Monday 29 August 2011

Hubert Parry & Messing about in Boats!

I found this short note in The Musical Times. A lot could be said and written about Parry’ nautical interests, however this text gives a good indication of what the composer got up at sea!
Sir Hubert Parry's favourite recreation [was] yachting. ‘I suppose I shall be drowned some day,’ he says. (On repeating this remark to Mr. Dannreuther [1], he observes: ‘Well, what is the use of a Shelley [2] unless one follows his example ? ‘) ‘I was very nearly drowned,’ continues Sir Hubert, ‘when I was twelve years old, in coming from Nice to Marseilles. A little more obstinacy on my part, and I should have been pitched over into the Mediterranean and provided food for the sharks. I have been nearly drowned heaps of times. Once I went round the Isle of Wight in a gale, and nearly drove my skipper out of his wits. “You ain't been drowned yet,' he observed, 'but you've done your very best.”
I began yachting through having to live at Littlehampton for many years on account of my wife's health. I started with a 2-tonner, then followed a 7-tonner, now I have a 21-tonner, and I daresay I shall have a bigger yacht some day.’
The following is a characteristic boating story concerning the genial Director of the Royal College of Music. One day he was enjoying a very Elysium of happiness sailing all alone in a canoe in a very stiff breeze. He was capsized and had to swim about two miles to terra firma. But he would not lose the boat, and towed it ashore with the rope of the boat between his teeth, an operation which took nearly an hour and a half!
The Musical Times 1 July 1898 [with minor edits]

[1] Dannreuther Edward,Strassburg, 4 November 1844 – Hastings 12 February 1905. Aged 5 he was taken to Cincinnati, where he studied with F. L. Ritter and then later as a pupil of Richter, Moscheles and Hauptmann at the Leipzig Conservetoire. He arrived in London in 1863 as pianist; In 1872 he founded and conducted the London Wagner Society; wrote"Richard Wagner, His Tendencies and Theories" (London, 1873). He was also a minor composer. He was a Professor of Piano Music at the Royal College of Music from 1895 until his death. Dannreuther was a friend and imporntat influence on Hubert Parry.
[2] On 8 July 1822, Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned during a sudden storm whilst sailing from Livorno to Lerici in his schooner.

Friday 26 August 2011

Prom Watch 2001 Week 7

This is the seventh of my Proms-Watch analysis of British Music being performed during the 2011 season. Once again it is not a great week for British music...

Friday 26 August
Tonight’s concert kicks off with Richard Strauss’s rarely heard Burleske for piano and orchestra. The soloist is Kirill Gerstein. After the interval there is a performance of yet another symphony by Gustav Mahler. This time is it the turn of the Symphony No.6 in A minor. The BBC Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Semyon Bychkov.

Saturday 27 August
This is a good day for British music. At the afternoon concert at the Cadogan Hall, after hearing Hildegard of Bingen’s Symphonia armonie celestium, there are three important British works.
First up is Britten’s ‘Sacred and Profane,’ this is followed by Harrison Birtwistle’s A Description of the Passing of a Year. The final work in this BBC Singers’ concert is a world premiere of Stevie Wishart’s Out of this World. Three important and challenging works.
However the evening concert contains no British music. There is a premiere by the Swedish Anders Hillborg ‘Cold Heat’ and performance of Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major, K595 and finally Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. The Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich is conducted by David Zinman.

Sunday 28 August
One work tonight- Felix Mendelssohn’s great oratorio Elijah. This is a work that was premiered in Birmingham in 1846. So there is a huge British connection. In fact St Paul and Elijah probably had a disproportionate influence on Victorian choral music that can be heard in Sullivan, Parry and Stanford.

Monday 29 August
Kathryn Stott and Yo Yo Ma give a reading of Graham Fitkin’s (b.1963) L which was composed in 2005 for Ma's 50th birthday. Other works on this programme include Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata, Egberto Gismonti/Geraldo Carneira Bodas de prata and Quatro cantos.
The evening concert ‘goes to the movies with John Wilson and his Orchestra in ‘a celebration of the Golden Age of Hollywood film musicals.’ So unlikely to be a big input of British music there, but who can tell?

Tuesday 30 August
No British music tonight. The concert is dedicated to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K503 and Anton Bruckner’s massive Symphony No. 8 in C minor. The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Jaap van Zweden. David Frey is the piano soloist.

Wednesday 31 August
Another big night for Graham Fitkin with a premiere of his Cello Concerto. Yo Yo Ma makes reappearance at this year’s Proms to play this work accompanied by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. After the interval, David Robertson conducts a galaxy of stars in Beethoven’s Ninth ‘Choral’ Symphony.
Thursday 1 September
A welcome visit from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra with their conductor Zubin Mehta. Alas there are no British works given tonight. There is a performance of Max Bruch’s ubiquitous Violin Concerto in G minor, extracts from Isaac Albeniz’s Iberia, Rimsky Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol and Anton Webern’s Passacaglia.

So, apart from it being a huge week for Graham Fitkin, with two important works, it is a bit of a wash out for British music. I agree that there is some Britten, Birtwistle and Wishart choral music, but this is at an afternoon concert.
And the next week is the last week!

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Frank Bridge: The Missing Piano Music Recordings

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Mark Bebbington’s third, and presumably final volume of ‘Piano Music by Frank Bridge’. This cycle of music has been released by SOMM over the past five years with the third volume arriving in the shops in the summer of 2011. More than twenty years ago Peter Jacobs issued the pioneering recording of Bridge’s ‘complete’ piano works on the Continuum label. Unfortunately, Jacobs’s excellent series is no longer readily available in shops, although I understand that it can be found in a downloadable format and perhaps hard-copies in second-hand CD shops. One needs to hunt around on the ‘net. Naxos has released two CDs of a projected three (?) CD cycle with the pianist Ashley Wass. Volume 1 was issued on 2006 and Volume 2 the following year.

From a ‘completist’s’ point of view none of the pianists mentioned above have recorded all of Bridge’s piano works. Naturally, we do not know what Naxos’ plans are, but one feels that the project has been sidelined, if not abandoned. Both Mark Bebbington and Peter Jacobs have given the vast majority of the piano music listed in Frank Bridge: A Thematic Catalogue (Hindmarsh 1983); however there are a few omissions.

Most surprising is Mark Bebbington’s oversight of the second set of Miniature Pastorals (H.149). This is a pity, because they are delightful little pieces with memorable tunes and delicious harmonies. To be fair, they are really children’s pieces, perhaps Grade 4 or 5, but that does not mean they are devoid of value and content. Ashley Wass has not yet recorded them, but Peter Jacobs gives a good account in Volume 1 of his cycle. Mark Bebbington has not chosen to record the heart-breakingly beautiful ‘Todessehnsucht’ (Come, sweet death) (H.181) which was arranged by Bridge for inclusion in a book of Bach transcriptions commissioned by Harriet Cohen. It was published in 1932. And finally, Bebbington has not included the Lament (H.117) from 1915 which was composed in memory of ‘Catherine’ who was a young friend of the composer and who died when the German U-boat, U-20 torpedoed the Lusitania. This work is best known in the version for string orchestra; however Peter Jacobs has given this extremely moving work in his cycle. It works well for piano and should be seen as a part of the canon of Frank Bridge’s piano music.

The remainder of the works not recorded by Jacob, Wass or Bebbington are typically pieces that have been ‘dished up’ in a number of guises.
Serenade (H.23) is short two-minute work which was composed in April 1903. It would appear to have originally been for violin or cello and piano. The work was subsequently published by Reid Brothers in 1906 in a variety of versions. These included one for piano solo and one for orchestra. The Serenade has been released on a number of discs including Volume 6 of the Chandos series of orchestral music (CHAN10310) and the ASV recording of Bridge’s viola and piano music (CDDCA1064). It is a lovely piece of salon music that moves just a little beyond that genre in its subtlety.
A similar compositional history applies to the darker Norse Legend (H.60) which was composed in 1905 and was also issued in versions for piano solo, violin and piano, and an orchestral version (CHAN 10012) which was made as late as 1938. There is a version for viola and piano on NAXOS 8.572407.
The enigmatic “?” (H.90) was written sometime between 1906 and 1908. It is a tiny miniature lasting about one minute. The work has never been published; however the autograph is in the Royal College of music Library. It was written for a friend of the composer, a Miss Florence Smith. From the short extract given in Paul Hindmarsh’s catalogue, it would appear to be a humorous and affectionate little number written in waltz time – a billet-doux, really.
The next omission is perhaps a moot point. One of Bridge’s best known works is the Two Old English Songs: Sally in our Alley and Cherry Ripe (H.119). Most music-lovers will know these two delightful numbers in their incarnation for string quartet or string orchestra: there are many recordings of this work. However, a piano duet edition was also produced by G Schirmer in 1916. It would be good to have a performance of this version.
The following ‘missing’ piece is a real Frank Bridge desideratum – The Turtle’s Retort (H.147).This work has been recorded in its orchestral guise by the Chelsea Opera Group (PEARL SHE600), however as far as I can see there is no piano-solo version. The piece, which is really a ‘one-step’, was written under the pseudonym of John L. More for his publisher Winthrop Rogers. Hindmarsh notes that it was published as one of Ten American Dance Tunes – which was a collection of foxtrots, one and two-steps and valses. It would have been fun to have included this piece in one of the collected editions of Bridge piano works on CD.
In 1921 Frank Bridge wrote incidental music for a play called Threads (H.151) by Frank Stayton. Out of a considerable amount of music composed for this production, two short pieces were extracted. These are the Two Intermezzi – an ‘andante molto moderato e tranquillo’ and a ‘tempo di valse’. They last for about eight minutes. Although these were originally scored for small orchestra, the music was also issued as a piano solo. Ian Lace on MusicWeb International has well described these two miniatures: - ‘The first... begins in sighs and continues in plaintive wistful sweetness with just an occasional brass protestation. In comparison, the second is... animated and theatrical... mixing farce and romance with Eric
Coates looking in from the wings.’
The final work that has been omitted (so far) by all three pianists is the ballet score In the Shop (H.152). This work was composed in 1921 for both piano duet (four hands, one piano) and also piano solo. There are six movements: Introduction, Allegro moderato, Giant’s Dance, Tempo di minuetto, Rent Collector’s Dance, and a ‘Moderato and Finale’. The work lasts for nearly fourteen minutes. In a letter to Edward Speyer Bridge explained that ‘In the Shop’ was written for part of a Christmas entertainment produced by the children of some friends’ (Hindmarsh p.117) Selections from the work have been published by Thames Publishing in 1999 in an edition prepared by Paul Hindmarsh. Four pieces were also arranged by the composer for piano solo –Introduction, The Giant’s Dance, Tempo di minuetto, and the concluding ‘Moderato and Finale’. These remain in manuscript. Whatever the musical value of these pieces they surely deserve to be recorded for completeness.

Frank Bridge: Complete music for piano (3 Volumes) Peter Jacobs (piano) Continuum 1016, 1018 & 1019
Piano music by Frank Bridge (3 Volumes) Mark Bebbington (piano) SOMMCD 056, 082, & 0107
Bridge Piano Music (2 Volumes released) NAXOS 8.557842 & 8.557921

Note: I have not considered Kathryn Stott BRIDGE Piano Works. This disc has been deleted and is not available in download format. All the pieces recorded on this disc are available in the Bebbington/Jacobs/Wass versions.
A Sea Idyll, H54a. Capriccios—No. 1 in A minor, H52; No. 2 in F sharp minor, H54b. Three poems—Ecstasy, H112b. The Hour Glass, H148. Piano Sonata, H160. Vignettes de Marseille, H166. Conifer CDCF186 (9/91)

Paul Hindmarsh, Frank Bridge: A Thematic Catalogue (London: Faber Music, Faber & Faber, 1983).

Monday 22 August 2011

Donald Harris: Sonata 1957– a documentary film by Daniel Beliavsky.

I know that Donald Harris is not a British composer – he is an American. However I include this review for two main reasons. Firstly, it shows that I do listen to music other than British! And, secondly, this DVD is a model of how a musical analysis of a work can be done in an interesting and entertaining manner, without dumbing-down and ignoring technical content.

A number of years ago I wrote an ‘impressionistic’ essay [1] about Donald Harris’s (b.1931) Piano Sonata, Op. 1. In this I concentrated on the ‘sitz in leben’ of this work, which was the result of the composer’s sojourn in Paris whilst studying with Nadia Boulanger. It represented the beginnings of a variety of trajectories that were used by the composer over more than half-a-century of musical writing. The Sonata was most definitely a 12-tone serial work, however, the added value was that it had a significant degree of artistry and an obvious inspiration: it was not just a fabrication defined by the manipulation of sets and series.
The pianist, theorist, and musicologist Daniel Beliavsky has taken this Piano Sonata to his heart. Not only has he made a recording of the work but has also produced formal analyses of the piece. In 2011, he made a 50-minute documentary film entitled Sonata (1957).
Daniel Beliavsky has written the following note which is well worth quoting in full:-

During the summer of 2000, just after I graduated from college, I was invited to perform a solo recital at the Festival of the Hamptons on Long Island, NY. The festival’s director, Lukas Foss (1922-2009), prefaced the invitation with the condition that I play a piano sonata by Donald Harris (born 1931), his friend and colleague. I did, and then met Harris immediately following the recital. Although I met Harris in person, I had discovered him first through this music, his first professional composition finished in Paris in 1957. This Sonata is Harris’ first independently composed work, completed after he left Nadia Boulanger’s studio and before he began working with Max Deutsch. In Harris’ own words, he loved every note; he caressed every note, and he felt liberated to compose freely in a style of his own choosing after an unremarkable start with Boulanger.
Since that first performance, I have played the Sonata many times, and have even written analyses detailing the music’s intricate structures. More importantly, I have grown to love the piece. This film was born out of the desire to make intimate and understandable a music whose aesthetic is complex and whose language is atonal. I wished for the film not only to explain what circumstances lead Harris to compose the Sonata, but also to expose an audience to the work’s intellectual vigor and subtle emotional beauty. In effect, I hoped to make clear to an audience why this difficult and intricate music so captivated me. In these ways, the film is also an unfolding composition, one in which its uncommon protagonist, the Sonata itself, is gradually assembled from fragments into a complete, meaningful, and freshly interpreted performance.
There are three things that make this documentary a model of its kind. Firstly, Beliavsky has allowed a number of people to speak about their experiences of this music. Basically composer and performers are encouraged to discuss and debate the music and the background of the Sonata. Perhaps the most exciting part of the discussion is the portrait of the composer that is presented, complete with photographs taken at the time of his student days in Paris. But just as important are the views of Veronica Jochum, a pianist who made the second commercial recording [2] of this work after the late Geneviève Joy’s 1961 recording for the French Radio. Equally interesting are the contributions by Gunther Schuller, who has been a long-time friend and associate of the composer. Added to these views are the considerable insights of Beliavsky himself, who is the work's current champion.

Secondly, during the course of the documentary, Beliavsky gives an analysis of the work, supported by images of the score and musical examples played by himself. However this never sinks into mere cerebral pontification on complex musicological functions. There is a danger that any discussion of a ‘serial’ work will rely heavily on charts, lists and diagrams in order to elucidate the progress of the composition. Although the documentary is quite obviously aimed at musically literate viewers, it never crosses the boundary into sheer pretentiousness. And finally, a complete performance of this work is given at the end of the film. After the discussion and analysis it is necessary to hear the subject of the conversations.

I have not seen many ‘analytical’ films about music, although I have attended a few lectures and seminars. Not a few of these have been over-technical, beside the point and sometimes downright tedious. However, I believe that Daniel Beliavsky gets the balance absolutely right. At the end of the discussion I really wanted to hear the piece rather than switch the DVD player off!

The film is produced by Daniel Beliavsky and directed by Engin Ufuk Kaplan and Alexis Boling and was edited by Bodine Alex Boling. However it is not at present commercially distributed. Anyone interested in viewing this film, or making further inquiries about it is invited to write to the producer directly at his email address:

[2] Veronica Jochum New England Conservatory Recording Series, Volume 7. Includes Robert Schuman’s Piano Sonata No.1 in F sharp minor, Op.11, Quincy Porter’s Piano Sonata and Donald Harris Piano Sonata. Golden Crest NEC-107 (LP only)

Friday 19 August 2011

Proms Watch 2011 Week 6

This is the sixth of my Proms-Watch analysis of British Music being performed during the 2011 season. This is a rather poor week...!

Friday 19th August
A big night for lovers of Johannes Brahms’ music. The first half of the Prom has a performance of the Third Symphony. After the interval Emanuel Ax plays the Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor. Bernard Haitink conducts the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
The late-night Prom continues the Brahms theme with Angela Hewitt playing his Three Intermezzos, Op.117 and being joined by other soloists for a performance of the Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor in an arrangement by Schoenberg. Included in this concert is Robert Schumann’s Introduction and Concert Allegro, Op.134. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Manze provides the accompaniment.
Naturally no British music tonight.

Saturday 20th August
The Proms Saturday Matinee has a concert of music by the Master of the King’s Musick, Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle and the Greek composer Georges Aperghis. The London Sinfonietta is directed by its founding conductor David Atherton. The Proms website describes the Birtwistle premiere as reflecting “on ...ancient traditions in Angel Fighter, a pocket oratorio for voices and ensemble in the tradition of his previous examinations of pivotal myths that resonate down the ages.’ Sir Peter’s work is Il rozzo Martello (1997), which is a ‘contemplation’ on a sonnet by Michelangelo. My Italian is not too good, but I reckon the title is loosely translated as The Crude Hammer.
The main evening Prom is even more Brahms! Emmanuel Ax, Bernard Haitink and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe return to give the Second Piano Concerto in B flat major and the Fourth Symphony in E minor. Would that British symphonists and concerto composers were so well represented.

Sunday 21st August
Good night for British music with works by Benjamin Britten and Colin Mathews. The concert opens with the popular Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. The new work by Matthews is called No Man’s Land and was commissioned by the late Richard Hickox. It features performances from Ian Bostridge and Roderick Williams. After the interval Mozart’s great Requiem in D minor will be heard.

Monday 22nd August
The afternoon event at the Cadogan Hall features Flute Sonatas by Bohuslav Martinu and Sergei Prokofiev. The other work is a Sonatine by Henri Dutilleux. The soloists are the flautist Emmanuel Pahud and the pianist Eric Le Sage. No British works, alas.
This trend is followed in the evening event. Kevin Volans, who is a South African composer, is represented by his newly written Piano Concerto. This is followed by Richard Wagner’s Meistersinger Overture and Franz Liszt’s La note. After the interval there is yet another Brahms Symphony – this time the great First. Barry Douglas is the pianist and conducts Thomas Dausgaard the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Tuesday 23rd August
British music is excluded from tonight’s Prom. However a strong programme of two symphonies by Sergei Prokofiev –the First and the Fifth. Other works include Henri Dutilleux’s L’arbre de songes and his Slava’s Fanfare. Leonidas Kavakos plays the violin and the London Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Valery Gergiev. Certainly Dutilleux appears to be having a mega Prom season!

Wednesday 24th August
Things do not improve for the British music lover on Wednesday. Sir Colin Davis conducts the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester in Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, Maurice Ravel’s Shéhérazade and the concert concludes with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor.
The late night concert has Marc-André Hamelin playing a number of works by Franz Liszt including the Venezia e Napoli and the Fantasia and Fugue on B-A-C-H

Thursday 25th August
Tonight Prom is a semi-staged production of George Frederick Handel’s great opera Rinaldo. It depends on whether one regards Handel as being an honorary Briton or not as to whether tonight’s concert counts in the tally of indigenous music. I would not include it!

Not such a good week for British music: with only four works throughout the entire week. It is good to have Britten’s Variations and the new pieces by Colin Matthews and Harrison Birstwistle. Could do better BBC!

Wednesday 17 August 2011

William Wolstenholme: Organ Music on Priory

William Wolstenholme has been ill served by the recording industry: there are (not including the present disc) only seven of his works available in the current Arkiv CD catalogue. In fact, I cannot recall being at any organ recital or church service in recent years when his music was played.
I have been a fan of William Wolstenholme ever since hearing the late Charles MacDonald playing the Finale in B flat on the organ of St. Olave’s Church, Marygate, York. This was over thirty years ago. It was subsequently recorded on a compilation of organ music from churches in that city. Many years later I enjoyed Dr. John Kitchen’s performance of the Organ Sonata No. 1 in F major played on the organ of Coats Memorial Church, Paisley, Scotland (Priory PRCD 805).

A brief note on the composer’s life and work may be of interest. William Wolstenholme was born in Blackburn, Lancashire on 24 February 1865. He was blind from birth and was was educated at the Worcester College for the Blind Sons of Gentlemen. He showed considerable promise as a musician and impressed Henry Smart who agreed to take him as a pupil. Alas, Smart died before lessons began. He was duly trained in music by Dr William Done of Worcester. He also studied the violin under Edward Elgar. Wolstenholme appeared at a Worcester Philharmonic Society in a performance of the Mendelssohn G minor piano concerto. In 1887 he went up to Oxford University where he later graduated as a Bachelor of Music.
In 1888 he was appointed organist and choirmaster of St Paul’s Church, Blackburn and began to consolidate his position as a teacher, recitalist and improviser. Fourteen years later he accepted the post of organist at All Saint’s Church Norfolk Square, Paddington and afterwards at All Saints, St. John’s Wood. In 1908 he undertook a major concert tour of the United States. This secured his ‘international’ reputation. William Wolstenholme died in 1931.
Although he is primarily regarded as a composer of organ works, his catalogue includes choral music including a cantata, Lord Ullin's Daughter, for soloist, chorus and strings, numerous anthems, madrigals, song cycles and a number of detached pieces for piano, harp, mandolin, violin, viola and oboe.
Stylistically, he has been referred to as the ‘English Cesar Franck’ and although this may be unfair to both composers it is a reasonable rule of thumb and gives the listener a good idea of the kind and quality of music to expect. It is also possible that he can be bracketed with Alfred Hollins and Basil Harwood.

The recital gets off to a great start with the fine Concert Overture No.2 in G which was dedicated to Roger Ascham, one-time Municipal Organist of Port Elizabeth in South Africa. This is written in a ‘loose’ sonata form and manages to balance a serious ‘first subject’ with a lyrical and lighter second. It is a well written work that showcases the composer’s style and achievement. This is a good place to begin to explore this music.
The Serenata is a little more ephemeral, but even here Wolstenholme shows his fine melodic skill and ability to create an enchanting piece of music. The Scherzo in B flat is a neat and attractive piece that uses the tonal colours of the organ to good effect. The Romanza has a lovely, sustained tune that epitomises its title. There is nothing ‘churchy’ about this music: it is quite simply a ‘love-song’. The following ‘Allegretto’ from the same set of pieces is a nicely balanced little number that certainly charms. However, there is nothing ‘slight’ about the Fantasia in E, Op.33 No. 1. This is a long, involved, complex piece that explores a variety of moods and instrumental registrations. The work is cast in four parts, with a ‘vigorous opening motif’ followed by a lovely ‘andante espressivo’ showcasing an oboe melody. There follows a contrasting maestoso section before the work ends with a competent but never academic, fugue. It is possibly the most important work on this CD.
The ‘Allegro scherzando’ has shades of Elgar about it whilst the Epilogue explores slightly deeper waters as a well-balanced work progressing from a dissonant opening chord which is followed by an impressive ‘allegro’ before giving way to an adagio section. The composer juxtaposes both harmonic and contrapuntal resources in this remarkable but quite short work.
The Cantilene in A flat is another example of Wolstenholme’s attractive ‘intermezzos’ that combines interest with superb craftsmanship and with a greater depth that the genre usually demands.
The composer’s ‘greatest hit’ is probably the bi-partite work Die Frage & Die Antwort. I have come across the sheet music for this work dozens of times in second-hand bookshops – in both organ and piano formats. And there is a sad tale to this heart-easing work. Michael Harris relates that both pieces were written for Wolstenholme’s fiancée Maud Baldwin. They were composed in 1895. Sadly, the marriage was never to be: her family circumstances prevented the union. Neither she nor the composer was to subsequently marry. This is a truly beautiful work that becomes all the more poignant on hearing the story behind it. The original ‘question’ was quite obviously ‘answered’ with an emphatic ‘Yes!’
The final work in this comprehensive retrospective of William Wolstenholme’s music is the stunning Finale in B flat. This is not a ‘finale’ in the Vierne sense of the word: it is not quite so virtuosic. Yet, it makes an excellent recessional voluntary. This work was dedicated to Alfred Hollins.

Michael Harris is Organist and Master of the Music of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. He is also an academic at the Ian Tomlin School of Music in Napier University in that city. On this CD he is ‘out of area’ playing the excellent Henry Willis II organ at Christ Church, Port Sunlight which is on the banks of the Mersey. The full specification for this instrument is given in the liner notes. Organ enthusiasts will be delighted to know that this organ is the only surviving four manual instrument by that particular builder to remain in its original form – apart from the addition of a modern blower. It was extensively restored between 2005 and 2008 by Henry Willis and Sons.
My only niggle is that the programme notes did not give the dates of all the pieces played: I was able to find this information on-line quite easily.
This is an excellent new CD that fills a major gap in the repertoire of British organ music. All of these works deserve to be played in recitals and given as voluntaries at church services.
Finally, nearly a hundred years ago Harvey Grace wrote about William Wolstenholme as follows: - [His] music is pre-eminently a cheerful one. His compositions have a healthy ring about them, and also much of the flavour of old English songs and dances... While he never sounds a very deep note, his skimming over the surface is done so gracefully that one feels [disinclined] to complain.” Grace further notes that it is a ‘striking fact that the man who has composed the most uniformly happy organ music of today is one whose life has been spent in total darkness.”
It is a good summary of the music presented in this CD.

Track Listing:
William WOLSTENHOLME (1865-1931)
Concert Overture No.2 in G major, Op.61 (1907) Serenata in A (1900) Scherzo in B flat (1912) Romanza Op.17 No.1 (1900)Allegretto Op.17 No.2 (1900)
Fantasia in E major, Op.33 No.1 (1901) Allegretto scherzando (c.1908)
Epilogue (1913) Cantilene in A flat major (c.1905) Die Frage (The Question) (1895) Die Antwort (The Answer) (1895) Finale in B flat major (1895) [6:41]
Michael Harris, the organ of Christ Church, Port Sunlight
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Frank Bridge's Two Poems

Frank Bridge's Two Poems are based on the now largely forgotten writings of Richard Jefferies. Amongst many other things, this author essayed on life in the English countryside. He was a nature mystic. Perhaps his philosophy is best summed up by the quotation 'The sun was stronger than science; the hills more than philosophy.'

The first of the two poems is scored for a small orchestra and has the following written on the manuscript from The Open Air, a book written in 1885, ‘Those thoughts and feelings which are not sharply defined, but have a haze of distance and beauty about them, are always dearest.’ Paul Hindmarsh well describes this miniature as a ‘restrained essay in veiled sonority, sensuous chromaticism and ambivalent tonality.’ It is not quite pastoralism, but comes close. The use of oboe and muted strings lend credence to this impression.
The second poem is in fact a little scherzo. Unlike the first, it has parts for brass and percussion. It differs, too in the fact that this poem is actually harmonically obvious and the formal structure is much more up front. It is more extrovert in its tone. Bridge has applied Jeffries words from The Story of my Heart to the score, “How beautiful a delight to make the world joyous! The song should never be silent, the dance never still, the laugh should sound like water which runs for ever.”
Frank Bridge's Two Poems can be heard on Naxos 8557167, Lyrita SRCD243.

Friday 12 August 2011

Proms Watch 2011 Week 5

This is the fifth of my Proms-Watch analysis of British Music being performed during the 2011 Promenade Concert season. This is a rather good week...!

Friday 12th August
Film music at tonight’s Prom – so there are a few pieces by British composers. Certainly the Henry V Suite derived by Muir Mathieson from William Walton’s great score will be most welcome. Richard Rodney Bennett’s music to Murder on the Orient Express is well known to film music buffs as is John Barry’s (John Barry Prendergast, born in York) Out of Africa. A rare treat will be a medley of tunes from the James Bond films, including music by John Barry, David Arnold and George Martin. Other composers include Ennio Morricone, Bernard Herrmann and Jonny Greenwood who is a member of the rock band Radiohead. The BBC Concert Orchestra is conducted by Keith Lockhart.

Saturday 13th August
It is great to have a concert devoted to music by Richard Rodney Bennett (who turned 75 this year) and Elizabeth Maconchy. The Matinee at the Cadogan Hall includes the Debussy-inspired Dream Dancing which was written for the London Sinfonietta in the 1980’s. Also by Bennett, the Jazz Calendar was originally a BBC commission and was choreographed by Frederick Ashton. Elizabeth Maconchy is represented by her Romanza, which is ‘touch-minded’ but ‘soulful’. The other composer is Henri Dutilleux with his Les Citations.
The Saturday Evening ‘comedy’ prom appears to be an open-book. No listings are given on the BBC Prom Website. It is billed as Classical for Starters.

Sunday 14th August
This is another great night for British music. The Proms guide notes that this is ‘a recreation of a Britten concert conducted by the composer at the Proms in 1963 with a contemporary twist provided by Joby Talbot.’
Talbot has written a Chaconny in G minor (after Purcell) which I guess is the twist. Britten realised his own version of this piece in 1948. The major event in this concert is the masterpiece Spring Symphony. The other two works are the Cantata Misericordium and the orchestral Sinfonia da Requiem.
There is a large group of soloists, plus the Trinity Boys Choir, the BBC Singers, Symphony Chorus and Symphony Orchestra. It is all held together by Mark Wigglesworth. Promises to be a highlight of the season.

Monday 15th August
The matinee concert at the Cadogan Hall is an all British event with music by Frank Bridge and his one-time pupil Benjamin Britten. This excellent recital includes Britten’s early Phantasy for oboe and string trio and a two-piano reduction of his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. The ‘master’s’ works include the great Piano Quintet in D minor and the second of his Three Idylls. The performers include Nicolas Daniel (oboe), Tom Poster (piano) and the Aronowitz Ensemble. A great concert.
The evening concert is given over to a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake with the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre and their conductor Valey Gergiev.

Tuesday 16th August
A big night for British music with a performance of Arnold Bax’s great, but rarely played Second Symphony. A contemporary reviewer wrote in The New York times that 'in this symphony even more than in his first symphony... there is... in the second movement, the Celtic feeling that is characteristic of many of his works; there are themes, there are harmonies of tender, wistful beauty, not free from a pleasing melancholy, but these pages only relieve and enhance the heroic character of the work as a whole, the defiant pages or those of doubt and questioning until there is at the end submission to the inevitable, if not lasting peace. These final pages, artfully simple, leading to silence, are among the most eloquent and impressive in the symphony.'
The remainder of the concert includes Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, Samuel Barber’s ubiquitous Adagio for Strings, Bela Bartok’s Second Piano Concerto and Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No.4 in C major.
Andrew Litton is in charge of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Wednesday 17th August
No British music at tonight’s Prom. However a good selection of works by Russian composers. The first half of the Prom features Shostakovich’s The Age of Gold-suite and his Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor. After the interval Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka is given in the 1947 version followed by Tchaikovsky’s tone poem Francesca da Rimini.

Thursday 18th August
Again, no British music at tonight’s Prom Concert. The first work, Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra is by the Austrian-born composer Thomas Larcher. It is a BBC commission. The reminder of the concert is given over to Anton Bruckner’s massive Symphony no.5.
The late night concert is a jazz-oriented event featuring Hungarian music.

This week has been another fabulous week for lovers of British music. Three important works from Benjamin Britten, Arnold Bax’s superb Second Symphony, Bridge and Britten chamber music and Walton’s Suite from Henry V. But not forgetting Elizabeth Maconchy and Richard Rodney Bennett...

Wednesday 10 August 2011

English Music for Viola on Naxos

It is almost unbelievable, but true, that at the present time there are nine versions of Rebecca Clarke’s fine Viola Sonata in the CD catalogues. Three things spring to mind about this fact. Firstly, this Sonata is a work that fully deserves as much exposure as possible. It is quite definitely a major masterpiece. Secondly, it is an excellent expression of the fact that both British music in general and women’s music in particular, have seen a huge increase in availability over the past two or three decades. Having said that there is much to be done on both accounts. And finally, there is the down side – there are comparatively few Sonatas for viola in the repertoire: any worthy ones are likely to be played much more often by performers than their violin or cello equivalents. This paucity of material also reflects the need of violists to arrange, or have arranged other music for their instrument.

This present CD can be seen as a compilation in two parts. Firstly there are the two sizable works -the Clarke Sonata and the newly discovered Suite by Theodore Holland. Secondly there is a selection of small-scale, but important works by five major names in British music: three of these are arrangements.

I do not want to give a detailed analysis of Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata for Viola and piano. However four comments are worth noting. Firstly this piece is an undoubted work of genius; it does not need repeated hearing to realise that this is one of the great works of the genre.
Secondly, the Sonata was composed in 1919 for the Coolidge Competition. She wrote it under the pseudonym ‘Anthony Trent’. Interestingly, the winner of the first prize was Bloch’s Suite for viola. Thirdly, Rebecca Clarke was not a prolific composer: the only other work of similar size and scope to this Sonata was her 1921 Piano Trio.
And fourthly, the sound world of the Sonata is complex. It would be easy to write this work off as a concatenation of a variety of post-romantic styles. For example the listener will easily detect the influences of Claude Debussy, English folksong, Ravel and the impressionism associated with the Ravel-inspired music of Vaughan Williams. However, I believe the main influence has to be Brahms. Yet the overall impression of this twenty-minute long, three movement sonata cannot be described as a hanging together of other composers’ styles. The total effect is quite definitely Rebecca Clarke’s own.

I was immediately impressed by the two short pieces by William Walton. They are new to me – at least in this particular arrangement by Matthew Jones. The Canzonetta was based on a thirteenth-century Troubadour’s song which the composer had researched for his film score to Henry V. It is not an exact transcription of the song; however the piano does echo the sound of a strumming stringed instrument. The melody is profound and moving. The following Scherzando is also inspired by the troubadour tradition, but is a little spicier than music of that earlier era would have allowed.

Arnold Bax’s Legend for viola and piano is a dark-hued and introspective work that explores the composer’s fascination with the Celtic twilight. It was composed in 1929 for Lionel Tertis whom Bax had met at the Royal Academy of Music. If there is any criticism of the piece it is that for a work lasting some ten minutes, there are many mood changes. This ranges from ‘the downright sinister to the dreamlike’ in the space of a handful of bars. Yet it is a well written piece that exploits the ‘voice’ and technique of the viola. There is no suggestion as to what the ‘legend’ may actually be.

The four Frank Bridge pieces, Berceuse, Sérénade and Elégie, are well known in their original guise for either violin or cello and piano: the final Cradle Song was originally a mezzo-soprano song to words by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. All four numbers work well for the viola and are welcome additions to the repertoire. They were transcribed by Veronica Leigh Jacobs, who was a friend and confidante of Rebecca Clarke.

I had not heard the short Intermezzo by Arthur Bliss before. This miniature was transcribed by Watson Forbes from the middle movement of the composer’s Piano Quartet dating from 1915. Bliss played the viola and also contributed an important Sonata for that instrument. He once described is a ‘the most romantic of the instruments: a veritable Byron in the orchestra’. He added that the viola’s ‘rather restless and tragic personality makes it an ideal vehicle for romantic and oratorical expression.’ The transcription may have been made before the original work was first performed: however it was not published until 1950. It is a light piece that plumbs no great depths, but is attractive, ‘nimble footed’ and melodic. Watson Douglas Buchanan Forbes (1909-1997) although born in Gloucestershire was a Scottish violist and classical music arranger. From 1964 to 1974 he was Head of Music for BBC Scotland.

I have loved the Romance for viola and piano by Ralph Vaughan Williams since first hearing this piece some twenty years ago. The work was discovered amongst the composer’s papers after his death. It was probably composed around the outbreak of the Great War and may have been written for Lionel Tertis. His friendship with Tertis resulted in Flos Campi and the Suite for Viola. Paul Spicer has well described this work as being ‘small in scale but large in dramatic effect.’ It is a fine balance between the pastoral opening and the involved central climax of the work.

For me, the great discovery of this CD is the Suite for Viola and piano by Theodore Holland. I will need to hear this work a number of times and, perhaps, a perusal of the score may help to gain a better understanding of this piece. However on first hearing, this is a fine work that is both attractive and beautiful in its execution. The Suite is in three well-balanced movements that are approachable and satisfying. The mood of the entire suite is typically optimistic however there are some moments of reflection, especially in the ‘romance.’ This is not a derivative work: it is not easy to tie down the influences. Certainly there is little in the way of ‘modernism’ but neither are there any ‘farmers in smocks’.
The opening movement has some of the most involved music that maybe owes something to Bliss’s Viola Sonata. However the tension of the opening bars soon gives way to a more lyrical conversation between soloists.
The Romance is truly lovely with ‘haunting’ but never despairing music. This is passionate, soul searching music that moves the listener. It is almost impossible to hear this movement without being baffled as to why this work has been ignored for so long.
The final ‘allegro vivace’ has a trippy, ‘jazzy’ feel to it, without it being jazz. It is a movement of two parts – the lively outgoing outer sections contrasting with a mysterious, introverted middle section. This Suite in D for viola and piano is certainly one of my major discoveries of 2011 (so far). I hope that Holland’s music can be explored in greater detail in coming years.

This is an excellent CD. The programme is well-balanced, with a good selection of original works and arrangements. The two major pieces are stunningly and convincingly played by Matthew Jones and Michael Hampton: the shorter works are also given enthusiastic and sympathetic performances.
This is essential listening for all chamber music enthusiasts, be they committed to the cause of British music or not. The repertoire of original music for viola and piano is not huge; however this CD disc has presented a few new discoveries to the interested listener. It deserves every success.

Track Listing:
Rebecca CLARKE (1886-1979) Sonata for viola and piano (1919) 
William WALTON (1902-1983) Two Pieces for Viola and Piano (transcribed by Matthew JONES) Canzonetta & Scherzetto (1948-1950) 
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) Four Pieces (transcribed by Veroncia Leigh JACOBS) (1901-10) Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Legend for Viola and piano (1929) 
Arthur BLISS (1891-1975) Intermezzo (transcribed by Watson FORBES (1909-1997)) (1914) Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Romance for Viola and piano (published posth.1962) Theodore HOLLAND (1878-1947) Suite in D for viola and piano (1938)
Matthew Jones (viola) Michael Hampton (piano)
NAXOS 5.572579
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Franz Reizenstein: New Web Site

A very short post today. I am delighted to see that the new Franz Reizenstein website has gone online at:- Franz

Reizenstein is one of the ‘forgotten’ twentieth century composers.’ He was born in Nuremberg in 1911 and studied piano with Leonid Kreutzer and composition with Paul Hindemith. However he came to the United Kingdom in 1934 continued his career in this country under the auspices of Ralph Vaughan Williams and the pianist Solomon. During the Second World War he was interned in the Isle of Man.
After the war, he taught at the Royal Manchester College of Music and in the United States at Boston University.
His works are mainly for chamber ensembles and piano solo; however there are a number of orchestral pieces including a concerto for String Orchestra and a variety of concertos for piano (2), violin and cello. He also wrote the film music for The Mummy (1959) and The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
Unfortunately he has not been well represented in the CD catalogues – Arkiv notes only seven recordings containing his works however, the new website list some 17 discs.

Grove Dictionary has suggested that Franz Reizenstein’s ‘compositional style evinces a synthesis of the contrapuntal vigour and terse motivic process of Hindemith with the lyrical expansiveness of Vaughan Williams and the English tradition’.

So please have a look at this great new website.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Peter Dickinson: Piano Music on Naxos

I cannot quite recall the first piece of music by Peter Dickinson that I heard. Something tells me that it was probably the Three Statements for Organ. At least I have a copy of that work in my library which I recall buying at Biggars Music Shop in Glasgow in the early ‘seventies. However, whatever the piece was, it would hardly prepare the listener for the piano music on the present CD.
I noted in a review of that particular work that ‘they seem to hold a middle ground between improvisation and control. The three pieces use note-clusters, wide melodic leaps and chords built on fourths for their effect. They are interesting, if a little dated in their sound-world.’ Certainly this sound world could not be further removed from the Rags, Blues and Diversions on this CD. Yet in some ways this is typical of the composer.

It is not necessary to give a biography of Peter Dickinson here: I have already given a thumbnail sketch in my review of his complete solo organ works, also released by Naxos. However one point needs to be clearly made. Dickinson is not a composer to be readily classified. Some artists develop linearly: for example Stravinsky with his romantic, neo-classical and serial periods. Other composers write in the same style all their musical careers with only subtle changes of emphasis. Peter Dickinson explores a number of trajectories at one and the same time. Now, I do not claim to know the entire sweep of his compositions, but I do understand that his works cover the gamut from jazz to serialism and from aleatory writing to electronic manipulation and playback. And then there is Ragtime...

The Naxos sleeve notes give a succinct resume of what this CD is all about: - it is simply a collection of his eccentric and often amusing rags, blues and take-offs. Perhaps any danger of taking these works too seriously and trying to ascribe some higher meaning is negated by the word ‘take-off’. Pastiche can be a difficult and sometimes dangerous art. It is often used pejorative by critic in the manner say that Bloggs has written a pastiche of Delius’ in the sense of ‘an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period.’ On the other hand these works are not parodies, which can be defined as ‘an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect’. Pastiches these works may be, but parodies certainly not.

However, the blurb on this CD is on one sense misleading. There are some very serious pieces of music presented here that demands the listener’s full attention. For example, the Paraphrase II which began life as a motet is not really about ragtime, blues or any other popular genre. It is deeply thought out work that is serious intent and execution. In the same manner the Vitalitas Variations, which is the earliest piece on the CD is a work that is not immediately approachable. However, this piece is perhaps one of the most important presented here. In fact, it had another life as a ballet score, having been choreographed by the Mexican dancer Gloria Contreras. There is a chamber and orchestral versions of this work in Dickinson’s catalogue. And certainly the Three Satie Transformations, in spite of being billed as a send-up of a composer who sent up Clementi and others, is actually an extremely effective work in its own right that will hardly make ‘Top of the Pops’, but certainly is attractive, rewarding and often moving.
However, I guess that it is the pieces such as Bach in Blue, the Patriotic Rag, the Wild Rose Rag that will get played on Classic FM (assuming that they ‘discover’ this CD). These are all accomplished examples of the art of pastiche. Perfectly done, never over-stated and never ‘knocking’ or destroying the original models. More serious, but equally approachable are the gorgeous Four Blues which are ‘trance-like versions of hymn-tunes. Perhaps the Five Diversions are a little bit more challenging than the ‘rags’ and are certainly often reflective and introverted but even here the fun and the humour are apparent and lead to a ‘lively and brash ‘ conclusion.

The composer plays all these pieces in a convincing, satisfactory and ultimately enjoyable manner. It is perfectly clear that he is at home as a composer and a performer in this plurality of styles.
As these are mostly ‘World Premiere Recordings’ it is not possible to compare versions. Suffice to say, that virtually any one of these works would make an excellent addition to any concert programme as a main item of perhaps as a novel encore.
This is an excellent CD. However as noted above there is a serious side to what is billed as ‘eccentric and often amusing.’ I like virtually every track on this disc. However I could just about manage to get by without the rags and the blues. The Paraphrase and the Vitalitas are much more enduring and demanding works that deserve to be in the repertoire for all time.

Track Listings:
Peter Dickinson (b.1934)
Wild Rose Rag (1985);Blue Rose (1979);Paraphrase II (1967);Concerto Rag (1980);Quartet Rag (1976); Vitalitas Variations (1957); Three Satie Transformations (1970); Bach in Blue (2004); Hymn-Tune Rag (1985); Patriotic Rag (1986); Four Blues (1973); Five Diversions (1963)
Peter Dickinson (piano)
NAXOS 8.572654
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared

Friday 5 August 2011

Proms Watch 2011 Week 4

This is the fourth of my Proms-Watch analysis of British Music being performed during the 2011 season. This is a rather good week...!

Friday 5th August
This week’s activities (the Proms-week begins on Friday as the First Night was on a Friday) is dedicated to a performance of Gustav Mahler’s massive Symphony No.2 in C minor ‘Resurrection’ played by the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra with their conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Interestingly, this is the second symphony by Mahler performed in four weeks. Would that honour be given to a British Composer...?

Saturday 6th August
The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain features Benjamin Britten’s excellent Piano Concerto with Benjamin Grosvenor as the soloist. This is an excellent choice for a concert dedicated to ‘young people’ and will hopefully allow the audience to see that BB wrote much fine orchestral music as well as his more famous operas and songs. Other works include selections from Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and a certain Gabriel Prokofiev’s Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra. Mr Prokofiev is a London-born composer who ‘has produced Dance, Electro & Hip-hop music under a variety of different guises.’
So a great night for British composers.
At the late night Prom, Nigel Kennedy performs music by J.S. Bach.

Sunday 7th August
On Sunday listeners have yet another opportunity to hear Mahler. This time it is his Das klagende Lied in the original version. This is coupled with Christian Tetzlaff playing the solo part of Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major. The BBC Singers and the BBC Symphony Orchestra along with a galaxy of soloists are conducted by Edward Gardner.
So no British music tonight. And someone at ‘Auntie’ seems to have a soft spot for Gustav Mahler!

Monday 8th August
Khatia Buniatishvili plays Franz Liszt and Sergei Prokofiev at the lunchtime time concert at the Cadogan Hall. This includes Liszt’ great Piano Sonata in B minor.
The evening concert has no British music. However it is a great night of Scandinavian music. Three major works are given by one Finnish, one Norwegian and one Danish composer, Sibelius, Grieg and Nielsen respectively. Pity they could not have found a work by a Swedish composer to truly reflect the ‘extended’ Scandinavian region. And what about Iceland?
Naturally there is no British music tonight.

Tuesday 9th August
Things get much better today! Simon Holt, a North Countryman born in Bolton, Lancashire is represented by the London Premiere of Centauromachy. I have no idea what this will sound like, but the augers seem to suggest that it will be an excellent piece of music. Certainly it would appear to be a million miles away from minimalism and ‘pop’ crossover.
I am delighted that Frank Bridge’s orchestral masterpiece Enter Spring is being given an outing tonight. This is one of the finest tone poems in any musical tradition.
This work is sunny, turbulent, colourful, exuberant and melancholic all in the space of twenty minutes. At the end of the work spring is truly ushered in.
And an extra piece by Bridge too – ‘Blow Out you Bugles’ set for tenor and orchestra.
Other works in this concert include Saint Saëns’s massive ‘Organ’ Symphony and Marcel Dupré’s Cortege and Litany played by the organist Thomas Trotter.

Wednesday 10th August
The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s evening is devoid of any British music. However there are a number of fine works Perhaps the highlight of the evening is Sergei Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony in E minor. However, it is good to hear Franz Liszt’s tone poem Mazepa and Reinhold Glière’s rarely performed Concerto for Coloratura Soprano with Ailish Tynan.
The late night Prom is devoted to music by the American, Steve Reich.

Thursday 11th August
British music all the way tonight with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestras concert. Vassily Sinaisky conducts works by Elgar, Holst and Bridge. The only interloper is Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 3 which is a realisation of his Violin Concerto by Dejan Lazic for piano and orchestra. I do wonder why he bothered? Are there not enough great piano concertos in this world?
The concert gets off to an excellent start with Frank Bridge’s Overture: Rebus which dates from the year before the composer’s death. It is supposed to portray how a rumour spreads. This is a romantic and stylish work that is truly worthy of the composer. It is certainly not in the ‘modernist’ style of his late string quartets or Piano Sonata.
After the interval Julian Lloyd-Webber plays the solo part of Gustav Holst’s Invocation.
The concert concludes with a performance of Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations. I wonder what the encore will be?

This week has been a great week for British music enthusiasts, with three works by Frank Bridge, Britten’s Piano Concerto, a Simon Holt premiere, Elgar’s 'Friends Pictured Within' and a rarely heard piece of Gustav Holst. Well done!

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Granville Bantock: The Witch of Atlas

The Witch of Atlas (Tone Poem No.5) has been one of my favourite Granville Bantock tone poems – since first hearing it on Hyperion. I recently found this review of the work’s full-score in the Musical Times and feel that it is well worth quoting. It is hard to imagine how such a wonderfully beautiful work can be virtually ignored by the world of classical music.
The Witch of Atlas was first performed at Worcester during the Three Choirs Festival in 10 September 1902.

“Mr. Bantock is one of the most industrious of composers. His facility seems remarkable even in these days of technique run riot. The work under notice is programme music of the most pronounced type, the full score which lies before us containing long quotations from Shelley's poem. The music must consequently be judged as programme music pure and simple, and no other standard should be applied.
It is essentially one of those modern works in which beautiful orchestration ‘per se’ must be regarded as a valuable asset. It is here carried to such a pitch of perfection, the orchestral colour is so beautiful in itself and so successful in its suggestion of poetical ideas, that it can be enjoyed on its own account and defended as an end in itself, instead of merely a means to an end.
Shelley’s poem presents a composer with a 'programme' after Mr. Bantock's own heart. Such lines as-
'Tis said she first was changed into a vapour,
And then into a cloud, such clouds as flit,
Like splendour-winged moths about a taper,
Round the red West when the sun dies in it... for, and at the hands of our composer receive, very delicate and fanciful treatment. Sustained pp chords for trumpets, trombones, and tuba (all muted), soft harp arpeggios, persistent, fluttering little string figures pp above gently-sustained melodic phrases for oboe, horn, solo violin, and solo viola, produce a piece of exquisite colour and poetic suggestiveness. In great contrast to this delicate conception stands the Marziale con anima illustrating
the words:-
And then she called out of the hollow turrets
Of those high clouds, white, golden and vermilion,
The armies of her ministering spirits--
In mighty legions, million after million.
Here the composer produces sonorous effects, such as Liszt and Tschaikovsky loved. We have the same reiteration and sequential treatment of one-bar phrases, the same rushing chromatic scale passages in tutti strings, or tutti wood-wind, the same rhythmical energy which may mean a great deal or nothing at all, according to the listener's views on programme music. Fortunately Mr. Bantock is not without a keenly-developed sense of beauty, and though in this symphonic poem his colour-sense is more markedly in evidence than that of thematic beauty, we do not mean to imply that the work is all colour, et praeterea nihil [and nothing more]. A long-drawn melody of considerable beauty is developed at some length in the section describing how Old Silenus is 'teased' by Driope and Faunus to 'sing them something new,' and how they
...found the lady lone,
Sitting upon a seat of emerald stone.
Then again, at the words (we must use the terms generally applicable to a choral work) ‘For she was beautiful: her beauty made the bright world dim,' etc., we meet with much that charms and interests, both melodically and harmonically, apart from all considerations of orchestral colour. Taken as a whole the work is a notable effort in a direction towards which modern music seems to trend, and conductors who appreciate a poetic and convincing musical interpretation of a beautiful poem, and a masterpiece of orchestral scoring, may be recommended to give Mr. Bantock's work a hearing.'
The Musical Times 1 February 1904 (with minor edits)