, but it isn’t organ music. I hear the fiddles in it.” The work is a fine balance between the composer’s keyboard virtuosity and his profound understanding registration. It is a deserved masterpiece.

The third Concert Overture in F minor was the last that Hollins wrote in this form. I feel that it is perhaps the best. Of all the works on this CD it is the most involved and complex. This is deep music that is well described as being “brooding and elegiac.” It is not hard to see that the world was a very different place between the second and third overtures. Yet I do not believe that Hollins developed beyond this music. I think that it may be the intellectual and emotional highlight of his career. I think that this is truly a masterpiece and ought to be in the repertoire of all concert organists. The reality is that it is the least played.

The Andante in D is a deep and moody piece that is certainly more suitable for church services than for the recital hall. Yet the mood is more romantic than liturgical. It is an impressive arch shaped structure that has “breadth and intensity of emotion rarely found elsewhere in his [Hollins] output.” The composer himself considered this powerful work to be his best. The programme notes are not far wrong in suggesting that this work is “deserving of its reputation as one of the great slow movements in the English romantic organ repertoire.” It is a fine and moving work.

The Benediction Nuptiale is a new piece to my ears. It was composed, perhaps predictably, for the wedding day of friends of the composer. It is quite naturally a quiet and reflective piece that uses the softer registrations of the organ. A little gem.

Evening Rest does not do for me. I cannot quite explain it. It was written as a ‘nocturne’ and was designed to display a number of the features of the newly opened Johannesburg Town Hall organ.  To my ears the music never really gets going. It is a little bit ‘played for effect.’ Perhaps it sounds a wee bit like the Tower Ballroom Wurlitzer?

Little needs to be said about the three Hollins potboilers – the Maytime Gavotte, A Song of Sunshine and A Trumpet Minuet. Even in these days of a certain disdain for Victorian/Edwardian organists these works have held there own over the past eighty odd years. These works could almost be said to be bordering on ‘light’ music. Add to these the absolutely charming Allegretto Grazioso and we have four works that would bring happiness to the most morose of organ buffs. These works are great examples of tuneful music that is written with the greatest possible craftsmanship.

Perhaps the biggest eye-opener for me is the fantastic Theme with Variations with fugue. At nearly quarter of an hour this is one of Alfred Hollins’ most extended organ pieces. It was written in 1911 and reflects his “genius as composer and moreover, entertainer.”  It was dedicated to the great William Wolstenholme (when will someone bring out a CD devoted to his music?). The present piece is a misnomer – two themes are used to provide the musical material for all three parts of the work. The work opens dramatically after which the main theme is heard. This is the basis of seven variations which nod in a variety of direction – including Sullivan and Edward German. The fugue is an excellent text-book example. Yet it is not as dry as dust. It builds to an impressive climax on full organ. This is another work that well deserves to be in recitalist’s repertoire.

The CD is beautifully packaged by Delphian Records. The booklet is a model as to how all classical music booklets should be.  There are fine colour photographs of the Caird Hall Organ, two nostalgic black and white photos of the composer playing the same instrument, seven closely written pages of programme notes complete with mini bibliography. In addition there is a short essay accompanying the organ specification. A brief bio of Timothy Byram-Wigfield completes this informative package.

The recording is impressive – every registration of this fine instrument is crystal clear.  The sound balance and the clarity of the playing are never in doubt.

Unfortunately the erstwhile dedicated disc by David Liddle ‘The Organ Music of Alfred Hollins’ [Priory PRCD 398] appears to have been deleted from the catalogue.
However all is not lost. This present recording becomes the touchstone for all enthusiasts of Alfred Hollins music. The highlights of the disc are the programming of the three Concert Overtures and the delicious Allegretto grazioso. This latter piece should be a favourite of all organists and would make a fine alternative to the more usual wedding fare.
Finally at nearly 80 minutes worth of music this is excellent value for money – add in the fine playing, the great repertoire and the fantastic sound – this makes it a superb additions to all organ fans CD libraries.
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared 

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Alun Hoddinott Welsh Dances Op.64 [Set 2]

As today is St David’s Day it is a treat to hear this YouTube recording of Alun Hoddinott’s fine second set of Welsh Dances.  The National Youth Orchestra of Wales is here conducted by Arthur Davison on this 1969 LP issued by 'Music for Pleasure'.

The second set of Welsh Dances Op.64 was written some eleven years after the first set in 1969. They were a commission by the National Youth Orchestra of Wales and were intended to be a further part of the celebrations for the Investiture. They are not based on folk tunes but rely on a distillation of Welsh music as seen through the lens of a skilful composer who was equally at writing both progressive and light music. The dances are quite short with only the 'lento' being of considerable weight and emotion. Hoddinott is a master of orchestration and contrives to create a diverse texture of sound on a relatively small canvas. The second movement 'presto' is a fine example of the composer's skill. Yet it is the profound slow movement that defines the entire work. The Investiture was a serious occasion as well as being a celebration. Hoddinott creates a misty impression with this music that is both evocative and reflective. The last dance restores the sense of fun, however, and the work ends in blaze of sound.