Monday, 23 June 2014

Premieres at the 1964 Cheltenham Festival

I thought I would have a look at works given their premieres at the 1964 Cheltenham Festival. It is interesting to see how half a century has dealt with these compositions.
  • John Wilks: Beata L’Alma for soprano and orchestra
  • Humphrey Searle: Song of the Sun, Op.42 for unaccompanied chorus
  • Alan Rawsthorne: Symphony No. 3
  • Peter Maxwell Davies: Veni Sancte Spiritus
  • Harrison Birtwistle: Entr’actes and Sappho Fragments
  • Robert Sherlaw Johnson: Sonata for Piano (1963)
  • Alun Hoddinott: Sonata for Harp, Op36
  • Lennox Berkeley: Diversions –four pieces for eight instruments
  • Wilfrid Mellers: Rose of May – threnody for speaker, soprano, flute, clarinet, and string quartet.
  • Edmund Rubbra: String Quartet No.3 Op.112
  • Elisabeth Lutyens: Music for orchestra III, Op.56
  • William Schuman: Concerto for violin and orchestra
  • John McCabe: Three Pieces (1964)
  • Robert Starer: Duo for violin and viola
  • David Cox: Four Pieces
  • William Wordsworth: Sonatina for viola and piano, Op, 71

On first glance is would appear that only Alan Rawsthorne’s Symphony No.3 has survived into the recorded repertoire with two versions currently available on CD (Lyrita and Naxos). Humphrey Searle’s a cappella piece Song of the Sun, Op.42 has avoided being recorded as has John Wilks’ Beata L’Alma for soprano and orchestra. In fact, Wilks seems to have sunk below the horizon in every way.
It is strange that Peter Maxwell Davies Veni Sancte Spiritus is currently not recorded: so much of his music is available on disc or online.   Harrison Birtwistle’s piece Entr’actes and Sappho Fragments has been issued by KOCH International Classics.
Robert Sherlaw Johnson’s atonal, Messiaen-influenced, Piano Sonata No.1 was recorded by the composer on Argo back in 1972. I cannot find any reference to the work being reissued on CD or download.
More surprising is that Alun Hoddinott’s Sonata for Harp has not been taken up by an enterprising harpist.  John McCabe is currently one of the senior composers in the British Isles, with a large catalogue of accomplished works, many of which have been recorded. The Three Pieces for clarinet and piano are available on Linn Records played by Maximiliano Martin and Scott Mitchell. A live performance is posted on YouTube in three files: Nocturne, Improvisation, and Fantasy. I find it hard to believe that there does not appear to be a recording of Lennox Berkeley’s Diversions –four pieces for eight instruments. 
I can only find one piece in the Arkiv catalogue for Wilfrid Mellers: Opus alchymicum for organ solo. His music has been airbrushed from musical history. Mellers is now best remembered for his many musicological books including Vaughan Williams and the Vision of Albion and Caliban Reborn.
We are lucky to have a recent recording of Edmund Rubbra’s String Quartet No.3 available on Naxos. See my review of this disc here.
William Schuman is an American composer whose Concerto for violin and orchestra is available on CD and download from Naxos and EMI. It is also been uploaded to YouTube complete with piano reduction of the score on screen.  It is a great work that deserves to be better known.  Music for orchestra III, Op.56 by Elisabeth Lutyens has not survived, with no recordings in the catalogue.
Robert Starer was a Viennese composer, born in 1924 and who died in 2001. His catalogue of music is considerable, including two symphonies, two piano concerto, ballets and a huge array of chamber works. Why (up to now) have I never heard any music by him? I can recommend his Evanescence for brass quintet which is on YouTube.  David Cox is recalled for his illuminating study of the Promenade Concerts. In 1965 Jupiter Records released an LP entitled A Recital of Music by William Wordsworth which included William Pleeth and the composer playing the Sonatina for viola and piano, Op.71.

It is unfortunate that none of the British works listed have become part of the recorded, concert or recital room legacy. Enthusiasts of Rawsthorne will have both versions of the Symphony No.3 and Rubbra fans will be collecting the String Quartets on Naxos. As for the rest, it is only to be hoped that the works that have been recorded in the past will be re-released on CD or as download.  Perhaps one or two can be rediscovered for concert performance? 

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