Saturday, 10 October 2015

The First Thomas Dunhill Chamber Concert on 7 June 1907: A Third Review

This review was submitted to the Musical Standard (15 June 1907) by H.H. I have given it in its entirety here as his opening remarks seem to have a timeless quality to their complaint. This review notes the songs by William Hurlstone which are ignored by the other commentator.  See the ‘Notes’ at the end of my first post about this concert for details of Holbrooke’s Sextet and the confusion of opus numbers. I have added two brief comments here.

H.H. writes:
The first of the chamber concerts arranged by Mr. Thomas Dunhill was given at the small Queen’s Hall on Friday evening, June 7. The occasion was of momentous interest to those who take any interest in the native movement which gradually but surely is making itself felt. It is, therefore, not surprising to note that the audience was small but discriminating and appreciative. Let not Mr. Dunhill and his trusty coadjutors be dismayed. This is but the inceptive stage, and I have no doubt that if the movement can be maintained for a sufficient length of time, interest will be quickened in many quarters that are now at present in ‘outer darkness’ and, in fine, generous support will be forthcoming. Of native art, for many reasons which I have not space to detail, we know nothing. This series of concerts of Mr. Dunhill’s is a genuine and laudable attempt to introduce a healthier atmosphere, and if lavish support is not forthcoming it will prove a scandalous reproach to the community. For let it be known at once and for all that this is not an attempt to bolster up ‘old England,’ the majority of whom have given up the unequal struggle, have written their effete masterpieces and sunk into musical senility. These concerts are for ‘Young England,’ the vigorous militant young men, who I hope will kick over the traces, and instead of exclaiming hopelessly in the manner of their forefathers ‘it will do’ will stick to their guns, be true to themselves and their ideals. Present popularity, which induces many a young man to say about mediocre work ‘it will do’ is a veritable ‘will-o’-the-wisp.’ Once this frame of mind is induced, artistic destruction is sure and certain. Herein lies a national danger. The spirit of commercialism (a damning factor) may be responsible for it in no small measure, but if ‘young England’ is to realise the fairest hopes it must sedulously eradicate this sort of thing, and work as Balzac says, ‘like a miner buried in a landslip.’

On this first occasion, the first place on the programme was awarded to Mr. Joseph Holbrooke’s Sextet, No.2, ‘In Memoriam’, op.32, for piano and strings. This was composed in memory of Frederick Westlake and has been previously performed at Mr. Holbrooke’s concerts and that Temple of Art, South Place Institute. [1]
The first movement is strenuous in character and preceded by a short Adagio full of gloom. The thematic material is well contrasted and the modulatory scheme struck me as remarkably daring. There are portions where the writing is cloudy and trying for the instruments, although on the whole the movement is remarkable for its strength and impetuosity. The ‘Elegie’ (second movement) is an ear-haunting melody which is discoursed first by the ‘cello and then by the other instruments until a kind of break of light occurs. The same theme in ecstatic style is then given forth by the strings against a piano accompaniment in chords. The last movement which is in Rondo form is frankly jovial and it frisks away from the commencement, the second subject given out by viola first is of decided Scotch flavour, and though it is of a flowing, song-like character, the Scotch snap is very prominent and (if I may) homely. In course of time the gloomy subject of the first movement arrests the cheerfulness. But this is of brief duration, the merriment triumphs and in a strepitous burst the movement is brought to a close.
Mr James Friskin played three piano solos of his own composition. The Intermezzo in C sharp minor seemed very much like a good improvisation, but the Prelude in G major scampers off in fine style and the Caprice in A major is a nicely balanced piano-work. The last two mentioned works were Chopinesque in style and are well written for the instrument. They will doubtless prove of interest to pianists.
In Miss Phyllis Lett we had a vocalist with a comprehensive range of expression and a sympathetic voice. Mr. Cecil Forsyth’s setting of Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Remember’ did not convince me as being a very inspired work, although there is plenty of mysticism and even passion. But it wanders on in a lugubrious, nebulous fashion. The late Mr. Hurlstone’s ‘Five Baby Ballads’ [2] are delightful and although all will well repay close acquaintance ‘Blossoms’ is a gem. They are refreshing, hopeful specimens of English art, and the pity of it is that they are still in MSS.
Finally we has an interesting reading of Dvorak’s Quintet for piano and strings in A major, op.81. With Mr. Dunhill at the piano and the John Saunders Quartet party enjoyment was assured.
H.H. Musical Standard June 15 1907.

[1] The Conway Hall Ethical Society, formerly the South Place Ethical Society, based in London at Conway Hall, is thought to be the oldest surviving freethought organisation in the world, and is the only remaining ethical society in the United Kingdom. It advocates secular humanism and is a member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. (Wikipedia)

[2] William Hurlstone’s ‘Five Miniature [Baby] Ballads’ were composed around November 1902 and are settings of texts by Olive Christian Malvery (1877-1914). Malvery, a singer, was a fellow student of Hurlstone’s at the Royal College of Music.  There are five songs: ‘Bells’, ‘Blossoms’, ‘Dreams’, ‘Darkness’ and ‘Morning’. They were published by Godwin and Tabb in 1907 and are available in two keys (soprano and mezzo-soprano). 
The Five Miniature Ballads were premiered on 12th June 1902 at Steinway Hall during a recital given by Malvery. For these songs, Lucy Barton was the soloist, accompanied by Hurlstone. Hurlstone’s Four English Sketches (composed 1898 and published in 1910) for violin and piano were performed by the composer (piano) and Haydn Wood (violin). 

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