Thursday, 18 February 2016

Festival of British Music, May 1915. (Part IV)

The second concert was held at the Queen’s Hall on Thursday May 13, at 8.30 p.m. The programme included:
William Wallace: Symphonic-poem 'Villon'
Edward Elgar: Violin Concerto, Albert Sammons (violin)
Frederic Delius: Pianoforte Concerto in C minor, Howard Jones (piano)
Songs Miss Agnes Nicholls (soprano)
Hamilton Harty: Symphonic-poem, 'With the Wild Geese'
The London Symphony Orchestra, The London Choral Society. Conductors: Emil Mlynarski, Thomas Beecham and Edward Elgar.

‘Capriccio’ in Musical Opinion wrote:
‘The second concert of the festival was notable by reason of Albert Sammons’s delightful and perfectly finished playing in the Elgar Violin Concerto. It is enough to have heard Kreisler play it to realise how essentially small was his conception beside that of Sammons. Not for a moment that the playing of the latter exhibits the flashiness of the crudely ‘soulful’ tricks of the gallery favourite; but a deep artistic sense and a more genuine emotion are unmistakable. A really grand performance it was, and not in any essential less remarkable than that which made his name earlier in the season. [1]
Hamilton Harty’s picturesque and sincerely expressed tone-poem, ‘With the Wild Geese’ was played, and William Wallace’s familiar but still fresh and imaginative ‘Villon’ opened the proceedings. Mr. E Howard Jones played with great brilliance the solo part of Delius’s Piano Concerto and songs were sung by Miss Agnes Nicholls.’
Musical Opinion and Music Trade Review, June 1915.
The unsigned review in The Musical Times stated:
On May 13 Wallace's fine Tone-poem 'Villon' opened the concert. Miss Agnes Nicholls, who was in good voice, gave a fine performance of an aria, ' The wilderness and the solitary place,' from Bantock's Oratorio Christ in the Wilderness, and later she sang songs by Delius, Hamilton Harty, and [Graham] Peel. Mr. Albert Sammons was the welcome soloist in Elgar's Violin concerto. Mr. Evelyn Howard-Jones played in Delius's beautiful Pianoforte Concerto in C minor, and the concluding item was Mr. Harty's fanciful Symphonic-poem' With the wild geese.' On the whole it was an interesting scheme. The conductors were M. Mlynarski, Mr. Beecham, and Sir Edward Elgar.’
Musical Times June 1915

[1] Albert Sammons gave a performance of Elgar’s Violin Concerto on 23 November 1914 with the London Symphony Orchestra under Vassily Safonov. It was regarded by critics as a definitive performance. He was later to make the first full recording of the work in 1929 at the Queen’s Hall with the New Symphony Orchestra under Henry Wood.

It is fair to say that Elgar’s Violin Concerto in E minor, op.61 needs no special pleading. It has remained in the repertoire since its premiere in 1910 with the soloist Fritz Kreisler and the composer conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. Currently, the Arkiv CD catalogue lists some 43 recordings of this work available on CD.
On the other hand, William Wallace’s tone-poem Villon is represented by a single CD, issued by Hyperion in 1996. It has subsequently been reissued and is available as download.  Villon was the last of six tone poems composed by Wallace: it was completed in 1909. For the record Francois Villon (1431-1463) was a bit of a cad and bounder, a murderer, but also a great poet, who echoed the end of the ‘medieval consciousness.’ It is a glorious and often touching piece of music that is both inspiring and moving. If it had been composed by Richard Strauss it would have been secure in the repertoire of established orchestral music.
Delius’ Piano Concerto has also seen a fair number of recordings, but few live performances. It exists in three versions, the original 1897 version a revision made in 1904 and a final recension in 1907. All three versions have been recorded. 

I first heard Hamilton Harty’s evocative tone poem in the old Scottish National Orchestra’s Music of the Four Counties, with Sir Alexander Gibson. (HMV ASD 2400) Other works on this album included Hamish MacCunn’s The Land of the Mountain and the Flood, Edward German’s Welsh Rhapsody and Dame Ethel Smyth’s Overture: The Wreckers.  Other versions of Harty’s tone poem are available on Naxos and Chandos. Fortunately, Gibson’s recording is available as download. 


Mathias Richter said...

John, I was not aware that the first version of the Delius concerto had been recorded. Can you give us details of the recording? Wikipedia states that Howard Shelley's recent Chandos recording is of the 1897 first version. I haven't heard it but the booklet makes it quite clear that this is the 1904 second version. So we have two recordings of the second version, Lane on hyperion and Shelley on Chandos.

John France said...

I may well be wrong - will look into it! Thanks for pointing this out!


John France said...

Yes! As far as I can see we have two versions of the 1904 Shelley and Lane! Mathias, you are correct...

Sorry about that...