Thursday, 19 September 2019

Frank Merrick (1886-1981) & Henry Holst (1899-1991) Violin and Piano Works on Nimbus (Part 2)

I liked the two Violin Sonatas by the Swedish composer Gunnar de Frumerie on CD 3. I have heard very little of his music. These sonatas are exciting and thoughtful by turn.  I guess that I would like to hear them in a modern recording.  Jean Sibelius’s little ‘Sonatine’ in E major, op.80 was written in 1915. This work exudes wit and sheer happiness, possibly inspired by a Christmastide sleigh-ride. The lack of angst is reflected in Holst and Merrick’s take.

The final CD presents Max Reger’s massive Violin Sonata no.5 in F sharp minor, op.84 composed in 1905. Listening to this excellent performance (notwithstanding the above-mentioned caveats) I wondered why Reger is typically regarded as dry-as-dust. This is a big work, possibly even overblown, that demands our attention. The two flanking movements are intense and virtuosic whilst the gentler middle one is over in a flash. The finale is cast as an ‘introductory’ theme, followed by seven variations with a ‘triumphant’ fugue thrown in for good measure. I think that I surprised myself by finding this one of the most enjoyable (for me) pieces in this collection.

The second work by Reger is the Janus-like Suite in the Olden Style composed in 1906. Since that time, the composer has ‘dished it up’ for full orchestra by which it is (slightly) better known.  Listeners will discern nods towards J.S. Bach’s ‘Brandenburg’ Concerto no.3 in the opening swashbuckling ‘Praeludium’. Maybe there are hints of Anton Bruckner in the deeply felt ‘largo.’ It comes as no surprise that Reger ends his Suite with a ‘fugue.’ This massive construction balances what is really a perpetuum mobile with a few more reflective episodes and massive ‘final entries’ and coda. Surely, no ‘Old Suite’ had so many chromatic notes and chords. I do not know why Reger gets written off as boring, academic and downright dull. This is proof that there is another side to this composer: witty, puckish, straddling the musical boundary between Brahms and Schoenberg and featuring a deep absorption of Bach. Well played here by the duo, despite one of two intonation issues, but so what! Great music.

Sergei Prokofiev's Cinq Mélodies were written during his exile in Paris during the 1920s. They are an arrangement of songs ‘he had composed earlier.’ Not normally a fan of Prokofiev, I found these five pieces urbane, full of interest and often quite moving. Holst and Merrick give studied performances of this deeply lyrical music.

What first struck me about this four-CD conspectus was the documentation. The liner notes present a detailed 10,000-word essay/biography of both artists written by the Founding Editor of MusicWeb International, Rob Barnett. This will inspire the historically minded in further exploring many facets of contemporary musicianship. The biography is preceded by a context-setting introduction, which explains that many of the works heard in this set, were well and truly out of fashion in the 1960s.
For example, Bax’s reputation was then based on Tintagel and The Garden of Fand. On a positive note, Iris Loveridge had recorded her ground-breaking cycle of Bax’s piano music for Lyrita (1959-63). Now, through the age of LP, CD and streaming, it is possible to find several versions of Bax’s Legend, Ballad and Violin Sonatas, but Holst and Merrick were the pioneers in every case.

Nimbus were lucky in having the programme notes for virtually all these works. They were issued as part of the Frank Merrick Society/Rare Recorded Edition LPs. Many were written by Merrick, with two (Rubbra and Stevens) provided by the composers themselves. They are model notes that err on the technical, rather than the descriptive, model more popular today. But they are perfectly comprehensible to anyone who has a moderate understanding of musical theory. They make for fascinating reading, especially if one has the score at hand.  I was unable to find the note for Bax Sonata no.1: the text seems to jump from the Ballad to no.2! And nothing about the Prokofiev Cinq Mélodies either.

The final piece of editorial information is the ‘Note on the LP Sources.’ Listeners need to understand that the original records were made for private listening. The Merrick Family suggest that less than 100 copies of each LP were pressed.  In total there were some 24 numbered releases, with 20 issued by the Merrick Society and four by the Rare Recorded Edition (RRE) and Cabaletta. A further 17 volumes were issued by RRE including the nine-volume edition of the ‘complete’ piano works of John Field. The recording dates of each work are not given, although the ‘source LP’ is cited (see above).

I guess that relatively few people will purchase this set to have pristine recordings of these important works. They are quite clearly historical and reflect the fact that they are around 50-60 years old. Listeners who wish to explore virtually the entire corpus of the Holst/Merrick discography will be delighted. And they are essential listening for all enthusiasts of Arnold Bax.

Track Listing:
Gunnar de FRUMERIE (1908-1987)
Violin Sonata No.1 in A minor, op.15 (1934 rev.1962)
Violin Sonata No.2 in C sharp minor, op.30 (1944)
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Sonatina[e] in E major, op.80 (1915)
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Violin Sonata No.5 in F sharp minor, op.84 (1905)
Suite im alten Stil, op.93 (1906)
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Five Melodies, op.35bis (1920)
Frank Merrick (piano), Henry Holst (violin)
rec. 1950s-60s

The LP sources FMS (Frank Merrick Society); LPA (Concert Artist Record)
FMS 18 Bax: Ballad, Violin Sonata No. 2 & No. 3
FMS 19 Reger: Violin Sonata No. 5; Suite im alten Stil; Prokofiev: Cinq Mélodies
FMS 21 Bax: Legend; Isaacs: ‘Andantino’; Rubbra: Violin Sonata No. 2; Stevens: Fantasia
FMS 23 De Frumerie: Violin Sonata No. 1 & No. 2; Sibelius: Violin Sonatina
LPA 1099 Bax: Violin Sonata No. 1; Delius: Violin Sonata No. 2
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Frank Merrick (1886-1981) & Henry Holst (1899-1991) Violin and Piano Works on Nimbus (Part 1)

There needs to be a listening strategy for this exploration of music played by Henry Holst and Frank Merrick. It begins with an acceptance that each of these recordings were (probably) made at one sitting. There was little chance for editing and enhancement of the final tapes. Here and there Holst seems to be a ‘bit’ out of tune, or at least not quite getting the intonation right (flat). This said, I guess that what will impress the listener most is the enthusiasm and the sheer creative ‘bravery’ in laying so down many works that were not in the public eye (or ear). On this basis, this four-CD collection is essential listening to all who are interested in 20th century music and its performance history. A biographical history of both artists is easily accessible on the Internet: I will not rehearse it here.

Clearly, it is important to have the first complete recorded cycle of Bax’s Violin Sonatas (at least as published). That said, I would not recommend these as ‘my first choice’ for someone new to Bax.
The collection opens with Arnold Bax’s ruminative Legend. This was completed during February 1915 in the early stages of the First World War. Nobody knows what the actual ‘Tale’ is, but clearly it is a combination of romantic love, melancholy and frightening visions of conflict. Bax himself insisted that ‘this piece was always associated in my mind [with the war] …and came straight out of the horror of that time…like so much of the second violin sonata.’  The overall mood of this Legend is one of melancholy: it is more a lament than ‘battle music’.
The following year finds Bax composing his Ballad for violin and piano. He was now less concerned with the Great War and more interested in the politics of Ireland and the Easter Rising of 1916. The music has a seascape feel to it as well: it is a ‘stormy thing.’ There is beauty as well as anguish here. Once again, we do not know the story behind the Ballad. It is a complex and difficult work for both players.’
I enjoyed Henry Holst and Frank Merrick’s recital of these two rarely heard and underrated pieces.

Colin Scott Sutherland has given a rule of thumb for appreciating Bax’s three violin sonatas: the first two are ‘sensuous and ornate’ and the third is ‘more austere and scored economically.’
I felt that I was in the presence of two master-craftsmen with this recital of Bax’s Violin Sonata no.1 in E major. It was composed between 1910-15 and was subsequently revised in 1920 and 1945. I understand that it is the 1920 version that is presented here, although the liner notes suggest it is the later revision. Certainly, Graham Parlett’s Bax Catalogue (Oxford, 1999) states this to be the case. All subsequent recordings are played from the 1945 version – Gruenberg/McCabe on Chandos, Gibbs/Mei-Loc Wu on ASV and Jackson/Wass on Naxos. This final CD is invaluable, as it includes the 2nd and 3rd movements from the original 1910 version.
I found Henry Holst’s tone just that little bit astringent during much of this Sonata. Even the passionate and romantically charged opening movement suffers from this sharpness of tone. The ‘scherzo’ is not quite as ‘quicksilver’ as I would have liked: the recording gets a little muddy in places. The finale is quite lovely. With its references to the opening movement and its ‘consolatory’ mood concludes what is a remarkable performance, despite my concerns noted above. The entire work is worthy of the beautiful lady, Natalia Skarginski whom Arnold Bax followed across Europe to the Ukraine in order to plead his suit.

The Violin Sonata No.2 (1915 rev.1921) was conceived in four movements. The composer insisted that they be played without an obvious break. The work is dominated by a single motif, which Bax also used in his orchestral tone poem November Woods (1917). I felt that Holst’s technique here was very brittle and quite ‘hard’ on the ear. I compared it to extracts from the Gibbs/Mei-Loc Wu recording on ASV and confirmed my opinion. That said, Holst does capture the angst and despair that colours this entire work. This is no romantic rhapsody, but a deeply felt work that reflects the crisis of the times. There are some moments when serenity seems to be reached, only to be pushed to one side. This Sonata is characterised by the nihilism of the final ‘allegro feroce’, although this does eventually lead to a more positive conclusion. Alas, the recording does seem to let the side down. That said, it is clearly committed and passionate playing by both men. It is a sonata that deserves more than its less-than-tenuous hold in the repertoire.

CD 2 opens with Bax’s Violin Sonata no.3, composed in 1927.  It is constructed in two linked movements. In the opening section Bax makes use of a ‘wayward Celtic song.’ There is more of the Celtic twilight here than might be expected. Despite the typically more taught soundscape there are some interludes which capture the composer’s brooding. There is an Irish dance tune in the finale as well as autobiographical ‘dreaming’ by Bax himself. I felt that Holst and Merrick managed successfully to balance the diverse elements in this powerful Sonata.

Frederick Delius’s Violin Sonata (1923) inhabits the misty quasi-impressionistic world of Ophelia, and, as Rob Barnett has suggested, Frank Bridge’s elusive There is a willow grows aslant a brook.  The duo has given an attractive performance of this lyrical rhapsody.

The ‘andantino’ from Manchester-born composer and pianist Edward Isaacs’s Violin Sonata in A major (1910) is hardly a masterpiece. Yet it reflects the sentimental taste of Edwardian Britain. This work is melodically attractive, but with a touch of melancholy. The middle section is livelier. Merrick and Holst have convinced me that the entire Sonata deserves at least one revival and/or professional recording.

Edmund Rubbra’s Violin Sonata no.2, op.31 (1931) contains something quite surprising. The finale features a vibrant Iberian dance, which is like nothing I can recall in his opus. It nods towards Bartok and Manuel de Falla in its impact. This does not quite ‘come off’: there seems to be a lack of passion and drive, although I have not heard this work in any other version. The middle ‘Lament’ is truly tragic in sound.
Neither does Bernard Steven’s Fantasia on a Theme of Dowland for Violin and Piano, Op.23 quite work for me here. Stevens has a theme (‘Can she excuse my wrongs’) that can be realised in a forlorn mood or as a vibrant Galliard. I appreciated this work but guess that I would turn to Kenneth Sillito and Hamish Milne on Albany (TROY 572). That said Holst and Merrick bring great depth to the more introverted parts of this work. Jonathan Woolf, in his review of this collection, is correct in suggesting that here, the duo is ‘at something less than their best.’

Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Legend (1915)
Ballad (1916)
Violin Sonata No.1 in E major (1910-15, rev 1920, 1945)
Violin Sonata No.2 (1915, rev.1921)
Violin Sonata No. 3 (1927)
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Violin Sonata No.2 (1923)
Edward ISAACS (1881-1953)
Violin Sonata in A – Andantino (1910)
Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Violin Sonata no.2, op.31 (1931)
Bernard STEVENS (1916-1983)
Fantasia on a theme of Dowland, op.23 (1953)
Frank Merrick (piano), Henry Holst (violin)
rec. 1950s-60s

The LP sources FMS (Frank Merrick Society); LPA (Concert Artist Record)
FMS 18 Bax: Ballad, Violin Sonata No. 2 & No. 3
FMS 19 Reger: Violin Sonata No. 5; Suite im alten Stil; Prokofiev: Cinq Mélodies
FMS 21 Bax: Legend; Isaacs: ‘Andantino’; Rubbra: Violin Sonata No. 2; Stevens: Fantasia
FMS 23 De Frumerie: Violin Sonata No. 1 & No. 2; Sibelius: Violin Sonatina
LPA 1099 Bax: Violin Sonata No. 1; Delius: Violin Sonata No. 2
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Friday, 13 September 2019

Ronald Smith: Piano Masterpieces (1960) on Extended Play

In 1963 my late father invested in a radiogram. Up until that point the family made do with the Pye radio and the black and white television set rented from DER (Domestic Electric Rentals). My father was never one to follow trends, but I guess he must have realised that his son was getting to an age when pop music would begin to become relevant. Already, I had been ‘dancing’ to the Beatles at the Cub Christmas Dance. I think the young lady I danced with was called ‘June.’ On the other hand, my father was never one for the latest developments of pop and rock. Clearly, he had heard of the Fab Four and Elvis, but was more comfortable with the crooning of Bing Crosby, the powerful voice of Paul Robeson and the soulful jazz of Ella Fitzgerald.
The new radiogram was put in the sitting room. We rarely ventured in there, except at Christmas or when my parents were entertaining family or friends.
I remember the long, sleek, dark oak box on slim legs that contained the gubbins: Radio (Long and Medium Wave) and record deck. It included an autochanger for stacking records and a switchable stylus for playing old ‘shellac’ discs as well as ‘microgroove’. There were four speeds: 78, 45, 33 and 16 rpm. I guess this latter setting was never to catch on. The speakers were integral. There was an internal space to store about 30 albums, EPs or singles.

And then the first record arrived. My father came home from work one evening and handed my mother a present. Inside the brown paper bag was Ronald Smith’s Piano Masterpieces. (Embassy Records, WEP1103). I think he had bought it at the long-lamented Lewis’s Department Store in Argyle Street, Glasgow (now Debenhams). It was an EP – extended play record - with four numbers: it had been released in 1963. I remember going into the parlour. The record was duly put on the record deck. Specs perched on the end of his nose my father worked his way through the instructions. I guess the last record player he had used was a wind-up affair sometime during the War. Soon Bach was coming through the speakers. It was the first classical record I had heard, and I wasn’t impressed. I fidgeted and got into trouble.  That for me was that. Meanwhile my mother bought me Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday EP which I played nearly to destruction. Soon, I invested my pocket money in the Beatles ‘Hard Day’s Night’ single. My record collection had begun.

A few year later, when I had just begun to listen to classical music, Smith’s EP was still in the radiogram. It had been joined by several other records including Handel’s Messiah (selections) sung by the Huddersfield Choral Society and conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent. The only other classical album was Kathleen Ferrier singing British Folk Songs. It was to be many years before I appreciated this masterclass of singing. I guess that Led Zeppelin and  Yes got in the way! 

One day, when I came home from secondary school, I did listen to Ronald Smith - when my parents were out.  I had just been selected to play a pirate in the G&S operetta The Pirates of Penzance. I needed to get to know classical music quickly, else my street cred with my schoolmates would be zero. Smith’s EP was my introduction to ‘classical’ piano music. And a splendid and varied one at that.

First up was Dame Myra Hess’s beautiful arrangement of the 10th section of J.S. Bach’s Cantata no.147, ‘Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben,’ (Heart and mouth and deed and life), BWV 147. The piano perfectly presents the two separate threads of music: the chorale and the descant. It is a perfect fusion of musical parts.
The second piece on the first side was Frederick Chopin’s ‘Revolutionary’ Study, op.10, no.12. This is believed to have been composed in Stuttgart around 1831 and was dedicated to Franz Liszt. It reflects the composer’s anger at the failure of Poland’s revolution against Russia. The piece is dominated by varying patterns in the right hand with a ‘restless running bass’ in the left.  It opens with a loud dominant seventh first inversion chord. To my untutored ear it sounded wild and stormy.
Turning the EP over, I listened to the piano piece that Sergei Rachmaninov came to despise: The Prelude in C sharp minor, op.3 no.2. It was part of a set of five pieces entitled Morceaux de Fantasie, written around 1892. The composer was only 19 at the time. He was asked to play this warhorse at every recital to the detriment of public appreciation of his other music. Rachmaninov once said that he wished he had never written it. I loved it.
The final track on the EP was Franz Liszt’s gorgeously romantic ‘Liebesträume’ in A flat, op.62, no.3. It was written originally as a song but was ‘transcribed’ by the composer into the pot-boiler it has now become. It supposedly represents the composer’s ‘discovery’ of Chopin’s music.
So, in less than half an hour I had introduced myself to Bach played on the piano. To this day I prefer pianoforte performances of his keyboard works to those played on the clavier or the harpsichord. It was to be many years before I was able to appreciate the fine playing of Myra Hess. I had also been introduced to the ‘political’ element in music in the ‘Revolutionary’ Study by Chopin. The towering pianism of Rachmaninov impressed me with his hackneyed Prelude - I did not know this then. It was not long before I discovered his Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor. And finally, an introduction to Liszt. Both to his transcriptions, which did take me a while to get my head around, and more importantly the sheer romance of his music.
In many ways I guess that much I enjoy in music to this day, is largely underpinned by the ethos of these four pieces of music. My interest in British music was to come later.

I know that I was impressed by Ronald Smith’s playing but cannot recall the details. I was unable to find a contemporary review of this EP however reviews of his other recordings are encouraging and exceptional.  Alas, the record disappeared after my father’s death. It probably ended up in the house clearance sale. I wish I had kept it! Finally, my father’s radiogram lasted until the early 1980s when it was given away. A new sound system was invested in.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

1939: Three Violin Concertos played by Fabiola Kim

Europe had been in great turmoil for some years. Recently, there had been the Spanish Civil War, the invasion of Austria and the annexation of the Sudetenland. But this was finally it: the 1 September 1939 was the ‘official’ start of World War 2. This new two-CD set explores diverse violin concertos by William Walton, Karl Amadeus Hartmann and Bela Bartók, all written, completed or premiered in that momentous year.

I was unable to find any indication as to which version of William Walton’s Concerto for violin and orchestra is played here. Is it the original 1939 version or the revision that the composer made in 1943? This reduced the size of the percussion section. I know that it is the revised version played here, but it would be helpful to be told. (I may have missed it somewhere deep in the text of the liner notes).  
This Concerto (1938-39) was specifically written for Jascha Heifetz (1901-87). However, Walton did have an eye on the 1939 World Fair in New York, and the British contribution to that event.  The story of his failure to complete his Violin Concerto on time and the problems as to who the soloist should be, makes a major essay. This has been detailed in Battle for Music: Music and British Wartime Propaganda 1935-1945 by John Vincent Morris (Exeter University Thesis, 2011).
The first performance was at the Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio on 7 December 1939 with Heifetz and the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Artur Rodzinski. The London premiere took place at the Royal Albert Hall on 1 November 1941 with the violinist Henry Holst and the composer conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
There are currently 29 versions (or re-packaging’s) of this concerto listed in the Arkiv Catalogue: I have heard several of them, but by no means all. The first version of this work that I bought in the 1970s, was the Menuhin/Walton/ London Symphony Orchestra, LP (HMV ASD2542, 1970) LP, followed 15 years later with the Kennedy/Previn/Royal Philharmonic recording on CD (EMI CDC 49628 2, 1987). And then there is Heifetz’s, the dedicatee’s 1941 recording released on Naxos 8.110939 in 2001, which bounces along a wee bit too much for me.
My touchstone for this concerto is ‘Mediterranean warmth’ and ‘romance’ as inspired by Walton’s lover Alice Wimborne. I want my heart broken by the ‘big tune’ in the final movement. It is one of the most beautiful moments in the literature of British music. Kennedy does it for me; Menuhin doesn’t quite make it. Fabiola Kim gets it to near-perfection. Generally, her interpretation needs to be just a little touch more ‘sultry’ and ‘bluer’ reflecting the Tyrrhenian Sea visible from Ravello on the Amalfi Coast. This is where Walton wrote most of this Concerto in the days before war broke out.  

The Violin Concerto no.2 in B major, Sz.112 by Béla Bartók has largely passed me by. It is my loss. I do know, however, that it is one of the most important works from the composer’s pen from the immediate pre-Second World War period. It was composed at time when Bartók was desperately worried by the development of fascism in Europe. His place in Hungary was not secure and he suffered considerable trouble with the political elite there.  In 1940 he would become an exile in the United States.
The Concerto was commissioned by the violinist Zoltán Székely.  The story goes that Bartók wished to write the work as a set of extended variations, however, Székely demanded that he follow the ‘traditional’ formal structure of a classical concerto. All well and good, however, Bartók later conceded that despite the apparent fast/slow/fast movements, he had contrived to carry out his initial plan: the middle movement is a set of variations and the final movement is a ‘free variation’ on the first movement.
The sound world of this work is an effective balance between dissonance and lyricism. Once again, the liner notes do not state whether this recording includes the revised or original ending of the final movement. Bartók had originally concluded the work with an ‘extended passage’ for orchestra only. When Zoltán Székely saw this, he insisted on a big finish for the violin soloist. It is this version that is heard here.
I found that Fabiola Kim has emphasised the lyrical nature of this Concerto. This is not at the expense of some of the more dramatic and exuberant moments of this work. Kim copes well with the folk-music inspired first movement but also including a 12-note ‘melody’ and the sophisticated set of variations forming the second movement. Both sound worlds are fused into a complex but satisfying finalé.
Béla Bartók’s second violin concerto was first performed on 23 March 1939 in Amsterdam with the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Willem Mengelberg with Székely as soloist.

I do not know if Kim’s performance of Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Concerto funèbre (Funereal Concerto) for violin and string orchestra is given from the original 1939 version or the substantial revision made in 1959. I am guessing that it is the later version, but the liner notes do not make this clear.
What Hartmann has done is to compose a lament or requiem for the whole continent of Europe. The germinal thought behind this concerto is the occupation of parts of Czechoslovakia by the Germans.  The rise of fascism was inexorable. The work opens with a quotation of the ‘Hussite Song’, previously heard in Smetana’s Ma Vlast and Dvorak’s Hussites Overture. Stylistically, Hartmann’s concerto displays a diverse musical character: a post-romantic mood in the second movement ‘adagio’, the motoric ferocity of the third movement ‘allegro di molto and the sustained choral of the ‘finalé.’  

The liner notes by Thomas Otto give a good overview of all three concertos and their composers as well as setting these works in context. There is a long bio of Fabiola Kim and a slightly shorter one about the conductor Kevin John Edusei and the Munchner Symphoniker. They are given in English and German.

This is a splendid introduction to three important works and composers who were active at a time of great crisis in Europe and later the entire world.  Three different perspectives are given here: Walton’s romantic sunshine, almost oblivious to the coming catastrophe, Bartók’s reminiscences of a world that was passing (or had passed), and Hartmann threnody for the pain and suffering that was to begin in 1939 and continues for six years. The mood ranges from optimism to deep pessimism. It is as it should have been.

Track Listing:
1939: Fabiola Kim
CD 1
William Walton (1902-83) Concerto for violin and orchestra (1939)
Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-63) Concerto funèbre (Funereal Concerto) for violin and string orchestra (1939, rev 1959)
CD 2
Béla Bartók (1881-1945) Violin Concerto no.2 in B major, Sz.112 (1939)
Fabiola Kim (violin), Munchner Symphoniker/Kevin John Edusei
Rec. Bavaria Musikstudios, Munich, 5-8 November 2018 (Walton & Bartók); 23-24 January 2019 (Hartmann)
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Saturday, 7 September 2019

William Wordsworth: Cheesecombe Suite for piano solo (1945)

I first discovered William Wordsworth’s (1908-88) music back in 1975. I had been assiduously exploring the record browsers in the music department of Harrods’ Knightsbridge store. Amongst the usual fare, I found two Lyrita albums of piano music: Franz Reizenstein (RCS19) and William Wordsworth (RCS.13). I immediately bought them, despite having no clue as to their sound world: the prestigious record label was reason enough. After returning home to Glasgow I listened to both with eager anticipation. I confess that I was a little disappointed. Both albums presented music very different to the diet of Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Delius that I was exploring at that time.
I had imagined that the Cheesecombe Suite would have been a ‘pastoral’ ramble, clearly inspired by some real or imaginary place in the depths of the English countryside. In fact, it was probably the title that persuaded me to buy this record of music by a composer I knew nothing about.
Interestingly, Mosco Carner, writing a short review of an early performance of the Suite in The Daily Telegraph (24 October 1950) pointed out that on the previous evening, pianist Frank Merrick had included the Cheesecombe Suite in his recital at the Conway Hall. He felt that this ‘proved to be pastoral [my italics] music as its name suggests, not particularly pianistic in character but unpretentiously pleasing.’ Other works at Merrick’s recital included Prokofiev’s Third Sonata. 
The ‘pastoral character of the music is not a view I would concur with. In fact, it is one of the reasons that I did not warm to this Suite in 1975: it did not evoke (for me) a mood of topography or countryside meditations.

William Wordsworth’s Cheesecombe Suite was composed in the spring of 1945. The work carries the following dedication: ‘To my friends B.A., C.A., D.C., and G.E. whose initials provide the theme for these pieces.’ At this point I would only be guessing in trying to tie a name down to each set of initials.
There is some discussion as to where ‘Cheesecombe’ is, and the composer’s relation to it. Roger Fiske, (The Gramophone June 1963) presumes that it is the name of the Wordsworth’s house at Hindhead. I think that he is wrong. At the time of composition, Wordsworth was living at Little Hatch, Churt Road, Hindhead. This village, which is the highest in Surrey, lies some 10 miles south west of Guildford. It is close to the Devil’s Punch Bowl, which is a local beauty spot.
Paul Conway (MusicWeb International) has suggested that ‘Cheesecombe’ was in fact located near Lyme Regis in the village of Harcombe. It was here that Wordsworth, who was a conscientious objector, may have carried out agricultural war-work in lieu of military service.

Harry Croft-Jackson provided the original liner notes for the Lyrita LP.  I quote the description of each movement:
Prelude: Pensive Andante tranquillo in A minor, full of charm and innocence.
Scherzo: A deft Allegro scherzando in G. Although written in simple triple time [3/4] the beats often divide into triplets as the music chuckles its way through a series of impish key changes.
Nocturne: An example of the composer’s ability to express with economy and restraint a sustained, nostalgic mood.
Fughetta: Like the Prelude, this 9/8 Allegretto is in A minor, with a soft aeolian flavour. Subject and answer are announced ‘delicato,’ and are followed by three ‘pianissimo’ middle entries. There after the Fughetta gradually mounts in excitement to a vigorous conclusion.

Paul Conway rewrote the liner notes for the CD reissue of this album. The only additional comments he makes is to note the ‘capricious key changes and constantly varying rhythms’ making ‘the gambolling Scherzo a light-hearted romp, revealing the composer’s humorous side.’  He believes that the Nocturne ‘is the most profound movement’. This initially wistful pieces ‘intensifies to generate a powerful climax, before falling back on its initial reveries’.

The premiere of Wordsworth’s Cheesecombe Suite was given during a lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall, on 19 May 1948. Miss Yvonne Enoch’s playing was apparently too tentative to ‘invest its four short movements with positive character.’ (The Times, 24 May 1948).

The sheet music for the Cheesecombe Suite was published in 1948 by Lengnick, London. It was reviewed by Kenneth Avery in Music and Letters (July 1948). Avery considered that ‘Mr Wordsworth’s suite of four pieces…shows considerable ability in working with insufficient material. The pieces all have the disadvantage of sounding uninteresting, although this composer’s great talent is apparent on every page he writes. Pianists are recommended to purchase the ‘Cheesecombe Suite’, however, for it is, after all, the most accessible work by one of the foremost of our younger composers.’

The Prelude & Fughetta from the Suite was played on Radio 3 during a recital of Scottish music by pianist William Wright on 18 October 1974. Also included in that programme was Wordsworth’s ‘Valediction’ for piano (Op.82) which was composed for Ronald Stevenson, in memory of Joe Watson. It was later arranged by the composer for full orchestra (op.82a, 1969). Other pieces included the now forgotten Suite by John Bevan Baker (1926-94) and Frank Spedding’s (1902-84) Eight Impromptus after Paganini.

The recording history is straightforward. Originally released by Lyrita in 1963, this is a mono album. Margret Kitchin (1914-2008) also featured Wordsworth’s splendid Piano Sonata in D minor, op.13 (1938) and the rhapsodic Ballade, Op.41 (1949). The music was recorded during July 1959 in the ‘Music Room’ of Lyrita record producer Richard Itter’s house.
The original LP was discussed in The Gramophone (June 1963) by Roger Fiske. He was moderately impressed and stated that ‘the final fughetta…ends splendidly and is very well played.’ He considered that the Prelude and the Nocturne ‘took too long to end, but…are otherwise pleasant enough.’ 
The album was re-released in identical packaging in 1975. In 2007 the LP was remastered for CD as  REAM.2106. This disc also includes Margaret Kitchin’s splendid recordings of Iain Hamilton’s Piano Sonata, op,13 (1951) and Michael Tippett’s Piano Sonata No.1 (1937, rev. 1954).

In 1975 Michael Oliver reviewed the LP (vinyl) re-release of this album for The Gramophone (September 1975). His thoughts on the composer in general are worth recalling. He considers that Wordsworth is a ‘perplexing composer…despite writing in an accessibly tonal language and being superficially dismissible as a late romantic…’ The ‘predominant mood of his music is a craggy brooding darkness, degenerating at times into glum heaviness or apparently aimless wanderings, but at its best conveying a brusque, unaccommodating nobility. It is not music for every day and it is undeniably uneven in quality, but there are several passages… whose sombre gravity evokes the world of Thomas Hardy or even of the composer’s namesake and kinsman himself.’ This is a cue for a dissertation.

Rob Barnett (MusicWeb International, 8 September 2008), reviewing the CD release, writes about the Cheesecombe Suite: ‘…darkling gloom pervades both the Prelude and the pensive overcast tolling of the Nocturne but is dispelled by the devil-may-care angularity of the Scherzo. The little Fughetta finale comes and goes in a few turbulent moments.’

Writing for MusicWeb International, (8 October 2008) Jonathan Woolf explained that the ‘Cheesecombe Suite…opens in vertiginous [lofty] but wholly tonal style and has its ‘darkling thrush’ [Thomas Hardy] moments. Cool and still and also vaguely watchful the Nocturne sits at its heart but there’s also a frantic Fughetta to end things – almost, it has to be said, in hysteria. Adherents of British piano music of the period will want to seek out Margaret Kitchin’s pioneering disc…’

For the record, I feel that William Wordsworth’s Cheesecombe Suite is a delightful excursion into neo-classicism, that has touches of romanticism, little in the way of modernism and virtually nothing of the ‘cow and gate.’ Despite its occasional lack of pianism, it is a worthy Suite that deserves pianists’ attention in 2017.
The Cheesecombe Suite, finely played by Margaret Kitchin, can be heard on LYRITA REAM 2016. It remains the sole recording of this work. It is available to subscribers of the Naxos Music Library.

With thanks to the Remembering Margaret Kitchin, Website where this article was first published in December 2017

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Charles Villiers Stanford: A Welcome March for orchestra (1903)

We are rapidly getting to the stage where virtually all of Charles Villiers Stanford’s orchestral music has been recorded, with a least one version of most pieces. There are still several omissions, however the new release from Hyperion fills in a few gaps. It is a situation that would have been unimaginable some 30 years ago.
It seems that virtually everything that is known about Stanford’s A Welcome March is written in the CD liner notes by Jeremy Dibble.  In fact, until reading about this new disc, I had never even heard of the work. I concede that it is mentioned in Dibble’s biography of the composer, (which I must have read, but not allowed it to sink in!). So, I am beholden to Jeremy Dibble for the substance of this post.
A Welcome March (céad míle fáilte, ‘A Hundred Thousand Welcomes’) was composed in 1903 to commemorate a State Visit made by Edward VII to Ireland between 21 July and 1 August of that year. At that time, the country was not partitioned and he was monarch of the entire Island. Stanford’s march was dedicated to the King (with permission). Dibble outlines Edward’s Royal Progress which included events held at Dublin Castle, St Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity College. The Party then visited Belfast, Bangor, Londonderry and eventually embarking on the Royal Yacht bound for Queenstown (Cobh) and finally Cork.

Dibble states that the intention of the March was to provide a new work for a variety of regimental bands, welcoming the King as he visited these places. It seems that the original scoring was for ‘military band’, however Stanford did make a version for full orchestra shortly before the King’s arrival. It is this version that is heard on the CD.

The work almost out Elgar’s Elgar. In fact, it could be described as an ‘Irish’ Pomp and Circumstance. Not quite as bombastic as Land of Hope and Glory it is nevertheless a powerful expression of confidence during the Edwardian era.  A forceful march theme is balanced by a gorgeous Irish-infused tune in the ‘trio.’  This latter would bring a tear to a glass eye!  The March includes allusions to well-known Irish tunes such as ‘Oh for the swords of former time’ and ‘Let Erin remember the days of old’.

Charles Villiers Stanford’s A Welcome March for orchestra can be heard on Hyperion CDA 68283. Other works on this CD include the Overture in the style of a tragedy, Verdun: Solemn March and Heroic Episode, the cantata for female voices, Fairy Day and A Song of Agincourt. The Ulster Orchestra is conducted by Howard Shelley. The cantata is performed by Codetta.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Introducing C.S. Lang, organist, composer and teacher

Craig Sellar (C.S.) Lang was born in Hastings, New Zealand on 13 May 1891. He moved to England to study at Clifton College, Bristol and then at the Royal College of Music under Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Sir Walter Parratt.
Lang was a respected organist, composer and teacher. He worked for sixteen years (1929-1945) as Director of Music at Christ’s Hospital School in Sussex.
Many musicians recall Lang as the author of user-friendly textbooks designed to assist the acquisition of various musical skills. These included the Two Hundred Tunes for Sight-Singing (c.1927) and Harmony at the Keyboard (1959). Lang regularly contributed examination material to the Royal College of Organists.

Although C.S. Lang is usually associated with church music and the organ loft, he did compose a considerable body of secular music featuring choral works, songs and part-songs. Large scale works included his cantatas Lochinvar, op.7 based on a text by Sir Walter Scott and The Jackdaw of Rheims, op.14 to a poem by ‘Thomas Ingoldsby’.  These is also a forgotten Symphony in A minor, composed in 1942. Pianists should be grateful to Lang for his character pieces such as Fireflies and Grotesque Dance, op.75, the Miniature Suite, op. 89 and more significant for aspiring pianists, A Miniature 48, op.64 which were modelled on Bach’s example, but considerably easier.

Despite this variety of music, C.S. Lang is recalled today for his organ music. His best-known piece is Tuba Tune in D major, op.15 which is often heard in cathedrals, parish churches and on CD. Other organ works, most of which have fallen by the wayside, included contributions to the once-popular Novello Festal Voluntaries Series: Winchester New and Victory. There was also an Introduction and Passacaglia, op 51, a Toccata in C Minor op. 81, a Prelude and Fugue in G Minor, op 84 and the Prelude, Pastorale and Fugue, op.86.

C.S. Lang died on 24 November, 1971 in Westminster.
With thanks to the English Music Festival where this short bio was first published. 

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Frederick Delius: English Masterworks

Ian Lace is correct in suggesting that Christopher Palmer’s Delius - Portrait of a Cosmopolitan (Duckworth, 1976) is one of the most important books written about the composer.  This volume examines Delius’ achievements through the lens of manifold influences, including landscape and cultural.  This reflects music inspired by American, Norwegian, German, French and English stimuli.  A glance at Delius’ catalogue reveals the apparent source for a number of his works in the title– Paris: Song of a Great City, Florida, and North Country Sketches. Others allude to topographical locations such as På Vidderne and Sleigh Ride.
I do not propose giving a detailed list of what consists of Delius’ ‘English works’ – some are obvious, some contentious. For example, I cannot listen to Summer Night on the River, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring or Summer Evening without imagining a Home Counties landscape. Clearly, Brigg Fair is wholly English; we know that Song of Summer was inspired by Delius’ reflection on his younger days on Flamborough Head in Yorkshire and the Tennyson setting ‘Maud’ clearly owes its genesis to English poetry. For me, In a summer Garden is also particularly English in its mood – I have a special garden in mind when I hear this work – Stockton-on-the-Forest by York. But it is most likely Grez-sur-Loing that provided the stimulation to the composer...
The present CD considers what Danacord regard as ‘the English masterworks.’

I have to admit that the gorgeous, sumptuous Songs of Sunset is not one of my favourite Delius works. I guess that I find this music just a little bit too intense for my taste. I feel the same way about Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder or Richard Strauss’ ‘Four Last Songs’ much as I recognise their genius. The music seems over-bearing and physically hurts.
Songs of Sunset was largely completed in 1907; however the premiere was not until 16 June 1911 when Thomas Beecham and the Beecham Symphony Orchestra gave the work at the Queen’s Hall. The soloists were Julia Culp and Thorpe Bates supported by the Edward Mason Choir. Three years later it was performed by the Elberfeld Choir, the work's dedicatee on March 7 1914 in Elberfeld, Germany: this was only a handful of months before the outbreak of the Great War. Ironically, Ernest Dowson’s poems major on ‘lost love’, ‘the emotions involved in separation and parting, in the loss of youth and the long shadows cast by death.’  These are all sentiments that would be intensified in the coming four years of war.
The forces on this CD give a fine performance that explores the depth, the subtlety and the heartache.

Frederick Delius was a prolific song-writer however it fair to say that his selection of English texts is somewhat sparse. It makes up a mere eleven items in Delius’ song catalogue –not including the Maud settings and A Late Lark.  The ‘Three Songs’ with words by Shelley (1891) have been described by Trevor Hold as having been composed in ‘in the only English tradition that he was aware of, the drawing room ballad.’ These are amongst the composer’s earliest published works. I concede that that they are ‘hackneyed’ and probably belong to the salon; nevertheless I have a soft spot for them. The orchestration by Bo Holten is wholly characteristic and lends charm to these better-than-average examples of the ballad genre.  I found Henriette Bonde-Hansen had a little too much ‘Victorian quavering’ in her voice – but typically these are attractive realisations of early Delius.

I have long considered the North Country Sketches as one of my favourite pieces of Delius. It is a work that has suffered from relative neglect in the recording studio. An examination of the Arkiv catalogue currently lists 10 versions of this work, four of which are re-issues of Beecham. (One or other of his three recordings)  This compares to 17 for Sleigh Ride, 31 for the Irmelin Prelude, 36 for both Summer Night on the River and A Walk to the Paradise Garden and finally a huge 60 for the ‘Cuckoo’.
North Country Sketches is presented in four descriptive movements – ‘Autumn: The Wind soughs in the trees,’ ‘Winter Landscape’, ‘Dance’ and finally ‘The March of Spring: Woodlands Meadow and Silent Moor’. No work can be more English than this is, in spite of the possible French influences in the musical language (Delius’s ‘La Mer’). The work is largely descriptive of the Yorkshire Moors as explored by Delius as a boy living in Bradford. It is a common-place to point out that in this work the composer is moving away from the ‘voluptuous’ to the ‘more austere.’  However there is something of the ‘hedonistic’ in the final ‘March of Spring’. It is given a wonderfully atmospheric performance by Bo Holten. This does not eclipse Beecham but it is certainly ‘up there’. Add to this the superb sound quality of this CD, and it becomes my preferred version of the modern ‘takes’.
North Country Sketches were composed just prior to the Great War in 1913/14.  It received its premiere under Thomas Beecham at the Queen’s Hall.

‘A Late Lark’ was first conceived in 1924 and was completed in 1929 with the help of Delius’ amanuensis, Eric Fenby. It is a setting of W.E. Henley’s heart-achingly beautiful meditation on life, and more poignantly death.  Musically, this short work is one of the most ‘pastoral’ that Delius composed: this is exemplified by the opening oboe melody and the musical representation of birdsong. Delius does not overplay this mood: there is nothing of the ‘cow-pat’ school here. Lionel Carley sums up the disposition of this piece well: it is ‘in some senses a further life-affirmation by Delius, coupled with a stoic acceptance of an approaching ending’. Delius must have appreciated the line ‘My task accomplished and the long day done/My wages taken/Some late lark singing.’
If I was pushed, I would say that A Late Lark works better with a tenor: my favourite version is that by Anthony Rolfe Johnson with the R.P.O. conducted by Eric Fenby. Nonetheless Henriette Bonde-Hansen gives a bewitching account of this beautiful work.
The first performance was given by the tenor Heddle Nash with Sir Thomas Beecham conducting a ‘small orchestra’ at the Aeolian Hall. 

I have mentioned the excellent sound quality in connection with the North Country Sketches: this applies to the whole CD. The liner notes are outstanding, provided in English only and are written by that doyen of Delius scholars Lionel Carley. There are good thumbnail sketches of the soloists Henriette Bonde-Hansen and Johan Reuter, the conductor Bo Holten and the Aarhus choirs and orchestra. The texts of all the poems set are included.  
The programme is excellent, with Danacord cramming in 75 minutes of music. I could argue that Song of Summer ought to have been included, but what would they have omitted? Possibly the Shelley Songs? Conversely one must not be churlish. This is an excellent selection of Fred. Delius’ ‘English’ works with three of the four being definite ‘masterworks.’

Track Listing:
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
‘Songs of Sunset’ (Ernest Dowson) (1906/08)
Three Songs (Percy Bysshe Shelley) orchestrated by Bo Holten (1891)
North Country Sketches (1913/14)
‘A Late Lark’ (William E. Henley) (1925)
Henriette Bonde-Hansen (soprano) Johan Reuter (baritone)
Aarhus Cathedral Choir and Aarhus Symphony Orchestra Choir, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Bo Holten
rec. Symfonisk Sal, Aarhus, Denmark October 10-14 & December 20-21 2011
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Maurice Ravel: Jeux D’eau for piano played by Martha Argerich.

I was first introduced to Maurice Ravel’s sparkling piano piece ‘Jeux D’eau’ with a performance by Martha Argerich. This recording had been made as far back as 1960. I did not realise at that time that this was her début album. It was released by Deutsche Grammophon the following year (SLPM 138 672). The other works on this LP were the great Scherzo no.3 in C sharp minor, op.39 by Frederic Chopin, Johannes Brahms’s Rhapsodies, op.79, no, 1 in B minor and no, 2 in G minor, Sergei Prokofiev’s’ Toccata, op.11 and Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody, no.6. It was a splendid introduction to romantic and modernist music. But it was the impressionistic ‘Jeux D’eau’ that impressed me most.

I had borrowed this now rather tatty album from Coatbridge High School music library. I guess that I had heard precious little Ravel in those days during the very early 1970s. Perhaps his beautiful, but hackneyed, Pavane pour une infante défunte had crossed my path.  I was bewitched by Argerich’s playing then and have been a fan ever since.
It was ‘Jeux D’eau’ along with Debussy’s La Mer that made me a lifelong enthusiast of all things musically impressionistic.

This piece was dedicated to Ravel’s teacher Gabriel Faure.  It was likely to have been inspired by Franz Liszt’s ‘Les Jeux d’eaux à la Villa d'Este’ (The Fountains of the Villa d'Este) in F♯ major from the Troisième année of the Années de pèlerinage (1877).  Despite the influence of Debussy on Ravel, it must be recalled that the elder composer had yet to write his largely impressionistic piano pieces by 1901 when ‘Jeux D’eau’ was first heard. Estampes and Images were not written until 1903 and 1905-12 respectively. If anything, Debussy studied ‘Jeux D’eau’ and seemingly learnt much from it. This perusal would later result in the evocative ‘Reflets dans l ‘eau.’

The score was headed with a quotation from Henri de Régnier (1864-1936): ‘Dieu fluvial riant de l’eau qui le chatouille’ – the river god laughing at the water that tickles him. Despite the river god ascription, the image behind this piece is the goddess Latona sitting naked atop of a ‘wedding cake’ fountain sculpture at Versailles.
Ravel wrote about this piece, ‘In ‘Jeux D’eau’ can be found the origins of all the pianistic innovations that people notice in my works. The piece was inspired by the sound of water, of fountains, waterfalls and streams. It is built on the two motives of a sonata form movement, without, however, conforming to the classical scheme of tonality.’ Despite this loosely classical formal scheme, the overall impression to the listener is of ‘cascading arpeggios.’

‘Jeux D’eau’ was received its first public performance in 1902, by the Catalan pianist Ricardo Vines on 5 April. It had been heard in private previously.        

The American High-Fidelity Magazine (May 1962) gave a rave review of this new album. Harris Goldsmith begins his essay by suggesting that ‘Even if Miss Argerich never makes another record [she subsequently made dozens] the present disc will offer evidence that she is one of the leading technicians of our era. Furthermore, she is revealed as a possessor of an original temperament, fine musical taste, and rhythmic finesse…’ Of the present ‘Jeux D’eau’ he says only that ‘it has plenty of dash and brilliance, but also a ravishing translucency.’

I looked up the contemporary review in The Gramophone (January 1963). It was mixed and I guess a little patronising. Stephen Plaistow’s overall contention was that in a few years’ time, she may play this recital twice as well. He was impressed by ‘the range of colour in Ravel’s ‘Jeux D’eau’, where she makes the river god laugh with a thoroughly authentic sound.’  Alas the Brahms and the Chopin suffered from ‘feminine waywardness.’ He closes his review by stating that he ‘can at least be enthusiastic about the quality of the recording: in stereo it is outstanding.’ He did appreciate the ‘bravura thrills’ of the Prokofiev and the Liszt.

I listened to the CD re-release of this album whilst musing in this post. I found the Brahms and the Chopin perfectly acceptable and well-wrought. Argerich’s take on Brahms is to play the two rhapsodies ‘caressingly’ and without the thickness of texture sometimes given to these pieces.  The Chopin is a mercurial performance that showcases the ‘scherzando’ mood of the piece. It is not expansive and broad like Artur Rubenstein or Van Cliburn’s interpretation. I still think the Prokofiev Toccata is one of the best performances of this work I have heard.

Martha Argerich’s 1961 performance of ‘Jeux D’eau’ is posted on YouTube. Equally fascinating is a video of her 1977 recital, where she makes the piece look so ‘easy.’ Finally, it is interesting to watch the piece played with the score. This is played by Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

Friday, 23 August 2019

Clive Richardson: Holiday Spirit

I make no excuses for reposting this short note about Clive Richardson's Holiday Spirit. For one thing, I have included a link to the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra’s exemplary performance under Robert Farnon. And there were several typos. I have made a few amendments too. Soon, the traditional holiday season will be over. Scottish Schools are already back: England and Wales return in a few days’ time. In my days it was 50 weeks until the next seaside holiday: no Winter or City Breaks then.
I have always loved ‘light music’ that evokes the spirit of ‘holidays.’ Whether it is Percy Whitlock’s eponymous Suite for Orchestra, Peter Yorke's Highdays and Holidays or Felton Rapley’s Southern Holiday, listening this sort of music has made me forget the grey days and think of places both near and far (mostly near) and often by the seaside. Usually my thoughts takes me to Morecambe in the ‘sixties, Llandudno, Blackpool or to Bournemouth.
All the attributes are present in my mind’s eye – the piers, Punch and Judy, lidos (and slot machines. Many of these things have now gone -the Derby Baths in Blackpool, donkeys on the beach, the pier-head orchestras and the bathing beauties (no longer PC). However, it is still easy to catch a flavour of the ‘old days’ whilst walking along the Prom or listening to the Wurlitzer in the Tower Ballroom. Nowadays one is lucky to see one of the old trams between Stargate and Fleetwood. They are still around, but the main service is now run by the new Flexity’s. The old trams are now ‘heritage’. I used to love the conductor’s ‘patter’.
I visited Morecambe a few months ago. It has changed considerably, but there is just about enough left to allow me to create the holiday magic in my mind’s eye.
In 2019 one is most likely to travel by car, but in the ‘old days’ the train journey was part of the fun. Although I do remember travelling to Morecambe in my father’s old 1958 two-tone Hillman Minx MkII. Would that I had that car now!

No piece of music is so evocative of summer holidays or the expectation of that vacation, in Britain and by the seaside as is Clive Richardson’s Holiday Spirit. Perhaps this piece is better known as the theme music to Children’s Television Newsreel in the 1950’s but for me it is always evocative of the thrill of arriving at the holiday destination and going for that first walk along the seashore. From the upward string motive of this piece the music just swings along. It is perfectly happy music with never as much as a reflective backward glance. The strings sweep the tune towards a slightly statelier ‘trio’ theme but the main them pervades the entire piece. Much use is made of tuned percussion and muted brass which gives a kind of jazzy feel to this music. The work comes to a sudden end. The holiday not so much over, as just begun!
The sleeve notes for the Naxos recording of this piece explains that the performing copies of this work disappeared and had to be reconstructed for Friday Night is Music Night.

Clive Richardson’s Holiday Spirit can be heard on YouTube. The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra is conducted by Robert Farnon.