Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Promenade Concerts 1963 – Novelties


A few days ago I posted a résumé of the works that were given their first performance at the Henry Promenade Concerts during 1913.  Today I briefly consider those performed fifty years later at the 1963 series. In some ways not a lot has changed. There are still works by composers who have disappeared from view as well as works by established composers. Please note that not all these works were premieres: a fair few were simply their first outing at a Prom Concert.

Richard Rodney Bennett: A London Pastoral
Lennox Berkeley: Four Ronsard Sonnets (BBC Comm)
Arthur Bliss: The Enchantress
Benjamin Britten: Simple Symphony, Cantata Misericordium, War Requiem
Francis Burt: Fantasmagoria per orchestra (BBC Comm)
Peter Racine Fricker: Song Cycle: O longs desirs (BBC comm)
Roberto Gerhard: Piano Concerto
Henry Purcell: Come ye sons of art away; Welcome to all pleasures.
Arthur Sullivan: Trial by Jury
Michael Tippett: The Midsummer Marriage Act III
William Walton: Variations on a theme by Hindemith

Perhaps the most surprising thing from the above list is the complete disappearance of Richard Rodney Bennett’s A London Pastoral. This work for tenor and chamber orchestra has not been recorded (to my knowledge). It would seem to be a work worthy of some investigation: the review in the times suggests that it the music was ‘poetic and beautiful in abstraction.’ The work is based on poems by William Wordsworth, John Lydgate and Laurence Binyon.
Arthur Sullivan’ Trial by Jury has remained popular since its first performance on 25 March 1875 at the Royalty Theatre. However, it must have made a pleasant evening’s entertainment at the all Gilbert and Sullivan night on 10 August 1963. Other music that evening included extracts from The Pirates of Penzance, The Gondoliers, Iolanthe and ‘that infernal nonsense Pinafore.’
I could find out little about Francis Burt’s Fantasmagoria per orchestra however he earns a place on this blog by being an Austrian/British composer. The work seems to have totally disappeared from view.
Peter Racine Fricker's orchestral song cycle O longs desirs also seems to have vanished without trace – however this is like most of that composer’s music.  He is surely ripe for rediscovery. The work was performed by the composer’s wife the soprano Catherine Gayer. It is a setting of the French poet Louise Labé, (c. 1520 or 1522-1566).
Benjamin Britten’s ‘novelties’ have fared best of all. Certainly the War Requiem is regarded as a 20th century masterpiece. The Simple Symphony is given many performances around the world, has been recorded countless times (35 versions are currently listed on Arkiv) and is regularly featured on Classic FM. The Cantata Miserecordium is possibly one of the composer’s less popular works.
The Enchantress by Sir Arthur Bliss is rarely heard in the concert hall, however there was a recording of the work issued on Chandos. It is a work that deserves to be in the public domain.
Michael Tippett’s A Midsummer Marriage may not be the most performed English opera, but it has retained a toe-hold in the repertoire.  The first performance of this work was a Covent Garden on 27 January 1955, so the Prom performance of Act III was really a little bit of catching-up. A couple of recordings of this work have been released, the most famous being the Phillips version conducted by Colin Davis dating from 1970. It was subsequently reissued by Lyrita in 1990.

Finally, Lennox Berkeley’s Four Four Ronsard Sonnets, William Walton’s Variations on a theme by Hindemith and Roberto Gerhard’s Piano Concerto have all managed to retain a fragile place in the repertoire. However, I guess that performances are few and far between.  Walton has at least seven recordings of the Variations, and Gerhard two and as far as I can tell Berkeley has one of the Sonnets.
So the 'winner' from the Proms novelties of  1963 would appear to be Benjamin Britten with all three of his works still firmly in the repertoire. 

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