Monday 30 July 2012

The Music of Lionel Monckton: An Excellent Introduction

I first heard Lionel Monckton’s music many years ago – it was the enchanting ‘Charming Weather’ from The Arcadians, which is included in this excellent retrospective of the composer’s music. Many years later, I came across the Overture to the same opera – this was issued on ASV as one of the series of British Light Overtures conducted by Gavin Sutherland.  I have to confess that I have never gotten around to hearing the entire operetta.  However, there are a couple of well-regarded editions currently available. It is a project for the future.
The present CD includes a generous selection from three of the composer’s best-known works: Cingalee, The Arcadians and The Quaker Girl.

A brief note about Lionel John Alexander Monckton may be of interest He was born in London in 1861. His father Sir John was a town clerk and his mother Maria was an ‘amateur’ actress. After studying at Charterhouse School and Oriel College, Oxford he pursued a career as a lawyer. However, he turned to music and began to write songs and review operas.  Soon Monckton turned his hand to writing theatre scores, in particular for the Gaiety Theatre and its director George Edwardes. Successes (apart from the three highlighted on this CD) included The Spring Chicken, Our Miss Gibbs, The Girls of Gottenberg, A Country Girl and The Dancing Mistress.
After the Great War, he refused to reinvent his compositional style to include jazz, ragtime and other American dance music. After contributing some numbers for the then-popular revues, he gave up composing.  Lionel Monckton died in 1923 London, aged 62.
The format of this CD is interesting. Most ‘selections’ from operas and operettas tend to reflect the batting order of the score/libretto.  In this present CD Mart Sander has decided to order the numbers so as to provide a continuous, but always satisfying and attractive ‘narrative-less’ presentation of the music. The plot of each operetta is largely irrelevant to this CD; however, a few observations may not go amiss.

Cingalee or Sunny Ceylon dates from 1904.  The action takes place in Harry Vereker’s Tea Plantation and in Boobhamba palace.  It concerns a young lady who resists the attention of the potentate and who wishes to remain a tea-girl.’  The music is attractive, however the plot seems weak and there are certain sentiments that may have been appropriate in colonial days but no logger seem quite so witty. However the music is consistently good.
The Arcadians (1910) is Monckton’s best-known work.  The plot revolves round innocent folk from a faraway land who are ‘infected’ by a crashed aviator who introduces ugliness, lies and jealously to these happy people. The Arcadians are appalled by the stories of London life and decide to visit the city themselves.  Fortunately, all ends up happily – with the aviator back in ‘The Smoke’ and the Arcadians in their paradise.
Finally, there is The Quaker Girl, which was first heard at the Adelphi Theatre, London on 5th Novemeber 1910. It concerns the dichotomy between a dour Quaker community with the high-life of Parisian society. Its most famous number was 'Come to the Ball'.   The ‘girl’ eventually ends up in the USA with her admirer Tony Chute.

The general musical sound world of Monckton is ‘sub’ Sullivan. This does not mean that the music is second rate or lacks craftsmanship – simply that the style and the plots owe something to the genius of G&S. Occasionally, there are ‘patter songs’: for example the fine ‘Back your Fancy’ from The Arcadians. What is typically lacking is the wit and subtlety of the earlier duo. Yet the music is full of attractive tunes, evocative, if retro, sentiments in the librettos and a good balance between solo, ensemble and chorus. There is a sense of fun from virtually the first note to the last.

Divine Arts Recording Group has made a major contribution to British Light Opera with this fine exploration of Lionel Monckton’s music. I noted in an earlier review of the same group’s release of Herman Finck’s music that they have managed ‘to capture the mood and the spirit of the Edwardian and Georgian times’. Other reviewers have noted the ‘Germanic’ and ‘Michigan’ accents as opposed to that of ‘Mayfair in the performance of these numbers. However, true as this may be, it is a trifling matter. The enunciation, clarity and mood are near-perfect. Besides, my ‘Estonian’ is not so dusty.

The performers, led by Mart Sander are all members of the Bel-Etage Theatre in Tallinn, which was itself an old music hall.  In addition, let us not forget the orchestra who make such an important contribution to the success oft his disc.

I was delighted by the sound quality of this CD: the ambiance is ideally suited to this kind of music. The CD liner notes include the texts of all the number recorded, alongside the briefest of synopses of each operetta. One small point – I found the text difficult to read –in both size and the fact that some of it is printed on a blue background.   

I was recently reading Alan Hyman’s Sullivan & his Satellites where he outlines the achievements of a large number of lesser mortals than G&S.  These include, Sidney Jones, Edward German, Frederic Clay and (although not specifically noted there) Montague Phillips. Surely all these composers have material that would be grist to the mill for this outstanding ensemble? 

Track Listing:
Lionel MONCKTON (1861-1923) 
La Cingalee (1904) 
The Arcadians (1909) 
Quaker Girl (1910) 
Pirjo Levandi (sop), Jeanne Servchenco (sop), Mariliina von Uexküll (sop), Julie Lill (cont), 
Oliver Kuusik (ten), Annika Tonuri (mezzo sop), Mart Sander (bar) 
Chorus and Bel-Etage orchestra/Mart Sander 
DIVINE ART 2-4110 [69:08]
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Friday 27 July 2012

The Thomas Dunhill Connection: a great new Website devoted to the composer.

Thomas Dunhill is a composer with whom I can do business. For over forty-odd years many of his attractive piano pieces have never been far from my side. And it is not just because some of them are relatively easy to play!
Over recent years a number of the composer’s larger works have appeared on CD including the Violin Sonata, the B minor Piano Quartet, the overture to Tantivy Towers and perhaps, most importantly, the Symphony in A minor. Dunhill’s son David has written the only biography of the composer to be published so far. It is a fascinating tale, but of necessity it is not a comprehensive study of the man and his music.

The critic Marion Scott described Dunhill’s music (in 1922): “as companionable as the South Downs on a sunny day”. Vincent writes that ‘…working across many styles and genres, his formidable knowledge of the classical composers as well as first-hand experience of the leading musical influences of his day, informed Dunhill’s oeuvre which is characterised by fine melody and exceptional workmanship’.

Unfortunately, Thomas Dunhill suffers from being best known for a single song – ‘Cloths of Heaven’ from the song-cycle The Wind among the Reeds, Op. 30. It is a beautiful piece but belies the composer’s huge achievement.

Paul Vincent (a grandson of the composer) in his new website seeks to remedy this perception by creating an impressive selection of web pages. It promises to be progressively more in-depth as time allows. 
Vincent has written that ‘The Thomas Dunhill Connection encourages interest in the work of composer Thomas F. Dunhill (1877 – 1946) and the musical world he inhabited’. He hopes that ‘it will be a useful resource for students, musicians, musicologists – and anyone interested in the cultural life of Britain from the late Victorian period through to the end of the 2nd World War.’

Fortunately the Dunhill scholar has a superb resource in so far as the composer maintained a diary for most of his life. Vincent has promised to provide quotes and extracts from these in the coming months.
The website already includes samples of the composer’s music, biographical material, a listing of compostions and a selection of historic texts. There is an excellent short biography which allows the reader a good introduction to the composer’s life and works.

The Thomas Dunhill Connection can be accessed here.  [Dead Link at 27 July 2018]

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Frank Merrick: Composer, Pianist and Teacher – a short biopic.

Following the MusicWeb International’s publication of my review of Christopher Howell’s excellent release of piano music, An Englishman in Italy, I was delighted to see that the editor had appended a short biography of Frank Merrick (1886-1981).  His ‘Tarantella’, op.5 appears on the second of Howell’s two CD set.   I noted in that review that relatively little is known about the composer, however, based on his thrilling ‘Tarantella’ ... I believed that he deserves further exploration. This is an interesting ‘first step.’
MusicWeb international have given me kind permission to reprint this short note.

Frank Merrick (1886-1981) Pianist and teacher. His parents were musically inclined. His father (1854 - 1941) was also a D. Mus, Dublin, and had the same Christian name. His mother was Irish. Both parents were his first music teachers. In 1898 they passed the young Merrick into the hands of the famous Theodor Leschetizky (1830 - 1915) at Vienna with whom Merrick stayed until 1901 working with Leschetizky's assistant, Malwine Brée. Returned for further tuition with Leschetizky in 1905. M. Mus. Bristol. FRCM. FTCL. Merrick's first concert was given at Clifton, Bristol in November 1895 in aid of Barnardo's Homes. He made his first London concert appearance in March 1903 at the Bechstein Hall. He also toured as accompanist with Clara Butt. Toured Australia in 1907. In 1911 he married the composer, pianist and teacher Hope Squire, a pupil of Dohnanyi. Later re-married. Professor at the Royal Manchester College of Music from 1910 to 1929.

During the First World War he was imprisoned as a conscientious objector at Wormwood Scrubs. He used his time in prison to teach himself Esperanto. In 1929 he moved to the staff of the RCM remaining there until 1956 when he was employed at Trinity College of Music.
On 15.10.1933 Merrick gave the first performance of John Foulds' Dynamic Triptych for piano and orchestra with the Reid Orchestra conducted by Sir Donald Tovey. On 4.8.1933 he gave the first broadcast performance of the Dynamic Triptych with the BBC Orchestra under Sir Dan Godfrey. He was amongst the first pianists to broadcast for the BBC from Savoy Hill.

The Prize which Merrick won for his two movement completion of the Schubert Unfinished Symphony recognised the straightforward and simple treatment of the task undertaken and of Merrick's love and respect for Schubert. Grove comments also on the successful imitation of Schubert's style and idiom. He edited a students’ edition of Chopin's works. He also prepared accompaniments in contemporary style to sonatas for violin and figured bass by Veracini, in D minor and E minor, and by Purcell in G minor.

His tastes in music he performed was wide although he specialised in modern music including Prokofiev, Ireland and Bax. Bax dedicated his Paean to Merrick. He studied and gave concert performances with his first wife of many rarely heard works for two pianos. Merrick gave the first performances in this country of Prokofiev's Piano Sonatas 2 to 7. Later he recorded the 3rd and 4th Sonatas for the Frank Merrick Society.

John Field was another composer whose works he championed. His interest in Field dated from 1937 when Beecham's secretary asked Merrick to investigate the Field concertos. Merrick recorded Field's Sonata in C minor and a Nocturne in the late 1930s. In the late 1960s he recorded all the Field Piano Concertos, Nocturnes and other works for Rare Recorded Editions. His completion of the Schubert Unfinished was recorded once by RPO/Stanford Robinson on 78 and also on LP for the Frank Merrick Society.

The various records he made late in life only intermittently reflect the depth and brilliance of his technique and artistic insight. The best of these were issued by the Merrick Record Association between 1961 and 1965. He also made a notable series of records for the Concert Artists label of the Bax Violin Sonatas with Henry Holst. He made records of his two piano concertos with semi-professional orchestras for Rare Recorded Editions (SRRE 156 conductor Oliver Broome and anonymous orchestra and SRRE 128 Beckenham Orchestra and John Foster) and of his Bonny Bluebell Variations. He recorded a selection of his songs to English and Esperanto texts with the soprano Stella Wright on Rare Recorded Editions. With Michael Round he recorded initially for Cabaletta, Bax's music for two pianos and Vaughan Williams’ The Running Set. Merrick was also a teacher and counted Rawsthorne amongst his piano pupils. Published a book, Practising The Piano. He was a vegetarian and a total abstainer from alcohol. CBE 1979. Lived at 5, Horbury Crescent, London.

Works List
Chorus of Echoes for unaccompanied chorus (from Shelley's Prometheus Unbound)
Orchestra: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat (1901); Piano Concerto No. 2 in E minor; Symphony in D minor (1912); Celtic Suite for small orchestra (1920, Blackburn 1923 / Bournemouth Dec 1923); Scherzo and Finale for Schubert's Unfinished Symphony (1923?, the winner in the British division of the Columbia Gramophone Schubert Centenary Competition); Overture; A Dream Pageant for strings; Overture for military band;
Chamber: Trio in F sharp minor for piano, violin and cello;
Piano: Piano Sonata; An Ocean Lullaby; Variations on a Somerset Folk-Song, The Bonny Bluebell; Rhapsody in C minor; Paraphrase (in the Bach style) on a Somerset Folk-Song, Hares on the Mountains; (the last four items listed under this heading were included in a programme which gained a Diploma of Honour at the International Rubinstein Competition, Petrograd in August 1910);
Song: various, including The Four Seasons; The Well; The Black rider; Lullaby; Snow; A Summer Night; and October. Some of the songs set Esperanto texts.
Frank Merrick (a draft entry with acknowledgement to Grove V)

Sunday 22 July 2012

An Englishman in Italy: British Piano Music inspired by Italy: Part 2

Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) has been revived to a certain extent in recent years. His Violin Concerto was an important discovery from a few years ago. Hyperion recently released his excellent Piano Concerto in A minor and the concerted Normandy Variations. The Symphony ‘Thalassa’ has recently been released on Cameo Classic (CC9034CD). The present work is a tiny Tarantella, which is such a typically Italian dance. It has a largely classical rather than a romantic or ‘modern’ mood.

Maude Valerie White (1863-1937) is the only English-woman in Italy presented here. Her four sketches From the Ionian Sea is a fascinating discovery. The first two pieces, a Pastorale and a ‘Canzone di Taormina’ are [possibly] based on Sicilian folk-tunes, whilst the Tarantella is original. The final piece, ‘Land of the Almond Blossom’ is dedicated to HRH The Prince of Wales –who was later Edward VIII.  It is a lovely romantic little number. The entire set of sketches is well-crafted and is a pleasure to hear.

Edward German’s ‘Tarantella’ is a fine example of this genre. It is quite romantic and definitely Italian in its sound world. In fact Christopher Howell has suggested that ‘the introduction provides an uncanny presage of young Italians revving up their motorbikes while waiting on the traffic lights to change.’

Relatively little is known about composer and pianist Frank Merrick (1886-1981). However, based on his thrilling ‘Tarantella’ (yet another example of this infectious dance) I believe that he deserves further exploration.
Ernest Markham Lee is one of those composers, who like Alec Rowley, Felix Swinstead and Thomas Dunhill, the aspiring pianist used to come across in their ‘grades.’ Even today, it is not surprising to find his music on sale in second-hand bookshops. Lee’s music often had picturesque titles that did not always live up to their name. The present offering of Nights in Venice is a comely work that is certainly not ‘virtuosic’ yet neither is it trite.  The opening ‘Southern Skies –Nocturne’ is for me the highlight of this Suite. ‘Carnival’ balances the dichotomy between the gay and the sinister aspects of this great Venetian festival. The finale, ‘On the Lagoon’ is Oh so very short. This is beautiful music. On a serious note, Markham Lee’s son had been killed in action in Italy during the Great War – so there may well be hidden depths behind the seeming light music mood of much of this music.

Many years ago I bought a second-hand copy of Eaton Fanning’s fine Sorrento- Danza in modo di Tarantella. Alas, when I got it home and tried to play it I found two problems. It was too difficult and that most of the pages were missing. I booked it down to experience and the loss of ‘five bob.’ Therefore it is good to meet up with this piece all these years later.  Howell notes minor allusions to Elgar’s Overture: In the South and Richard Strauss’ Aus Italien. It is a good call.  Lookout for the attractive whole tone scales and rich chromaticism... Finally I was right back then – this piece is no cinch.

Henry Geehl is better known to enthusiasts of brass band music. He is known to have scored Holst’s A Moorside Suite for that genre.  A whiff of ‘scandal’ exists in so far as Geehl claimed that he arranged Edward Elgar’s Severn Suite for the same medium. However, this has been disputed: a complete brass band score in Elgar’s hand has been discovered. Anyhow, there is no dispute that Geehl wrote a deal for piano including this ravishing The Bay of Naples Suite. To be fair it is light music rather than a Ravelian impressionistic picture of the region. However, the four pieces are enjoyable: my personal favourite is the opening ‘Moonlight on the Bay of Naples.’ The ‘Canzonetta’ is also attractive and the ‘Serenade d’amour’ is melodic and serves it purpose as the romantic slow movement.  The final ‘Tambour Dance’ is fun to listen to. I must get a hold of the music – it might just be in my gift to play this.

I think that Rappllo is the first piece of music by Ronald Swaffield (1889-1962) that I have heard. I have listed the pieces published by him on my ‘blog’. Unlike the Geehl, this work is impressionistic. It ‘describes’ the Ligurian seas-side resort in a most picturesque and romantic number. Alongside Ravel, Howell notes Warlock and Moeran as possible influences on the harmonic structure of this work. It was composed in 1937.

The last tarantella is actually called ‘Tarantula’ and is provided by Cyril Scott. It is a masterpiece of virtuosic piano sound. It certainly presents mental images of the ‘beastie’ that the dance was meant to have originally been a cure or protection against.

I am delighted that Christopher Howell has chosen to record some pieces by Harry Farjeon. This composer joins that huge rank of ‘unjustly forgotten.’ Farjeon’s contribution to piano music is two-fold. Firstly, he has written a considerable amount of picturesquely titled pieces that capture the imagination. Many of these numbers are within the ability of the so-called ‘gifted amateur.’ However, he is never condescending to lesser mortals. Every one of his works that I have heard or played through is genuinely musical and is technically competent -irrespective of its difficulty. Secondly, Farjeon has contributed a number of major works including an (apparently) splendid piano concerto and a fine Piano Sonata. He is a composer that at the very least deserves at one retrospective CD.  The two works (five numbers) that are heard on this CD adequately proves my point above.
Having recently been to Venice, I warmed to Farjeon’s impressionistic studies of life in the Lagoon –Three Venetian Idylls, Op.20.  The first piece is a reflective ‘Nocturne’ – which is simply gorgeous. No Venetian musical picture would be complete without the ‘barcarolle’ with its watery sound. Once again Farjeon hits the mark: this is so Italian that you could lick the ice-cream off the music. The final ‘Valse Fugitive’ is introverted, however, it is beautiful. In fact there is a sense of the ‘nocturne’ about all these pieces. One of my favourites on this CD.
The pianist gives us another taste of Harry’s (did he know the Bar, I wonder) view of the Barcarolle. This time he presents a sophisticated, almost ‘cocktail bar’ style of music. I love every bar of this dishy, romantic piece.
The last two pieces on this release are also by Farjeon –the Two Italian Sketches for piano duet. These are perhaps the most enigmatic pieces in this recital. The first is ‘On the Water’ – it could almost be describing the progress of one of the unique funereal gondolas occasionally seen in Venice. The second piece is the brittle ‘On the Road’.  It is possibly a nod towards the great Italian composer Alfredo Casella.

This new double-CD from SHEVA is essential listening for all enthusiasts of English piano music. But it goes further than this. These discs present a number of undoubted ‘minor masterpieces.’ If they had been composed by a ‘continental’ composer (with a French or a German name) they may have retained a place in the repertoire.
There is always a danger when approaching repertoire that is unknown or is unjustifiably deemed unworthy, to ‘ham up’ the performance. Some performers may adopt a condescending approach to interpretation. They could over-sentimentalise or over-state some of the obvious musical clichés that some of these works display. I guess that I think of the ‘English’ Liszt Sydney Smith. However, Christopher Howell (assisted by Emanno De Stefani in the piano duets) takes all these pieces seriously.
This CD is excellent value at £15 and can be purchased through MusicWeb International.  There is a grand total of 146 minutes of music presented here. The quality of the sound is excellent. The liner notes by Howell are essential reading: I suggest that the listener peruse each note before approaching the pieces.

I have two aspirations for English (British) piano music. The first is that recitalists begin to take up the ‘masterworks.’ These include the ‘big’ sonatas by Frank Bridge, John Ireland, Cyril Scott, Benjamin Dale, Arthur Bliss, Leo Livens and Harry Farjeon. One can point to the sterling work in this direction by Mark Bebbington, Peter Jacobs, Eric Parkin and Ashley Wass. However there is a restricted availability of English piano pieces presented at recitals as opposed to CDs.  Secondly, I wish that every pianist would include at least one piece by a relatively unknown composer in every recital that they play. Even if this piece is deemed to be a ‘teaching’ piece it may still be worthy. For example, I can play (battle through) a fair few pieces by Harry Farjeon, Ernest Markham Lee and Edward German. However it would be lovely to hear ‘definitive’ performances of these works. So amongst the Rachmaninoff, the Chopin and the Brahms an occasional number by Sydney Smith, Cyril Scott, Henry Geehl, Alec Rowley and Thomas Dunhill may be heard.
Meanwhile Christopher Howell has made a sterling effort at introducing a ‘lost’ repertoire to the interested musical public.  It is a worthy cause. Let us hope that he is not merely a voice crying in the wilderness.
I hope that SHEVA will explore many more pieces by these (and other) forgotten British composers.  Christopher Howell knows that he can always ask me for a thousand and one suggestions – although I think that he may well have a fair few numbers up his sleeve… 

Friday 20 July 2012

An Englishman in Italy: British Piano Music inspired by Italy: Part 1

The significance of this CD is way beyond what a brief perusal of the track-listings would suggest. I imagine that to most non-specialist listeners the names of the composers will be just that. Names. A few enthusiasts of British music may well have come across the relatively recent Hyperion disc of Francis Edward Bache’s fine Piano Concerto or the English Piano Trio’s reading of the same composer’s eponymous work. Organists will have heard of William Wolstenholme.  Nearly everyone will know Edward German, even if it is only the fact that he wrote an opera called Merrie England. Other names may have been glimpsed in piles of music on sale in second-hand music shops.

However, it is the generally unknown quantities of most of the composers and virtually all of the musical works presented that makes this a special (and exciting) recording.

All recitalists are aware of their market. Some may be able to play exactly what they want to play. Generally, they will have to choose repertoire that is likely to appeal to the widest possible range of concertgoers. This means that most programmes of music are made up of the so-called ‘greats.’ I guess few recitals will pass muster unless there is a smattering of Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov and Debussy.  Naturally, there will be many concerts featuring the sonatas of Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. However, these are often very limited in their explorations. Certain ‘popular’ works are heard with wearying regularity. Evenings devoted to Bach, Haydn and Schumann tend to be largely predictably in their repertoire. Sometimes there are surveys of uncharted territory, but these are often balanced by ‘warhorses.’  Yet, when pianists turn to British music for their recitals the range of repertoire is even more limited.  One may include the John Ireland and Frank Bridge Sonatas and that is about it. Rarely are there miniatures, tone pictures or suites heard from these composers or from their less-well-known compatriots. What is extremely unusual is to have an extensive recital of British piano music garnered from the breadth of English piano music repertoire, including composers who are largely forgotten – or were never really known in the first place. This CD sets out to remedy this omission.

In the early nineteenth century, travel became a more realistic proposition for tourists to explore the sights and sounds of Europe and even further afield. This coincided with a revived appreciation of ‘the picturesque value of the former classical world.’  There were large numbers of artists, writers, historians and the downright curious who chose to make their way to Italy and to Greece. The reader may think of Lord Byron, Robert Browning, J.M.W. Turner, John Henry Newman and John Ruskin. In later years novelists such as E.M Forester, D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley were ‘intrigued by the clash of civilisations that tended to accompany the British tourist as he (or she) roamed the Italian cities and countryside’.  Naturally, this freedom was only available to certain groups of people. Most folk still did not travel further than Hampstead Heath or Heaton Park for their unwaged holidays.

Christopher Howell believes that it would have been good to find a musical counterpart to these Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian tourists. Alas there is no evidence that this is the case. For example, there is no equivalent of Franz Liszt’s magisterial Années de Pèlerlinage. However, we do know that Elgar visited Italy, Parry the South of France and Arthur Sullivan travelled extensively in Europe. Yet, amongst the pages of forgotten and yellowing scores, there are many works that have taken Italy as their inspiration. Whether the composer ever actually visited the country or got no further than a café-bar in Soho is largely irrelevant. It is the impression on the listener that is the most important factor.
For this recording Christopher Howell has explored a huge range of music to find this collection of ‘genre pieces.’

The major work on this double-CD set is Francis Edward Bache’s impressive cycle of music entitled Souvenirs d’Italie. This is the nearest that any composer on these CDs has come to emulating the Liszt master-work referred to above – at least in concept if not quite in technical and emotional achievement.  This collection of eight pieces is worthy of both composer and pianist.  The various numbers are certainly conservative’ in their musical language –looking towards Mendelssohn and John Field: Liszt and Chopin are also present in these pages.  The other influences that Howell notes (Steibelt, Dussek and Woelfl) may suggest that Bache is writing pastiche. Yet this would be a wrong assumption. This is a successful collection of pieces that is wholly self-consistent. It is a work that I would like to spend more time listening to and studying. Finally, I do hope that Christopher Howell may one day choose to record Bache’s ‘companion’ piece to this suite – the evocatively titled Souvenirs de Torquay.
The composer William Vincent Wallace is in this compilation by default. He was born in Waterford, Ireland in 1814 and died in Château de Bagen, Sauveterre de Comminges, near Barbazon, Haute Garonne, France. For much of his life he travelled the world giving recitals composing music and generally having adventures. He latterly became (?) an American citizen. Wallace is probably best known for his opera Maritana (1845).
Two of the three works presented here are transcriptions of operatic numbers. The first is based on Gaetano Donizetti’ aria ‘Ange si pur’ from La Favourite. The second is the exciting Fantasia de Salon sur Motifs de Lucrezia Borgia by the same composer. Both works pass the ‘Liszt’ test, as Howell has called it: if you did not know the source of the music, you would hardly guess where it was derived. Each is a worthy piece of music even when divorced from their context. The first piece by Wallace is the La Gondola: Souvenir de Venice (Nocturne) with the inevitable ‘water’ lapping at the sides of this ever so stereotypical mode of transport. However it is a well-wrought piece.
Edward Sydney Smith (1839-1889) is known (where at all) for his huge contribution to so-called salon music in the mid 1800’s. I first came across his invariably difficult music in the Star Folio Series of Piano Music. I could not play these pieces then and am still beaten by them today. His music is highly technical (if clichéd), using a variety of pianistic devices that owe much to Liszt and Chopin. The four works presented here are typical of his art. They are all musically effective and largely enjoyable. It is a pity the so little of his music is available on CD.  Perhaps the most impressive is the short Morceau de Concert-Danse Napolitane. However, I did especially enjoy the romantic Siesta-Reverie.
The first CD closes with a very short piano duet by William Wolstenholme (1865-1931): the ‘lilting’ and wistful waltz ‘Venice’ is a pure delight.

Track Listing:
Francis Edward BACHE (1833-1858) Souvenirs d'Italie, op.19 
William WALLACE (1814-1865) La Gondola - Souvenir de Venise (Nocturne); Ange sì Pur - Romance de "La Favorite", transcribed; Fantasia de Salon sur Motifs de Lucrezia Borgia Sydney SMITH (1839-1859) I Pifferari - Musette Moderne, op.183; Siesta - Reverie, op.180; Sérénade Vénitienne, op.201; Danse Napolitaine - Morceau de Concert, op.33 William WOLSTENHOLME(1865-1931) Venice; Arthur SOMERVELL (1863-1937) Tarantella in A minor 
Maude WHITE (1855-1937) From the Ionian Sea - Four Sketches 
Edward GERMAN (1862-1936) Tarantella Harry FARJEON (1878-1948) Three Venetian Idylls, op.20; Barcarolle; *Two Italian Sketches 
Frank MERRICK (1886-1981) Tarantella, op.5
Ernest Markham LEE (1874-1956) Nights in Venice 
Eaton FANING (1850-1927) Sorrento - Danza in modo di Tarantella 
Henry GEEHL (1881-1961) The Bay of Naples - Italian Suite
Ronald SWAFFIELD (1889-1962)Rapallo 
Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970) Tarantula
Christopher Howell (piano) with Ermanno de Stefani (piano II)

To be continued...

Tuesday 17 July 2012

A Performance of Cox & Box in Japan, 1870

The second part of the performance [1] consisted of the ‘Truimviretta, Cox and Box,’ with Mr. Arthur Sullivan's music. This was produced in London in 1867 [2] at a house well known in musical circles, where the writer was fortunate enough to hear the first representation of it. The farce, of course, everyone knows. But very few know the charming music to which Arthur Sullivan's genius has married it. This music belongs entirely to the English school, but is full of the traces of German influence; not as alienating the writer from the paths in which he so gracefully walks, but in making them broader, and enriching them with ornaments hardly known to his predecessors, and utterly beyond the reach of the wretched crowd of song writers whose inane impositions pass with the bulk of the English nation as music. Of these people, it is impossible to write with the semblance of patience, and until we can root them out, and sow some good musical seed in the English mind, we shall be liable to the terrible infliction of their maudlin and irritating impertinencies. Nothing is better calculated to do this than Sullivan's music. He is always graceful and easy, full of fine and delicate feeling, his transitions are unexpected but never startling, his modulations are ingenious without being laboured. His pathos, as well as his humour, is real. The first does not depend on a meaningless minor note, thrown in for want of any real means of touching the heart; and the latter as little depends upon an allegro, which, if the time were changed, would make a feeble vapid adagio. His music reflects the sensibilities of a man of deep and keen feeling. He has acquired the resources of Germans by conscientious study, and he uses them with the most tasteful discretion, without ostentation or pedantry. His simplicity never becomes weakness; and when he rises, he does so without effort, or danger of becoming laboured and obscure.
It appears to us that in the performance of this piece, more of the dialogue should have been omitted, and only just so much of it retained, as would serve for a thread on which to string the charming shells of Sullivan's music, and we strongly recommend this when it is again brought forward.
The piece is opened by an overture, very sensibly unambitious, but very vigorous and effective, commencing in the key of G minor, and passing by an easy transition into that of G major. The first song, Rataplan, is allotted to Bouncer, [3] metamorphosed in this version from the traditional female lodging-house keeper of the original farce into an old Army Sergeant, who extends the same offices to the rival printer and hatter. Bouncer's song is an ‘allegretto marziale’ in the key of F minor, in which he recalls his brilliant days in Her Majesty's horse, and it was sung with capital effect by Mr. Fredericks. It is full of spirit and clever writing, and terminates in the major key with admirable effect. This is succeeded, after a short interval of dialogue, by a duet— ‘Stay Bouncer, Stay,’ in which Box upbraids his landlord with the mysterious disappearance of his coals and other things as dear to him, which become small by degrees and beautifully less. It is charmingly written, and terminates with an ‘allegro militario,’ in which Bouncer asserts his rough military honesty to a constant refrain of ‘Rataplan,’ while Cox throws some doubts upon it, which are justified by the state of his cupboard and coalscuttle. This is followed in due order by Box's song of ‘Lullaby,’ addressed to his rasher, which he leaves on the coals while he takes a nap preliminary to his main sleep. This little song is as tender and graceful, as if it had been addressed as a serenade by a lover to his mistress under her casement. It was beautifully sung by Mr. Roderick, but produced less applause than he was justly entitled to for his excellent reading of it. It would occupy too much of our space and our readers patience to analyse the whole piece, and we must pass over much that well deserves analysis and would certainly extort praise. There is a spirited trio between the three characters, in which one of the themes of the overture is introduced very effectively; it was very accurately sung, as well as delivered with great spirit and effect. This is succeeded by a ‘duet serenade’ in the key of B flat major, a mock heroic, in which Box takes his gridiron into service as a guitar, and Cox presses the bellows into use as a Concertina. The effect is really comic, and the music so pretty and graceful, that one almost wishes it were more available for drawing-room purposes, than from the nature of the requisite accessory acting it can possibly be. We come in due time to the ‘gambling duet,’ where Cox and Box throw dice, and toss their respective reliable coins for the hand of Penelope Ann. This is an extremely clever piece of writing and was well delivered by the two disputants, whose quarrel brings Bouncer on the stage with his charmingly ludicrous ‘Rataplan,’ in which hatter and printer chime in, so as to form a spirited trio with which the quarrel terminates. Then comes the ‘finale.’ Box opens it, and is immediately joined by Bouncer, whose martial soul is fired by an allusion to ‘arms,’ though the pacific Box only uses the word in reference to the embrace of the kindly sergeant, who sees a bright vista of successful business before him in his capacity of landlord, and enrols his two lodgers in a bond of perpetual amity, sealed with their promise to remain his tenants. Bouncer's part breathes the old military measure of his early song, and the refrain of au enthusiastic ‘rataplan’ winds up the whole.
The parts were acted with great spirit, though the dialogue dragged; but .the music was admirably performed and the piece proved an entire success. The acting of Bouncer was very good; Box's ‘lullaby’ was sung so sweetly that we cannot help referring to it again; and Cox, who also sang very effectively throughout, exhibited such capacities as an actor and singer as lead us to hope we shall often see him again.
The accompaniments were extremely well and judiciously played by Mr. Wharton, of H. M. 1st 10th Regiment, but we wish he had had an instrument more worthy of his powers. A namesake of the composer conducted the music, and to him is largely due the spirit infused into the singing, and the excellent ensemble of the concerted pieces.
The Japan Weekly Mail October 1 1870 [With minor edits]

[1] A ‘Dramatic Performance in Aid of the Garrison Church in Yokohama Organ Fund. The first part of the evening included a performance of the farce The Irish Compradore
[2] Cox and Box received its first performance in private on 16 May 1866. This took place at Moray Lodge in Kensington, the home of Arthur Lewis, and the regular venue for the 'Moray Minstrels', a group of musicians, actors and artists. Burnand later claimed that the first performance actually took place at his house three days earlier, but this may have been no more than a rehearsal. [Gilbert & Sullivan Archive]
[3] Cox: Mr Roderick; Box: Mr Colles and Sergeant Bouncer: Mr Fredericks

Sunday 15 July 2012

John McCabe: Chamber music on Guild

I first discovered the music of John McCabe in an old plastic box outside Hughes Second Hand Bookshop in Llandudno- circa 1975. Amongst many vinyl records there was a copy of the EMI recording of the Chagall Windows. This record was marked up ‘Not for Sale’ so I have always assumed that it was someone’s review copy.  I remember getting it home and being rather disappointed. The music seemed oddly dissonant and far removed from Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending which I had also bought at the same shop. However a few years later I heard a couple of McCabe’s organ pieces which I thoroughly enjoyed. When the Chagall Windows was re-released on CD I bought a copy – one again second-hand. This time I appreciated it and began to understand the composer’s musical language.  Over the years I have heard a fair number of works from McCabe’s pen, and generally I have liked what I have heard.  As an aside, my favourite piece by him is Cloudcatcher Fell for brass band.
John McCabe has been reasonably well served by the recording industry. Dutton Epoch has released a couple of excellent CDs dedicated to his concerted pieces, including two piano concertos. Hyperion has offered his Symphony (Of Time and the River). His major ballet scores Arthur Pendragon and Edward II are both currently available.  Many more pieces large and small are in the various catalogues and reward searching out. Some works will only be located on vinyl by the dedicated collector.

The present CD of chamber works is therefore a major addition to the repertoire. I have glanced through the composer’s website discography and believe that only one of these works, Fauvel’s Rondeaux is currently available elsewhere - Dutton Epoch CDLX 7125.  The present version of this work makes use of the bass clarinet.
I have never listened to any of these works before, so I guess that I come to them with a largely innocent ear. I am grateful to the excellent liner notes by the composer.
I believe that 63 minutes of clarinet tone is a lot for the average listener to cope with at one sitting, so I suggest taking these pieces, one at a time. They are presented on the disc in chronological order: I recommend listening to the works thus.

Movements is an excellent little work that provides a fine introduction to John McCabe’s ‘early’ chamber music style. The seven very short 'movements’ were originally composed in 1964 when the composer was about 25 years old. They were dedicated to the Gabrieli Ensemble.  The inspiration for the work came from William Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury. The full sense of this book (I have not read it) is, apparently, only revealed after finishing it.  The progress of the music is in the form of a palindrome, though to be honest, without the score I would probably not have noticed. The last three sections, an allegro agitato, an allegretto and the concluding lento are palindromes of the first three movements played in reverse order. The middle section is an adagio and represents the literal heart of the piece.
McCabe notes that a ‘free variation technique’ is used to create the ‘melodic’ interest in this work.  The composer has avoided the danger of allowing the constructive elements of Movements to reduce it to some kind of pedantic exercise. The sound world may be fairly and squarely in the serialist style but he never allows this to spoil the invention and musicality of the piece.  The work was revised in 1966. I am not sure where the 1969 date in the sleeve notes comes from.

A few years later, McCabe wrote a Sonata for clarinet, cello and piano.  It was a commission by Brocklehurst-Whiston Amalgamated for the 1969 Macclesfield Arts Festival. It was dedicated to the Gervase de Peyer, William Pleeth and Peter Wallfisch trio who gave the work its first performance.  I did wonder why the composer chose to call the work a Sonata rather than a ‘Trio’, however he explains that ‘he felt that this approach, intent on treating the instruments as individuals in a dialogue rather than a single unit, would be more in keeping with a less traditional, though equally abstract style.’
The single movement work is divided into five sections. Once again the middle ‘tristamente’ is the heart of the work. The opening lento is recalled in the concluding andante. There is exciting music in both the ‘allegro’ and the ‘vivo’ sections. I do not believe that a palindrome has been used here – though the formal working out of this Sonata is certainly well-balanced and turns upon the central section. John McCabe has suggested that the inspiration for this work was partly derived from ‘a sense of loneliness and space conveyed by sections of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey.’  This mood is well-achieved, although offset by some dramatic and often exciting music.

Fauvel’s Rondeaux is a massively impressive work. It was conceived for clarinet (doubling bass clarinet) violin and piano. The work is cast as a ‘gigantic’ rondo with a twist. In a classical rondo the material is presented as, for example, ABACADA.  A is the main theme and B, C & D are episodes that are usually in contrast to it. But the main theme is all important. The twist is that McCabe has provided a dynamic, powerful opening melody which is repeated as in classical rondo. However, the episodes here form ‘the substance of the music’ rather than a commentary on it.
The work is seen as a pendant to McCabe’s great ballet score Edward II where there appears a group of jugglers, acrobats, clowns and musicians. They are led by a certain Fauvel. 
The present work manages to balance the elements of ‘entertainment and the gradually darkening world of conspiracy, lust and power mania’.  It achieves this contrast brilliantly. The musical language is at once approachable and challenging. It is an exciting work with some moments of unease and discomfort for the listener.
Fauvel’s Rondeaux was commissioned by the Verdehr Trio and Michigan State University. It was composed during 1995/96. 

The latest work on this CD is the Clarinet Quintet: La Donna. This was commissioned by Linda Merrick and the Kreutzer Quartet and was first performed at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester on June 15 2011.  The quintet does appear to be a little bit of a pot-pourri of styles. Fundamentally lyrical and always approachable, this is music that explores a diverse range of musical devices. From plainsong melody, dance music, hints (and only hints) of minimalist textures, jazzy interludes and even ‘pop’ the composer throws idea after idea at the listener. It is largely uplifting music, however there are some reflective moments in the score. The conclusion is a riot of sound.  It may not be fair to say that the latest work is best – but I certainly feel that this is a fine piece of music that will (hopefully) take up its place in the clarinet quintet repertoire.

I cannot fault the playing on this disk.  All the soloists and the chamber ensemble play this music with flair, concentration and obvious pleasure. I mentioned the excellent liner notes by the composer.  The sound quality is excellent and consistently reveals the clarity of the instrumentation.

I enjoyed every work on this CD, although I have to say that the Quintet and the Fauvel’s Rondeaux impressed me most.  Both works exhibit an impressive understanding of form – one a ‘traditional’ rondo and the other appearing to be largely through composed.  

Track Listing:
Movements for clarinet, violin and cello (1964/66) Sonata for clarinet, cello and piano (1969) Fauvel’s Rondeaux for clarinet, violin and piano (1995/6) Clarinet Quintet La Donna (2010/2011) [18:45]
Linda Merrick (clarinet) Peter Sheppard Skaerved (violin) Neil Heyde (cello) Aaron Shorr (piano)
Kreutzer Quartet: Peter Sheppard Skaerved (violin) Mihailo Trandafilovski (violin) Morgan Goff (viola) Neil Heyde (cello)
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Mendelssohn in London: With the Attwoods at ‘Rose lawn’ in Upper Norwood.

I found this excellent reprint of an article from Musical Opinion which describes Thomas Atwood’s house in Upper Norwood, London. I have always regarded Mendelssohn as an ‘honorary’ Briton, especially when one bears in mind the number of concert tours he made in this country as well as the considerable influence he was to have on contemporary and subsequent composer.  The text is largely self-explanatory; however I have given a few footnotes where appropriate. Alas the house was demolished during the nineteen-sixties.
Our illustration this month portrays the house of Thomas Attwood (1765-1838) the well-known composer and organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral (1796-1818), in which building he is buried. After having studied under Nares [1] and Ayrton, [2] he was sent abroad in 1783 by the Prince of Wales (afterwards George IV), and received instruction from Lantilla(q.v.) [3] at Naples and from Mozart in Vienna. He composed numerous musical works for the stage and much church music in which the style of his beloved master is palely reflected. The house, now known as ‘Roselawn’, is on the north side of Beulah Hill, Upper Norwood, a little west of Hermitage Road, and is the right hand house of the two shown in the picture.

Attwood was one of the earliest to recognise Mendelssohn’s genius when he first came to London in the spring of 1829. Soon after his return to London from the memorable journey to Scotland and Wales in that year, Mendelssohn on September 17th was ‘thrown out of a cabriolet and very severely wounded in the leg’, being detained two months in London. Mendelssohn was much touched by the kindness of his friends. The hospitalities of Norwood were foreshadowed by the receipt of a hamper from Attwood: ‘on the top were splendid flowers, which are now smelling deliciously around my fireside: under the flowers lay a large pheasant: under the pheasant a quantity of apples for pies.’ He took his first drive on November 6th.
A week later he went to stay with ‘dear old Attwood’, at this time aged sixty-four, Mendelssohn being twenty or twenty-one. The house still stands, but with the addition of the wing on the right which now occupies the site of the habitat of Attwood’s white donkey. Mendelssohn writes: ‘In my bedroom luckily stands old Attwood’s music cupboard: and after finding the other day no end of Te Deums by Croft, [4] twenty Anthems of Boyce’s, [5] and Purcell’s Psalms, what should meet my eye in three big volumes but ‘Euryanthe: Score!’[6] That was a find!’ (Mendelssohn always thought ‘Der du die Unschuld kenns’ [7] in G flat sounded like brass: and here he found it scored for three trombones, trumpets, two horns in E flat and, two horns in D flat!).
Klingemann [8] describes a Sunday. ‘In Norwood lives one of the most distinguished donkeys that ever ate thistles: but he lives entirely on corn! A plump, milk-white animal, full of vivacity and talent, appointed to draw a very diminutive four-wheeled vehicle. In the said vehicle sat Felix, who by and by got out of his carriage and walked with us: and a caravan, consisting of one lady, four young men, the vehicle with the milk-white donkey and three dogs moved placidly up the hill and into the village’”.
The gate-bell. During his visit to Attwood’s, Mendelssohn had to return one evening to London to meet a party. He was extemporising, when the gate-bell announced the arrival of the carriage. The summons remained unheeded, but again the bell was rung repeatedly. Mendelssohn reluctantly started. Before going to bed (in London), he wrote ‘The Evening Bell,’ [9] for harp and pianoforte (Miss Attwood played the harp), and sent it next day to Norwood. The gate-bell note (A) comes in frequently. The piece is published by Messrs. Chappell in original form and also for piano solo and duet. Mendelssohn again stayed at Norwood in the spring of 1832, after hearing of the death of his old master, Zelter [10]; lilacs, apple-blossom, gymnastics in the garden. Here he composed part of his ‘Son and Stranger’ [11] and his E minor Capriccio (Op. 16) [12] is dated Norwood, Surrey, November 18th 1829 (i.e., first visit) though actually composed in Wales in the previous August. Mendelssohn dedicated his “Three Preludes and Fugues for the Organ” (Op. 37) to Attwood.

Extract from Musical Opinion - A Musical Pilgrimage in Vanishing London Published April 1925 (with minor edits)
With thanks to the Chairman of The Norwood Society for permission to use this text and photo.

[1] James Nares (1715 – 1783) organist and composer.
[2] Edmund Ayrton (1734 –1808) was an English organist who was Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal.
[3] Gaetano Latilla (1711 – 1788) was an Italian opera composer,
[4] William Croft (baptized 30 December 1678 – 14 August 1727) was an English composer and organist
[5] William Boyce (baptized 11 September 1711-1779) is widely regarded as one of the most important English-born composers of the 18th century.
[6] Euryanthe: and opera by Carl Maria Weber (libretto by Helmina von Chézy (1783-1856) first performed at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna in 1823.
[7] Karl Klingemann (1798-1862) was secretary of the Hanoverian Legation in Berlin. He was located in London from 1828. He was also a gifted poet. He was Felix Mendelssohn’s companion on his travels to Scotland.
[8] ‘The Evening Bell,’ Q 20 The Evening Bell B-Dur für Harfe und Klavier (Bb major for harp and piano).  Hardly one of the composer’s masterpieces.
[9] Carl Friedrich Zelter (1758-1832) was a German composer, conductor and teacher of music.
[10 Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde (often referred to in English as Son and Stranger) is a one-act Singspiel written by Felix Mendelssohn in 1829 to a German libretto by Karl Klingemann, who would later provide the same service for the oratorio Elijah.  [Wikipedia]
[11] ‘E minor Capriccio, Op. 16.’ This was the second of three pieces making up Op.16, Three Caprices. The first was a Fantasia in A minor and the third was a Fantasia in E major ("The Rivulet"). The piece referred to here was actually entitled a Caprice or Scherzo in E minor.   

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Ian Venables: A Major Song Cycle celebrating Worcestershire (and other news)

Ian Venables tells me that the first half of 2012 has been dominated by an important commission from the Malvern Concert Club. They have asked for a ‘chamber’ song cycle for Roderick Williams, the Carducci String Quartet and pianist, Tom Poster. The committee’s remit was for a major work celebrating the poetry and poets of Worcestershire. Venables has suggested that although a great deal of poetry has been written about the county, and especially the Malvern Hills, Worcestershire-born poets are somewhat thin on the ground!

A.E. Housman, who was born in Bromsgrove, is probably the county’s most famous literary son. However, the remit wanted a greater breadth of literary achievement. Given the dearth of topographical subject matter, it has taken him some considerable time to find the right texts to set.
The composer suggested to me that ‘the heart of the county is the River Severn’. Personally, he enjoys spending time walking or cycling along its banks. He is particularly fond of the ‘reach’ at the village of Kempsey, which lies between Worcester and Tewkesbury: here the river broadens into a majestic sight with a fine view of the Malvern Hills beyond.

In arranging the songs for this cycle, Venables has chosen to use the river as both a narrator and as a linking theme throughout the work. The Severn over the centuries has been witness to the changing scenes in the county’s human drama. One of the earliest is the battle between the Roman and the Ancient Britons. John Masefield’s dramatic poem, ‘On Malvern Hill’ will open the cycle:-
A wind is brushing down the clover,
It sweeps the tossing branches bare,
Blowing the poising kestrel over
The crumbling ramparts of the Caer.

It whirls the scattered leaves before us
Along the dusty road to home,
Once it awakened into chorus
The heart-strings in the ranks of Rome.

There by the gusty coppice border
The shrilling trumpets broke the halt,
The Roman line, the Roman order,
Swayed forwards to the blind assault.

Spearman and charioteer and bowman
Charged and were scattered into spray,
Savage and taciturn the Roman
Hewed upwards in the Roman way.

There in the twilight where the cattle
Are lowing home across the fields,
The beaten warriors left the battle
Dead on the clansmen's wicker shields.

The leaves whirl in the wind's riot
Beneath the Beacon's jutting spur,
Quiet are clan and chief, and quiet
Centurion and signifier.

The central section of this poem recalls the onslaught of the Roman legions as they attempt to capture Caractacus. The cycle will then move into a more reflective mood for the second song. For this lyrical ‘intermezzo’, Venables has set A.E. Housman’s poem ‘How Clear, How Lovely Bright’ [No. XVI from More Poems]. This begins with the anticipation of a new dawn when a vow will be made: one that the poet intends to keep. However, in the final stanza we are told that it was in the end, a false dawn and the vow dies:-
Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day.

The third song, acts as the cycle’s slow movement. This is a setting of John Drinkwater’s ‘Elgar’s Music’.  This is a poem I do not know and cannot find in my copy of the poet’s collected works. The Malvern Concert Club was founded by Elgar in 1903 so Venables wanted to mark this occasion while at the same time paying his own tribute to Elgar’s music. The fourth song is a setting of Masefield’s ebullient poem, ‘Laugh, and be merry’:- 

Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,
Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.
Laugh, for the time is brief, a thread the length of a span.
Laugh and be proud to belong to the old proud pageant of man.

Laugh and be merry: remember, in olden time.
God made Heaven and Earth for joy He took in a rhyme,
Made them, and filled them full with the strong red wine of
His mirth
The splendid joy of the stars: the joy of the earth.

So we must laugh and drink from the deep blue cup of the sky,
Join the jubilant song of the great stars sweeping by,
Laugh, and battle, and work, and drink of the wine outpoured
In the dear green earth, the sign of the joy of the Lord.

Laugh and be merry together, like brothers akin,
Guesting awhile in the rooms of a beautiful inn,
Glad till the dancing stops, and the lilt of the music ends.
Laugh till the game is played; and be you merry, my friends.

This song acts as an energetic ‘scherzo’ movement and presents a lively and bucolic commentary upon the gifts that the landscape gives to humanity. The final number, ‘December on the River,’ is a setting of a poem by Phillip Worner; the river becomes a metaphor for the landscape’s eternal and ceaseless flow upon which a lone human voice is heard to reflect on their mortality.
I understand that Venables has completed the ‘short score’ and is currently working on the orchestration.
Based on the composer’s previous song settings, such as The Pine Boughs Past Music and On the Wings of Love , this promises to be an impressive work that may well stand beside Ralph Vaughan William’s masterly On Wenlock Edge.
After completion of this song-cycle Venables will make a start on another commission from both the Droitwich Concert Club (of which he is a Vice-President) and the Bromsgrove Concert Club, This will be a short work for clarinet and string quartet. It will be premiered in the autumn of 2014.

In other news, Graham J. Lloyd is preparing to record a disc of Ian Venables piano music.  This CD is scheduled for release in May 2013. It will include the composer’s entire piano music to date, including his Opus 1. This is a youthful and, so Venables tells me, a somewhat experimental work. However, listeners are assured that they will hear echoes of his later work.
Finally, the young Tasmanian-born baritone, Michael Lampard is going to give the Australasian premiere of Venables cycle The Pine Boughs Past Music Op.39 in July. It will also be broadcast live on ABC radio. Roderick Williams, for whom he wrote the cycle, will also be performing it on Sunday 19th August at the ‘Celebrating English Song’ festival at Tardebigge, in Worcestershire.