Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Some Important British Works that are Celebrating Half-Centenaries (Composed, First Performed or Published) Part 2

Part 2
Wilfred Josephs: Piano Concerto No 1 op.46; Canzonas on a Theme of Rameau, for strings; Sonata for violin and piano; So She Went into the Garden, for chorus and piano; Four Japanese Lyrics, for voice, clarinet and piano
Kenneth Leighton: Communion Service in D, for chorus and organ
Elisabeth Lutyens: The Valley of Hatsu-Se, for solo voice and instruments; Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, for unaccompanied chorus;
John McCabe: Chamber Concerto for viola, cello and orchestra; Concertante for harpsichord and chamber ensemble; Symphony No 1; Elegy; String Trio; Fantasy for brass quartet; Bagatelles for two clarinets;  Elegy for organ
Elizabeth Maconchy: Variazione Concertante for orchestra
William Mathias: Festival Te Deum, for mixed voices and organ
Nicolas Maw: String Quartet No.1
Thea Musgrave: Festival Overture, for orchestra; Excursions, for piano (four hands)
Alan Rawsthorne: Tankas of the Four Seasons, for tenor and chamber ensemble; Cello Concerto
Edmund Rubbra: Inscape, suite for chorus, strings and harp
John Tavener: Cain and Abel, cantata
Michael Tippett: Vision of St Augustine, for baritone, chorus and orchestra;
William Walton: The Twelve, for chorus and orchestra
Egon Wellesz: Symphony No 6
Malcolm Williamson: The Happy Prince, opera; Violin Concerto; Concerto Grosso for orchestra; Sinfonietta; Symphonic Variations, for orchestra; Four North Country Songs, for voice and orchestra
Hugh Wood: Scenes from Comus, for soli and orchestra (completed)

Much of this tranche of ‘half-centenary’ music seems to have died over succeeding years. However, there are a number of positives. I may have missed some recordings of the listed pieces: I would be interested to hear of them.

So little of Wilfred Joseph’s music has made it onto vinyl or CD with only a couple of discs devoted to his chamber music, the Double Bass Concerto and a few bits and pieces. However, none of the 1965 works (with the honourable exception of the Violin Sonata) seem to have been recorded for posterity. The Piano Concerto is surely a tantalising prospect?
I cannot find a recording of Kenneth Leighton’s Communion Service in D, for chorus and organ, however I assume that it is sometimes heard in ‘choirs and places where they sing.’
Listeners are fortunate to have a single recording of Elisabeth Lutyens’ The Valley of Hatsu-Se, for solo voice and instruments on the sterling NMC label.

John McCabe is well served. I looked at the discography on his webpage and it seems that most of his works from this year have survived – at least in the recording studio. The Symphony has been re-released (2104) on Naxos from the original Pye recording made in 1967. The Elegy for organ was available on an old Decca Eclipse LP. The Bagatelles for two clarinets were issued on the Albany label. The String Trio appears on a Campion Cameo CD coupled with music by the Manchester composer David Ellis.
I have not come to terms with Edmund Rubbra’s music: I accept that I have never given him a chance. I have listened to his symphonies over the years, but they have never really moved me. The 1965 Inscape, suite for chorus, strings and harp was release by Chandos in 2000. I understand that there is also a Decca vinyl version dating back to 1967 with John Carol Case, the Ambrosian Singers and the Jacques Orchestra conducted by Myer Fredman.
Alan Rawsthorne’s Tankas of the Four Seasons, for tenor and chamber ensemble has avoided being recorded: however his interesting Cello Concerto has received a single release on the Naxos label. It received mixed reviews.
John Tavener is well represented in the CD listings, however I am unable to locate a recording of his cantata Cain and Abel. I guess that most of currently available CD tracks will represent music written after his change of style to more ‘approachable’ and tonal music nodding towards Arvo Part.

I am not a fan of Michael Tippett’s choral work The Vision of St. Augustine, yet I recognise that it is one of his most important compositions. I am amazed that the only currently available recording is the old 1971 version with John Shirley Quirk and the LSO conducted by the composer. It was re-released most recently on a RCA Victor special CD (51304). As the reviewer in The Gramophone stated ‘…it is a masterpiece that reveals its secrets slowly…’ Surely it deserves a more modern recording?

The most ‘popular’ work dating from 1965 is William Walton’s choral piece The Twelve. There are currently 10 editions of this piece in the Arkiv catalogue, although I believe that the Naxos version appears on two different albums.
Hugh Wood’s Scenes from Comus, was issued along with his Symphony on the NMC label in 2002. Neither work appears to have caught the listening public’s imagination.  
Egon Wellesz is most fortunate in having his complete cycle of Symphonies released on the CPO label. Wellesz is reasonably well served by recording companies, though his music deserves greater exposure.
I do not believe that Nicolas Maw’s String Quartet No.1, Thea Musgrave’s Festival Overture or Elizabeth Maconchy’s Variazione Concertante for orchestra have been heard in recent years. They are certainly not in the current CD catalogues. I did find a reference to the Maw Quartet on an old Argo LP. Musgrave’s Excursions, for piano (four hands) has been released on Campion Cameo with works by Berkeley, Bowen, Walton and Lane. William Mathias’ Festival Te Deum has been appeared on Hyperion.

My biggest surprise is that I can only find two of Malcolm Williamson’s offerings for 1965 on CD – the Concerto Grosso and the Sinfonietta. Both were published on the first volume of Chandos slowly-appearing retrospective of his orchestral music. The Symphonic Variations are currently available on YouTube. However, there is no sign of the opera The Happy Prince, or the Violin Concerto. This latter work was released on LP by HMV coupled with Lennox Berkeley’s Violin Concerto. The Happy Prince was issued on vinyl by Argo in 1966. 

If I had to call for one or two works to be included in the record companies’ ‘bucket list’ it would have to include Wilfred Joseph’s Piano Concerto, Elizabeth Maconchy’s Variazione Concertante for orchestra and a new edition of Malcolm Williamson’s Concerto for Violin. 

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