Friday, 25 January 2013

The First Holbrooke Hammond Concert 28 September 1946: The First Half

I found a programme in a London second-hand bookshop the other day.  It was for the first concert in the Holbrooke-Hammond Concert series given on Saturday September 28 1946.  The venue was the Kingsway Hall in London. The evenings soloists was the soprano Mary Cherry, and the orchestra was the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arthur Hammond. The original cost of the programme was ‘SIXPENCE’: I paid £2. However, as a document it is fascinating.

It is well known that Josef Holbrooke (1878-1958) was a big promoter of is own music. Therefore, it is hardly surprising to find four works presented at this concert.  However, the evening opened with a performance of Cherubini’s Overture: Medea. This work, which was first heard in Paris in 1797, is often regarded as being one of the composer greatest successes. A powerful work manages to sit astride the world of romantic and classical music. The programme notes suggest that the fury and the grandeur of the story find perfect poise. No matter how intense the emotion on stage ‘the walls of classic from hold still.’  Structurally the opera is unusual for the composer did not derive his material from tunes in the opera itself, but created an ‘independent’ study ‘splendidly preparing the listener for the tragic story that was to follow.  This overture can heard on YouTube.

The next work was Josef Holbrooke’s Ulalume (Orchestral Poem No.3 Op.35). This work was first played by Sir Henry Wood in 1905. The works ‘reflects the dreamland atmosphere of Poe’s fantastic vision – the misty dim region of Weir [1], where through ‘an alley titanic’ the hero wanders ‘with Psyche his soul’ until ‘the star-dials pointing to the morn’ he sees afar a nebulous light that becomes the flaming crescent of the goddess Astarte [2]. The hero has a few brief moments of ‘exaltation and hope’ but then is led to the tomb where he recalls that he had buried all that life held dear.’
I believe that if this work had been composed by Richard Strauss, it would be well established in the repertoire. As it is there two recordings of this tone poem currently available – on CPO 777442-2 and Marco Polo 223446. Holbrooke’s Ulalume can be listened to on YouTube Part One & Part 2.

The first half of the programme concluded with Gluck’s O Malheuresue Iphigenie’ from his opera Iphigenie en Tauride and with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s great Symphony No.41 in C ‘Jupiter.’
In subsequent posts I will conclude the description of this concert and will examine Ulalume in more detail.

[1] The region of Weir is likely to refer the type of landscape created by the Hudson River School artist Robert Walter Weir.
[2] Astarte was the Phoenician goddess of fertility and of sexual love.

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