Wednesday 31 March 2010

Margot Fonteyn: Salut d’Amour

If you combine the dancing of one of the greatest ballerina’s of all time, with the choreography of Sir Frederick Ashton and the Victorian elegance of Sir Edward Elgar’s charming Salut d'Amour(1888) the result will be guaranteed to be absolutely magic.
This short ballet was especially choreographed by Ashton for Fonteyn’s 60th birthday celebrations in 1991. The dance is really a recapitulation of some of the roles that made her famous. The piece ends with a cameo appearance on the stage of Sir Frederick doing a gentle version of the ‘Fred Step.’
In spite of the fact that she was suffering from an arthritic foot, the poise and the sheer beauty of this piece is stunning. As someone has posted on the YouTube link to this video it is 'A Kiss to the Universe from Sir Frederick...'
Watch this moving performance at YouTube

Monday 29 March 2010

Bluebell Klean: Concert of her Music at the Bechstein Hall 15th June 1914

To my knowledge there have only been two concerts devoted to the music of Bluebell Klean. I would be grateful to hear of any more. Both were held at the Bechstein (now Wigmore) Hall. The first was on Tuesday 13th November 1906 and the second was Monday 15th June 1914.

The 1914 concert was a genuine retrospective of Bluebell Klean’s music. In fact, every work played was composed by her. The main event of the evening was her important Piano Quintet: the rest of the concert comprising selection of songs and piano pieces. Unfortunately for the musical historian virtually none of these works appear to have survived: COPAC, the library search engine locates only two published pieces. There is no indication (as yet) where the manuscripts, sketches and correspondence have disappeared to. So any evaluation of the concert has to depend on the one or two contemporary reviews.

The performers at that concert were the composer herself playing piano, Madame Ada Crossley, contralto and Miss Xenia Beaver, soprano. The members of the string quartet were the Misses Miran Lucas, Beatrice Eveline, Helen Gough and Dorothy Jones.

The evening began at 8:15pm with two Gavottes – one in A minor (a ‘premiere’) and the other in C minor. Both works were played from manuscript copies for this performance. A reviewer noted that the “spirit of the gavotte (varied considerably in character, and [two played tonight] illustrate two phases of ‘The stately measure of olden day/In which December would dance with May.’
The next part of the concert consisted of three songs sung by Xenia Beaver. ‘Thy Gift’ from the pen of Robert Mortimer was first and this was followed by ‘The Heart of a Rose’ and ‘A Stolen Kiss’ by Harold Simpson. The first and the last are unpublished and were first performances. Ada Crossley sang Klean’s setting of Longfellow’s ‘O gift of God! O perfect Day.’

The highlight of the evening was the Pianoforte Quintet in C minor, for piano, two violins, viola and violoncello. This was a large-ranging four-movement work that would surely be a desideratum for all British chamber music enthusiasts. I have posted the programme notes for this work on my blog.
After the interval, Miss Beaver sang ‘Longing’ to words by Florence Hoare, ‘Your Eyes’ by Rabindranath Tagore and ‘The Water Sprite’ to a text by Lady Alix Egerton. Once again the first two songs were from the holograph and were first performances. The penultimate part of the recital was ‘Fair Flower of Life’ and ‘Rose of the Morning’ with words by Robert Mortimer and ‘A Fancy from Tontenelle’ by Austin Dobson.
The evening concluded with three piano pieces. The Humoresque in G which ‘is a good thing for music that it can be humorous, for humour is the salt of art, and keeps it fresh and sweet.’ This was followed by a Cavatina, which ‘is a song the words and intent of which are best supplied by the imagination of the listener.’ And finally Bluebell Klean played a new Scherzo in B minor. The programme note commented that ‘it has been accepted that “brevity is the soul of wit."’ The meaning of the word ‘Scherzo’ is a joke. Miss Klean’s Scherzo is short [!]
Only ‘A Fancy from Tontenelle’ and the Humoresque appear to be in print, and are available for inspection in the British Library.

The report of this concert was elaborated by Marion Scott and Katharine Eggar writing in The Music Student:-
'A Quintet for the usual allotment of strings and piano, and of more than usual merit, is that by Bluebell Klean. This work has already been heard several times in London, and is both vigorous and agreeable. The first movement opens in virile manner, and its themes are handled with great freedom of style. The second movement, Air Varié, is slightly ‘ordi¬nary’ in its conception, but the extremely vivacious Scherzo is a brilliant movement, very well laid out for all the instruments. The Finale, though of very good ‘finalé’ character at its start, suffers a little from diffuseness, .and from disconnectedness in its very relationships; but the whole quintet is spontaneous, thoroughly musical, and, again to use that unsatisfactory word, most "effective."'
The Music Student Chamber Music Supplement July 1914 p.97 [with minor edits]

The Observer newspaper also picked up on this concert and a short review stated that 'In offering her compositions for criticism Miss Bluebell Klean at her concert in the Bechstein Hall on Monday evening obviously claimed only the consideration that is necessary to a refined type of drawing-room music. The composer has heard much music of a similar kind, had an assimilative disposition, and is capable of reproducing her acquisitions in an emulative spirit that permits an occasional fresh look on her material'.
June 21 1914 Observer [with minor edits]

Saturday 27 March 2010

Ralph Vaughan Williams Naxos CD Launch 24 March 2010

The evening got off to a dreadful start. Well, embarrassing really: at least for me. I had arrived at the Royal College of Music early. In fact, I had been in the library looking up a few references until some twenty minutes before the event began. ‘Kill two birds with the one stone’ and all that. I was in the first wave of guests to arrive at the Parry Room. My badge was collected from the desk ‘John France- MusicWeb International’. I sallied forth to network, socialise and find the drinks table. Anyhow, halfway to the bar, I met a man. I squinted at his badge and said to him – ‘David Hill – that name sounds familiar.’ He replied very gently that he was the conductor of the Bach Choir and pointed to the giant print of the CD cover of the new R.V.W. disc – his name featured prominently. I grovelled an apology, suggested that I had got it into my head that it was David Lloyd-Jones who was waving the stick: I redirected my steps to the man pouring out the Vino Bianco.
Lessons learnt? ‘Do your homework’, as my teachers used to insist.

The Bach Choir is a venerable institution: it was mooted on 1875 when a certain Arthur Coleridge realised that there had never been a performance in England of Bach’s Mass in B minor. The following year the Choir conducted by Otto Goldschmidt performed this great work at their two inaugural concerts. Throughout the succeeding decades they have been at the forefront of choral music-making in the United Kingdom and around the world. Some of the biggest names in British music have been musical directors of the Bach Choir – Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, Dr. Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sir David Wilcocks. David Hill, as I found out, has been Musical Director since 1998 (I did know that, honest guv!) and under his leadership The Bach Choir has gone from strength to strength. In these days a greater emphasis has been placed on ‘new and challenging’ works. Premieres of works by John Tavener, Diana Burrell Naji Hakim and Carl Rütti have been important additions to the repertoire. However for many folk the choir is largely associated with big works by Bach, Howells and Vaughan Williams.

The main reason that some fifty or so people had gathered in the Parry Room was to toast the launch of a stunning new CD release from NAXOS of Vaughan Williams’s Dona nobis pacem and Sancta Civitas. The Bach Choir, assisted by the Winchester Cathedral Choristers and the three soloists, Christina Pier, Matthew Brook and Andrew Staples provided the superb choral and vocal parts to this CD, with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra providing the accompaniment. And everyone was brought together by David Hill.

Amongst the guests at the CD launch were fair sprinkling of choir members: it was good to hear their views on both music and repertoire .Much excitement was building up concerning the forthcoming performance of the St. Matthew Passion at the Royal Festival Hall on Palm Sunday. One of the great things about these dos (apart from the wine and the nibbles) is the opportunity to mingle. I met lots of interesting people there –from organists to record producers by ways of opera singers, music publisher and critics. It is, as a famous advert once suggested – ‘Good to Talk’.
Much interest was shown in MusicWeb international: there was a general recognition amongst those I spoke that online reviews and essays are an important and successful way of publicising CDs and classical music.

Slowly but surely people began to leave. The ‘wine-waiter’ was generously topping up glasses. Little groups of people were still discussing music. I said my goodbyes and picked up my ‘goody bag’ which contained a welcome copy of the newly launched CD.

One last thought. I understand that Dr. Vaughan Williams used to have his office adjacent to the Parry Rooms. His shade must have been delighted with the quality of this new CD and with the enthusiasm of all who were gathered to celebrate its launch and his memory.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem & Sancta Civitas NAXOS 8.572424

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Bluebell Klean: Concert Programme 15 June 1914

Not a lot of words today. Just a ‘scan’ of the cover of a programme of music by Bluebell Klean. And the best bit is the photo fo her! I have written in these pages about her and her music (what little there is to know.) It was good to receive photocopies of two programmes of concerts given at the Bechstein Hall (now the Wigmore Hall. I will write a ‘review’ of the concerts at a later stage.

With thanks to Mr Giles Enders for finding these fascinating pieces of ephemera.

Sunday 21 March 2010

Peter Dickinson: Blue Rose Variations for Organ (1985)

It quite simply comes down to this: Would the Blue Rose Variations make a good recessional at St Swithun’s after Sung Mass on a Sunday morning. And the answer is an emphatic NO! This work can no more be used in a liturgical context than Charles Ives’s Variations on ‘America’ would be used at a service of the Accession of the reigning Sovereign! Yet both works are masterpieces for the instrument and demand our attention. This said, the Blue Rose Variations is certainly not out of place in the organ loft and it can be given at a recital in any cathedral or parish church in the land that has an organ up to the task. Furthermore, organs are located in all sorts of places. For example, this work would sound terrific on the Albert Hall organ or the Huddersfield Town Hall instrument and perhaps even more creatively (and controversially) on the Leicester Square Odeon Compton. Technique-wise this powerful piece is no cinch for the gifted amateur: it is a major challenge for even the most talented professional.

Peter Dickinson has embraced a number of styles over the years, including serialism and aleatoric music although some of his early organ works are well within the ‘approachable’ genre of the mid twentieth-century English Cathedral organ loft. Yet it is his interest in early jazz, blues and ragtime and rock that informs the Blue Rose Variations.
The present piece achieves a balance between what may be regarded as secular and as sacred: it is an excellent example of how different genres of music can be successfully fused.

The Blue Rose Variations, which was commissioned by Jennifer Bate, was composed in 1985. It consists of a theme and six variations and lasts for about fifteen minutes. The opening theme is a ‘bluesy’ version of To a Wild Rose. The strange thing is that it is not obvious to the listener. Interestingly, the composer himself notes that the MacDowell tune is never explicitly stated (The Musical Times, December 1987) ‘but appears as a blues and a classical rag, often as both at once.’ The keynote of the work is economy – not of scale but of material. Even the briefest of studies of the score shows phrases being continually recycled. In fact, Peter Dickinson had already made experiments in this direction in 1979 with his Organ Blues in the volume Rags, Blues & Parodies: he shows a judicious economy of material and inspiration.

The first variation is a massive pedal solo that would be taxing to even the most accomplished of organists. The defining element of this music is the complex changes of rhythm and metre. The next, the first ‘rag’, is the slow heart of the work: it is here that the listener comes closest to the mood of Edward MacDowell’s well-loved tune in ‘rag’ guise. Yet the romance of the original A Major piece is somewhat obscured by the use of the conflicting blues with the 2ft pedal solo. It gives the music a sense of the fairground organ complete with roundabouts and showmen’s engines. The third variation underlines the economy of this work: it is nearly in the same rhythm as the pedal solo variation re-presented with manual chords adding weight on the full swell. The second ‘rag’ is based on the ‘rag’ version of the original theme with a solo 8ft reed stop provides a blues commentary. The pedal part here has the ‘vamping’ sound of a cinema organist. Variation 5 is similar to the first, again in the rhythm of the pedal solo. The main difference being that the musical material is spread out over both manuals and the pedals. Chords are added on most first beats of the bar supported by the pedal. The metrical changes are identical to the first variation in virtually every detail.

The composer notes that the final ‘confrontation between the blues on full pedal and the rag appears in the last variation’. He further suggests that is ‘an orgy of secularity invading the once-sacred organ loft.’ This is perhaps an exaggeration as since when has the devil had all the best tunes? But perhaps ‘conflagration’ would be a better noun to use. This is a major warhorse that theoretically, but not desirably, could stand on its own as a ‘toccata-like’ voluntary. There is no let-up in the motion, the virtual ‘rock’ beat or the dynamics. Use is made of a-rhythmical groups of five and seven notes. The work concludes with a loud pedal glissando rising to a ‘pp’ A major chord with added major seventh on the string stops. It is a deliberate anti-climax, yet it is an effective conclusion.

The first performance of the work was by the dedicatee Jennifer Bate on the organ of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York on 2 April 1986. The British premiere was at the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea on 9 April 1986 and was first heard in London on 26 November of the same year at the Royal Festival Hall.

I can find no reviews of this premiere in the American press, however in February 1987 The Musical Times commented on the Festival Hall performance. The Variations were part of a recital including Bach’s Fantasia in G BWV 572, one of Robert Schumann’s B-A-C-H Fugue, Marcel Dupre’s Equisse Op.41 No.3 and the recitalist’s Introduction and Variations on an Old Christmas Carol. The reviewer, Rosemary Potter, wrote [p.105] ‘Those who nurture a sneaking fondness for MacDowell’s To a Wild Rose may not relish its appearance in different guises as blues and rag, here both in turn and simultaneously …” She noted that the organ ‘ciphered in protest’ during the impressively difficult pedal solo. However it is the fourth variation that caught her imagination. Unfortunately there was a sting in the tail – she felt that it ‘was a pity that Dickinson chose to run to six variations: individually they are intriguing, but neither the idea nor the theme holds sufficient profundity for a lengthy piece.’ However the performance was well done and received much applause.

More recently the work was given by David Titterington at a Promenade Concert on 25 July 2009 at the Royal Albert Hall. Tim Ashley writing in the Guardian (27 July 2009) notes that Dickinson was born in the same year as Sir Edward Elgar’s death. He suggests that ‘where Elgar makes the organ sound like an orchestra, Dickinson, wonderfully and impudently, turns it into a jazz combo.’ This recitalist also played the work at Coventry Cathedral in a recital for U.S. Independence Day. It was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 4 July 1989. This programme, which included works by Ives, was introduced by Peter Dickinson.
Jonathan Woolf reviewing the latest Naxos release of the composer’s organ music on MusicWeb International gives a compelling view of the work. He suggests that this piece is ‘tinged with a soupçon of cocktail hour blues’. He points out that ‘the Fairground meets the Varsity Rag in this variational pleasure ground, full of contrasts and fun and ebullience. There are some strongly ‘comping’ left hand chords … which have an almost boppish urgency – and then a resplendent ending to conclude a work of good humour and freedom; freedom, that is, from unwanted academic expectations and constraints’.

Malcolm Miller, writing in Tempo, (January 2010) is impressed by the ‘often witty harmonic and rhythmic tapestry [that is] unique to the organ repertoire.’ He completes his review by noting that ‘the set is brought to a rousing finish with the symphonic closing variation, the theme heard in swirling arpeggios and in pedal augmentation in the bass.’ The Blue Rose Variations was published by Novello & Company Ltd. in 1999. The work has recently been released on Naxos 8.572169 with Jennifer Bate as soloist on the organ of St John’s Duncan Terrace. It has also been recorded by Keith Jarvis on PRIORY PRC 239 (1988) and Christopher Hughes on OXRECS OXCD-66 (1996)

With thanks to Peter Dickinson for his help and encouragement in writing this essay.

This essay was first published on MusicWeb International on 9 March 2010

Friday 19 March 2010

Cyril Scott: Piano Trio and other chamber music on Chandos

I recently reviewed this new Chandos recording of Cyril Scott’s chamber music, including the two Trios. Most of the works on this CD are premiere recordings. They allow the Scott more opportunity to study the music of this great, but often undervalued composer.
I began my review by setting the scene:-
Listeners fall into three groups. Firstly there are those who candidly admit to having never heard of Cyril Scott. Secondly, there are a fair few who know his Lotus Land - and possibly one or two other piano pieces. And then, lastly, there are the Scott enthusiasts - people who have heard all his music currently available and constantly look out for the next CD release featuring his music. I confess to falling into this last category. I first heard Scott's Piano Concerto No. 1 on an old Lyrita record: I have been hooked ever since. In fact, along with Frank Bridge and York Bowen he is one of that select band from whom I have never heard a work that I positively dislike. For all the three groups above, the best place to start with this new Chandos CD is to read the major essay by the redoubtable Lewis Foreman. The first part of this seven page 'introduction' provides an excellent and sympathetic overview of the composer's life, times and music. The remainder is devoted to an in-depth study of each work. Then, I would advise beginning with the long forgotten Cornish Boat Song. And after this, it is on to the Internet ...

After reviewing each of the pieces on this CD I concluded by suggesting that ...”this is an extremely important addition to the corpus of Cyril Scott’s recorded music. For one thing, four out of the five works are premiere recordings. Secondly, the playing by the Gould Piano Trio and the clarinet soloist Robert Plane is both convincing and sympathetic. Scott’s music covers a wide range of styles and musical language – and each works needs a different approach. This awareness of the composer’s ‘periods’ has been well attended to”.
Please read the full review on MusicWeb International

Wednesday 17 March 2010

David Morgan: Contrasts for Orchestra

Until recently I had never heard David Morgan’s Contrasts properly. Let me explain. I did have the original vinyl LP in my collection – but I bought it second hand. I guess someone must have had it on the beach, because the sound quality is dreadful. Try as I did, I could not clean the sand from the groove. I cannot imagine why someone would want to use this album as a Frisbee on Morecambe Beach – but that seems to have been the case. A bad buy! So I was delighted to hear Contrasts on CD. And what a wonderful work I have missed.
I know virtually nothing about the composer: I do know that he studied with the late Dr Alan Bush and Leighton Lucas. Morgan was born in 1933 and has written a Sinfonia da Requiem, the above mentioned Violin Concerto and a number of chamber and instrumental music. He does not feature in New Grove. Therefore, I depend on Paul Conway’s programme notes for my understanding of this work.
David Morgan composed Contrasts in the autumn of 1974. He dedicated it to the memory of Shostakovich. The composer has described the composition as "a deliberate contrast in duality: it consists of two disparate movements, each based on the same two themes, constantly varied throughout the piece." The first movement is over sixteen minutes long whereas the second is only five. Yet there is no apparent formal or aural imbalance.
It could be concluded that this work is in fact a two movement symphony – there are plenty of precedents for that particular form. Or perhaps, as Conway suggests, it is a ‘Concerto for Orchestra’. Whatever the formal underpinning of this work, it is undoubtedly a fantastic piece. The emotional range is tremendous, without being confusing or overbearing. The musical style is always approachable without being simplistic or passé. It is possible to hear bitterness, reflection and joie de vivre in these pages: it is moving and exciting and enjoyable at the same time. The balance is perfect: the orchestration is masterly. I cannot imagine why a work of this calibre and quality is unknown. I would actually give reams of Shostakovich to possess David Morgan’s tribute to the elder composer.

This work can be found on Lyrita’s Premieres and Encores. Two very short extracts can be heard on the Emusic site

Monday 15 March 2010

British Chamber Music: Unperformed and Forgotten Works

Some British chamber music from the first half of the Twentieth Century that surely demand revival...

William Hurlstone Phantasy in A minor and A Major; Novello and Co.
James Friskin Phantasy in D Major; Novello and Co
Haydn Wood Phantasy in F Major; Novello and Co
Waldo Warner Phantasy in F Major; Novello and Co
Joseph Holbrooke Phantasy in D minor; Novello and Co

James Friskin Phantasy in E Minor; Novello and Co.
Alice Verne-Bredt Phantasy: Trio in One Movement; Schott
Susan Spain-Dunk Phantasy in A Minor; (Still in MS)

Susan Spain-Dunk Sonata in B minor; (Still in MS)
Albert Sammons Phantasy in B Major, Op. 8; Boosey and Hawkes
William Reed Fifth Quartet in A Major; Augener

James Forrester Folksong Phantasy Trio; Novello and Co.
Arnold Trowell Trio on Ancient Irish Folk Tunes, Op. 32; Novello and Co.
Waldo Warner Folksong Phantasy in G minor; Ricordi
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs The Enchanted Wood for piano, solo violin, and string quintet; Curwen
James Friskin Phantasy in F Minor for Piano Quintet; Stainer and Bell
Benjamin Dale Phantasy for Viola and Piano; Schott
Thomas Dunhill Phantasy Trio for Piano, Violin, and Viola; Stainer and Bell
James McEwen Phantasy String Quintet with Two Cellos; (Still in MS)
Ethel Barns Phantasy Trio for Two Violins and Piano; Schott
Richard Walthew Phantasy Piano Quintet in E Minor; Stainer and Bell

Saturday 13 March 2010

David Morgan: Violin Concerto

David Morgan (1933-1988) is an enigma. There is virtually no information about him on the web. He does not have an entry in Grove. There are only a handful of references to his recorded music – and I am not sure they refer to this particular Morgan anyway. The fact remains that apart from one sadly underrated Lyrita release from the late ’seventies, there are no opportunities to evaluate his music. Recently Lyrita re-released the superb Contrasts on one of their compilation discs (SRCD318 - see review) – where it does not really sit comfortably

The Violin Concerto written in 1966. Rob Barnett in his review on MusicWeb International has rightly pointed out that there are nods towards Walton, Szymanowski and Vaughan Williams. The musical language is typically a little less astringent – but I feel that the deeply personal nature – the composer calls it “the most comprehensively and openly autobiographical” of his work makes it slow to reveal its beauties. It is a complex work, lasting nearly half an hour. However it never ceases to maintain interest and the variety of its material is constantly revealing new beauties and challenges. There are some impressive passages that move well beyond the palettes of RVW and Walton. I believe that if this work was allowed to have its head, it would truly rival both the Walton, and dare I say it the Elgar! It is one of the great British violin concertos.

It would be good if there could be a reappraisal of Morgan's music, ans some biographical data emerge.

Sound samples of this great work can be found at Amazon

Thursday 11 March 2010

Thomas Dunhill: Playtime Melodies for Piano Op.45

There is always a danger of ignoring pieces of music that are technically simple in favour of those offering a major challenge to the solist. Furthermore there can be a propensity to make an a priori judgement that any piece of music that is produced for the educational market must in some way be sub-standard and unworthy of our attention.
In the year following the commencement of work on Thomas Dunhill’s (1877-1946) Symphony in A minor, he published a set of piano pieces called Playtime Melodies. This work is a million miles away from the depth and romantic mood of his symphony, yet, these short pieces are equally worthy of our attention.

These five short pieces are designed to help the young (or relatively inexperienced) player to add five attractive pieces to their repertoire whilst at the same time extending their technical capability. At no time does Dunhill relinquish his invention or musicality. These pieces are not written down to his players.

The first piece uses the well-known tune Girls and Boys come out to play as the basis its progress. The music is played ‘allegretto. poco gajamente’ – which latter word means gaily or in a careless manner. Careless not referring to the actual renditions of the text – but to the mood created! It is really a little dance in a folk-like 6/8 time. The tune, or at least variations on the tune are supported by simple left hand chords that nearly always emphasise the beat. Towards the conclusion the melody is given to the left hand.
The second piece In Solitude is really a quiet and reflective little waltz. The piece opens with the tune in the left hand whilst the other hand plays a very simple chord on the second beat. The middle section is poco animato but soon returns to the doloroso mood of the opening. There are one or two places in the piece designed to trip even a reasonably experienced player. However after some wayward modulations the music comes to a quiet end.
Next up is a Hornpipe written in a loose A minor. This not an easy piece to play and requires a clear, well-marked staccato touch in the left hand. The middle section modulates to the dominant major before closing firmly in the tonic with a sharp coda. As a child this music would certain have a tang of the sea to it.
A short Celtic Lullaby makes the fourth piece. This is once again in 6/8 time. It opens with a quiet falling minor third melody, repeated four times, before the lullaby proper begins. The tune has a definite Scottish feel, without resorting to the use of a Scotch snap. The melody is played by left and right hand in turn. The short two-bar phrases that underlie the melodic progress have to be played thoughtfully and with care.
The final piece is a Passepied. It is technically the most difficult piece in the album. A Passepied was a seventeenth century French dance originating in Brittany. It is invariably fast music written in 3/8 time and was often a part of a Baroque suite. Dunhill’s Passepied is quite long for a child’s pieces lasting over a hundred bars. Rhythmically the main interest is in the right hand with basically just tow figures proving the musical material. It is a good romp and provides an excellent finish to this well wrought little Suite.

The music was published by Alfred Lengnick & Co. Ltd of 14 Berners Street London W1. It was priced 2/- net.
One final observation: the printer has written in the wrong time signature at the start of this piece. Someone has scored it out and written in the correct one!

There are, as might be expected, no recordings of this Suite currently available.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Bluebell Klean: Pianoforte Quintet in C minor for Piano, Two Violins, Viola and Violoncello

Last year I posted about Bluebell Klean and her Piano Quintet which was given at the Bechstein Hall on 13 November 1906. Thanks to the energies of Mr Giles Enders who found a copy of the programme notes, I am able to publish a description of this piece. Like the composer's lost Piano Concerto it is surely a desideratum for English Music enthusiast.

The Quintet opens with the announcement by the pianoforte of the principal subject, an eight-bar theme, a characteristic of which is the strong accentuation on the second beat in the bar. Immediately repeated by the strings, the melody is followed by a brief modulatory passage for strings alone, leading into the second subject, in E flat. This is announced by the first violin, and afterwards heard on the pianoforte, its flowing character being designed to form a contrast to the energy of the first subject. The working-out section begins with the principal theme, but differently harmonized, the tonality being now C major. The develop­ment is clear and concise. Much use is made of the phrase contained in the second and third bars of the chief subject, which at one time is used as accompaniment by the pianoforte, while the first violin plays the second subject. In the recapitulation section the second subject is heard in C major, but the movement ends in C minor.

The Andante is commenced by the pianoforte suggesting in a short introduction the principal melody, given out afterwards in its entirety by the cello. The first violin repeats it in a slightly varied form, after which there follow six short variations, respectively in A flat, B flat minor, F sharp minor, C sharp minor, E flat, and B flat minor. The movement concludes with the emphatic delivery of the principal subject in unison by the strings, accompanied by heavy chords on the pianoforte.

The Scherzo is preceded by a short introduction for the strings, founded on the first bar of the chief subject, subsequently announced by the pianoforte, accompanied by light pizzicato chords; after which it is taken up by the first violin, the other instruments having imitative phrases. The Trio section, in G, is begun by the strings only, which give out the theme. Presently the second violin and 'cello have it in E minor, and subsequently it passes to the pianoforte. The return to the first portion is approached by a few passages in imitation, and the number ends with a short Coda.

Eight introductory bars precede the announcement, by the first violin, of the leading subject of the Finale, an allegro in 2-4 measure. This gay and energetic theme is then trans­ferred to the pianoforte, after which the strings appear to discuss between themselves the approach of the second subject, shortly afterwards introduced by the pianoforte. Another passage for strings alone commences the working up of a climax in which the pianoforte joins, and leads to the repetition of the principal theme. Subsequently this subject is treated in what is technically known as augmentation; that is, the duration of each note of the melody is made longer than it was originally. Interest in the music is increased by the entrance in D of a theme of a reposeful nature which provides an expressive contrast to the context. An episodic modulation into E minor brings back the first subject, followed by development in which the second subject and the episodic theme are combined with contrapuntal resource, ultimately leading into a short Coda based on the second subject.
From unsigned programme note (possibly by the composer) 13 November 1906

Friday 5 March 2010

Montague Phillips: Four Dances from the Rebel Maid

The Rebel Maid is Montague Phillips’ best known work; there are still many people around who have sung in amateur performances of this operetta. It is a work that I have never heard, although I have worked my way through a few of the piano arrangements of the dances. Although it was composed during the Great War it was not until 1921 that it was given its first performance at the London Empire Theatre. It was not an instant success – perhaps more to do with the effects of the coal strike; people were unable to travel into town for pleasure. The best known song is 'The Fishermen of England'. It is interesting to note that the lead role was written for his wife, the soprano Clara Butterworth. The composer extracted this present set of Dances from the work shortly after the first performance - they are Jig, Gavotte, Graceful Dance and the Villagers’ Dance. They are delightful miniatures in their own right. They have all the attributes of good light music: good tunes and contrast between sentimental and gay moods.
Most important of all, the scoring has a lightness of touch that reveals the hand of a considerable master of orchestration. I suppose my favourite is the Gavotte – perhaps because I have known the piano version of this for many years. However, all the dances deserve to be aired a bit more often.
The Four Dances from The Rebel Maid can be hear on Dutton CDLX 7140

Monday 1 March 2010

Percy Whitlock: Updates, News and Reviews

Recently, I have been brought up to speed on what the Percy Whitlock Trust has been doing over the past year or so, by its secretary Malcolm Riley. Certainly there are plenty of interesting and significant things happening in which the Trust are involved.
There have been two major publications produced over the past three years. The most important is the fine Percy Whitlock Companion which brought together most of the composer’s surviving correspondence, diary extracts and autobiographical notes alongside a number of articles which he wrote for The Musical Times, the Musical Opinion and The Organ. This volume is a model of what all books should be like and is indispensable for all Whitlock enthusiasts. It is published by the Trust and is available through them on their WebPages.

The second publication is a fine volume of organ music – A Fanfare for Francis containing the following works:-
Noel Rawsthorne: Fanfare for Francis
Malcolm Riley: Prologo e Toccatina
Robert Gower: Hymn Prelude on "York"Richard Shepherd: Prelude
Andrew Carter: Passacaglia
Simon Lindley: Echo Rondel
John Scott Whiteley: Scherzetto & Fugue
John Barry: Pray to the Lord
Philip Moore: Variations & Fugue on "East Acklam"
Alan Spedding: Deo Gratias
Robin Walker: Malton
Francis Jackson: Impromptu
This album was produced to celebrate the 90th birthday of Dr. Francis Jackson. As an added bonus it contains a CD of the entire collection recorded by John Scott Whiteley on the organ of York Minster.

The most recent Trust Newsletter reports on the May Festival 2009 held at Bournemouth. Enthusiasts of Whitlock’s music will know that he spent fourteen years as the organist of the Municipal Pavilion in that great seaside town. This year’s festival, which is the 14th, focused on the music of Henry Purcell and Haydn. However there was an evening recital given by Malcolm Riley which included organ works by Herbert Murrill, Andrew Carter and Percy Whitlock.

Perhaps the most exciting event of 2009 was the performance of Whitlock’s Piano Quintet in G minor by the Pavao String Quartet and the pianist Alison Farr. This work was composed between February 1929 and January 1930 and was dedicated to Charles Hylton Stewart, an English clergyman and organist. . The Quintet is written in four movements. Mike Marsh has written that ‘from the opening piano flourish (of the Fantasia) there follows a hymn-like melody imbued with folk elements in which the instrumental balance showed masterful sensitivity.’ The Scherzo nods towards Percy Grainger with its Irish folk-dance style ‘presented with cheery impetus’. Yet it is the Romance which Marsh suggests ‘evoked scenes of candle-lit romantic evenings.’ There is an important part for solo viola. The last movement, a Rondo, has ‘lyrical wit with hints of Elgarian nobility.’ Surely this is a work that demands to be recorded and presented to British Music Enthusiasts. I am sure that for all who know Whitlock’s organ music, there will be precious few who are aware that he wrote a sizeable corpus of orchestral and chamber works. The Quintet was published by the Percy Whitlock Trust in 1996

Finally, the recent Newsletter reports that shortly after the Percy Whitlock Companion had come off the printing presses, two more letters from the composer to a Mr. Huskisson Stubington arrived in Malcolm Riley’s in-tray. The said gentleman held a number of organist appointments in Kent and Radnorshire before becoming taking up the post at Tewksbury Abbey. The two letters discuss the organ rebuild at Tewksbury amongst more personal recollections. They are hugely interesting additions to the Whitlock archive.

“The Percy Whitlock Trust which has been in existence since 1983 aims to increase the public awareness of the composer's work. It coordinates many events and recitals and publishes articles and features which relate to the composer.”