Monday 30 March 2009

Herbert Howells: Merry Eye for orchestra

I was listening yesterday to a fine Lyrita CD of music recorded by Sir Adrian Boult. This included works by Patrick Hadley, George Butterworth, Peter Warlock and Herbert Howells. I have known these works for many years, but I was struck anew by the attractive and well-written Merry-Eye by Herbert Howells. This work was written in 1920 whilst the composer and his newly-wed wife were staying at Soudley in Gloucestershire: it was their honeymoon. Apparently Howells had received a commission for a new work for that years Promenade Concert. The wedding had delayed work on this piece. The sleeve notes from the CD quote Howells's diary:-"Merry-Eye occupied me often on brief and early walks on the hilltops. Dorothy and I legged over Bailey hills, and saw miles of the Cotswolds and Severn".
The only recording of this work can be found on Lyrita SRCD245. 

Printed below is a review of the first performance by the great musicologist Marion M. Scott from the Christian Science Monitor, 30 October 1920
LONDON, England - Merry Eye, a new composition by Herbert Howells was produced at the Queens Hall Promenade Concert on September 30, the composer himself conducting. It is what may be called a big-little work, and possesses qualities which pique the listener's attention. Short as to length, delicately handled, and scored for a small orchestra, it achieves a music effect as if it were a symphonic poem. Upon the surface it appears to be light music; beneath there runs a vein of deep seriousness. The number of instruments employed looks small but it sounds wonderfully full and soft. Out of the resources of two flutes, one piccolo, two clarinets, two bassoons, three horns, percussion, piano and strings, HH has produced a score which for skill and beauty of color could hold its own beside anything by Debussy or Stravinsky.
The work itself however is English; merry, pathetic, lively or wistful in turn. Its full story is only divulged by the music, never in words, though the composer does go so far as to say in his note: "This piece has not necessarily a program; but if an idea of such be entertained, it can be supposed that the listener meets with an average-type character out of the domain of folklore - called "Merry-Eye" - who reveals more about himself and his personality than folklore itself ever tells of him or his kind. Much that he relates is true to his name and to such part of his history as is common reading - public property; much else, on the other hand, contradicts this."
As in some of Howells' other works - notably the opening movement of the Piano Quartet in A minor - the first subject is of less importance than the second. Here in "Merry-Eye" the second subject takes the form of a lovely melody treated canonically. The work was well received and is to be given again at the Queen's Hall in the near future.
This article appears here with the kind permission of Pamela Blevins

Saturday 28 March 2009

Frank Bridge: Piano Trios on Naxos

I had the pleasure of reviewing this latest volume of Frank Bridge’s chamber music on Naxos. I begun my review by quoting that great promoter of British chamber music, W.W. Cobbett. “At a lecture given at the Royal Academy of Music, he wrote that “Mr. Bridge’s Trio is of a remarkable beauty and brilliance and stamps him as one of our foremost composers for the chamber.” He concluded his comments by noting that this had a “…lavishness to which I can recall few precedents, he has provided thematic material more than sufficient for a lengthy work in sonata form.”
This is an approachable work which compares dramatically with the Piano Trio No.2 . “I have always felt that the Piano Trio No.2 is not an easy work to approach. It would certainly not be on my list of pieces intended to introduce a newcomer to the music of Frank Bridge. Even for listeners who know Rosemary, Cherry Ripe and The Sea this music will appear difficult, disjointed and perhaps even distant.

The Second Piano Trio inhabits a world far removed from the salon music and orchestral tone poems of the composer’s Edwardian period. Yet, many commentators insist that it is Bridge’s chamber music masterpiece: this is a view held by Anthony Payne the composer’s advocate and biographer...
It is an opinion that I am perhaps inching towards each time I hear the work – however, I have to confess that I know that I would rather listen to the earlier chamber works for “sheer indulgence and enjoyment” (my heart) although recognising that it is an important and essential pieces (head).

I concluded my review by stating that I was "totally impressed by the quality of the playing on this disc. Ashley Wass has recently established himself as one of the ‘Bridge’ aficionados … along with Mark Bebbington and Peter Jacobs. The sound is perfect which allows the listener the opportunity to hear these works in the best possible environment".
Please read the full review at MusicWeb International

Thursday 26 March 2009

Eric Coates: London Bridge March

I guess that many people who know and love Eric Coates’s Knightsbridge March from the London Suite will be unaware of the same composer’s London Bridge March. This march does not have the history: it was never associated with a long running radio programme like 'In Town Tonight'.

Geoffrey Self relates how, after the success of the London Every Day Suite, his publishers badgered him to come up with a suitable successor. Besides, it was at a time when music about London was popular. The listener need only think of pieces like Albert William Ketèlbey’s Cockney Suite, Haydn Wood’s London Cameos and even John Ireland’s London Overture.
So, in an attempt to continue his success Coates quickly wrote the London Bridge March -it was dedicated to Eric Maschwitz, who was at that time the BBC Director of Variety.
What is most interesting about this work was the enthusiastic anticipation with which the media gave to it. Both the ‘In Town Tonight’ team and the Pathé news group were present at the recording session at the Columbia Studios.
Geoffrey Self states that this March was never expected to be a match for the ever popular Knightsbridge. He suggests that 'It is hardly in the same class for its main theme is hopelessly tied to the word-rhythm of the title, and becomes monotonous because it cannot develop.' However he concedes that the tune of the ‘trio’ is “as fine as that of its predecessor, “to which it bears at least a family resemblance.”

In spite of some negative reviews, I enjoyed this March. Certainly, there is a sense of energy about this music that suggest the bustle of the both the bridge and the station. To be fair, it may not have the catchiness or the mass appeal of its more famous predecessor, but this is due to the fact that the work is not associated with any radio show or television programme.
Rob Barnett writes in his reviews of the Lyrita CD (see below) on MusicWeb International that 'We end with a bang from the cheeky London Bridge – irresistible for those impudently jaunty French Horns – naughty boys every one and once again just catch those Tchaikovskian fingerprints! And as the final pages heave in sight those rolling Sousa-style rowdy horns bring proceedings to an optimistic and red-faced conclusion'

And finally for a little feel of what London Bridge actually looked like some eight years before Coates March was composed, see the short extract from Friese-Greene ground breaking colour film on YouTube

The London Bridge March can be heard in a wind band version on Naxos or in the a fine performance by Barry Wordsworth and the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Lyrita

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Montague Phillips: Symphony in C minor

The Symphony in C minor by Montague Phillips is one of the earliest works that is available on CD at present. Unfortunately this work is not complete. The holograph was lost in Germany on the outbreak of the First World War. However the orchestral parts remained and we are fortunate that the composer chose to reconstruct the Scherzo and the Adagio during the early nineteen-twenties. These were apparently revised and issued as two orchestral miniatures – A Spring Rondo and A Summer Nocturne.
Lewis Foreman has noted that the orchestral parts of the two outer movements survive – and he suggests that one day they may be reconstructed. The Symphony was originally composed between 1908 and 1911. It was first performed at a concert in the Queen’s Hall in May 1912, with the composer conducting.
What we have here is a tantalising glimpse of a ‘light’ symphony. This is escapist music at its very best. It glories in the kind of suburban atmosphere in which the composer was living. However, there should be no disparagement of this fact. What counts is the artistry that the composer brings to his materials. There is no doubt that he is able to handle the ‘stuff of music’ with consummate skill.

The Spring Rondo is in the form of a scherzo and trio. The opening of this piece is almost will o’ the wisp. There is considerable instrumental colour here – Phillips is well able to balance full orchestra with passages scored for just a couple of instruments. Sometimes the music becomes almost archaic and then the romantic sensibilities of the time come to the fore. I would never wish to import a programme into this music but the ‘Home Counties’ effect seems to spring to mind. Here we have a composer enjoying the good things of life; spring in the Surrey woods perhaps? There certainly seems to be a gaiety about much of this music. However, the trio section becomes a little more wistful; solo violin points up a more reflective impression. There is even a hint or two of Elgar in these pages. The scherzo material returns and the work concludes in a blaze of brass.

The ‘Adagio Sostenuto’ or the Summer Nocturne is much more profound stuff. This perhaps lets us see the other side of the composer to that of The Rebel Maid and the songs. This movement opens with a great sweeping tune which builds up to an intense climax. This is a truly great theme; any composer would be proud of it. Once again I feel the influence of Elgar. After the intensity of the first statement of this idea the composer shuts down a bit and soon the orchestra is musing on material seemingly derived from this opening theme. There is much use of solo instrumentation. Nevertheless the intensity is always trying to re-establish itself. Of course it succeeds for a while only to collapse back into retrospection. Soon there is a quiet, meditative passage. It is scored for three violins and viola. However the pressure builds up very quickly – the big tune reasserting itself and carrying all before it. At times this sounds deliciously film like. The last minute is back to reflecting on the summer’s day; a lovely solo violin leads to a quiet close.
All in all this is very tantalising music. I doubt if we have many ‘light’ symphonies in the repertoire. I can think of perhaps Eric Rogers’ Palladium Symphony. However, as far as I know Eric Coates never conceived a Symphony - although I imagine some of his suites could almost count as such. Montague Phillips’s essay in this form may not be the most profound example of this genre – however it is well crafted, well scored and has some beautiful moments. These two movements must present a strong case for the restoration of the first and last.

I love and respect most of the British Symphony repertoire. However I can safely say that I would sometimes rather listen to the Summer Nocturne than much that passes for serious musical thought. It is a good balance between a composer wearing his heart on his sleeve and a degree of subtlety that makes this good if not great music.
This Symphony is available on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7140

Friday 20 March 2009

Charles Villiers Stanford: Land of Sunset Glories

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Christopher Howell’s latest disc of Stanford’s piano.
In an email the pianist had “suggested to me that, in the early nineteen-seventies, it was a dangerous thing to admit to liking the music of Charles Villiers Stanford. I agree with him totally. When I discovered that Parry and Stanford had composed some twelve symphonies between them, I remember telling a school-friend that I would love to hear them. In those days I presumed that I never would. He ridiculed me and suggested that I should concentrate on Mahler and Bruckner and ignore this second-rate English stuff. I did not take his advice.”

“British music enthusiasts have not been well-served by pianists electing to play Stanford’s music. I seem to recall an old Pearl LP that had a selection of Parry’s Shulbrede Tunes and Stanford’s Three Rhapsodies played by John Parry. And then there were two CDs of music by Peter Jacobs, who recorded both sets of Preludes and the Dante Rhapsodies. But I guess that if you blinked, these offerings would have been missed. Certainly there seems to be little in the CD catalogue today, and rarely, if ever have I seen notice of a piano recitalist playing any pieces by Stanford. So this disc is really my introduction to the whole range of his piano music. And I imagine the same will be true for most other enthusiasts of his music”.
I was fortunate in being able to use another of the pianists short anecdotes:- “he wrote to me that “The owner of Sheva, Ermanno De Stefani, had never heard of Stanford before [making this recording] but has been a lifelong fan of British culture generally and made the rather encouraging comment as we listened to the final edit of the D minor Caprice that "really, one listens to this more willingly than Brahms. It has the same fullness without being clumsy". I don't think even I would invite ridicule by making quite such a claim! I find, though, that Italians generally like Stanford when given a chance”.
Hmm. I have already made the same claim as the Italian ‘signore’ – in more than one forum. I hope I survive”.
Please read the full review of this fantastic CD on MusicWeb International

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Thomas Dunhill: On Parry (from the Monthly Musical Record November 1918)

I recently found this short eulogy to Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. it was written shortly after the compsoers death on 7 October 1918.

PARRY'S consummate mastery in part-writing and his power of controlling massive choral forces led some of his admirers to speak of him as 'the English Bach'. The compliment was doubtless appreciated. It is probably, however, that it gave him more pleasure when his old pupil Vaughan Williams (then studying at the Royal College) declared, in making a presentation from the students on the occasion of his receiving the honour of knighthood, that those who loved his music best preferred to think of him as 'the English Parry'.

The truth is that Parry's music was, almost from the beginning, an intensely personal expression. That is perhaps, why those who knew him personally will almost invariably the most ardent admirers of his art. To others it seemed on a lofty plane of isolation which was remote from the world. They understood him when he gave play to exuberance and that bluff geniality which was the most openly apparent quality of his personality To his highest flights they were somewhat coldly responsive, recognising the nobility of manner rather than the deep conviction which lay behind it. Parry's attitude as an artist was uncompromising and not of the kind that quickly wins popular acceptance. He did not write to please, but to express. He was, I think, devoid of any kind of vanity. He would not have been human had he not appreciated the good opinion of the discerning and of those who consistently admired his work, but for any other kind of applause he seemed to care nothing.
Profound alike as scholar and musical historian, hotly impulsive and vigorous in his music, and inspiring in his influence upon all who were in any way associated with him, Sir Hubert Parry's example still lives and shines amongst us-'a presence which is not to be put by'.
Monthly Musical Record, Novemeber 1918

Monday 16 March 2009

Gordon Jacob, Gustav Holst & Ernst Pauer Wind Quintet Music

I recently reviewed these three works for MusicWeb. They were virtually new pieces to me, although I believe that I had heard the Gordon Jacob work before. I felt that “this is a fantastic CD. I must admit that I would not normally be over-enthusiastic about wind chamber music. It is just not a genre that has grabbed me. However, this disc is special: it has impressed me for three key reasons. Firstly I had never heard of the music of the composer/pianist Ernst Pauer. But his Quintet dating from 1856 is full of delights and interesting music. It is a little gem that has been waiting for a very long time before being discovered. 

Secondly, the Gustav Holst Wind Quintet presents a style of music that manages to balance relatively traditional late-romantic melodies with a breezy mood derived from a subtle appreciation of a somewhat bucolic landscape. It was written before the composer discovered the folk-song tradition, yet in many ways this work - large chunks of it - seems to epitomise the English Pastoral tradition. And lastly the Gordon Jacob Sextet is a fine example of a work that should be in the public domain. In fact, if it was by a German or Austrian it would most certainly be part of the repertoire. This work is an exploration of interesting harmonies and melodies that have an instant appeal without in any way being clichéd or sentimental.
Please read my full review at MusicWeb International

Saturday 14 March 2009

Adam Pounds: A Northern Picture

A Northern Picture is quite definitely programme music, although I guess, 'at a pinch’ it can be listened to by someone who is indifferent to the history and landscape of the Lake District. The main focus of this work is the stone circle at Castlerigg. Adam Pounds told me that this ancient monument “has always been an important place for me - its majestic setting and what it represents – meetings, mysticism and festival”. Castlerigg was a meeting place for celebrations and dancing as well as worship and Pounds has said that “the music is a collage of dance, mysticism and combat”. Interestingly most of this composer’s music is programmatic – he told me that “I rarely compose ‘pure’ music. My music is either a direct response to places, literature or events or the mind – to this end, I suppose I could be described as a New Romantic!”

The work has an enigmatic opening. Pounds told me that this was inspired by a study of echoes that he had experimented with whilst sitting on a hillside in the Lake District. It is not the half-expected or predictable ‘misty morning’ atmospherics, but more a gradual call to worship. This bidding motive is played by woodwind and brass. However, a mysterious theme begins to emerge from the low ‘cellos and basses, before a dissonant string theme briefly asserts itself. Perhaps it is here that the mists are clearing and the early morning sun is appearing over the assembled worshipers? The music builds up to a great crashing brass chord and some powerful music, before the enigmatic theme reappears.
But suddenly the mood changes. A frenetic dance breaks out that may reminds the listener of Stravinsky. Percussion underlines the music’s progress. This is dynamic music, full of repressed energy: but at this stage it is not too violent. Pounds suggests that this section represents tribal dances. Perhaps these are memories of primitive ceremonies that hover between he sublime and the barbaric. Various harmonic and melodic figures are overlaid on the powerful rhythmic undertow. Some of this section will remind the listener of Holst’s Mars or perhaps John Anthill’s Corroboree.
After a short passage of muted brass, the numinous theme is given on the strings and then descends to a dissonant woodwind passage. A melody for French horn is heard:–it is supposedly an old Celtic tune: the soloist is supported by a light orchestral accompaniment. But suddenly the tune is taken up by the orchestra and this leads to a full definitive statement. The work now begins to close but it is no return to a ‘misty landscape’. Echoes of the turbulent music are heard and are finally presented in triumph. The work ends loudly and positively, with the listener being conscious of the bare, spartan and primitive nature of much of this music.
Perhaps the abiding impression of this work is the dichotomy between Castlerigg ‘now and then’. The music seems to allow the listener to move between the two eras in their mind’s eye: it is slippery time.

When I spoke to Pounds about this work I told him that I felt he may have been influenced by Igor Stravinsky. He suggested that the passage I was alluding to, the short wind section followed by tremolando strings and muted trombones is built on the suggested harmonies of the Scriabin ‘mystic scale’. Yet the bigger picture may well remind listeners of The Rite of Spring – but without the naked violence and eroticism.
Furthermore, at the time of composing A Northern Picture Pounds had been conducting Bruckner’s Third Symphony and perhaps this had some influence on the strong brass section heard a little way in from the start. It is certainly impressive and suggests the majesty of the landscape.

A Northern Picture was composed in 1993. It was written for the Nelson Orchestra and received its first performance in December of that year. Although I have been unable to find any reviews of this work in the musical press, I understand that the reaction to this work was favourable. I guess that this work probably deserves a full professional performance, however apart from a few problems of intonation in the strings it is well done by this ensemble.

Lastly, the composer told me that he was “generally pleased with the Northern Picture” but he had no doubt that he “will re-visit it in the future or it may even manifest itself in a new work as the subject matter itself is timeless”.
The work is presently available on Cambridge Recordings CAMREC002

Thursday 12 March 2009

Frank Bridge: Piano Music Volume 2 on Somm

Recently I had the pleasure of reviewing this latest volume of Mark Bebbinton playing Frank Bridge’s piano music. I opened my discussion by giving a brief comment on the availability of this repertoire:- “I remember a number of years ago finding a copy of Peter Jacobs’ Continuum cycle of the ‘complete’ piano works of Frank Bridge in a second-hand record shop. These were issued in the early 1990s. I devoured them eagerly and was convinced at the time that this was the definitive recording. I never imagined that in my lifetime another two ‘complete’ projects would be announced. Naxos has, so far, issued a couple of volumes by Ashley Wass. And then there is the present cycle – now also onto its second volume. The exciting thing about all these three editions is that they explore - or promise to explore - the entire piano repertoire of Frank Bridge.”
“Perhaps the key to understanding Bridge’s “music is to realise that he had a creative hiatus during and after the Great War. Although there were still approachable works and even some ‘salon’ pieces, the general tenor of Bridge’s mature compositions moved towards boundaries laid down by Bartók and Berg rather than any British model. In some of his late compositions he was beginning to experiment with music that is pushing towards a ‘twelve tone’ synthesis but without ever subscribing to a particular system.”

And finally, I felt that it “is an invidious task to suggest what is the ‘best’ recorded edition of Frank Bridge’s piano music. Peter Jacobs’ Continuum version is not typically available in the record shops – although they can be found for sale on some websites – either second-hand or ‘new.’ As this was the edition through which I discovered this great music, I tend to have a soft spot for it. However, I have recently enjoyed listening to Ashley Wass on Naxos – he seems to have taken Bridge to his heart and had produced a number of excellent performances. Bebbington impresses me too. I think especially of the romantic Etude Rhapsodique and the less that innocent Fairy Tale Suite. And lastly, he does not mock the Miniature Pastorals. In spite of their technical simplicity he does take them seriously and presents them with care and with love.”
Please read the full review at MusicWeb Internaitonal

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Arnold Bax: Symphony No.1 First Perforamnce - Contemporary Review

Further to the article from the January 1923 edition of The Chesterian I post this contemporary review of Arnold Bax's fine First Symphony. As I understand it, this reivew is written by Leigh Henry.

BAX is responsible for the most arresting novelty of the season, a Symphony No.1, given under Albert Coates by the London Symphony Orchestra at their fourth concert [4th November 1922]. This is a three-movement work, corresponding in conception to three main moods-strife, lamentation, and exultation-respectively. It is an intensely personal type of work; but the composer synthesised what might otherwise have been rather obscure significances into such clearly-defined, though broad frescoes of musical imagery, that the work remains purely musical, and yet achieves its expressive function by direct sensatory impact-by thematic, harmonic, and orchestral colour, and rhythmic force.
Typically Celtic in thematic content, the bard-like quality of its subjects is emphasised by their generally declamatory character; and over the whole work pervades that high spirit of drama, tragedy and heroism which, even more rare than Greek art, is epitomised in such soul-gripping legends as that of Conary Mor in the ancient Red Branch Cycle of Ireland. This is the type of conception most universal to the Celtic race, Erse, Brythonic and Gael; and this work of Bax is peculiarly significant in that it provides conclusive counter-proof to the Saxon allegations of the dream-bound and esoteric nature of Celtic inspiration.
For it is not so generally recognised as it should be that the Celtic genius is responsible for some of the most vigorous elements of British tradition, from the early polyphony which culminated in the Tudor era, and the mythology which laid the foundations of medieval chivalry and the Morte d'Arthur to which English literature, from Spenser to Tennyson, owes so much.
The Chesterian January 1923 p.115

Friday 6 March 2009

Arnold Bax: Article in The Chesterian - 'Bax in the Ascendant'

I recently found this article by Leigh Henry in an article in The Chesterian magazine. It may be a little 'overwritten' for today's tastes but it is still interesting to read how one of Britain's great composers was viewed back in 1923.

THE most prominent events since the last London Letter have nearly all centred around works by Arnold Bax, the first of these, the concert of his compositions given at Queen's Hall on November 13th, being the most noteworthy. It is no mean indication of the development and trend of public taste that so refined and advanced a musical mentality as that of Bax should be felt sufficiently attractive to warrant the dedication of a whole large concert programme exclusively to his work.
The success of Messrs. Murdoch, Murdoch and Company's undertaking justified their fine zeal in every way, both as a sound gauge of public interest, and as an aesthetic manifestation. The programme, with the opportunities for comparison, which its successive items afforded, was a conclusive proof of the wide scope of Bax's genius, a final refuta­tion of those who would label his music as precious. The range of interest and expressive capacity in a programme embracing the exquisite decorative imagery of The Garden of Fand, the personalism of the Second Piano Sonata, the lyricism of the Viola Fantasy, the luxuriant ritualism in Byzantine-like form of Mater Ora Filium, the Anatole France-like capacity to imbue medieval thought, and tradition with the most modern freshness and vitality, as in the two carols, Of a Rose I Sing, and Christymas, and the capricious joy and verve of Mediterranean, is something suggestive of super-human temperament.
Yet the identity of the personality common to all is ever-manifest in the peculiarly decorative conception which constitutes the fundamental style of each work, and which, together with the luminously poetic feeling, of which each work presents a variation, is so essentially a part of Bax's racial Celtic temperament. A fine assembly of Bax devotees were gathered to render the programme, including Harriet Cohen, who also played the Hill Tune, Lullaby, and Burlesque; John Coates, who sang the Traditional Songs of France, and The Market Girl, I Heard a Piper Piping, and Green grow the Rashes O!, Kennedy Scott, with his admirable Oriana Choir, Eugene Goossens, with his orchestra; Lionel Tertis (in the Fantasy), and Marie Goossens, Cedric Sharpe, and Victor Watson (harp, 'cello, and double-bass), assisting in the carols, with the composer at the piano, the flautist in Christymas being Robert Murchie.
Bax, indeed, has almost become regular fare. At the Barc­lays Bank Musical Society's Concert at Queen's Hall on Decem­ber 13th his carol was alongside one of Byrd; and at the second Philharmonic Society Concert, under Albert Coates, Tintagel shared interest with Strauss' Suite from Le Bourgeois Gentil­homme, a first performance beside which the Bax work stood out with refinement and distinction, the Strauss work being another of the pieces of depictive mummery (futile apart from what it illustrates) to which the German has mainly resorted since his musicality gave out.
The Chesterian January 1923 p.114

Wednesday 4 March 2009

Ian Venables: A busy time composing...

I was delighted to hear that in this time of ‘economic woes’ and ‘credit crunches’ that Ian Venables career as a composer is going from strength to strength. Perhaps the most exiting work that he is working on at the moment is the large scale song cycle ‘Remember This’. This is a setting of Andrew Motion’s commemorative elegy which the poet laureate wrote after the death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. I am not normally a great fan of Motion’s poetry, but I do feel that this was a particularly worthy setting and is ideally suited to Venables compositional style. I look forward to hearing the first performance and especially wonder what he will make of my favourite stanza, the sixth:-
On the crest of their Downs
with galloping sunlight
the horses in training
know in their bones
nothing but racing, so all they can manage
today is the beauty
of sprinting and spurting...

The composer has told me that the work is complete in draft form and that he is at present scoring it for two voices, string quartet (a favoured medium of Venables), piano and percussion which may include optional parts for tubular bells, a bell tree, a tuned gong,marimba and glockenspiel.
Equally exciting is the forthcoming performance of his fine Piano Quintet by the Coull Quartet with Mark Bebbington. Mark continues to impress enthusiasts of British music with his superb recordings of Frank Bridge, John Ireland and Howard Ferguson. This concert will be given in Worcester on 8th May (Details to follow). A recording of this Quintet and other chamber music from SOMM with the same ensemble is also on the cards.
One particular event I am looking forward to is the War Poets Concert at that great ‘socialist’ church of St. James’ Piccadilly. This will include works by John Ireland, George Butterworth, Ivor Gurney, Gerald Finzi and the lesser known John Jeffreys and Elaine Hugh-Jones. Some of Venables songs will also be performed.
Another highlight of Ian Venables year (so far) will be the release by Signum of his Song Cycle, Invite to Eternity, which are settings of four poems by the great John Clare. But perhaps the most important work on this CD will be the String Quartet Op.32. The chamber ensemble for this recording will be the Dante Quartet with the tenor Andrew Kennedy. I look forward to reviewing this CD and the recording of the Quintet!

Monday 2 March 2009

Malcolm Arnold: Postcard from the Med

One of my favourite films is The Captain’s Paradise starring Alec Guinness. He plays a “prosperous seafaring man” who has so ordered his life that he has a wife and house at each end of the sea-trip – which he makes one or twice a week. His first home is in Gibraltar, where he has set up house with Maud (played by Celia Johnson). This is the staid side of his bigamist relationship. In this home he expects his slippers and pipe waiting for him. He enjoys the quiet life- his wife preparing his dinners and the Captain reading his newspapers.

Yet at the other end of his voyage, in Morocco, is the beautiful Nita (Yvonne de Carlo)who is the antithesis of Maud. This lady is a socialite and a party animal. She loves to be wined and dined and to dance. The contrast could not be more different. Gone are Captain Henry St. James’s pipe and slippers to be replaced by a flamboyant lifestyle.

Alas it is not to last. Both wives begin to hanker after a different routine. Maud wants to go out on the town, and Nita wants to become the archetypical housewife. And, of course, Henry wants things to stay just as they are. The film is an exploration of these comic tensions!
As I understand the situation, the score was lost or destroyed. Fortunately, Philip Lane was able to reconstruct the music from the film itself or perhaps from sketches. At any rate there is a small (four minutes only) ‘postcard’ from The Captain’s Paradise available for Malcolm Arnold enthusiasts.
The piece opens with a little seascape in miniature – complete with images of swelling seas and billowing sails. It is as if the ship is about to leave port – and the captain is about to visit the ‘other’ wife. There is even a little musical representation of the nautical term ‘Ahoy!’ But suddenly the music changes: it breaks into a full scale Latin dance band number – complete with muted brass and 'samba and rumba' rhythms. It is definitely a case of the confection by Arnold being better than the ‘real thing.’ It should be noted that this is music representing the Captain dancing with wife number two – the exotic Nita and not the homely Maud! There is a little jaunty, nautical tune that depicts the Captain – without a care in the world. But then the Latin beat returns... The piece ends almost too quickly.
The reconstruction of the film score can be heard on Malcolm Arnold Film Music Volume 2 on Chandos