Sunday, 4 January 2015

British Music reaching its Centenary...

Some Important British Works that are Celebrating Significant Anniversaries (Composed, First Performed or Published) include:-

Granville Bantock: Hebridean Symphony (completed)
Arnold Bax: Violin Sonata No 1 (revised); Violin Sonata No2;  Legend, for violin and piano; The Maiden with the Daffodil, Winter Waters, The Princess’s Rose Garden, In a Vodka Shop, Apple-Blossom Time, Sleepy Head, Mountain Mood for piano;  Quintet in G minor, Red Owen (opera unfinished) Nympholet (orchestrated)
Arthur Bliss: Piano Quartet; String Quartet (c.1915)
Havergal Brian: English Suite No 2 (lost); Legend, for orchestra (lost)
Frank Bridge: Two Poems (after Richard Jefferies) orchestra; Lament, for strings; String Quartet No.2 in G minor
Eric Coates: From the Countryside, suite for orchestra 
Edward Elgar: Polonia, symphonic prelude; Une voix dans le désert, recitation with orchestra
Josef Holbrooke: The Enchanter, opera
Gustav Holst: Japanese Suite, for orchestra
Herbert Howells: Three Dances for violin and orchestra
John Ireland: Preludes for piano (1913-1915)
Cyril Scott: Piano Concerto No. 1 (premiere) 

These works from a century ago have survived remarkably well.  For British music enthusiasts most will be included in their CD and LP collections with one of more recordings. 
Bantock’s fine Hebridean Symphony has been issued on Naxos and Hyperion as well as on Intaglio and an old Gough and Davy LP dating from 1978. It may be an unwarranted personal opinion that could be challenged, but I think this is one of the best symphonies of that period. I accept that it could be described as being a little uneven in places, but in the round it is totally inspiring and satisfying.  
Arnold Bax has gained considerable status in the world of English music, especially through the labours of Lewis Foreman, Graham Parlett and Colin Scott-Sutherland. Without being complacent, I guess that virtually everything that is worthy from Bax’s pen (a few exceptions remain) have been recorded. It is a tribute to all concerned. Yet how often is Bax heard in the concert hall?
It is unfortunate that Havergal Brian’s two contributions from 1915 have been lost.  The Brian Society notes that the English Suite No.2 was subtitled ‘Night Portraits’ and contained six movements, including ‘Carnival’, ‘Witch’s Dance’ and ‘Recessional.’ The ‘Legend for orchestra’ was possibly dedicated to Nurse Edith Cavell and was completed by 14 November 1915.
In recent months the the war-works of Elgar have been issued on the SOMM record label.  I admit that they have never been amongst my favourites by that composer but they deserve attention and are valuable additions to our understanding of his ‘late’ works.
Like all of Josef Holbrooke’s operas, The Enchanter has sunk into total oblivion.  It was first heard in Chicago in the spring of 1915. The work’s English title was The Wizard. Maybe one day someone will revive it? There is a track lasting some three minutes on the Symposium record label, which would appear to be an extract from this opera.
Gustav Holst suffers for being remembered by music lovers for one work – The Planets. In many ways this monumental work is relatively untypical of his output. The Japanese Suite is is one of the ‘forgotten gems’ of his opus. It is a great piece that can justifiably take its place beside the better-known work.
The three works by Frank Bridge listed above have all secured a tentative place in the recorded repertoire. It surprises me that the haunting and moving Lament has not gained more popularity, especially on Classic FM. It was written to commemorate the loss of a child’s life, ‘Catharine aged nine’ on the Lusitania which was sunk in 1915.
Eric Coates is well-represented on CD in 2015 however, his From the Countryside Suite has only two recordings currently available (Dutton and Nimbus) and one that appears to have been deleted (ASV White Line). This idyllic work seems to ignore the wartime situation, though perhaps it represented the sort of England that ‘we were fighting for.’ Nevertheless this music is just that little bit more serious and thoughtful than much of Coates output. In some ways it is almost a short symphony, although studiously avoiding sonata form!  
Two versions have been made of Cyril Scott’s excellent but largely-forgotten Piano Concerto No.1: Lyrita and Chandos.
The works listed by Bliss, Howells and John Ireland are all currently available, with many versions of the latter’s Preludes for piano which includes the ubiquitous ‘Holy Boy’. 
Altogether the ‘score’ for works surviving their centenary in 2015 is remarkable. It is certainly infinitely more impressive than what history has dealt to music composed fifty years ago in 1965. More about that later… 

No comments: