I first came across the German émigré composer Franz Reizenstein on an old Lyrita (RCS19) record which I found in Harrods record department sometime in the mid-1970s. This included the important Piano Sonata in B Op.10 which was written in 1944 whilst the composer was working as a railway clerk. Due to his nationality, he had been interned on the Isle of Man at the outbreak of the Second World War.
In happier times, after the war, Reizenstein contributed to the legendary Hoffnung Concerts which were given at the Royal Festival Hall. He produced two works for these events: the Concerto Popolare-A Piano Concerto to end all Piano Concertos (1956) and the side-swipe at Benjamin Britten, Lets Fake an Opera or The Tales of Hoffnung.
The First Hoffnung Concert took place on 13 November 1956 and included scores by Malcolm Arnold, Humphrey Searle, Gordon Jacob and Donald Swann. The intention of the event was to try to evacuate concert-going of its ‘habitually imperceptive solemnity, to indicate the humour in music that we forget to notice.’
The Concerto Popolare took the form of a ‘concerted’ battle between the pianist Yvonne Arnaud and the Hoffnung Orchestra conducted by Norman Del Mar. The basic premise is that Arnaud was intent on playing the Grieg Piano Concerto on A minor whilst the band is attempting to accompany the Tchaikovsky B minor Concerto. Other tunes appear in the proceedings, including George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto and the once-popular music hall song Roll out the Barrel.
The Times (14 November 1956) noted that ‘Miss Yvonne Arnaud and Mr. Norman Del Mar sustained the pretence of a serious performance that has taken a wrong turning.’
The story goes that Hoffnung’s first choice for pianist was Eileen Joyce, who decided not to participate!
There is a YouTube (skip the advert after a few seconds) file of the Hoffnung recording from 1956, however this does not feature any film. There is also another version of the Concerto Popolare recorded by Daniel Wayenberg (b.1929) and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra under Hiroyuki Iwaki (1932-2006) which gives a good visual performance of the work which is truly amusing. Look out for the violinist who never quite finds his music.