Saturday, 10 January 2015

Some Important British Works that are Celebrating Half-Centenaries (Composed, First Performed or Published) Part 1

A selection of works that were composed, published or premiered in 1965. I acknowledge Eric Gilder’s The Dictionary of Composers and their Music as being an invaluable source for musical history. I present these listings in two parts.

Part 1:
Malcolm Arnold: Five Fantasies, for bassoon, clarinet, flute, horn and oboe
Don Banks: Horn Concerto
David Bedford: This One for You, for orchestra; Music for Albion Moonlight, for soprano and instruments ; 'O Now the Drenched Land Awakes', for baritone and piano duet
Richard Rodney Bennett: Symphony No 1; The Mines of Sulphur: opera fp. Trio(for(flute,(oboe(and(clarinet
Lennox Berkeley: Partita for chamber orchestra
Harrison Birtwistle: Tragoedia, for instrumental ensemble; ‘Ring a Dumb Carillon’, for soprano, clarinet and percussion; Carmen Paschale, motet for mixed chorus and organ
Havergal Brian: Symphonies Nos 22, 23 & 24
Benjamin Britten: Gemini Variations, for flute, violin and piano (four hands); Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, for voice and piano; The Poet's Echo, for voice and piano; Voices for Today, anthem for chorus
Alun Bush: Partita Concertante; Two Dances for cimbalon
Peter Maxwell Davies The Shepherd's Calendar, for singer and instruments; Shall I die for mannes sake, carol for soprano alto and piano; Seven in nomine.
Peter Dickinson: The Judas Tree, for actors, singers and ensemble
Benjamin Frankel : String Quartet No 5; The Battle of the Bulge (film music)
Peter Racine Fricker: Ricercare for organ
Robert Gerhard: Concerto for orchestra
Alexander Goehr: Pastorals, for orchestra
Iain Hamilton: String Quartet No 2; Aubade, for solo organ
Alun Hoddinott: Concerto Grosso No 1 fp; Aubade and Scherzo, for horn and string; Dives and Lazarus, cantata fp.
Robin Holloway: Music for Eliot's Sweeney Agonistes;
Daniel Jones: Capriccio for flute, harp and strings

Glancing at the above list discloses a number of surprises. Most importantly none of Benjamin Britten’s works from this year have really ‘caught on.’ Naturally, they have all been recorded at one stage or another, but they are definitely not overrepresented. There are three versions of the ‘Gemini Variations’ in the Arkiv catalogue, the most recent being from 2006. This compares to 11 recordings of the ‘Temporal Variations’ and 8 for the ‘Insect Pieces’. Similarly there are three current versions of the Songs and Proverbs of William Blake for voice and piano compared to 13 for the great song-cycle Winter Words. The Poets Echo is better represented.  I can only find one CD including the anthem Voices for Today.
A variety of discs have been issued of Malcolm Arnold’s interesting Fantasies for solo instruments. However, these are definitely not amongst his most popular music. They all deserve an occasional airing at recitals.
Iain Hamilton is ill-served on CD with none of his Symphonies currently available. Certainly there is no recording of his String Quartet or Aubade for organ.
Robin Holloway’s ‘Music for Eliot's Sweeney ‘ does not appear to have made it into the recording studio, neither has Daniel Jones’ Capriccio for flute, harp and strings, Peter Racine Fricker’s ‘Ricercare’ for organ or the two pieces by Alan Bush. Fortunately, Don Banks Horn Concerto is available in a single recording on Lyrita.

David Bedford is a composer whom I have come to rate highly in recent years. Once again Lyrita has come to the rescue with a fine recording of Music for Albion Moonlight, for soprano and instruments. However the other two works seem to have disappeared from view. I do understand that 'O Now the Drenched Land Awakes', for baritone and piano duet was released on Deutsche Grammophon in 2002.

Lennox Berkeley’s ‘Partita’ is offered on a single recording from Lyrita. Havergal Brian’s three symphonies from 1965 all appear on a single Naxos CD. However like so many of these pieces they have not made a major incursion into the concert hall.
Two out of three of Harrison Birtwistle’s 1965 works have been recorded with four versions of Tragoedia and a single edition of Carmen Paschale, motet for mixed chorus and organ currently in the catalogue. ‘Ring a Dumb Carillon’, for soprano, clarinet and percussion does not appear to have made it yet.
The current Master of the Queen’s Music has only one work from fifty years ago in the CD listings – ‘Seven in nomine’. There are other ‘deleted’ CDs of this music in existence. I was astonished that The Shepherd’s Calendar has been ignored.
Alun Hoddinott’s Dives and Lazarus is available on Lyrita, the Concerto Grosso No.1 has been issued on the Metronome label. In spite of the Horn Concerto being released on Lyrita, the Aubade and Scherzo for horn and orchestra does not appear in the listings.
I was delighted to find that Alexander Goehr’s Pastorals, for orchestra has been issued on Naxos. It is a work that I have yet to hear.
Another surprise is that none of the three 1965 works by Richard Rodney Bennett are on CD. There are live recordings of the Symphony No. 1 available from Internet ‘groups’ for collectors. 
Peter Dickinson’s huge, eclectic The Judas Tree was issued on the Heritage label last year.
Both the String Quartet No.5 and the film music for The Battle of the Bulge by Benjamin Frankel has been published by CPO Records. This company have done a sterling job in promoting a huge quantity of Frankel’s music, including most of the orchestral works and chamber music. Unfortunately (with a few exceptions) no other record label has given him due attention.
Perhaps my biggest surprise was that a major work such as Roberto Gerhard’s ‘Concerto for Orchestra’ has only a single recording (on Chandos). This is an acknowledged 20th century masterpiece that should be widely known and appreciated.

So it is a mixed bag of musical survival in the first part of these half-century listings. Out of the unrepresented works I would make a top priority for a new commercial recording of Richard Rodney Bennett’s Symphony No. 1. I have heard this work and consider that it is worthy of release on CD (along with much else of RRB’s music).  It is available on a YouTube recording with Colin Davis conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra. A vinyl record was released in 1968 coupled with Arnold Bax’s First Symphony. RCA Victor (Igor Buketoff). 

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