Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Gordon Jacob: Festival Overture - Proms 1965

Eric Wetherell, in his biography of Gordon Jacob (1895-1984) has reminded readers that 1965 was the year of composer’s 70th birthday. He outlines the various celebrations. The Royal College of Music had an afternoon concert on 7 July including student performances of Jacob’s chamber works. The same evening saw a concert of music presented by former pupils of the composer, including the first performance of his Six Miniatures for flute, oboe, harpsichord and harp. Other commemorative events included a review of Jacob’s life on the Third Programme ‘Music Magazine’ programme presented by the pianist Jean Mackie. The BBC gave performances of his ‘Overture for Brass’ and the Suite in B flat played by the Fairey Brass Band under their director Harry Mortimer. The BBC Home Service included his Elegy for cello and piano as well as his Piano Trio. Ruth Gipps and her Chanticleer Orchestra performed the Oboe and the Flute Concertos at the Wigmore Hall on 8 July. There was a concert of chamber music at Jacob’s home town of Saffron Walden on 10 July.
The only orchestral piece that seems to have been performed during the anniversary year was the ‘Festival’ Overture at a Promenade Concert on 21 August 1965. It opened the evening programme which included Cesar Franck’s Symphonic Variations, Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite. With the exception of the Overture, the BBC Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Malcom Sargent. 

The Festival Overture was originally composed for the Essex Youth Orchestra in 1963 and was first performed by them on 23 October 1964 under the composer’s baton at a Festival of Music and the Arts held in Saffron Walden. It was played on their Continental tour, conducted by their regular, Raymond Leppard.

The overture is scored for a large orchestra, consisting of triple wood-wind, full brass with three trumpets, harp and strings. There is a large array of percussion instruments. The composer provided the programme note for the Promenade Concert:-
‘As befits the title, the music is animated throughout except for one quieter section near the middle. It is built out of three main themes, of which the first, heard at the outset, is characterised by strongly marked, often syncopated rhythms. The opening phrase plays its part in the development of the work. The second-subject material comprises two themes, one a tune over an ostinato-like bass in quavers, the other consisting of contrasting remarks from strings and brass. After this material has been enlarged upon and a big climax built up, the quieter section makes its appearance. Here the oboe is prominent until the strings take over.
The recapitulation differs from the exposition in detail, though all the themes are heard again in it, including a very fully scored version of the first of the second subject themes during which three trumpets in unison provide a kind of fairground effect. A short coda brings the overture to a resounding finish’. G.J.

Eric Wetherell has added that there are ‘no concessions’ to the ‘relative inexperience’ of the young players in the Essex Youth Orchestra. The players are presented with material that is ‘wholly practical’ but still ‘pushing the instrumentalists to their limits.’

In his review this work in MusicWeb International Rob Barnett has written that ‘A Festival Overture is another cracking British concert overture which would be happy in any anthology. In fact a dedicated record company could easily assemble a whole CD of Jacob overtures of this type… Someone has claimed that the overture sounds like Malcolm Arnold. I don’t see it. There is certainly a touch or two of E J Moeran and perhaps Reizenstein in this but Arnold would have been even more over the top and raucous’. 

Gordon Jacob’s Festival Overture (1963) was released on the Classico record label (CLASSCD204) coupled with the same composer’s Symphony No.2 in C major and ‘A Little Symphony.’ It does not appear to have been uploaded to YouTube.

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