Monday, 7 March 2016

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

The third and final concert of the Festival of British Music was held at the Queen’s Hall, Langham Place on Saturday May 15 1915 at 3 pm. The programme included:
Frederic Austin: Spring Rhapsody
Cyril Scott: Piano Concerto (No.1) (first performance) Cyril Scott (piano)
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphonic Impression: In the Fen Country
Edward Elgar: Introduction and Allegro for string quartet and string orchestra.
Arnold Bax: In the Faery Hills
Edward Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance No.3
Songs: ‘A Celtic Lullaby’, Arnold Bax & ‘The Wood’s Aglow’, John Blackwood McEwen Madame Kirkby Lunn (contralto)
The London Symphony Orchestra, The London Choral Society. Conductors: Emil Mlynarski and Thomas Beecham.

Contemporary reviewer, ‘Capriccio’, in Musical Opinion wrote:
‘At the third concert a novelty was thrust upon an unsuspecting and easy going public, to wit, a Piano Concerto by Cyril Scott. That work is entirely innocent of tonality, of development, of consistent part-writing and coherent musical though is possibly not surprising; for Mr Scott’s previous practice has accustomed his admirers and others to such peculiarities. The work, however, is pervaded by a complete self-consciousness; indeed, it seemed as though the composer (who played the solo part) were simply concerned with tickling himself in public. A few little dribbling figures are reiterated ad nauseum and throughout the entire work there is no evidence of melodic invention or broad outline of phrase.
Other works performed were Frederic Austin’s Spring Rhapsody, Vaughan Williams’s In the Fen Country, Elgar’s seldom heard Introduction and Allegro for string quartet and strings – as telling and brilliant a piece of writing for the instruments as one could well desire – and Arnold Bax’s somewhat precious fantasy ‘In the Faery Hills.’’
‘Capriccio’ Concert Notices: Things Seen and Heard. Musical Opinion and Music Trade Review (June 1915)

Looking back 101 years it is clear that this concert contributed two works which have become an important part of the established repertoire. Few listeners in 2016 will need to be appraised of Edward Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for string quartet and string orchestra. There are currently some 43 versions of this work available on CD which are cited in the Arkiv catalogue.  In like manner Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphonic Impression: In the Fen Country has established itself as a reasonably popular piece with those who enjoy the pastoral idiom.  On the other hand, everyone knowns Elgar’s P&C March No. 1 ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ with 82 versions listed: almost as popular is No.4 with 29 CDs available. Strangely, No.3 is hardly ever heard: likewise No.2. They are worth a listen now and again, but in truth do not have quite the same charisma as the well-known pair.
It is good that Frederic Austin’s imaginative score ‘Rhapsody: Spring’ has been recorded. It was originally released on the Classico label, but subsequently reissued by Dutton Epoch (CDLX 7288).  For a work of this quality it, it is amazing that it is represented by this single performance. Arnold Bax has established himself with enthusiasts of British music and many of his pieces are available on CD, however he is not regularly heard in the concert hall. The magical tone poem In the Faery Hills has been recorded by Vernon Handley, David Lloyd-Jones and Bryden Thompson. (Chandos CHAN 10362, NAXOS 8.553525 & Chandos CLASSICS CHAN 10157.)
Cyril Scott’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which is panned by ‘Capriccio’ in the above review has been recorded twice. In 1975 it appeared on Lyrita (SRCS 81: SRCD.251) played by John Ogdon with Bernard Hermann conducting the LPO and more recently (2006) by Howard Shelley with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Martyn Brabbins on Chandos (CHAN 10376). This is a work that I feel I ought to like, but have never quite managed to come to terms with. It is a concerto I need to revisit and write about. 

The song ‘A Celtic Lullaby’ (William Sharp) composed by Bax clings to the repertoire, whereas McEwen’s ‘The Wood’s Aglow’, one of Three Songs (1905) appears to have sunk without trace. 

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