Friday, 6 June 2014

Proms Novelties: 1964

Every year there are a number of first performances or ‘novelties’ at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts. This year (2014) is no different with new works by John Adams, Sally Beamish, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Jonathan Dove, William Mathias and Roxanna Panufnik.  But how many of these will survive concert and record (whatever media) life over the coming half century? I looked at the list of ‘novelties’ from 1964 as presented in David Cox’s book The Henry Wood Proms (BBC Publishing, 1980) and found that the story is mixed. I list only the British or Commonwealth works that received their ‘Prom’ premieres.
  • William Alwyn: Concerto Grosso No.3 (Tribute to Henry Wood) [World Premiere]
  • Richard Rodney Bennett: Aubade [World Premiere]
  • Arthur Bliss: The Beatitudes
  • Reginald Brindle Smith: Creation Epic [World Premiere]
  • Benjamin Britten: Choral Dances from Gloriana
  • Alan Bush: Dorian Passacaglia and Fugue
  • William Byrd: Magnificat and Nunc Dimitis (Great Service)
  • Alexander Goehr: Little Symphony
  • Gustav Holst: The Hymn of Jesus
  • Elizabeth Lutyens: Wittgenstein Motet
  • Bernard Naylor: Cantata: Sing O my Love (BBC Commission) [World Premiere]
  • Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas
  • Priaulx Rainier: Cello Concerto [World Premiere]
  • Michael Tippett: Concerto for Orchestra
  • Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem
  • William Walton: Suite from Henry V
  • Malcolm Williamson: Concert Suite: Our Man in Havana

Concentrating on the ‘world premieres’ of which there were only five this year, only one work has truly survived half a century, and here only by the skin of its teeth. William Alwyn’s Concerto Grosso No.3 has had two recordings since 1964. In 1992 Richard Hickox and the City of London Sinfonia released it as part of a major retrospective of Alwyn’s music on Chandos CHAN.8866. Nineteen years later Naxos issued it on 8.570145 as a part of their series of the composer’s music. The work has not featured at a subsequent Promenade Concert and it can hardly be said to be in the ‘repertoire.’
Richard Rodney Bennett’s Aubade with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by David Atherton was released on an Argo LP (ZRG907) in 1979 coupled with ‘Spells’ for soprano and orchestra. To my knowledge it has not been re-released on CD. The reviewer in The Gramophone (January 1980) praised this ‘attractive well shaped work which avoids any hint…of the inflated.’  I had hoped that this work would appear on Chandos’ series of orchestral music by Rodney Bennett, but they seem to have given up on this project with only the first volume released in 2006. 
As far as I can tell, Reginald Brindle Smith’s Creation Epic has not been recorded, nor has it received any further performances at the Promenade Concerts. The Times (6 August 1964) reviewer suggested that the work ‘seemed to fail.’ The music was considered ‘spiky, spare, [and] occasionally exciting’ as the work sought to display the clash of good and evil in the creation of the world.  The finale of the work was ‘eerily peaceful as a sympathetic string melody alternated with an evocative flute solo.’ The reviewer concluded by suggesting that ‘someone’s musical judgement at the BBC seems to have come unstuck.’
The same fate seems to have overtaken Bernard Naylor’s Cantata: Sing O my Love. There is no recording (to my knowledge) of this work available.  Naylor was a British-born composer who spent much of his time in Canada. The cantata, which considers ‘sacred and profane’ love was described by the Musical Times as using ‘a conservative English idiom with individual, fastidious concentration.’ It appears to be a work that may deserve revival.
Finally, what I consider to be the unsung masterpiece from this list of ‘novelties’: Priaulx Rainier’s Cello Concerto.  This stunning work will feature in a subsequent post, however, it is fair to conclude that she has been ill-represented on CD and on record. Fortunately a recording of this great work has been uploaded to YouTube: Part 1 and Part 2.  

Other important non-British works given their first hearing at the Proms included Beethoven’s Mass in C major, Berlioz’s The Childhood of Christ, Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony, Mahler’s Eighth Symphony and Schoenberg’s Erwartung

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