Thursday, 22 April 2021

Malcolm Arnold’s Four Cornish Dances (1966) Part 1

Malcom Arnold’s ‘Four Cornish Dances’, op.91 celebrated their half-centenary of their first performance on 13 August 2016. Over a period of forty years the composer made a round-Britain tour with a series of this novel genre.  The first attempt at this form is also the best-known: the ‘English Dances’, Set 1, op.27 which were composed in 1950. A second set, op.33, followed in 1951.  Six year later the ‘Four Scottish Dances’, op.59 were first heard during a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. These have become nearly as popular as the ‘English Dances.’

The ‘Cornish Dances’ were followed by ‘Four Irish Dances’, op.126 written in 1986,  ‘Four Welsh Dances’, op.138 were composed in 1989, and finally the last of the series although not officially ‘dances’, the Manx Suite (Third Little Suite, op. 142) was commissioned for the Manx Youth Orchestra in 1990.

Malcolm Arnold’s ‘Four Cornish Dances’ was the only major concert work composed in 1966. Other pieces that year included the ‘Theme and Variation for orchestra’ which became a part of the composite Severn Bridge Variations written to commemorate the opening of the first Severn Bridge in 1966. Other composers who contributed variations to this work included Alun Hoddinott, Nicholas Maw, Daniel Jones, Grace Williams and Michael Tippett. Arnold wrote a song for unison voices and piano, ‘Jolly Old Friar’, to a text by the Billy Bunter author, Frank Richards. It was published in the 1966 edition of the Greyfriar’s School Annual. The film scores for The Heroes of Telemark, Sky West and Crooked, and Africa-Texas Style were completed 

The previous year had resulted in no major compositions apart from five fantasies for wind instruments which were commissioned by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for the Birmingham International Wind Competition in May 1966. These included the Fantasies for Bassoon, op.86, Clarinet, op.87, Horn, op.88, Flute, op.89 and Oboe, op.90.  Arnold’s last major orchestral work had been the Sinfonietta [No.3], op.81, completed on 1 September 1964.

The popular ‘Cornish Dances’ were composed when Malcom Arnold was living with his second wife Isobel, in Primrose Cottage at St Merryn, near Padstow, Cornwall. Having recently escaped from a frantic London life, he entered into the spirit of brass bands and other local music making. He stated in an interview (cited Meredith & Harris, 2004) ‘I am now aggressively, chauvinistically Cornish.’

Arnold has described his time at St Merryn as being ‘happy but not idyllic – there is nothing idyllic about writing music and bringing up a family.’ It was during his years in Cornwall that his son, Edward, was diagnosed as being autistic.

Major compositions written during Arnold’s residence at St Merryn included the Symphony No. 6, op.95 (1967), the Peterloo Overture, op.97 (1968) and the Concerto for two pianos (three hands) op.104 (1969).

Locally-inspired works featured A Salute to Thomas Merritt, op.98 (1967) for two brass bands and orchestra and the well-known Padstow Lifeboat for brass band, op.94 (1967).

At this time Arnold had become involved with the Cornish Youth Band, the Cornwall Symphony Orchestra, the Cornwall Rural Music School and the East Cornwall Bach Festival. On a more relaxing note he was known in ‘most pubs from Tintagel to Bude.’

In recognition of Arnold’s contribution to local music he was made a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd in 1969. In 1972 he left Cornwall and moved to a village near Dublin.

The ‘Four Cornish Dances’ were completed on 26 May 1966 and were dedicated Malcolm Arnold’s wife, Isobel.

First Performance & Publication of the Score
The ‘Four Cornish Dances’ were premiered during the Promenade Concert season in 1966. The concert given on Saturday 13 August included a wide range of music played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Arnold. Works included a Proms Premiere of the Overture: ‘La cambiale di matrimonio’ by Rossini, Symphonic Dance, op.64, no.4 by Edvard Grieg and Georges Bizet’s L' Arlésienne: Suite No. 2. There were two major concerted works: Johann Sebastian Bach’s Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042, with Derek Collier, violin and Manuel de Falla’s atmospheric Nights in the Gardens of Spain featuring Malcolm Binns. Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.4 in A major, ‘Italian’, op. 90 was also performed.

There appear to have been no reviews of this concert in The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Musical Times, Daily Mail or the Manchester Guardian.  However, Anthony Meredith and Paul Harris (2004) quote an appraisal from The Northampton Chronicle and Echo (15 August 1966):

‘One of the [Promenade Concert] season’s triumphs! The work received an ovation lasting several minutes during which the Prommers stamped their approval vociferously demanding an encore, which was unfortunately not forthcoming.’

Meredith and Harris (2004) also cite a letter from the music critic Donald Mitchell to the composer:

‘I really feel that anything I say about your Four Cornish Dances would be superfluous, after the ovation they received at the Albert Hall on Saturday night. What a glorious roar of approval! It almost wrecked our radio at Barcombe, but even had it done so we would have thought it a worthy sacrifice…They are a stunning set of dances…’ (15 August 1966).

The ‘Four Cornish Dances’ were subsequently heard at the Proms on 12 September 1981 and 30 August 2010. 

The orchestral score was published in 1968 and did receive some critical comment in the musical press. The score is prefaced by a programme note written by the composer:

‘The Cornish people have a highly developed sense of humour. Many are sea-faring folk, and it is a land of male voice choirs, brass bands, Methodism, May Days, and Moody and Sankey hymns. The Cornish, despite, or even because of, their great sense of independence have been ruthlessly exploited. The deserted engine houses of the tin and copper mines bear silent witness to this, and these ruins radiate a strange and sad beauty. I hope some of these things are present in this music, which is Cornish through the eyes of a “furrener”. Malcolm Arnold

Hugh Ottaway (Musical Times, July 1968) reviewing the score began by suggesting that the listener does not look for musical development in ‘a 10-minute work like the Four Cornish Dances.’ Like other critics he sees them as ‘a kind of tone-picture, evoking the landscape and ethos of the county. He concludes his comments by insisting that ‘some of the best pages of the ‘English Dances’ are brought to mind, especially in movements 2 and 4, and there are characteristic touches at every turn. Nothing more, nothing less.’

After reviewing the score of Alun Hoddinott’s Variants for orchestra (1966) ‘with his hard-edged, uncompromising thought [that] meets the listener but fractionally…’, E.R. (Edmund Rubbra) in Music & Letters (July 1968) considers that Malcolm Arnold:

 ‘…goes three-quarters of the way. What a contrast is afforded by the genial, ingratiating music of his set of Cornish Dances! Whether the ideas are boisterous, deliberately commonplace, impressionistic or dance-like, all are widened and deepened by diatonic insights and scoring that belong only to the intuitions of an instinctive musician…Both Hoddinott and Arnold add a much enlarged percussion section to the otherwise normal instrumental demands.’


Musical Opinion (July 1968) is extremely rude about Cornwall – the critic answers Arnold’s ‘…a land of male-voice choirs, brass bands, Methodism, May Days…’ by suggesting this description is on safe ground –as he ‘wouldn’t really know, for one visit to Cornwall was enough…’  He goes on to say:

 ‘…but my eyebrows rose when I read that in his [Arnold’s] opinion the deserted engine houses of the tin and copper mines bear silent witness to the fact that “The Cornish, despite, or even because of, their great sense of independence have been ruthlessly exploited…” I had thought – on the admittedly slender evidence of Ethel Smyth’s opera, [The Wreckers], and my stay at several hotels – that the exploitation was on the other foot.’

After this extremely ill-humoured riposte, the reviewer admits that he ‘has nothing but enthusiasm for his Suite, full of character, and splendidly orchestrated.’

The ‘Cornish Dances’ were later arranged for concert band (Thad Marciniak) Faber Music (1975) and for brass band (Ray Farr) Faber Music (1985).

Burton-Page, Piers, Philharmonic Concerto: The Life and Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold (London, Methuen, 1994)
Cole, Hugo, Malcolm Arnold: An Introduction to his Music (London, Faber, 1989)
Jackson, Paul R.W., The Life and Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold, (Aldershot, Ashgate, 2003)
Craggs, Stewart R., Malcolm Arnold: A Bio-Bibliography, (Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1998)
Meredith, Anthony and Harris, Paul, Malcolm Arnold: Rogue Genius, (Norwich, Thames/Elkin, 2004)
Hunt, Phillip, Malcolm Arnold in Cornwall (accessed 5 March 2021)

The files of The Musical Times, Fanfare, The Gramophone, The Northampton Chronicle and Echo, Music & Letters, CD liner notes, etc.

To be continued…

Monday, 19 April 2021

Léon Goossens plays Arnold Cooke's Concerto and Sonata No.1 for oboe

First things first. I reviewed these two works from a CD-R of a downloadable album. I have not listened to this latter version. I understand that this hard copy is available, priced £7, from Oboe Classics, and will appeal to people who would rather not download or stream. 

Putting these two pieces into context should have been an important part of the descriptive notes. Arnold Cooke wrote much chamber music, including five string quartets and many sonatas for various instruments. More specifically, there are numerous works featuring the oboe. They span six decades, from the earliest, an Octet for string quartet and woodwind, op.1 (1931) to the late Intermezzo for oboe & piano, dating from 1987.

Both works on this CD were composed in the 1950s. Other important music written at this time included the Sinfonietta for chamber orchestra, the Concerto No.1 for clarinet and strings, and the Violin Concerto.

I am more enthusiastic about the Oboe Concerto than Eric Wetherell (Arnold Cooke, British Music Society, 1996). There, he refers to it as a “slight work”, based on its duration. Yet, this Concerto is no piece of light music. It is typically cerebral rather than heart-on-sleeve and emotional. That said, the themes are attractive, and their exposition are always tightly controlled.  The Concerto was completed in 1954 and was presumably dedicated to Léon Goossens. There is no statement about this in the notes. The recording on this CD was made from “a mangled tape.” This has resulted in 10 seconds of missing music. I agree with Jeremy Polmear, that unless the listener is following the score, this will hardly be noticed.

The Concerto opens with a brisk Allegro moderato, which indulges in some eight-part string writing, rare in the “habitually clear textures if this composer.” This is followed by a vivacious Scherzo, which packs a lot of excitement into three minutes. The obvious heart of the work is the Andante. This is a beautiful Aria which I guess comes nearest to the idea of being “recognisably English in style.” This lyrical tune is supported by an idiomatic use of strings. The work closes with a spirited Rondo.

I feel that the composer’s use of a string, as opposed to a full, orchestra is justified here by giving the soloist the “maximum of limelight.” Yet the scoring is integral to the work’s success and is not just mere accompaniment. This Concerto has an intimate character, that may be best served at a smaller venue. At the 1955 Proms performance, the strings were apparently lost in the acoustic of the Albert Hall. In this present recording, they admirably serve their purpose.

In fine, this Oboe Concerto epitomises Arnold Cooke’s English-Hindemith-ian style - and is none the worse for that. And there is not a cow-and-gate in sight! 

Arnold Cooke’s Sonata No.1 for oboe and piano was completed in 1957 and was dedicated to Léon Goossens.  It is part of a sequence of four important chamber works for wind instruments written between 1956 and 1962. They include a Flute Sonatina (1956, rev. 1961), a Clarinet Sonata (1959), a Wind Quintet (1961) and the Clarinet Quintet (1962). The only one to have really taken off is the Clarinet Sonata, which has been beautifully performed and recorded by Thea King and Clifford Benson on Hyperion (CDD22027). Subsequent editions have been made since.

The liner notes explain that this present recording is in mono, but this does not detract from the splendid performance by Léon Goossens and Clifton Helliwell.

The entire Sonata is predicated on a simple melodic device. This is used skilfully to create a wide-ranging work full of interest. The first movement opens Andante with a long breathed and slightly lugubrious oboe melody, accompanied by an equally sombre piano part. Then suddenly, the pace takes off, with a lively and energetic Allegro. The movement ends with a revisiting, rather than a full recapitulation, of the opening material. The Andante comes closest to an evocation of the English landscape. This music is pastoral, but never descends into sentimentality. The middle section is more forceful in mood. The concluding Rondo: Allegro giocoso is harder edged in its response, but never deserts its lyrical base. It is a little Jig. In fact, this movement closes with a cyclical reference to the opening bars of the Sonata. One point of note is the closing cadenza, which is given to the piano rather than the oboe as would be expected.

What does Arnold Cooke sound like? The glib answer is (as noted above) that he is an English Hindemith-ian. But that is predicated on the reader being aware of Paul Hindemith’s contribution to teaching and composition.  In Cooke’s case, I think his style can be explained as music that is tonal, urbane, “emotionally reserved”, making considerable use of counterpoint, playable and accessible. And all leavened with an English lyricism that defies analysis.

Unusually for Oboe Classics, the descriptive notes for each work are minimal. These can be downloaded from the Oboe Classics website. There are no biographical notes about the composer and performers, although it could be argued there is always the World Wide Web!

The liner notes include a scan of the Radio Times listing for the Concerto advertising a broadcast on the BBC Home Service on 22 July 1956. Of interest, the Oboe Concerto was given its London Premiere at the Proms on 5 August 1955. Goossens was the soloist, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Basil Cameron.
The Oboe Sonata was given its premiere broadcast on the BBC Third Programme on 19 February 1959. Whether these are the actual recording dates for both works remains to be seen.
The sound has been well cleaned and enhanced by Christopher Steward.

I was unable to locate another commercial recording of Arnold Cooke’s Concerto for oboe and string orchestra. There is none listed in Michael Herman’s discographies in these pages. For the Oboe Sonata, a great modern version is available on the Mike Purton label (MPR 108, reviewed here). This features Melinda Maxwell, oboe and Harvey Davies, piano.  

The added value of this Oboe Classics CD is twofold. Firstly, the privilege of hearing one of the world’s finest oboists perform these two works far outweighs any issues with the sound quality, missing bars or the packaging. And secondly, it gives the listener the opportunity to hear what seems to me one of the most enjoyable and interesting Oboe Concertos written by an English composer. Both works should be regular features in the recital room and concert hall. Alas, I somehow doubt this will be the case.

Track Listing:
Arnold COOKE (1906-2005)
Concerto for oboe and string orchestra (1954)
Sonata No.1 for oboe and piano (1957)
Léon Goossens (oboe), Jacques String Orchestra/Reginald Jacques, Clifton Helliwell (piano)
Rec. 1956 (Concerto), 1959 (Sonata)
OBOE CLASSICS CD-R copy of Download Album CC2317
With thanks to MusicWeb international where this review was first published.

Friday, 16 April 2021

Mátyás Seiber: Besardo Suite No.2 (1942)

In a review of the only recording of Mátyás Seiber’s Besardo Suite No.2, the musicologist Michael Kennedy hit the nail on the head. He wrote (Manchester Sounds Volume 7, 2007-8) that ‘whenever one hears a work by Mátyás Seiber, one wonders why his music remains the preserve of a devoted band of admirers rather than appealing to a wider audience.’ But the key point was this: the Besardo Suite is ‘more in line with [Peter] Warlock’s Capriol Suite, being six very attractive movements…’ Certainly this latter work is often heard on records, radio and in the concert hall. Why not Seiber’s?  He concludes this section of his review by suggesting that this Suite should ‘be heard more often in the concert hall.’ Interestingly, Rob Barnett (MusicWeb International (8 June 2008) noted a few other works that are similar in concept:  Moeran's Whythorne's Shadow and Rubbra's Farnaby Improvisations. To this could be added the Italian Ottorino Respighi’s three Suites of Ancient Airs and Dances as well as his The Birds

Mátyás Seiber wrote: ‘the tunes on which this Suite is based are all taken from the Burgundian composer and scholar, Jean Baptiste Besard’s Thesaurus Harmonicus, published in 1603. The work consists of ten volumes containing Preludes, Fantasias, Branles, and Ballets, Airs de Coeur, Passamezzi, Courantes etc. altogether over 400 pieces by various composers. Although well-known to musicologists, this important work has never been transcribed into modern notation, except for a few numbers here and there. In 1940 I transcribed the work from the old lute tablature into modern notation and found it a real thesaurus: a store house full of the most attractive and charming sixteenth century dance-tunes.”  (Liner Notes for Dutton Epoch CDLX 7207)

The Besardo Suite No.2 has six movements: 1. Intrada (B minor), 2. Guillemette - Chorea Rustica (B minor), 3. Galliarda Dolorata (G minor), 4. Branle Commun (D major), 5. Madrigale (B minor) and 6. Cournate de Guerre - Canaries (G major). 

The six movements are arranged in a fast-slow sequence. The overall key structure of the Suite is B minor, with other movements being (as noted) in G minor, D major and G major. This follows the “early practice of keeping the dances of a suite in the same or related keys.” The Suite lasts for about 14 minutes.

In 1940, Seiber had produced his Besardo Suite No.1 for full orchestra. To my knowledge this has not been recorded. Two years later, the second suite was premiered by the Boyd Neel Orchestra at the Wigmore Hall on 3 December 1945.  F. Bonavia writing in The Times (4 December 1945) noted that the concert was ‘devoted entirely to the works of Mátyás Seiber’. Other performers at that concert included the Dorian Singers.  Bonavia noted that despite Seiber hailing from Hungary, his musical style and tastes ‘are not bound by national frontiers.’  Music performed included a short mass setting for unaccompanied voices, which ‘owes much to plainsong.’  This Missa Brevis dated from 1926. Folksongs from Yugoslavia and Greece were heard. Turning to the Suite, Bonavia noted that ‘a sixteenth century composer (Besard) had provided him with the raw material for an attractive suite for strings.’ Summing up the concert, he considered that ‘the general impression one derived from listening to Mr Seiber’s music was that he possesses in a high degree the ability to deduce [?]. Competence, too, was manifest.’ Interestingly, Bonavia did not mention the fact that Dennis Brain gave the premiere performance of Seiber’s Notturno for horn and strings at that night’s concert. 

In 2008, Dutton Epoch (CDLX 7207) issued Antiphon: A Tribute to John Manduell as a celebration of his 80th Birthday. Included on the CD was Lennox Berkeley’s Antiphon for string orchestra, Peter Crossley-Holland’s Suite No.1 for string orchestra, Anthony Gilbert’s Another Dream Carousel for string orchestra and John Manduell’s Rondo for None, for string nonet. The recital opened with Seiber’s Besardo Suite No.2.  The Manchester Chamber Ensemble was conducted by Richard Howarth.

Finally, in 1956 Seiber issued more transcriptions as Eight Besardo Dances for guitar.

Mátyás Seiber’s Besardo Suite No.2 has been uploaded to YouTube. This link allows the listener to explore the entire album, 

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Music for Flute and Guitar, including a Handel Sonata

This album showcases the talents of flautist Dinah Pounds accompanied by her husband – the composer and guitarist, Adam. In these pieces the guitar acts as the continuo providing the bass line and chordal progressions for the music. It is important to recall that this was not written out in full, but in shorthand. The continuo is subject to interpretation by the player. Instruments used for this purpose included the organ, harpsichord, lute, cello, bassoon and guitar. These can be interchangeable. On this disc, the guitar acts as a perfect companion to the flute. 

Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni (1671-1751) was an Italian violinist and composer. He wrote a vast amount of music, including dozens of operas, concertos, symphonies and countless sonatas for a variety of instrumental combinations. Interestingly, J.S. Bach used several of Albinoni’s themes in his own compositions. The liner notes give no clue as to what A minor sonata this is. In fact, it is the sixth number from 12 Trattenimenti armonici op.6 dated around 1711. It would appear to have originally been composed for violin and bass continuo. This delightful Sonata is presented in four contrasting movements.  

Next up, is by JSB.  It has been suggested that the Sonata in C major, BWV 1033 may be a joint work between Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and his father.  Certainly, the earliest manuscript is in Carl’s hand. It is usually dated to around 1731. This is a splendid Sonata that defies historical analysis.

The Fitzwilliam Sonatas by Handel were so-called because the musicologist Thurston Dart found the surviving manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Library in Cambridge. The  full title is Sonata in D minor, HWV 367a. There are seven movements in this work, however the liner notes state that the third, a Furioso, has been omitted due to the unsuitability of the continuo for guitar. The last two movements, an Andante and A Tempo di Minuet are also omitted. They would seem to have been added by an editor. This sonata features all the charm that we would expect from Handel. 

Jean-Philippe Rameau was a French composer and theorist best known for his operas. In his younger years he did compose some instrumental works. The present Suite is an arrangement of several his pieces by Adam Pounds: Prelude, Gavotte I and II, Contredanse and Passepied I and II. These were all written around 1745. The booklet notes do not give the original sources of these movements. That said, this Suite is appealing and well-balanced.

The final work in this CD is Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Flute Sonata in D major. Although not stated in the liner notes, this is commonly numbered H.561 and was probably composed in Berlin in 1747.  It is vibrant and admirably suited to the present instrumental combination. Look out for some enchanting modulations as the music proceeds.

I have hinted above that the liner notes are very light on detail. Dates of composition (where known or surmised) are not given. In Albinoni’s case there is more than one “A minor sonata”. The track listing is difficult to read, with the font printed on top of a black and white picture. Finally, at 47 minutes, this CD is a bit short. That said, this is reflected in the price of £7.00.
I enjoyed the music on this disc. The present arrangement is a happy combination of flute and guitar that makes for pleasant and enjoyable listening.
The playing is excellent, and the repertoire is well chosen. There is nothing challenging to the listener. Just sheer enjoyment. What more can we ask for?

Track Listing:
Tomaso Giovanni ALBINONI
(1671-1750/1) Sonata in A minor from 12 Trattenimenti armonici op.6 no.6 (c.1711)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Sonata in C major, BWV 1033 (c.1731)
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) “Fitzwilliam Sonata” in D minor, HWV 367a, (c.1725)
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764) Suite for flute and guitar (Arranged by Adam Pounds, b.1954) (?)
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788) Flute Sonata in D major, H561 (1747)
Dinah Pounds (flute), Adam Pounds (guitar continuo)
Rec. St Philip’s Church Cambridge 17 October 2020; April 2013 (Rameau)
This CD can be ordered from Adam Pound’s webpage.

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Eugene Goossens conducts Respighi’s The Fountains of Rome

I first heard Ottorino Respighi’s Fountains of Rome long before I was able to see some of these magnificent structures in situ. I recall that it was on an old LP that I had found in a second-hand shop. Certainly, the conductor was Eugene Goossens. It was the first time that I had encountered his name, and I guess that I did not realise then that he was a born and bred British composer and conductor. Over the years I have heard several performances of The Fountains on record. Ones that stand out for me are Fritz Reiner, Ernest Ansermet and, for a bang up to date version, I cannot recommend more highly John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London on the Chandos label.  Yet, when all is said and done, I still enjoy Goossens’s 1957 recording of The Fountains of Rome. It is like a ‘first love.’ The characteristics of this performance are warmth and elegance, as well as a deep understanding of musical impressionism. 

The Fontane di Roma is a tone poem for orchestra. It was completed by Respighi in 1916 and was premiered the following year on 11March 1917 at the Teatro Augusteo in Rome, under the direction of Antonio Guarnieri. This was the composer’s first attempt at musically representing the glories of bygone Rome. The Pines of Rome would follow in 1924 and the Roman Festivals in 1928.

The basic premise of the Fountains are impressionistic sketches of four of Rome’s iconic fountains although there are no breaks between sections. It is as if the ‘listener’ is on a peregrination around the Eternal City. The Fountains are presented ‘in order’ from daybreak to sunset. The first section is ‘The Fountain of Valle Giulia at Dawn’. This is pastoral in mood, describing the ‘fresh, damp mists of a Roman dawn.’ After an eruption of heavy brass (four horns), the music segues to ‘The Triton Fountain in the Morning’. The composer is imagining a riotous dance of the naiads and the tritons which, is in many ways an elaboration of the original structure.  Respighi wrote that this is ‘like a joyous call, summoning troupes of naiads and tritons who come running up, pursuing each other and mingling in a frenzied dance between jets of water.’ The third section is ‘The Fountain of the Trevi at Midday’. This is presented as a ‘solemn procession of sirens and tritons led by Neptune’s chariot, drawn by seahorses. The music reaches its stunning climax here. But slowly the intensity decreases as the visitor begins to see ‘The Fountain of the Villa Medici at Dusk’. In reality, I think that Respighi is presenting an impression of the many fountains in the garden rather than a single cascade.  Here the night air ‘is full of the sound of tolling bells, birds twittering and leaves rustling.’ After some magical instrumentation on the harps, violins and the flute, the work ends in tranquil mood.

The score calls for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, bass tuba, kettledrums, triangle, cymbals, Glockenspiel, a bell, two harps, celesta, pianoforte, organ (ad libitum), strings.

Eugene Goossens and the Philharmonia Orchestra recorded Respighi’s Fountains of Rome on 19 September 1957. It was part of an extended session between 18 September and 15 October, where Goossens conducted a wide range of music, mainly with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. 

The July 1961 edition of The Gramophone carried an advert for the new album as part of its ‘a kaleidoscope of orchestral colour’ series. Apart from the Fountains of Rome, the LP included Jaromir Weinberger’s Schwanda the Bagpiper: Polka and Fugue, Bedřich Smetena’s The Bartered Bride: Overture, Polka, Furiant and the Dance of the Comedians. The final number was Glinka’s Jota Aragonesa. The album was issued in Mono (ALP 1785) and Stereo (ASD 366).

The earliest review of this album that I found was in High Fidelity (March 1960, p.97): ‘It's been many years since I have found Sir Eugene so consistently in best form as he is here, and I never had imagined him capable of the tenderness and grace he reveals in one of the finest performances of Respighi's Fountains of Rome I have ever heard. I relished almost more, however, his zestful, high-stepping readings of the Overture, Polka, Furiant, and Comedians' Dance from Smetana's Bartered Bride. His Glinka Jota Aragonesa and Polka and Fugue from Weinberger's Schwanda are admirably done too, but for some reason they are less dramatically satisfying - possibly, in the latter case at least, because the exquisitely transparent recording is relatively lacking in utmost depth and weight. Except for this deficiency, the recording is faultless, even in monophony, although it is only in the stereo edition that full justice can be given to the Respighi and Smetana works.’

Trevor Harvey (T.H.) reviewing for The Gramophone (April 1961, p.535) considered that ‘this is a good performance of The Fountains of Rome, though it suffers in direct comparison with Reiner's performance [SB2103 RB16231, coupled with Respighi’s The Pines of Rome…] It is meticulously played but rather lacks the romantic wash of sound that Reiner gives it.’

I listened to the Reiner’s account as I prepared this essay. This is a remarkably sensuous performance, that is unhurried and full of remarkable detail. Many commentators would regard it as definitive.

Harvey observes the ‘very lively Polka and Fugue from [Weinberger’s] Schwanda follows…and certainly, no reservations need be made about the ‘Overture’ and ‘Dances’ from The Bartered Bride.  He did not enjoy Glinka’s Jota Aragonesa. I played this piece and tended to agree. Pleasant enough, but small beer compared to the Smetana and the Respighi.

Finally, he considered that ‘the Philharmonia and Goossens are in top form and I do not think I have ever heard all that running about in the [Smetana] Overture played so swiftly and so softly - it's a miracle of string playing. All the dances have splendid verve and most enticing rhythms.’ T.H. noted that there is a lot of music on this record – [it] is well recorded.’ Despite a few issues of balance, it is ‘still, a recommendable miscellany record indeed.’

The Gramophone (March 1967, p.490) reviewed the reissue of The Fountains of Rome. It appeared on the HMV Concert Classics label (XLP 30068, Mono and SXLP 30068 Stereo. It was priced at 19s.4d. The LP also included Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Trevor Harvey (TH) simply wrote that that it was ‘a good bargain’. He thought that the Mussorgsky is well-characterised’ and that ‘the Fountains of Rome is equally enjoyable.’

Eugene Goossens and the Philharmonia Orchestra can be heard playing Respighi’s Fountains of Rome on YouTube (Accessed 29/01/21). It is taken from yet another repackaging of this work.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Arnold Cooke: Chamber Music for flute, clarinet, violoncello and piano

This fascinating new CD pushes the total number of recorded chamber works by Arnold Cooke towards half of those in his catalogue. Bearing in mind that Cooke is hardly a household name, this is a noteworthy achievement by any stretch of the imagination. Mike Purton Recordings have been at the forefront of this project: this latest disc compliments three previous CD releases on his label. In total, 18 pieces of chamber music have been issued on these discs.

The opening work on this disc is the longest and the most profound. The Trio for clarinet, cello and piano, D98, was commissioned by the Hilary Robinson Trio, and was premiered by them at the Wigmore Hall on 9 December 1965 (not 9 January 1966 as stated in the liner notes).  The Trio has four movements, which balance considerable gravity with playfulness. Much use is made of counterpoint in the development of the musical material, especially in the opening Allegro non troppo. The Scherzo is reminiscent of Bartok, a composer whom Cooke admired, with its metrical twists and turns. Unsurprisingly, the heart of this Trio is the melancholic third movement, Lento ma poco con moto. It is one of the most beautiful passages of Cooke’s music. Here he achieves a near perfect synthesis of his Continental and English influences. The finale lightens up the mood: it fairly bounces along. The Times reviewer of the premiere performance notes that the composer had not attempted to move with the times: “the players keep to their own seats and their own written notes…” All traits of the then contemporary avant-garde. Cooke has been true to his own musical precepts: the “concise, no-nonsense kind of Hindemith-inspired logic that he has for many years made his own.”

The Quartet for flute, clarinet, cello and piano, D93 was commissioned for the Macnaghten Concerts. These significant events originally ran between 1931 and 1937, under the auspices of Anne Macnaghten, Iris Lemare and Elisabeth Lutyens. The concerts were restarted in 1952 as the Macnaghten New Music Group, with financial support from the Arts Council. The booklet notes that Arnold Cooke had several compositions performed at these events.  The Quartet takes as its model Paul Hindemith’s Quartet for clarinet, strings and piano (1938). This was freely admitted by the composer. Nevertheless, this would seem to apply to structure, rather than the aesthetics: his music is more angular and dissonant than Hindemith’s exemplar. The overall impact “is darker and perhaps of a less jovial tone than many of Cooke’s chamber works.” This seriousness is countered by a vivacious tarantella finale, but even this is tinged with anxiety.

It is easy to consign Sonatinas to the category of teaching music. Yet, who would write off John Ireland’s and Maurice Ravel’s examples of this genre for piano as pedantic. Arnold Cooke wrote his Sonatina for the rarely used alto flute and piano around 1985.  I enjoyed this reflective piece: it is “uncomplicated, economical, and attractive.” Like the Ravel and Ireland works mentioned above, there is nothing trivial or ephemeral about this Sonatina. At 13 minutes duration it is substantial. The use of the deep-toned flute provides much depth to this music. Even the rapid finale is introspective rather than extrovert.

The liner notes state that Cooke, like his teacher Paul Hindemith, was not averse to writing for slightly obscure instruments. There is a Sonata for harmonica and piano D116 (1970), a Suite for three viols D140 (1978-79) and a modern example of a work for brass ensemble, the Sextet D11 (1931).

The Alla Marcia was published in 1947. It was specially written for Alan Frank at Oxford University Press. The title is a little misleading. There is little here that resembles a march. It is a good old-fashioned minuet and trio which presents thoughtful and lyrical material. It has a “dainty touch of humour” that is characterised by the two soloists “chasing each other in imitation”, but never quite catching up. Despite being designed as teaching music, it is equally at home in the recital room.

Equally effective is the Prelude and Dance for clarinet and piano. This piece, also didactic, was commissioned for Josef Weinberger’s Jack Brymer Clarinet Series, Volume 2, for advanced students. It was published in 1980. Stylistically, the Prelude and Dance owes more to the impressionism of Debussy, than the Gebrauchsmusik (Utility Music) of Hindemith. It is a real treat.

Equally lacking in pedantry is the lovely Pavane for flute and piano composed in 1969.  The liner notes explain that it is not serial in construction, but the opening melody does traverse all twelve tones of the chromatic scale. A wide-ranging chromaticism pervades this work, but it still manages to sound ageless in effect. It is a fusion of Hindemith and Debussy, with a touch of Cooke’s English magic. It was included in OUP’s Modern Flute Music (1971) alongside works by Kenneth Leighton, Colin Hand, John Addison, William Mathias, Phyllis Tate and Arthur Veal.

Biographical details about Arnold Cooke can be found on MusicWeb International.  The excellent liner notes are written by the present pianist, Harvey Davies. They are detailed, informative and enjoyable. This is hardly surprising, as Davies is currently completing his doctoral thesis on the composer and his music. Like all good notes, they balance biography, context and analysis (but not too technical). The “D” numbers have been assigned by Davies. The sound quality of this CD is ideal. The playing is committed, and clearly the Pleyel Ensemble relish Cooke’s remarkable musical style.

Whether there are more recordings in the offing remains to be seen. But whatever the business case for English Chamber Music may be at the present time, Mike Purton Recordings have made a major contribution to recording of Arnold Cooke’s chamber music. A key genre currently missing from CD are the five string quartets.

Arnold Cooke is a composer I can do business with. Typically, his compositions do not exhibit the cerebral gymnastics of Serialism, nor the sentimentality of Pastoralism. I appreciate his sympathetic balance between the Continental rigour of technical construction, with a definite English sensibility that defies analysis.

Track Listing:
Arnold COOKE (1906-2005)
Trio for clarinet, cello and piano, D98 (1965)
Quartet for flute, clarinet, cello and piano, D93 (1964)
Sonatina for alto flute and piano, D156 (1985)
Pavane for flute and piano, D112 (1969)
Prelude and Dance for clarinet and piano, D142 (1979)
Alla Marcia for clarinet and piano, D38 (1946)
The Pleyel Ensemble, Jonathan Rimmer (flute, alto flute), Janet Hilton (clarinet), Heather Bills (cello), Harvey Davies (piano)
Rec. Carole Nash Room, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 5-6 September 2018 (Trio), 27-28 October 2018 (Quartet, Pavane, Prelude and Dance, Alla Marcia), 19 December 2019 (Sonatina)

Sunday, 4 April 2021

It’s not British, but…Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy (1920)

This remarkable disc does more than simply present Le Tombeau de Debussy (The Tomb of Debussy). It includes three spin offs from this project. Let me explain. Debussy died on 25 March 1918. Two years later, Henry Prunières (1886-1942), the director of the French journal La Revue Musicale commissioned a joint memorial volume for the composer. He approached the great and good of European music and asked for a specially written contribution. Ten composers responded with short works that balanced a celebration of Debussy’s musical achievement with each contributor’s individual style. A glance at the track listings shows a wide range of age and aesthetic. Paul Dukas (55 years old) was the senior contributor, whilst the Englishman Eugene Goossens was the youngest (27 years old). Most of them had made their names before the Great War, some were just about to become successful. 

Best recalled for his The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Paul Dukas wrote several engaging works for the piano, including a notable Sonata. His music traverses a wide stylistic range with Romanticism, Modernism and Impressionism being apparent in his work. La Plainte, au loin, du Faune (Lament from afar, of the faun) evokes Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. The music is dense and numinous, with some forthtelling of his pupil Olivier Messiaen’s “harmonic complexities.” Here, the Faun truly does lament his creator, Debussy.

Manuel de Falla’s elegiac Homenaje was written for guitar. This lugubrious piece exploits the habanera rhythm and includes nods towards Debussy’s Iberia. It is a masterclass in subtle chords, scale, arpeggios and dynamics for this instrument. The composer subsequently made versions for piano solo and orchestra.

The longest work in Le Tombeau de Debussy is Florent Schmitt’s À la mémoire de Claude Debussy: Et Pan, au fond des blés lunaires, s’accouda. The latter part of the title translates as (Pan leaned on his elbows deep in the Lunar wheat fields ...). There is stylistic variety here, with Romanticism, post Wagnerism and Impressionism contributing to this memorable piece. Clearly, Pan alludes to Debussy’s Faun.  The French critic Émile Vuillermoz (1878-1960) declared that this piece “is the only truly lyrical cry of farewell in the entire collection, the only sob that has not been too quickly stifled”. Schmitt later orchestrated this piece as the first number in his Mirages, op.70.

The only vocal work in this collection is Erik Satie’s À la mémoire de Claude Debussy. It is “in memory of an admiring and sweet friendship of thirty years”.  Alphonse Marie Louis de Lamartine’s (1790–1869) text, Que me font ces vallons (What are these valleys, these palaces, these cottages doing to me?) is a short, but deeply felt elegy. The song lasts for less than a minute.

In 1913 Gian Francesco Malipiero left Italy to work in Paris. He was fascinated by Debussy’s music. His Hommage à Claude Debussy: Lento, echoes the dead composer’s La Cathédrale engloutie (The Submerged Cathedral) with its archaic Gregorian chant “giving the impression of sovereign majesty and greatness”.

This is followed by the most modern sounding piece in the collection. The Fragment from Symphonies of Wind Instruments is less than a 1 ½ minutes long. This is a piano reduction of that work’s final choral. Naxos have included a complete recording of the orchestral version (23 woodwinds) as a part of this package. It is a composition that I have not (consciously) heard before.  The liner notes include an overview of the Symphonies: “Folk elements, abstract Cubist episodes and jazz-influenced dance rhythms all are merged into little less than ten minutes, presenting a fascinating kaleidoscope of ever-changing moods and colours.” The orchestral work was derided at its premiere in London on 10 June 1921. We have learned a lot since then!

The only Englishman represented in Le Tombeau was Eugene Goossens. His Hommage à Debussy, op.28 combines two sections: a dissonant Bergian prelude followed by a short impressionistic postlude. It is one of the loveliest pieces on this CD.

Béla Bartók’s Sostenuto, rubato features a unison melody supported by shimmering chords which balances impressionism with an indigenous cradle song. It was later included as the seventh piece in his Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, op. 20, BB 83.

One of the recurring features of Claude Debussy’s music are references to Greek mythology. Albert Roussel’s L’accueil des muses (The Acceptance of the Muses) is designed as a musical ascent of Mount Parnassus, the seat of Euterpe and her fellow goddesses. Much of this piece reflects grief, but towards the close there is a definite sense of optimism.

I have always struggled with Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for violin and cello. Compared to so much of his music, this is an acerbic piece that reflects his reaction to the First World War. The first movement of this work was included in the memorial volume. The other two were added in 1922. The liner notes explain that “the ultra-transparent writing for two melodic instruments corresponds with Debussy’s last works, and especially his late sonatas for violin and cello, where he gave up his trademark impressionistic multicoloured spectrum in favour of concentrated neo-Classical clarity.” The entire work is given a splendid performance here.

The pianist Tomer Lev was the driving force behind this realisation of Le Tombeau de Debussy. He has provided exceptionally detailed liner notes which not only provide context but brief overviews of the composers and an informed discussion about each piece. The usual biographies of the performers are included. The text is presented in English and French.

Of interest was the volume’s cover, which was an illustration by the Post-Impressionist painter Raoul Dufy (1877-1953). Part of this is printed on the front cover of the liner notes, with the full picture included in the text.

The sound quality on this Naxos disc is ideal. It allows listeners to appreciate the subtle sonorities of each piece.

Finally, it should be noted that Tomer Lev has rearranged the order of the pieces to that of the original score. In an essay he wrote for The Gramophone (December 2020) Lev stated that “Le Tombeau is, to all practical purposes, well-nigh unperformable. Having not been given any precise criteria to write to, the composers had let their imaginations run free, and composed for a dizzying variety of instrumentations.” What has resulted from Lev’s realisation is an often beautiful and always interesting piece of musical archaeology. For me, the obvious diversity becomes a major strength rather than a dilemma. 

Track Listing:
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935) La plainte, au loin, du faune...
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946) Homenaje (version for piano)
Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958) À la mémoire de Claude Debussy: Et Pan, au fond des blés lunaires, s’accouda (No. 1 from Mirages, op. 70)
Erik SATIE (1866-1925) À la mémoire de Claude Debussy: En souvenir d’une admirative et douce amitié de trente ans: Que me font ces vallons
Gian Francesco MALIPIERO (1882-1973) Hommage à Claude Debussy: Lento
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) Fragment des symphonies d’instruments à vent à la mémoire de Claude Achille Debussy
Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962) Hommage à Debussy, op.28
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945) Sostenuto, rubato (No. 7 from Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, op. 20, BB 83)
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937) L’accueil des muses ‘In memoriam Debussy’
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Sonata for violin and cello (1922)
Igor STRAVINSKY Symphonies of wind instruments (1920/1947)
Manuel de FALLA (Homenaje (version for guitar) (1920)
Buchmann-Mehta Symphony Orchestra Tel Aviv University/Zeev Dorman
Tomer Lev (piano), Sharon Rostorf-Zamir (soprano), Janna Gandelman (violin), Dmitry Yablonsky (cello), Ruben Seroussi (guitar)
Rec. 20 November 2017 (de Falla), 30 January 2018 (Stravinsky), 5 April 2018 (Ravel), 20 March 2020 and 24 April 2020 (Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy) Clairmont Hall, Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, Tel Aviv University, Israel
NAXOS 8.573935.
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Kenneth Leighton (1929-88) Fantasy on an American Hymn Tune (1975)

Kenneth Leighton is one of those composers whose music has always appealed to me. Since hearing his Symphony No.1 at the City Hall in Glasgow on 2 February 1974, I have discovered a wide range of his work, including organ, concerted, choral and chamber music. It has never failed to please me. In 1969 Leighton won the Cobbett Medal for services to chamber music. So, it may be unsurprising that his Fantasy on an American Hymn Tune (1975) meets the requirements of Walter Wilson Cobbett’s once prestigious Phantasy competitions – in virtually all except the spelling of the title. 

The tune that forms the basis of this work is the hymn ‘The Shining River’, written by Pastor Robert Lowry during a typhoid and cholera epidemic in Brooklyn. The sentiment of the words is straightforward – “We are parting at the river of death: Shall we meet at the river of life?” Lowry’s words and tune preface Leighton’s score. They give a message of “universal hope and consolation transcending personal sadness.”

The formal structure of the Fantasy is slow-fast-slow-fast-slow. The rapid sections are intense and have been rightly described as “straining at an imaginative and emotional leash.”  I must admit that the original tune is not obvious as the work progresses. In fact, it is not heard in its entirety until near the end. The mood of the music is tense from the first note to the last, with some, but not a lot, of consolation appearing in the final bars. On occasion, the ‘American’ connection if made apparent through ‘jazz riffs and breaks’ which lends excitement and pizzazz. This is balanced by some Ivesian slow sections that seem to have the music’s progress enveloped in mist. In the only recording of this work, the choristers of Wakefield Cathedral sing Lowry’s hymn before the work begins. It is a subtle and moving touch.

The Phantasy has been recorded on Prima Facie’s English Phantasies (PFNSCD019) played by the Tritium Trio. Other works on this album include clarinet trios by John Ireland, John McCabe and Giles Easterbrook.

Monday, 29 March 2021

Eugene Goossens: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part 2

In the following year his Sinfonietta was first performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. [1] This work, in three linked movements, is rather more diatonic than his earlier compositions.

At about this time he was appearing frequently as a conductor at Covent Garden, and seemed to be making good progress, but in 1923 America tempted him with a much more rapid means of rising to fame, and he went to New York to become the conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. [2]. In the United States he soon established a reputation as one of the world's most brilliant conductors. In 1927 he caused quite a sensation by conducting a very revolutionary type of symphony by Charles E. Ives of New England, thereby finding favour in New York's more advanced schools of thought in music. [3] In the same year, at Rochester (New York), he conducted the first performance of his Rhythmic Dance; a scherzo in duple time. Four years later he succeeded Fritz Reiner as conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. [4]

Return visits to Britain were made in 1926 when he conducted at His Majesty's Theatre for the famous Diaghilev season of Russian ballet, [5] in June 1929 to conduct his own opera Judith at Covent Garden, [6] and again in 1937 when at the same opera house he conducted during the international season held to celebrate the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.[7] It was during this memorable season that he had the honour of directing another of his own works, the four-act opera Don Juan. [8] The libretti of both of his operas, by the way, were written for him by Arnold Bennett.

Goossens' compositions are chiefly in the chromatic idiom; they are modern and experimental without being freakish, although his earlier works suggested that he might develop on rather curious lines. This has not happened, for his later compositions show some concern for the more elegant style. Of the two operas, Judith, the shorter, is the more satisfactory. Percy Grainger was very favourably impressed by it, and declared that "only a keen, vigorous mind could have conceived this music: in the main somewhat unbending in its extreme austerity and conciseness, though flowering forth occasionally into brief moments of luscious sensuousness." [9]

Writing in Music and Letters some years ago, R. H. Hull said of Goossens' work: "Notwithstanding a prolific output we find much to show a true co-operation between mind and intellect. From the beginning, Goossens has never lacked imaginative qualities, although their strength has greatly increased with experience. Since he began to see his way clearly, his sense of beauty, which is both delicate and subtle, has also gained in depth. The principal works reconcile convincingly an elegance of style and solidity of ideas." [10]

Goossens' most recent work of importance is his Symphony, op.58, which was first performed in this country on July 6th, 1943 during a Promenade concert at the Albert Hall. It is an impressive work, but some of his critics were disappointed because they thought that in undertaking a work of this magnitude Goossens would have made it his masterpiece, whereas the Symphony scarcely comes up to the standard of some of his other works, and its performance in 1943 was not a great success.

To all but his more intimate associates Goossens is apt to give an impression of aloofness, though he does so quite unconsciously. He prefers to conduct other people's works to his own, but always enjoys writing music, and finds that the morning and early evening are the best times of the day for composing. He has several other interests besides music. The sea has always fascinated him, and at one time he would spend hours on docks and harbours looking at ships and occasionally talking to their crews. This nautical interest originated in his boyhood when he was living at Liverpool, for much of his leisure time was spent on that city's docks, and it explains his passion for saltwater fishing.

Goossens still retains his boyish interest in steam engines. He was once allowed to drive a locomotive and has never forgotten the thrill of it: even today he could not resist an invitation to ride on an engine if one were sent to him. Add to this a great love of architecture and an occasional game of golf and the picture is complete.

Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)

[1] The Sinfonietta was performed for the first time at a London Symphony Orchestra concert on 19 February 1923 held in the Queen’s Hall, London. The composer conduced. The Proms premiere was on 16 August 1934, with Henry Wood conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

[2] The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra was founded by the industrialist George Eastman in 1922. Eugene Goossens was the first musical director, a post that he held from 1923 until 1931.

[3] Eugene Goossens premiered (incomplete) Charles Ives Symphony No.4 on 29 January 1927 during an International Referendum Concert sponsored by Pro Musica at Town Hall in New York. The orchestra included members of the New York Philharmonic.

[4] Goossens was to retain this position with Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra until 1946. He was succeeded by Thor Johnson (1913-75).

[5] In 1926, Goossens was engaged for the Russian Ballet season at His Majesty’s Theatre, London. Ballet works that were conducted by Goossens included Stravinsky’s Les Noces and Pulcinella, Erik Satie’s Jack in the Box, and Georges Auric’s Pastorale. A new addition to the ballet season were the introduction of Interlude’s written by mainly French and Russian composers. Three British interludes included William Walton’s Portsmouth Point overture, Lord Berners’s Fugue and Eugene Goossens’s Nonet.

[6] Judith with a libretto by the English novelist, journalist, and playwright, Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) was premiered on 25 June 1929 at Covent Garden.

[7] Operas at this International Season for the Coronation included Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello (Thomas Beecham), Paul Dukas’s Ariane et Barbe-Bleue (Philippe Gaubert), Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale (Francesco Salfi), Richard Wagner’s Parsifal (Fritz Reiner), Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot (John Barbirolli), Christoph Gluck’s Alceste (Philippe Gaubert) and Verdi’s Aida (Francesco Salfi). There were two complete performances of The Ring (William Furtwangler). The London Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied throughout the season.

[8] Don Juan de Maraña is a four-act opera, based on Arnold Bennett’s eponymous 1923 play. The libretto was completed in 1931, but the opera was not premiered at Covent Garden 24 June 1937.

[9] Grainger’s comment comes from the fourth in a series of ‘Impressions of Art in Europe’, published on 28 September1929. It is reprinted in ed, Malcolm Gillies and Bruce Clunies Ross, Grainger on Music OUP 1999

[10] R. H. Hull, Music & Letters, October 1931, pp. 345-353.


Friday, 26 March 2021

Eugene Goossens: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part I

Donald Brook wrote a series of books presenting attractive short studies or pen-portraits of a wide variety of musicians and authors. Clearly, he had met these people and had a chance to speak to them about their achievements and interests. Sir Granville Bantock endorsed Composer’ Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944) by insisting that it ‘will be welcomed by music lovers and the larger public throughout the civilised world.’

On a personal note, this was one of the earliest second-hand books about music that I bought. In the days before the internet, it served as my introduction to a wide range of composers and their music.  I include several footnotes to Brook’s pen-portrait of Eugene Goossens as well as a brief resume of his career after this book’s publication. 

On a personal note, this was one of the earliest second-hand books about music that I bought. In the days before the internet, it served as my introduction to a wide range of composers and their music.  I include several footnotes to Brook’s pen-portrait of Eugene Goossens as well as a brief resume of his career after this book’s publication.

A BRILLIANT conductor, and composer of many interesting orchestral works, Eugene Goossens is one of the English musicians who have sought wider scope for their work on the other side of the Atlantic. I do not, of course, exclude the possibility that the great revival of interest in music at home might tempt him to return to us permanently in due course, nor do I overlook the fact that the wonderful development in air transport will in time make it immaterial whether one lives in Britain, America or even the South Sea Islands. [1] Science, it seems, will probably do more than anything else to make us realize that art is international.

Goossens was born in London on May 26th, 1893 of a distinguished musical family. His father and grandfather were both eminent conductors in the realm of opera; his brother Leon is now one of the greatest oboists in the world, and two of his sisters are prominent harpists. [2] He entered the Bruges Conservatoire when he was only ten years of age but came to England later and attended the Liverpool College of Music until a scholarship brought him to London to study at the Royal College of Music under C. V. Stanford for composition, and Rivarde [3] for the violin. His first composition for the orchestra, Variations on a Chinese Theme was given under his own direction at one of the students' concerts. [4]

In 1911 Sir Henry Wood engaged him for the Queen's Hall Orchestra, and he played with that august body of musicians until Sir Thomas Beecham sought his services as an assistant conductor in 1915. One of his outstanding memories of the years he spent with Sir Henry Wood is of a Promenade Concert in the autumn of 1914 when his second orchestral work Perseus was given its premiere. [5] After six years with Sir Thomas Beecham, Goossens founded an orchestra of his own and gave a series of symphony concerts which not only drew considerable attention to him as a conductor, but also enabled him to present one or two of his own compositions. [6]

In the previous autumn his symphonic poem The Eternal Rhythm had been performed at a Promenade concert, and it was then chosen for a second performance at the inaugural concert of the British Music Society in June 1921. [7] By this time, he had also made a name for himself as a player and composer in the world of chamber music: he had done excellent work as a member of the Philharmonic String Quartet and had impressed the critics with his Fantasy for String Quartet (1915), his Quartet in C [major] (1916), and his two sketches By the Tarn and Jack O' Lantern (1916). Of the Fantasy, Delius said that it was the best thing of its type he had ever seen from an English pen. [8]

The influence of Ravel seems to have played some part in the shaping of this work. The three movements of the Quartet in C [major] were dedicated to his three colleagues in the Philharmonic String Quartet: Arthur Beckwith (first violin), Raymond Jeremy (viola) and Cedric Sharp ('cello). [9] Each movement is really a subtle musical portrait, and the four notes that open the concluding movement are taken from the music-hall song ‘You're Here and I'm Here’ which Cedric Sharpe had "on the brain " and persisted in whistling to the annoyance of his friends shortly before the Quartet was written. [10]

Goossens' next task was the conducting of the Russian ballet in The Sleeping Princess at the Alhambra. [11] In 1922 he wrote the overture, six entr'actes and the incidental music to Somerset Maugham's play East of Suez. [12] All his enthusiasm for oriental effects went into this music, and it aroused so much curiosity that everybody believed a rumour that he had procured Chinese music and had forced his orchestra to use fantastic eastern instruments! Actually, the music Goossens had written contained 
nothing but western harmonies, and his players were using their normal instruments.
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)

[1] Eugene Goossens departed for Australia in 1947 to take up the post of conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He was also appointed director of the New South Wales State Conservatorium. In 1956 he was forced by scandal to resign both positions. He returned to the United Kingdom and spent his remaining years of his life working freelance. Eugene Goossens died on 13 June 1962.

[2] Eugene Goossens was a member of a family of musicians. His grandfather, Eugene (1845-1906) was an orchestral conductor. His father, also Eugene (1867-1958) was a conductor and violinist. His sister, Marie (1894-1991) was a harpist, performing as a soloist and with several orchestras. His brother, Leon (1897-1988) was a highly respected oboist. And finally, his sister Sidonie (1899-2004) was also a harpist. There was another brother, Adolphe (1896-1916) was a gifted horn player, who died in France during the Great War.

[3] Achille Rivarde (1865-1940) was an American born violinist and teacher. Much of his career was spent in London and Europe. He became a professor at the Royal College of Music (RCM) in 1899.

[4] Goossens’s Variations on a Chinese Theme were given its World Premiere on 6 September 1913, during the Proms. The New Queen’s Hall Orchestra was conducted by the composer. It had previously been given a rehearsal and run through at the RCM in 1912.

[5] Perseus, a ‘Straussian’ symphonic poem for orchestra, was premiered during the 1914 Proms Season on 13 October. Once again, Eugene conducted the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra.

[6] The Goossens Orchestra was a hand-picked selection of 105 of the ‘best instrumentalists’ including his siblings Marie, Sidonie and Léon. The first major success was the British premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring on 7 June 1921. Goossens also included his own The Eternal Rhythm and a Fanfare in subsequent concerts. (Carole Rosen, The Goossens: A Musical Century, 1993, p.66ff)

[7] The Eternal Rhythm was played at the British Music Society’s concert on 14 June 1921. Other music included the premiere of the orchestral version of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending. The soloist was Marie Hall.  Josef Holbrooke’s Overture: The Children of Don, Holst’s The Planets and Cyril Scott’s Piano Concerto [No.1] completed the bill.  The repertoire of this entire concert can be recreated with contemporary CD/downloads.

[8] Carley, Lionel, Delius: A Life in Letters, Scolar Press, 1988, p.163

[9] The Philharmonic Quartet was an English string quartet musical ensemble founded during the period of the First World War and remaining active until the early 1940s, by which time none of the original members were present in the group. (Wikipedia)

[10] ‘You're Here and I'm Here’ is a song with words by Harry B Smith and music by Jerome Kern, published in 1914.

[11] Better known as The Sleeping Beauty, The Sleeping Princess was given by Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes at the Alhambra Theatre, Leicester Square, London. The British premiere was on 2 November 1921. It was to run for 115 performances.

[12] In 1922, Eugene Goossens composed incidental for Somerset Maugham’s 1920s play East of Suez. Based on a story set in Beijing, it delves into the intersection of cultural traditions. The music is mysterious and oriental. In fact, the composer had visited a pub in Limehouse, and had jotted down tunes played by Chang Tim’s band of Chinese seamen. Rosen (op.cit. p.71) explains that these musicians ‘played Chinese fiddles, flutes, wooden blocks, gongs and cymbalum…’ Goossens tailored their themes to Western musical instruments and notation.

To be continued…

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Ernst Toch: Big Ben: Variation-Fantasy on the Westminster Chimes (1934) -The Recordings

There is only a single commercial recording of Ernst Toch’s Big Ben: Variation-Fantasy on the Westminster Chimes currently in the catalogues. This was released in 2002 by New World Records (80609). The CD also included the ‘early’ Piano Concerto op. 38, (1926), Peter Pan, A Fairy Tale for Orchestra, op. 76 (1956) and Pinocchio, A Merry Overture (1935).  The piano soloist was Todd Crow, and the Hamburg North German Radio Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Leon Botstein. The entire CD provides a splendid introduction to Toch’s music, featuring music from a 30-year period. 

James H North, writing in Fanfare: The Magazine for the Serious Record Collector (March 2003, p.191-2) felt that ‘the 16-minute piece encompasses many moods and is extremely clever, perhaps too much so for its own good: What could have been a sure fire, Elgarian pops hit, to a tune known the world over, is filled with little fugues and other esoteric musical devices.’ For me, it is mysterious quality that make this piece such a winner.

Turning to the other works on this disc, North regards the Piano Concerto as ‘a more sophisticated cousin of George Gershwin's Concerto in F’ with a ‘complex orchestral accompaniment that sounds mildly dissonant to our ears [but] must have been hot stuff in 1926; some sections are nearly atonal, but a breezy, free-swinging attitude prevails, with both Romantic and neo-Classical touches.’  

Mark L. Lehman American Record Guide (March 2003 p.177-8) considered that ‘Peter Pan, in three short movements, is appropriately whimsical and dancing-on-airish, its outer fast movements enclosing a…faux-rustic gavotte, while the harmonically tamer [Pinocchio] overture is ebullient and tuneful.’ Turning to the Big Ben Fantasy which is ‘more substantial and more various, Big Ben, which begins with the famous chimes, proposing, solid, Brahmsian edifice that seems to encompass the many aspects of the city around it, from stately and sonorous to vigorous, and bustling to ceremonious and grand to misty and mysterious.’ One of the remarkable qualities of the Big Ben Fantasy are the balance between ‘masterly contrapuntal skill’ and ‘easily assimilated melodic appeal.’ It was a style that Ernst Toch mastered to a fine degree. Finally, Lehman’s assessment of the piano concerto deserves to be quoted on full:
‘The Piano Concerto allows Toch's long-lined, bittersweet, and deeply Viennese lyricism full flower. His richly chromatic, eloquently sculptured phrases - similar to Hindemith in language but closer to Mahler in their nostalgic longing - are spun out and entwined with a sort of ecstatic poignancy in the magnificent central adagio, 11 minutes of almost Bergian pantonalism that grows from a halting, limpid piano solo of exquisite shapeliness and haunting expressive resonance. There's really nothing like this adagio in all the concerted piano literature, and it remains one of Toch's most personal and individual creations.’

The Gramophone (October 2003, p.54-55) reviewer was impressed with this new CD, which was part of the ‘Toch Revival.’  To what extent this revival remains to be seen. To be sure, listeners now have a wide range of recordings to explore, including the cycle of seven symphonies, the extant string quartets and a good selection of piano music. Yet, his sun seems, once again, to have set, at least in the concert hall.

Guy Rickards thought that the Pinocchio Overture was ‘a lively affair, pure entertainment’ whereas the Big Ben fantasy ‘showcases’ the composer’s talents to greater effect. He considers it to be a ‘masterly piece’ which ‘adds up to slightly more than the 1955 Peter Pan, which, despite the work’s orchestral brilliance (with some distinctly [Malcolm] Arnold-like touches in places) is more of a character study than as narrative poem.’

Turning to the main work on this disc, the critic considers that the Piano Concerto (1926) displays ‘plenty of light and shade in its turbulent but ultimately ebullient course.’ This is particularly evident in the opening ‘Allegro’ and the ‘seething climax of the central adagio.’ The concerto is played by Tod Crow ‘with great elan.’ Overall, Rickards thinks that Leon Botstein ‘secures some excellent playing from the North German Radio players and New World’s sound is clear and exciting.’

For completeness, it should be noted that in 1975 an early monaural recording of Ernst Toch’s music appeared including the Big Ben: Fantasy. The cover title was ‘In Memoriam Ernst Toch (1887-1964)’ This was a non-commercial recording made by the RAI [Radiotelevisione italiana] National Symphony Orchestra under Rudolf Kempe. The album included Pinocchio: A Merry Overture and the Symphony No.1 (1950). This vinyl LP was issued on Educational Media Associates EMA 101.

In 1997, Exton Records (OVCL 00126) released a compilation album which included the Big Ben Variation alongside Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Benjamin Britten’s Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra, The Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Djong Victorin. I was unable to locate any reviews of these recordings.

Meanwhile Ernst Toch’s Big Ben Variation Fantasy on the Westminster Chimes can be heard on YouTube. (Accessed 27 January 2021).