For me, the major CD release of 2017 has been Peter Racine Fricker’s Symphonies 1-4 on Lyrita (REAM.2136). Included on this two-disc survey are the early Rondo Scherzoso (1948) and the entertaining Comedy Overture dating from 1958.
This Overture was composed during a ten-year gap between the Second (1951) and Third Symphonies (1960). Important works from this period includes the Litany for double string orchestra (1956), the oratorio The Vision of Judgment (1958), Concertos for Piano (1952) and for Viola (1953), several films scores and some incidental music.
The Comedy Overture was commissioned by the Friends of Morley College as a part of the celebrations marking the completion of the rebuilding works at the College. This included the ‘magnificent’ new Emma Cons Hall. At this time, Fricker was musical director at the college.
Two concerts were given. Geoffrey Madell, in the Musical Times (February 1959) felt that both were somewhat ‘disappointing.’ The first concert, on 5 December 1958 included Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola (K.364), Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Flos Campi and Henry Purcell’s Ode for St Cecilia’s Day. It was at this concert that Fricker’s ‘light and attractive’ Comedy Overture received its premiere. The performers included the Morley College Chamber Orchestra conducted by Fricker.
The second concert was presented on 9 December, and featured the Morley College Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Malcolm Arnold. According to the Musical Times (op cit.) ‘brave attempts were made at Sibelius’ En Saga and Tchaikovsky’s Francesco da Rimini, but the ensemble was often poor.’ Joyce Hatto played Liszt’s Totendanz and a ‘piano concerto movement attributed to Beethoven’. The concert also saw the premiere of Iain Hamilton’s breezy pastiche Overture: 1912, which is a parody of music-hall.
Paul Conway, in his liner notes for the Lyrita CD has written that the Comedy Overture ‘is reflected in the main theme whose blithe resilience suggests a celebrated quote attributed to Fricker’s illustrious ancestor: ‘Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.’ The tempo remains Allegro vivace throughout and a feature is made of solos for all the woodwind instruments.’
The Times (6 December, 1958) reviewer suggested that ‘one does not automatically associate Mr. Fricker with a gift for the comical in music and his overture, as expected, was scarcely ribald. But it had the pace of comedy and its light expert textures and deft invention made an agreeable start to the evening. The dry, Stravinsky-like rhythms and sonorities of the work sounded well, which may say something encouraging for the acoustics of the [new] hall. Certainly, the Morley College Chamber Orchestra deserve praise for their share in a successful premiere.’
I agree that the work is not ‘ribald’ however, I think that the entire piece is characterised by wit which is certainly a subtler and harder to realise attribute.
The performance of the Comedy Overture on Lyrita was played by the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Albert Rosen. It was part of the BBC’s celebration of Peter Racine Fricker’s 60th birthday, presented on 17 September 1980. The broadcast also included the Piano Concerto (1954) Symphony No 2 (1952).