Monday, 13 May 2013

British Composers: Proms 1930


It is always instructive to examine reviews of music from the past. There are two key issues here. Firstly, what was the contemporary estimation of a piece of music – especially if it was a first performance and secondly what has been the subsequent success or failure of the music in question. The author of this review from The Musical Mirror has singled out a few pieces of British music which were given at the 1930 Promenade Concerts held at the Queen’s Hall between 9 August and 4 October 1930.

On September 4 the evening opened with Lord Berners’ brilliant and exhilarating Fugue in C minor for Orchestra. Dame Ethel Smyth conduced two of her own compositions, Two Interlinked French Melodies for orchestra and the first concert performance of an Anacreontic Ode for baritone and orchestra, a skilful and picturesque setting of a drinking song, the spirit of which was not entirely caught by Mr. Herbert Heyner. Miss Beatrice Harrison spoilt her performance of Elgar’s Violoncello Concerto in E minor with a cloying and sentimental attitude. Notwithstanding Elgar’s Enigma Variations, the piece de résistance was Constant Lambert’s The Rio Grande, which received a fine performance under the baton of the composer.
On September 11 Alan Bush conducted his Symphonic Impression Op.8, which was written a few years ago, while the composer was studying composition under John Ireland. This work is imbued with his master’s seriousness of outlook, together with a marked individuality and imaginative qualities.  On the other hand, one feels that the thematic material lacks spontaneity, and there are moments when the handling of the orchestra is inclined to be weak and immature.
Mr V. Hely-Hutchinson and Mr. Ernest Lush gave a brilliant performance of Arthur Bliss’ Concerto for Two Pianofortes, a clear cut and vigorous work, written with the usual facile cleverness that characterizes nine-tenths of the music of contemporary composers.
But what pigmies they all appear besides a composer of Elgar’s stature, a fact which duly impressed us on hearing Sir Henry Wood’s fine reading of Elgar’s Symphony No.1 in A flat, in which we have the highest flights of poetical imagination combined with an unsurpassed mastery of technique.
Delius was represented by the exquisite A Song Before Sunrise and the Dance Rhapsody No.1.
The programme on September 18 was interesting in that we were able to compare two distinct generations – William Wallace and Elgar on the the once hand and Arthur Bliss and Holst on the other.  It was purely a matter of artist versus artisans. The former were represented by William Wallace’s shamefully neglected symphonic poem, Villon, a work of genuine inspiration and fine workmanship, and Elgar’s symphonic poem Falstaff, which for beauty and content, consummate technical mastery, and ingenious musical characterisation towered above Bliss’ uninspired Serenade for baritone and orchestra and Holst’s clever but cold Concerto for two violins.  Not even the luscious and full-blooded playing of Miss Jelly d’Aranyi and Mme. Adila Fachiri could make this music thaw.
The Musical Mirror October 1930

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