Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Gustav Holst: 1927 Festival at Cheltenham Part II

I post a short review of the 1927 Holst Festival in Cheltenham. It was published in The Monthly Musical Record on 2 May 1927. I builds up a picture of what must have been a remarkable and most enjoyable event. I am not sure who the author R.C. was. 

THE Holst Festival at Cheltenham on March 22 was an uncommonly heartening occasion. Gustav Holst is a native of Cheltenham, but it would have been quite natural if the townspeople had ignored the fact for a hundred years.  
That they should have shown the enterprise to honour him while he was here to take part in the ceremony, was to the credit of all concerned, and principally to a little group of local musicians, such as Miss Dorothy Treseder, Mr. Lewis Hann, Mr. W. Lock Mellersh, and Mr. P. J. Taylor, who were at the bottom of it all.   
The proposal at first was to raise a fund for a presentation portrait, but Mr. Holst expressed a wish that the money should go towards providing Cheltenham people with an opportunity of hearing     some of his music well played. Hence the visit of the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the two concerts in the Town Hall. The preliminary subscriptions provided for nine hours' rehearsing. The programme, exactly repeated at the second concert, was as follows:
Somerset Rhapsody, op. 21 (1906).     
Ballet Music, The Perfect Fool, op. 39 (1918).
Fugal Concerto in D, op. 40, No. 2 (1923).     
Two Songs without Words: (a) Country Song, b) Marching Song; op. 2        (1906).
The Planets, op. 32 (1914-16). 
Of this music the Rhapsody was the least familiar. It was in fact unknown except to those with long memories, for it had not been played for years, and has only just been published.
It is a charming little work in pure folksong vein. The four tunes are all from Sharp's Somerset collection. [Cecil Sharp: Folksongs from Somerset (London Simpkin 1904-11)]
The composer has suggested no programme, but there is no mistaking the scene depicted by the music. It opens with a pastoral tune 'Sheepshearing Song", plaintive, lonely, and very quiet. Then there breaks in a hint of marching, and presently a succession of martial tunes (‘High Germany,’ ‘The True Lover's Farewell,’ and ‘The Cuckoo’), irresistibly suggests the passing of a body of troops along the highway. The music swells and dies away. At the end the first pastoral song returns.
It is not one of Holst's greatest works, but it is irresistibly attractive, and all the four folksongs are beauties. Mr. Holst himself conducted this, as in fact most of the concert. (The exception was The Perfect Fool, ballet music, which Mr. Boult conducted.)
The evening performances were the better. The players were warmed up by a packed and highly-strung audience, largely of young people. The interest felt, and the impression made were remarkable, and after that day Holst will count as a celebrity in the mind of all Cheltenham, however little he was known before.
Mr. Holst did not after all leave Cheltenham without a picture. In the afternoon he was presented with a water-colour by Mr. Harold Cox —a Whistlerian night-piece, showing the Planets in a May sky in the Cotswolds. Congratulatory letters were read from Sir Edward Elgar, Dr R. Vaughan Williams, Sir Henry Wood, Sir 'Walford Davies, Sir Landon Ronald, Sir Hugh Allen, the British Music Society [not the current soicety], and the Incorporated Society of Musicians.
R. C.
The Monthly Musical Record 2 May 1927

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Rawsthorne and other Rarities: New CD from Divine Art


This remarkable CD opens with Alan Rawsthorne’s Chamber Cantata dating from 1937 (not 1939 as listed in the liner notes). It is a premiere recording. John Turner explains that he discovered the manuscript of this work in the Library of Congress, Washington DC amongst the papers of American composer and musicologist Halsey Stevens. It was believed to have been destroyed. The Cantata was premiered at the Wigmore Hall, London on 15 February 1937. I guess that the composer quietly withdrew the work, after receiving a bunch of less than positive reviews.
Rawsthorne chose to set four medieval poems: Of a Rose is al myn Song; Lenten ys come; Wynter Wakeneth al my Care and The Nicht is neir gone. They are a subtle balance of slightly ribald humour, nature painting and religious piety. The liner notes remind the listener that this cantata was a rare example of Rawsthorne’s setting of Christian texts (the first two of these songs). However, the composer was clearly inspired by medieval poetry, religious or otherwise: subsequent settings of medieval texts included Carmen Vitale (1963) and the Medieval Diptych (1962).
What is interesting is the contemporary critics’ view of this work, which as mentioned, was none too encouraging. The reviews do give the present-day listener a clue to enjoying this music. For example, the Daily Telegraph (16 February 1937) thinks that the piece was ‘sincere, and even humorous’ but the ‘obstinate counterpoint and the nervous shrinking from a natural vocal line made an effect of strain and forced expression.’  The Times critic (19 February 1937) felt that the dichotomy between the ‘four very old English poems’ and the ‘very new dissonances’ denied the vocal line ‘feeling.’  And finally, the most acerbic review of all was in the Musical Times (March 1937): ‘Here the composer has set four poems in spiky old English to modern linear counterpoint so very spiky that its strands evoke an image of barbed wire…’
Viewed from a period of more than 80 years later, this work is a remarkable balance of ‘experimental’ music and a deep sensitivity for the varied impact of the poems.  Since 1937, listeners have become accustomed to hearing texts from all periods of English and Scottish literature set to music of wildly differing styles: from pastiche to avant-garde. It is not an issue to have ‘dissonances’ and ‘obstinate counterpoint’ in music any more (hopefully). And there is a satisfying tension raised between the timelessness of the medieval texts and hints of forthcoming barbarity that was in the air at the time of composition. Maybe ‘barbed wire’ was not a bad metaphor to use.  
Alan Rawsthorne’s Chamber Cantata is sung to perfection on this recording. The string quartet and harpsichord accompaniment is ideally balanced.

American composer Halsey Stevens (1908-1989) provides a neo-classical Sonatina Piacevole for recorder and harpsichord. This work was composed around 1955/6. The opening ‘allegro moderato’ is pure pastiche. Then follows something more modern sounding – the ‘poco lento.’ This is truly lovely music. The proceedings close with a lively ‘allegro.’ Here the label ‘neo-classical’ may obscure the vibrant and contemporary harmonies and rhythmic vitality of this music. A great work that deserves to be in the repertoire of all recorderists.

I first heard Alan Rawsthorne’s wonderful Practical Cats in the 1957 recording made by Robert Donat and Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Alan Rawsthorne for EMI. It was reissued on CD in 1998. In 2007, Dutton Epoch released a new version with Simon Callow as the speaker, accompanied by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
Practical Cats was commissioned by the Edinburgh Festival Society for a children’s concert during 1954. It was scored for reciter and orchestra. The present version, which substitutes a piano for the ‘band’ was realised by Peter Dickinson from sketches in the Rawsthorne archive at the Royal Northern College of Manchester. I think that this is a splendid ‘reduction’ which ought to allow many more ‘economical’ performances of this sparkling and witty confection.
Rawsthorne’s take on T.S. Eliot’s poems includes a rumbustious overture followed by ‘The Naming of Cats’; ‘The Old Gumbie Cat’; ‘Gus, the Theatre Cat’; ‘Bustopher Jones’; ‘Old Deuteronomy’ and ‘The Song of the Jellicles’. It is full of felicitous musical impressisons and allusions.  Mark Rowlinson and Peter Lawson give an inspiring and enjoyable performance of this wonderful fun work.
I have occasionally run into trouble with friends who enjoy Andrew Lloyd Weber’s popular musical Cats: I would pit Rawsthorne’s take on Eliot’s poems against this every time! The problem I do have, is which of the three outstanding recordings of this work do I listen to?

Basil Deane’s The Rose Tree is presented on this disc in an arrangement by Raymond Warren for soprano, recorder and cello. It is a setting of two poems by the Irish poet W.B. Yeats:  the eponymous ‘The Rose Tree’ and ‘I am of Ireland.’ These remained unfinished at the time of his death in 2006.  Deane had written the vocal line only of both songs. The original holograph was lost, but later turned up amongst the composer’s paper. What struck me about these two songs is the inherent timelessness of the music. I have noted before that it is extremely difficult to argue for a particular ‘stylistic or analogous descriptive label’ for them.  The nearest I can come to giving a flavour of the sound world of these two songs is to suggest a fusion between the lilt of Irish folksong and an atonal accompaniment which tends to be fragmented rather than lyrical. That said, these are minor masterpieces that work extremely well in Warren’s excellent ‘realisation.’

It is always a delight to come across a piece of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams that I have not heard before. ‘The Willow Whistle’ is a case in point. This is a setting for treble voice and bamboo pipe. The text was by M.E. Fuller. Michael Kennedy, in his catalogue notes that the manuscript of this piece is undated, but he considers that is may be contemporaneous with the Suite for pipes composed just prior to the Second World War. Little is known about the poet, nor is any indication given as to where the text was garnered. The opening line gives sufficient clue to the nature of the song and its beautiful pastoral setting: ‘Only a boy can set free/The music in a willow tree…’

I have never come across any music by the London-resident, Czech composer Karel Janovicky. The present miniature The Little Linden Pipe is an engaging set of variations for solo recorder based on a Moravian folk-song. The liner notes explain that the text translates as ‘I have a little pipe made of linden-tree wood/It does always tell me when my love is angry.’  It was composed for John Turner in 2016. There is no real anger in this music: it is a delightful exploration of the potential of the original tune.

Like most Rawsthorne enthusiasts, I have known of the existence of the String Quartet in B minor for several years. Yet, I have never heard it until reviewing this CD. I believe that this is the premiere recording. The work was first given at Dartington Hall on 11 June 1933 at a private performance. This was followed by its first public performance at the Ballet Club Theatre, Notting Hill Gate on 22 January 1934 at one of the ‘famous’ Macnaghten-Lemare concerts.
There are three movements: ‘Fugue’, ‘Andante – allegretto’ and a ‘Molto allegro quasi presto.’
The only problem with this quartet is the slight imbalance between the more ‘modernist’ first and last movements and the ‘Dvorakian’ tune heard in the middle movement. This did not bother me in the least, but it was picked up by contemporary critics.
Yet, there is no doubt that the 28-year-old composer was a master of form and presented a work that often looked forward to his own unique musical language. The most magical part of this quartet is the final episode in the ‘finale’, just before the coda. This music is touchingly (sentimentally?) romantic for Rawsthorne.

Donald Waxman’s superb ‘Serenade and Caprice’ (2016) was dedicated to John Turner. It is a delightful parody of all sorts of music, with nods to Baroque, more modernist music and even ‘pop.’ I note that the composer is 93 in October and still going strong.

‘The Buckle’ is a charming setting of Walter de la Mare’s lovely poem about the soul of a child at play. It is the third of his Three Romantic Songs composed in 1921. The song was ‘dedicated to the composer’s infant half-sister’ Enid Bliss who was latterly a bridesmaid at his wedding (1925). The cycle was originally for voice and piano. The liner notes suggest that the composer is likely to have made the present sparkling and somewhat elaborate arrangement for string quartet as a companion piece to ‘The Fallow Deer at the Lonely House’ (1925) to words by Thomas Hardy.

The Journey (2016) for solo recorder was the last work composed by Malcolm Lipkin before his death in 2017. It was composed for a colleague who had recently died. This short study is supposed to be a mediation on life as a journey, with its inevitable end. It is formless, lacking interest and short on lyricism. It is not a piece that I warm to. 

David Ellis’s haunting Mount Street Blues for recorder and string quartet is dedicated to the memory of John McCabe. The connection to Mount Street is interesting. This was where John McCabe studied at the Liverpool Institute in that street. The music is sad and lugubrious making this short work into an elegy. It is movingly played by John Turner and the Solem Quartet. I am not sure when it was written, but I guess it was probably around 2016.

The playing and the singing by all the performers on this adventurous CD is ideal in every way. I loved Clare Wilkinson’s voice, especially in Rawsthorne’s Chamber Cantata. The Solem String Quartet play with clarity and commitment in the String Quartet. The recording is excellent. John Turner not only gave first-rate performances on the recorder and the bamboo pipe, but also wrote the liner notes which are informative and entertaining. I was disappointed in the CD cover: reading black text on blue background is not good for ageing eyes. Texts are given for the Rawsthorne Chamber Cantata, but not for the other songs. I understand the copyright issues with T.S. Elliot. And finally, I was surprised to read that Matthew Arnold is included in the Galaxy music publisher’s listings of British Music. (Halsey Stevens note) …

All in all, this is an extraordinary disc. Not only does it do what it says on the tin and introduce the listener to some rarities by a variety of better-and-lesser-known composers, it gives Rawsthorne enthusiasts two previously unrecorded works, the Chamber Cantata and the String Quartet in B minor and includes an incarnation of the whimsical Practical Cats which deserves all success.  Finally, the entire CD is dedicated to the memory of John McCabe (1939-2015). It is a most worthy tribute. 

Track Listing:
Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971) Chamber Cantata for mezzo-soprano, harpsichord and string quartet. (c.1937)
Halsey STEVENS (1908-1989) Sonatina Piacevole for recorder and harpsichord (1955/6)
Alan RAWSTHORNE Practical Cats for reciter and piano (text by T.S. Eliot) (1954) edited and arranged by Peter DICKINSON (b.1934)
Basil DEANE (1928-2006) The Rose Tree (texts by W.B. Yeats) realised by Raymond WARREN (b.1928) for mezzo-soprano, recorder and cello (2008)
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) The Willow Whistle (c.1939) for mezzo-soprano and bamboo pipe
Karel JANOVICKY (b.1930) The Little Linden Pipe for solo recorder (2016)
Alan RAWSTHORNE String Quartet in B minor (1932 or 1933)
Donald WAXMAN (b.1925) Serenade and Caprice for recorder and harpsichord (2016)
Arthur BLISS (1891-1975) ‘The Buckle’ for mezzo-soprano and string quartet (1921)
Malcolm LIPKIN (1932-2017) The Journey for solo recorder (2016)
David ELLIS (b.1933) Mount Street Blues for recorder and string quartet (?)
Clare Wilkinson (mezzo-soprano), Harvey Davies (harpsichord), John Turner (recorder and bamboo pipe), Mark Rowlinson (reciter), Peter Lawson (piano), Stephanie Tress (cello), Solem Quartet.
Rec. UK, 2017 
DIVINE ART DDA 25169
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 


Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Gustav Holst: 1927 Festival at Cheltenham Part I


I was reading Imogen Holst’s biography (1958/1988) of her father the other day and came across the story of the 1927 Holst Festival in Cheltenham, she writes: ‘Instead of waiting until he died, and then putting up a stone monument to his memory, they [the citizens of Cheltenham] decided to honour him while he was still living. ‘Michael Short (1990) elaborates. He states that the idea had originated with the local pianist Dorothy Treseder and the ornithologist W. Lock Mellersh who subsequently invited Lewis Hann, the director of Cheltenham Ladies College to chair an ‘organising committee.’ The original idea was to commission a portrait of Gustav, however when this was mooted to him, he suggested that a concert would be more appropriate and would allow townspeople to hear some of his music, played by a highly professional orchestra. Mayoral agreement was reached, and the Holst Festival was pencilled in for March 1927.

The Times (7 March 1927) reported that two concerts of Holst’s music will be presented in the Town Hall at Cheltenham – both on March 22 at 3pm and 8pm. The Birmingham City Orchestra had been engaged and ‘Mr Holst had accepted the invitation to conduct the two concerts with the same programme.’ It noted that the works to be given were The Planets (complete), a Somerset Rhapsody, the ballet music from The Perfect Fool, the Two Songs Without Words and the Fugal Concerto for flute and oboe.  
The orchestra was augmented to 75 players and a 30-member voice choir. The rehearsal took place in Birmingham, with Holst travelling there to conduct.

Imogen Holst (1958/1988) reported that her father ‘was not very strong the time.’ It was considered unlikely that he would be able to conduct the whole of The Planets Suite. Fortunately, Adrian Boult was present at the concert, and he was placed on stand-by and ‘was prepared to take charge at a moment’s notice if he [Holst] should find the strain too great.’ Imogen Holst reported that her father was ‘grateful for the way that Boult held himself in readiness to conduct if wanted.’ Due to this potential support, the entire concert went well, with Holst conducting throughout.

The concert was a huge success, as various reviews report. The Birmingham City Orchestra had only nine hours of rehearsal with the composer, for a two-hour concert. Clearly, they would have known some of the works such as The Planets and The Perfect Fool. However, pieces such as the Fugal Concerto for flute and oboe may well have lacked familiarity.
During the interval, messages of congratulation and goodwill were read out. These included contributions from Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Sir Henry Wood, Henry Walford Davies, Landon Ronald, Sir Hugh Allen, the British Music Society and the Incorporated Society of Musicians.
Holst was presented with a picture by Harold Cox. This was a painting of Saturn, Neptune, Jupiter and Venus as seen over the Cotswold hills during May 1919. Apparently, the Astronomer Royal had been consulted about this conjunction of the planets. It is painting I would love to see!

The day of the festival was set fair. Many friends and colleagues of Holst turned up at the concerts, including former choir members from Wyck Rissington where Holst had his first musical appointment as organist, and contemporary school friends of the composer from Cheltenham Grammar School.  Imogen Holst recalls that ‘There were violinists who had played sonatas with Adolph [Holst’s Father]. And little old ladies who had been passionately in love with Gustavus Matthias [uncle]. There were even one or two, still older and more fragile, who had learnt their notes form Gustavus Valentine.’ [Grandfather]. (Holst, 1958/1988)
The proceedings opened with the arrival of Holst, the Mayor, the Town Clerk, Aldermen and Councillors at the Town Hall. The audience were already seated. The concert began with the Somerset Rhapsody, followed by the Perfect Fool and the Fugal Concerto. At the interval, the Mayor made a speech congratulating the composer, and presenting him with the Cox painting. The Mayor concluded his remarks by suggesting that Holst compose a ‘Cheltenham Idyll’ – he had already composed a Cotswold Symphony and the Somerset Rhapsody. Holst never delivered on this suggestion.  Short (1990) reports that Holst thanked the various parties for organising the event, made plea on behalf of ‘living composers in preference to dead ones’ and expressing gratitude for the generous amount of rehearsal time given to him.
The second part of the concert featured one work: The Planets.

When the festival was over, the committee discovered that it had ‘a surplus of funds’ so it decided to commission the painting of the composer from Bernard Munns of Birmingham, which had been the original plan. 

Brief Bibliography:
Short, Michael Gustav Holst: The Man and His Music (Oxford University Press, 1990
Holst, Imogen, Gustav Holst: A Biography (Oxford University Press, 1958/1988)

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Deep Light: Clarinet Masterpieces


Weber’s Grand Duo Concertant, op.48 (1816) immediately sets the tone of this outstanding CD from IBS Classical. Originally conceived as a ‘sonata’, the composer felt that the present title was more fitting for its fearsomely virtuosic content. Both players are faced by equal technical difficulties rather than the accompaniment being subservient to the soloist.
Weber began the Grand Duo Concertante, op. 48, in 1815 and completed it the following year. The premiere was given in Berlin during 1817: the clarinet soloist was Heinrich Baermann and Weber played the piano. 
The Concertant is written in three movements. The opening is a lively, and sometimes impassioned, debate between the soloists. Occasionally, this gets out of hand, and both players seem to be arguing at once. All ends well, however: there is no lasting falling out of the protagonists.  Formally, this ‘Allegro Con Fuoco’ is written in sonata form. The slow movement is a poignantly reflective ‘andante con moto.’ The finale is a breezy Rondo (allegro): there are some darker, even ominous, episodes in what is typically pure sunshine.
The virtuosity of the present soloists is obvious from the first to the last bar. Both survive the tremendous complexities of this piece with assurance. Their performance confirms that the Grand Duo Concertant is one of the great ‘warhorses’ of the clarinet repertoire. 

Recent years have witnessed the most welcome reappraisal of Gerald Finzi. Classic FM has two of his works in their ‘Hall of Fame’: the present Bagatelles and the beautiful Eclogue for piano and strings. Also, regularly heard on that station, are the Romance and extracts from the Clarinet Concerto. 
There is a view that Finzi is always ‘pastoral’ in his compositions. Although it is true that he did not flirt with modernism or serialism, there are several works that do not fall into the ‘ruminative’ mood. Think of his Cello Concerto for example: this is hardly ‘cow and gate’ music.
The Five Bagatelles, written between 1941 and 1945 sit in a sort of halfway house. Certainly, the peaceful ‘Romance’, the fond ‘Carol’ and the reflective ‘Forlane’ are largely ‘pastoral’ and retrospective in their effect. But even here, there is occasionally something a little more hard-edged.  The opening ‘Prelude’ and the final ‘Fughetta’ are much more dramatic and powerful in expression than may be expected. But Finzi being Finzi never overdoes the dissonance and always controls his music with a sensitive lyricism.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Six Studies on English Folk Song (1926) have long been favourites of mine. I have fond memories of playing the piano accompaniment for a cellist now sadly dead.
Originally written for cello and piano, RVW dished them up in several versions, including violin, viola and for clarinet. These studies reflect the honest to goodness simplicity that underscores the essence of the folksongs on which the work is based. The final movement is more energetic than the prevailing contemplative mood of the preceding five. For me the most moving, is the second number, ‘Spurn Point.’ The duo plays them with great skill and a tender enthusiasm.

Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, op.73 opens with a beautiful song-like piece reflecting ‘intimate, introspective music, hesitant and reflective’ rather than confident. The second piece is equally thoughtful, but, has a much more positive clarinet part supported by a rippling piano accompaniment. The final number is the most technically complex. This piece is infused with exuberance and excitement that is only tempered by a melancholic middle section. Nevertheless, the work ends on a hugely positive note. These three pieces were composed in 1849 and exist in versions for violin and viola.

Jean Françaix is a composer I would like to spend time exploring. I have no excuse, as there are many recordings dedicated to his music. Forty-odd years ago, there was a wee vogue for his L'horloge de flore, for oboe and orchestra (1959) offered on a recording made by Andre Previn (RCA VICTOR RED SEAL LSB-4094).
The Tema con Variazioni was written in 1974 as a competition piece for the Paris Conservatoire. The work was dedicated to the composer’s grandson, Olivier. After the theme, which musically ‘contrives’ the syllables ‘O-li-vier’, Françaix presents six short, but captivating variations, which range from a meditation on a summer’s day through to a Parisian jazz-club. This music, by reason of being a ‘test piece’, is technically difficult, especially for the clarinettist. As the liner notes suggest, the chief challenge being ‘the concealment of the fearsome technical demands beneath the work’s irreverent, carefree charm.’ It is my major discovery of ‘the day’ and may well lead me to an investigation of the fascinating music of Jean Françaix.

The liner notes (French and English) are most helpful and contain more-than-sufficient information to appreciate and enjoy this recital. They are written as a joint effort by the soloists. Included are the usual soloists’ biographies.  I have no issues with any part of this CD’s production: The recording is ideal and the performances by Cristo Barrios (clarinet) and Andrew West (piano) are superb.

This new disc presents an exciting, varied and enjoyable programme. It is an ideal introduction to ‘Clarinet Masterpieces.’ All the pieces I know quite well, except the Jean Françaix: this latter is a rare discovery and a delightful little gem. 

Track Listings:
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1926) Grand Duo Concertant, op.48 (1816)
Gerald FINZI (1901-56) Five Bagatelles, op.23 (1943-45)
Ralph Vaughan WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Six Studies on English Folk Song (1926)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-56) Fantasiestücke, op.73 (1849)
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997) Tema con Variazioni (1974)
Cristo Barrios (clarinet), Andrew West (piano)
Rec. 10-12 March 2011 Auditorio Antonio Lecuona Conservatorio Superior de Musica de Canarias and Conservatorio Profesional de Musica de Tenerife.
IBS CLASSICAL IBS42018 
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 


Thursday, 19 July 2018

William Wordsworth: Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962) Glasgow Herald review


After my post on 16 July about the recent release on the Toccata CD label of William Wordsworth’s Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962), I found a review of the premiere performance at Perth. It was published in the Glasgow Herald on 21 March 1966. 

The reviewer, P.J.H. begins with a historical musing. He considers that ‘In the eight years since Vaughan Williams’s death (26 August 1958) his music has suffered a considerable eclipse, yet the traditional English style is still manifest in the works of William Wordsworth, whose Variations op.72 on a Scottish theme were given their public premiere in the City Hall, Perth last night (20 March) by the Perth Symphony Orchestra under their new conductor, John McLeod, a Trinity College, Glenalmond music master.’
Glenalmond is an independent boarding and day school located on the banks of the River Almond, some eight miles west of Perth. It was originally called Trinity College, Glenalmond. John McLeod, is still an active composer, clarinettist and teacher.

The Glasgow Herald review continues: ‘These eight variations and fugue on the chorus of ‘The Campbells are Coming’ were conceived for the pupils of Bryanston School [Dorset], who must have possessed a brilliant solo woodwind team and also a considerable xylophonist, as the oboe, clarinet, and percussion are prominently featured in the less facile and more rhapsodic inner variations.
At this point, one wonders if the reviewer was really listening. Wordsworth’s theme was in fact ‘A Hundred Pipers an a’ and not ‘The Campbells are Coming’.

As for the remainder of the concert, P.J.H. felt that the conductor ‘was at pains to provide a tight rhythmic backing to Geoffrey Burford’s youthful and brilliant account of Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto.’ I could find out little about Burford, save that he is an English pianist, harpsichordist and organist. Finally, the critic noted that the concert began with Mozart’s overture ‘Il Seraglio’, featured Sibelius’s Valse Triste and concluded with Haydn’s ‘jolliest symphony, that in G [major] No.88.’ He felt that it ‘drew that most attractive playing of the evening from this well-disciplined orchestra…’
As a reminder, Williams Wordsworth’s Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962) is available on Toccata (TOCC 0480) and includes the Divertimento in D, op.58 and the Symphonies No. 4 in Eb, op.54 and No.8 ‘Pax Hominibus’. 

Monday, 16 July 2018

William Wordsworth (1908-1998) Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962): The First Public Performance

Further to my recent post on the above work, I discovered the programme for the first public performance of William Wordsworth’s (1908-1998) Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962) in its orchestral guise. This was given on Sunday, 20th March 1966 at the City Hall, Perth. The Perth Symphony Orchestra was conducted by John McLeod. Other works at this concert included Mozart’s Overture: Il Seraglio K.384, Sibelius’s Valse Triste, op.44, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 in G major, op.58. The piano soloist was Geoffrey Burford. After the interval, concertgoers heard the present Variations and Haydn’s Symphony in G major, No.88. 

The programme note was by John McLeod:
‘William Wordsworth is a great-great-grandson of the poet’s brother Christopher. His music, solidly grounded in tradition, yet extended in a personal and very individual way, owes little to the fashions of the present day, but much to his outstanding teacher, Sir Donald Tovey, with whom he studied from 1934-37. He dedicated the second of his five symphonies [1] (which won first prize in the Edinburgh Festival Competition in 1950) to Tovey’s memory. Since 1961 he and his family have lived in the Inverness-shire Highlands where these Variations were composed in 1962. They were commissioned for the opening of a new Music Room at Bryanston School in the summer of that year. The rather unusual scoring of the Variations is accounted for by the players who were available in the school orchestra at the invitation concert for which the work was designed. For the first public performance by a larger orchestra available this evening, the composer has suggested some alterations to the scoring.  Mr Wordsworth has provided the following note: 
‘There are nine variations. The first two keep closely to the theme, the third and fourt are more fragmentary. The fifth variation is a lyrical slow movement for the oboe, clarinet and solo cello in turn against a background of strings. The sixth variation returns to the original tempo, but places the theme in the minor while in the seventh variation the outline of the theme is shared by the bassoon and horn, the other instruments decorating it with scalic figures. The eighth variation is slower and again in the minor and features an xylophone. The last variation starts off fugally on the strings and reaches a climax with the re-entry of the first phrase of the theme with which the work ends.’’

Note:
[1]. William Wordsworth ultimately composed eight symphonies.

The Perth Symphony Orchestra continues its good work in 2018. Their current conductor is Allan Young.

Friday, 13 July 2018

It's not British, but its Bach! The Legendary Danish Organist: Finn Viderø Volume 1


First things first. I was absolutely amazed at the sound quality of this retrospective CD of Bach’s organ music played by Danish legend Finn Viderø. Bearing in mind that these recordings were made in in the nineteen-fifties, they have all the clarity, freshness and power of the digital age. The one exception is the final track on the second CD, which presents the ubiquitous Toccata and Fugue, BWV 565. This was remastered from an old 78rpm record. However, this is well-worth having for the imaginative interpretation and fascinating sound of the Fredericksburg Church (Denmark) organ.

A few biographical details may be of interest. Finn Viderø was born on 15 August 1906 in Fuglebjerg, Næstved in Denmark.  He served in several churches as organist, including the Reformed Church, the Jægersborg Church, the Trinitatis and St. Andreas Church all in Copenhagen. Besides his duties as an organist, Viderø was a harpsichordist, a composer, a musicologist and a music teacher.
Viderø became known outside Denmark for of the many recordings he made of organ works. Some were issued on 78rpm records. These were highly-regarded interpretations that were deemed to be ‘authentic’ performances. Finn Viderø died in Copenhagen on 13 March 1987 aged 80 years.

Readers will be pleased to know that I am not going to discuss all 46 chorale preludes in the Orgelbüchlein. A few general remarks will suffice. The Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) is a collection of relatively short organ works by J.S. Bach. Albert Schweitzer calls it ‘the lexicon of Bach’s musical speech.’  It was originally conceived by the composer to include 164 preludes based on 161 hymn tunes used by the Lutheran Church on ‘high-days and holy-days’ during the Church’s Year. It is to be eternally regretted by organ enthusiasts that he only completed 46 of these pieces (BWV 599-644). Bach abandoned the project when he was appointed to the Court at Köthen. The Orgelbüchlein served (and serves) a dual function – liturgical use and as a ‘primer’ for organ students. The British organist James Lancelot remarked that Bach’s Orgelbüchlein ‘has become the organists bible.’ He further suggests that ‘No organist should be ignorant of the collection and every organist should master some at least of these chorales which have adorned the liturgy of churches throughout and far beyond Lutheran communities’
The Orgelbüchlein largely features chorales from the first half of the Christian year – Advent to Whitsun. As noted they are short. The chorale is typically presented in the right hand ‘treble’ part and does not have ‘interludes’ between the sections of the tune. The ‘added value’ of these chorale preludes is found in the registration, the harmonization and the embellishment with musical ornaments. Finn Viderø gives a definitive performance of this great collection of organ music. It is characterised by ‘rhythmic precision’ and (for me at least) a perfect and inventive choice of registration. The organ at All Sorø Church was built by Marcussen and Son in 1942 and is ideally suited to Viderø’s interpretation of this music. It is regarded by many critics (apparently) as one of the most successful examples of the ‘organ movement’ once associated with the ‘Back-to-Bach’ concept. Based on this recording, I agree.

Although the focus of this first volume is the masterly Orgelbüchlein, several other pieces are included. The opening track is a 1952 recording of the stunning Variations on ‘Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig’, BWV 768. This is one of Bach’s masterworks that explores the melody by way of 10 fascinating variations which explore many possibilities of chorale-ornamentation. The mood of each variation is nominally based on the sentiment of each verse of the hymn.  The piece ends with an intricate five-part chorale, which sums up the Work and the whole World!
Other pieces include a selection of six quieter chorale preludes, including ‘Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele’ BWV 654 and the deeply moving ‘Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier’ BWV 731. I was impressed with the inventive recital of the Prelude and Fugue in B minor, BWV 544, which is from Bach’s Leipzig period (1723-50). It is one of the most mature and satisfying examples of the genre.

The excellent booklet gives details of Finn Viderø’s life and times, which would seem to be the most comprehensive discussion of him available, at least in English. The organ specification of the instrument at All Sorø Church is given, but not the one Frederiksberg Church, Denmark.

This is splendid ‘retrospective’ of Bach’s music recorded by Finn Viderø. I have been impressed by every piece. I understand that there are four further volumes planned to be released shortly, exploring recordings made by Viderø in the 1950s of music by Bach, Buxtehude, Pachelbel and several other composers.
One final note. Before a wedding at which Finn Viderø was playing the organ, the groom asked if he could ‘make the organ sparkle and bubble.’ He looked at them over his glasses and abruptly replied: ‘Do you think I am a fizzy drink?’ This reflected his often spartan but wholly effective ‘take’ on organ registration.

Track Listings:
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Variations on: Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig BWV 768
Choral Preludes:  Vater unser im Himmelreich BWV 762; Nun komm', der Heiden Heiland BWV 659; Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier BWV 731; Von Gott will ich nicht lassen BWV 658; Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele BWV 654
Prelude and Fugue B Minor BWV 544
Orgelbüchlein
Prelude and Fugue in D minor BWV 565
Finn Viderø (organ)
Rec.  All Sorø Church, Denmark, 1952 (Variations & Chorale Preludes); 1953 (BWV 544); 1958 (Orgelbüchlein); Frederiksberg Church, Denmark 1950 (BWV565)
DANACORD DACOCD 791 & 792 


Tuesday, 10 July 2018

William Wordsworth (1908-1998) Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962)

I was delighted to discover the fascinating Variations on a Scottish Theme, op.72 (1962) by Scottish by adoption composer, William Wordsworth (1908-1998). It is included in an exciting CD (Volume 1) from Toccata dedicated to the composer’s orchestral music. The album includes the Divertimento in D, op.58 and the Symphonies No. 4 in Eb, op.54 and No.8 ‘Pax Hominibus’.  
For enthusiasts of British Symphonic music this means that six of Wordsworth’s eight Symphonies are now available on CD or download. (1,2,3,5 are issued on Lyrita).
The Variations on a Scottish Theme is a short work lasting for about 10 minutes. Paul Conway (who wrote the extremely helpful liner notes) sets the work in context. It was one of the first pieces to be composed after the family had moved from the Home Counties to the village of Kincraig in Speyside.  It was commissioned for the inauguration of a new music room at Bryanston School, which was not in Scotland, but in Dorset! The Variations were premiered during the summer of 1962. Seemingly, it was originally scored to accommodate the school ‘band’ – oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, percussion, string quartet and double bass. The revised version for full orchestra was given at the City Hall, Perth on 20 March 1966. John McLeod conducted the Perth Symphony Orchestra.
The theme is the based on the popular Scottish song, ‘Wi’ a hundred pipers an’ a’’. This is not a particularly ancient tune, having been ‘composed’ by Carolina Nairne, Lady Nairne (1766-1845). It refers to events in the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s captured the Border town of Carlisle on 14-15 November 1745. This was at the start of the campaign, three months before his advance on London fizzled out at Swarkstone Bridge, Derby.
The song was published posthumously in Lays from Strathern (1846). The tune may be a confection, provided by Lady Nairne as no contemporary tune has been located.

Wi' a hundred pipers, an' a', an' a',
Wi' a hundred pipers, an' a', an' a',
We'll up an' gie them a blaw, a blaw
Wi' a hundred pipers, an' a', an' a'.
O it's owre the border awa', awa'
It's owre the border awa', awa'
We'll on an' we'll march to Carlisle ha'
Wi' its yetts, its castle an' a', an a'.

The first two variations are simply a more elaborate and decorated version of the theme. The third and fourth deconstruct the tune into ‘melodic and rhythmic fragments.’ The heart of work follows, played ‘adagio espressivo.’ It is scored for solo oboe, clarinet and cello, against a moody string accompaniment. This has all the brooding melancholy of the Western Highlands. The sadness continues in the 6th  with the tune heard in the minor key. The 7th variation is more complex, with the melody played on the bassoon and horn supported by vigorous scales and chords from the rest of the orchestra. The composer introduces the glockenspiel into the 8th variation which lightens the mood. The treatment of the theme here, is the farthest removed from the original. The finale begins with a fugato passage seemingly derived from a counter-subject to the main theme. The music builds up before the main tune returns, first accompanied by the glockenspiel and then just for strings. 

William Wordsworth has provided a somewhat relaxed take on this music. It must be recalled that the composer was a ‘militant’ pacifist and conscientious objector during the Second World War. It is hardly likely that he would have relished Charles Stuart’s actions, nor the Duke of Cumberland’s subsequent response culminating at Culloden. 
With thanks to Paul Conway for the excellent liner notes to this CD. 


Saturday, 7 July 2018

An Early Appreciation of Lennox Berkeley (1903-89) Part II

Gordon Bryan's 1929 appreciation of Lennox Berkeley continued...

A ‘Prelude, Intermezzo (Blues), and Finale’, for flute, viola, and piano was first heard in London in October 1927, [1] and was subsequently repeated in Oxford and Paris. It contains many skilful instrumental effects, and audiences have received it with favour; but the later Sonatina for clarinet and piano (1928) [2] marks a definite advance. Though here Hindemith’s influence is apparent, the general effect is novel and striking. The work was submitted by the British jury for the recent Geneva Festival, but the international committee did not endorse the selection. Two other Sonatinas - for violin alone and for piano [3] – were completed this year. The former has already been played in Paris. All three Sonatinas are conceived in much the same spirit and all are in three movements. In the first two considerable use is made of “bi-tonality” – for example, the slow movement of the Clarinet Sonatina which continues almost the whole time in C major against G flat major in the upper parts. The result is much less discordant that might be imagined and presents no difficulty to those accustomed to modern music. The Violin Sonatina naturally contains practically no harmony; nevertheless, in another sense a similar system is followed- that is to say, a definite tonality is established in that a phrase begins on a certain note and comes back to it again, but the scale which that note would suggest is not necessarily adhered to. This procedure has been much exploited by Hindemith.
Jan Smeterlin [4] included three short piano pieces (composed in 1927) [5] at a London recital a little time ago. There are also five songs, to poems by Cocteau, entitled Tombeaux, which have many flashes of wit. [6] They were broadcast in March, [7] with orchestral accompaniment, under the direction of Anthony Bernard. The composer’s most recent work is a Sinfonietta for small orchestra. [8]
The last three years show a steady output of increasing importance; and as Berkeley’s technique and self-confidence alike develop, we may expect an ever-growing personality. But while Paris at present no doubt affords more opportunities than London for the study of contemporary music, it is no less true that much he has heard there has had the effect - enthusiastic musician though he is – of narrowing his outlook into what may be styled anti-diatonicism.
An experiment which might have useful results (but which is quite unlikely to be carried out) would be to prevent him for six months from attending any concerts where music other than that of the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries was performed. At the same time all scores of any later date should be removed from his reach. His reaction to this treatment would be extremely interesting, and his compositions would show considerably more originality than he has, as yet, allowed himself to attain. A remark once passed by Haydn is to the point. He wrote of his enforced isolation at Esterhàzy’s country residence of Esterhàz: ‘I was cut off from the world; there was no-one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original.’
The Monthly Musical Record June 1, 1929

Notes:
[1] ‘Prelude, Intermezzo (Blues), and Finale’, for flute, viola, and piano is a piece I would love to hear. It was premiered during October 1927 by the Aeolian Players which included the author of this present appreciation playing piano. It was dedicated to Bryan. The holograph survives and is located at the British Library. It has not yet received a recording.
[2] The Sonatine pour clarinette et piano was composed in 1928, when Berkeley had come down from Oxford and had commenced studied with Nadia Boulanger. As noted in the text, the Sonatine was submitted by the British jury for a competition in Geneva. This was probably the 1929 ISCM Festival. It was rejected. The Sonatine has been recorded by the Berkeley Ensemble on Resonus RES10149 (2015).
[3] The Sonatina for solo violin was composed in 1927 and was unpublished. It had three movements: Allegro moderato, Allegretto (Tango) and Presto. Dickinson (2003) has declared the score as being lost.
[4] Jan Smeterlin (1892-1967) was a Polish concert pianist. He was highly regarded as an interpreter of Frédéric Chopin and Karol Szymanowski.
[5] The Three Piano Pieces were composed sometime during 1927. They feature an ‘allegro’, an [andante] and a concluding ‘moderato.’ As noted in the text they were premiered by Jan Smeterlin. Dickinson (op. cit.) notes that they were forgotten and only rediscovered in the 1980s.  They were published in Lennox Berkeley: Collected Works for Solo Piano by Chester. As far as I am aware, they have not been recorded.
[6] The five songs, Tombeaux, were setting of texts by the French poet and polymath Jean Cocteau.  These songs were originally composed in 1926 for voice and piano. However, they were also arranged for voice and chamber orchestra in the same year. This version was premiered in Paris during spring 1926.  The songs included: ‘Le Tombeau de Sapho’; ‘Le Tombeau de Socrate’; ‘D’un Fleuve’; ‘De Narcisse’ and ‘De Don Juan’. These songs have been released on an album of Berkeley’s songs. (Chandos 10528, 2009)
[7] Lennox Berkeley’s Tombeaux was broadcast on 11 March 1929 during a concert of music that included music by Gabriel Fauré, Bach and Mozart in the first half and by Peter Warlock and Igor Stravinsky in the second. The soloist in Berkeley’s Tombeaux was the Swiss soprano Sophie Wyss (1897-1983)
[8] Peter Dickinson, (2003) includes the Sinfonietta for chamber orchestra (1927) as being a ‘lost work’ in his catalogue.  I was unable to find any contemporary reviews of this piece.  This work should not be confused with the Sinfonietta, op.34 dating from 1950.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

An Early Appreciation of Lennox Berkeley (1903-89) Part I


Ten years ago, I posted this early appreciation of Lennox Berkeley on my blog. I repost here today, with a few comments. Gordon Bryan wrote his article for the Monthly Musical Record published in 1 June 1929. At this date, Berkeley was 26 years old. The reader will note that several of the musical works mentioned are currently in the recorded or concert repertoire.  The author, Gordon Bryan (1895-1957) was a British pianist, arranger and composer.
I am grateful to Peter Dickinson’s The Music of Lennox Berkeley (Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, 1988/2003) and Stewart R. Craggs’ Lennox Berkeley: A Source Book (Aldershot, Ashgate, 2000) for providing much needed assistance with the commentary on this ‘appreciation.’

THE YOUNGER ENGLISH COMPOSERS V. Lennox Berkeley by Gordon Bryan (1895-1957)
Lennox Berkeley was born in 1903, and was educated at Gresham’s and Merton College, Oxford. He now lives in Paris, and is studying under Mlle. Nadia Boulanger, a brilliant and deservedly popular teacher of composition.
His nearest relatives also prefer France to England, and as Berkeley himself is bilingual, this almost dual nationality (his grandmothers were both French) had had a considerable effect on his music. He frankly declares himself out of sympathy with English musical life, in which he finds a regrettable lack of interest in the newer developments of the art.
While still an undergraduate he composed various songs, among them one very charming example- ‘D’un vanneur de blé aux vents’ - a setting of a poem by Du Bellay, which has been published by the Oxford University Press. [1] It was composed in October 1925. It has a straightforward melody three times repeated; the varied piano accompaniment shows the restraint and delicacy of string-quartet writing, and, indeed, it might easily be arranged for that combination. If the composer of this charming trifle had pursued this vein of unaffected melody he would have won considerably more renown that he actually has.
Since that time, he has passed through successive and concurrent phases of Ravel-worship, Stravinsky-worship and Hindemith-worship; and admirable though such enthusiasms may be, they become a hindrance to originality. The personal note has, however, made itself felt more and more in his recent works. Berkeley’s skill in orchestral colouring and particularly his clever writing for wood-wind as witness the solo part in the clarinet sonata [2] - has always been remarkable.
It should be mentioned that Ravel has taken an interest in the young composer’s development, and by his encouragement and recommendation, some years ago, did much to confirm his choice of a musical career.
Although it is only since October 1926, that Berkeley has been composing seriously, ha has been so fortunate as to hear much of his music performed under the best possible conditions. His very first orchestral work, an Introduction and Dance for small orchestra, [3] was produced by Anthony Bernard [4] at the Chenil Galleries [5] in April 1926, and from this performance the composer learnt much. It was a brief but effective little work –the past tense must be used, for the composer now disowns it altogether.
Under the same auspices, at a concert at the Contemporary Music Centre [6], first appeared the Concertino, also for small orchestra, in April 1927 [7]. This has been repeated at Harrogate and Hastings by Basil Cameron, and at Bournemouth under the composer’s direction. Its success led to a request from Walter Straram, [8] the Paris conductor, for a Suite, this time for full orchestra, which was given at the Salle Pleyel in February 1928. [9] It has not been heard in England, but a performance is probable shortly under Ansermet. [10]
These two works follow the neo-classical pattern favoured by many modernists – of course, with the wide harmonic resources of the present day. Both are concise and well-knit. The Suite consists of four movements –Sinfonia, Bourrée, Aria and Gigue. It is classical both in form and feeling, though free use is made of modern methods of harmonization and orchestral colouring. The slow movement (Aria) is especially fine.
The Monthly Musical Record June 1, 1929

Notes:
[1] 'D’un vanneur de blé aux vents' (You kindly winds who gaily/Go blowing o’er the valley) with words by Joachim du Bellay (c.1522–1560). The English translation was made by M.D. Calvocoressi. It presents a pastoral impression of a reaper working in the fields during high-summer. It was composed in 1924/25 during Berkeley’s second year at Merton College, Oxford. In 1927, the song was revised and given its English title 'The Thresher.' It was to be the composer's first published work. Other songs composed at this time included ‘Pastourelle’ (Anon) and ‘Rondeau’ (Charles d'Orelans).'D’un vanneur de blé aux vents' is included on Chandos 10528 (2009).
[2] I am assuming that Gordon Bryan was referring here to the Sonatine pour clarinette et piano and not to any ‘lost’ Sonata. It was composed in 1928, when he had come down from Oxford and had commenced studies with Nadia Boulanger. As noted in the text, the Sonatine was submitted by the British jury for a competition in Geneva. This was probably the 1929 ISCM Festival. It was rejected. The Sonatine has been recorded by the Berkeley Ensemble on Resonus RES10149 (2015).
 [3] The Introduction and Dance for small orchestra was composed in 1926 and was written for Anthony Bernard and the London Chamber Orchestra. Peter Dickinson (2003) writes that it is one of Berkeley’s ‘lost scores.’  The premiere was at the New Chenil Galleries on 26 April 1926. It was also broadcast ‘live’ by the BBC as a part of the BBC Spring Series of Concerts.
[4] Anthony Bernard (1891-1963) was an English conductor, organist, pianist and composer.
[5] New Chenil Galleries were in the King’s Road, Chelsea, adjacent to the town hall.
[6] I understand that Contemporary Music Centre was located at Cowdray Hall, 20 Cavendish Square near Oxford Circus, London.
[7] The Concertino for chamber orchestra was composed in 1927. The work was written in three movements. The score is lost. (Dickinson, 2003)
[8] Walther Straram (1876-1933) was a London-born conductor who worked for much of his career in France during the early twentieth century. His professional name, ‘Straram’ was an anagram of his family name, ‘Marrast.’ He is remembered as having given the premiere of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero at the Paris Opéra on 22 November 1928. Ernest Ansermet, who was to have conducted to was ‘indisposed.’
[9] The premiere of the Suite was given on 16 February 1928, played by the Straram Orchestra conducted by Walther Straram. The work appears to have been published by Novello (Dickinson, 2003). There is no recording.
[10] Stuart Craggs (2000.) notes that the British premiere of the orchestral Suite was given at the Queen’s Hall, London on 12 September 1929 by the Henry Wood Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer. I was unable to find a reference to a performance given by Ernest Ansermet.  

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The End of Flowers: Piano Trios by Maurice Ravel and Rebecca Clarke


What a touch of genius to programme two of my favourite piano trios on one CD!  How could they have possibly known...
I cannot recall when I first heard Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor. I think it might have been a recording by the Beaux Arts Trio. I have relished it ever since. Ravel began thinking about this Trio in 1908. Work progressed slowly. It was not until the First World War began that he got a move on. He wanted to enlist in the French army so had to work ‘with mad fury’ to complete the Trio by August 1914.
This is a long work, lasting for just under half an hour. The opening ‘modéré’ movement is inflected with Basque folk-music, without quoting an actual tune. This typically relaxed music is beautifully poised on this recording. The difficult second movement scherzo ‘pantoum’, presents a wide array of exciting contrapuntal devices and instrumental effects. This is vivacious music that carries the listener along in breathless anticipation. The heart of the work is the ‘passacaille.’ This set of ten variations demands to be played slowly and with great concentration of sound. The liner notes suggest that ‘in its final moments, the theme disintegrates, perhaps an ominous premonition of the breakdown of peace in Europe.’ The finale is a ‘tour de force.’ The present performance explores fittingly the dichotomy between romantic music and the fears of war that are presented in this movement. The movement builds toward a terrifying climax with ‘crashing chords, shrieking trills and [a] general cacophony’ that surely foreshadows the dogs of war but ultimately ends in triumph.
Ravel never did enlist, due to his physique: he was, though, able to join the army as a lorry driver.

The Anglo-American composer Rebecca Clarke is best known for her Viola Sonata (1919) and the present Piano Trio. Her catalogue includes several chamber-works as well as many songs.
The Piano Trio was composed in 1921. Several commentators have correctly (I believe) identified this as a ‘war work.’  The CD insert points out that Clarke left no programme for her trio, however, there are plenty of musical suggestions in this piece that imply the horrors of the Great War and her revulsion against it. The opening ‘moderato ma appassionato’ is full of angst and despair. The violent repeated note theme acts as a kind of motto through the work. Another important theme is based on a ‘bugle call’ adding emphasis to the war-torn mood of the work. After a passionate development, the movement closes quietly.  The ‘andante molto semplice’ opens with a quiet version of the ‘motto theme.’ Much of this movement is based on a folk-tune-like melody. This is quiet music that could be described as an elegy or even a lullaby. Clarke has moved away from the harsher Bartokian sounds of the opening movement to something more pastoral in its effect.  It closes with a wistful passage for solo violin.
All the stops are pulled out for the final movement. This is powerful dance-like music that uses ‘pizzicato, cross rhythmic play and metre changes’. The excitement is interrupted by a passionate recapitulation of the ‘bugle call’ theme. The dance returns, bringing the trio to a rumbustious conclusion.
I think that this Trio’s undoubted success relies on Rebecca Clarke’s perfect synthesis of several music conceits, including Bartok’s powerful rhythms and nods to Vaughan William’s pastoralism.

I appreciated the playing by the Canadian ensemble the Gryphon Trio in both the Clarke and the Ravel Trios. Their playing matches the mood, whether it is sunshine, lyricism, despair or violence. The liner notes, written by Robert Rical, present a good introduction to both works. They are printed in English and French.

There are several versions of both Ravel’s and Clarke’s Trio available. The MusicWeb Piano Trio Survey lists seven recordings (not including the present one) of the latter. The Arkiv website clocks up some 65 versions of the Ravel: some may be re-packagings. For an ideal coupling, the present CD cannot be ignored. Both composers were clearly affected by the First World War and both produced trios that are well-summed up by the disc’s title ‘The End of Flowers.’ They achieve this mood by writing music that matches despair at the violence of war. with a recognition that a seemingly more idyllic age has past. On the other hand, both works do present some optimism for the future.

Track Listing: 
Rebecca CLARKE (1886-1979) Piano Trio (1921)
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Piano Trio in A minor (1914)
Gryphon Trio, Annalee Patipatanakoon (violin) Roman Borys (cello), Jamie Parker (piano)
ANALEKTA AN2 9520
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.