Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Some Important British Works that are Celebrating Significant Anniversaries (Composed, First Performed or Published) include:-
150 years ago:-
John Stainer
: Gideon, oratorio
This was John Stainer’s doctoral exercise. It was performed in part on 8 November 1865. The work was never published.

75 years ago
William Alwyn
: Masquerade, overture [latterly, Overture to a Masque];
Richard Arnell: Violin Concerto
Arthur Benjamin: Sonatina for chamber orchestra
Lennox Berkeley: Sonatina for recorder (flute) and piano (1939-40); Five Housman Songs for tenor and piano, Four Concert Studies, set 1
Arthur Bliss: Seven American Poems, for low voice and piano
Benjamin Britten: Paul Bunyan, operetta (c1940-1, revised 1974); Sinfonia da requiem, for orchestra; Diversions on a Theme, for piano (left hand) and orchestra; Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, for tenor and piano
Frank Bridge: Rebus, for orchestra; Divertimento for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon
Alan Bush: Symphony No 1
Geoffrey Bush: Rhapsody for clarinet and string quartet
Gerald Finzi: Dies natalis, cantata (premiere)
Roberto Gerhard: Don Quixote, ballet (1940-1)
Constant Lambert: Dirge from Cymbeline, for voices and strings
Elisabeth Lutyens: Midas, ballet for string quartet and piano; Chamber Concertos Nos 1 and 2 (1940-1)
Andrzej Panufnik: Five Polish Peasant Songs (reconstructed 1945)
Matyas Seiber: Besardo Suite No 1
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Six Choral Songs - to be sung in time of war; Valiant for Truth, motet
William Walton: The Wise Virgins, ballet

From the above list it will be seen that a few works have been become part of the standard repertoire either in the concert hall or the recording studios.  This includes Finzi’s moving Dies Natalis, all the Britten pieces and William Walton’s The Wise Virgins ballet score.  All these are represented by more than one recording. Possibly only the Finzi is heard with any frequency in the concert hall.
A number of other names listed above have retained their important place in the hierarchy of British music, but the ‘1940’ works have either fallen out of favour or are considered marginal to the composer’s current standing. This includes RVWs ‘Six Choral Songs – to be sung in time of war’ and ‘Valiant for Truth’, Roberto Gerhard’s ballet Don Quixote, and Arthur Bliss’s ‘Seven American Poems, for low voice and piano’.  The two Frank Bridge works are not amongst those generally heard although they are currently available on CD.
The revival of British music in the last third of a century, at least as far as the recording studio is concerned, has seen a few of the lesser-known works listed above featuring in the catalogues.  This includes those composed by Matyas Seiber, William Alwyn, and (some of) Elisabeth Lutyens.
Lambert’s ‘Dirge’, Lutyens’ ballet score Midas, Arthur Benjamin’s Sonatina for chamber orchestra and Andrzej Panufnik’s ‘Five Polish Peasant Songs’ all seem to have been omitted from the recording schedules.
I was delighted to find that Geoffrey Bush’s Rhapsody for Clarinet and strings is available on YouTube, however, I do not believe that there is CD available.

There are still plenty of opportunities for courageous performers and recording companies to take on some of these works.  I guess the most pressing scores must be Lutyens’s Midas and a re-issue of Bush’s First Symphony, although Geoffrey Bush’s pastoral Rhapsody is an ideal work to be taken up by Classic FM and given an up-to-date recording. 

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