Thursday 29 August 2013

Moura Lympany: An English Pianist playing Rachmaninov 3

I heard Moura Lympany's performance of the Edvard Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor at a 1975 Glasgow Promenade Concert:  ever since I have been a fan of her playing. Shortly after this concert, I found a copy of her recording of Alan Rawsthorne’s first piano concerto. This had originally been issued on HMV CLP1118 in 1957. Around the same time I bought one of the iconic series of Decca Eclipse albums that featured Lympany playing Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto coupled with five of his Preludes. I have disposed of the record but have since purchased the transfer to CD on Moura Lympany: Decca Recordings 1951-1952 on the Decca Originals series made in 2004. There has been a further release on the Magdalen label (METCD8016) (2012)
The original recording had been released on Decca LXT2701 and was a 12” disc priced at 39s.6d (nearly £2) which would have been a considerable price in 1952. The New Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Anthony Collins.

M.M. writing in The Gramophone (August 1952) considered that Moura Lympany gave a ‘smooth, fluent and very well-shaped performance of this very difficult work, revealing every facet of its slightly Sunday-afternoonish beauty.’ Bearing in mind that Rachmaninov had composed this concerto whilst he was living in the tranquil setting of his, family’s country estate, Ivanovka, this description is ideal.  The work was completed on 23 September 1909.
The reviewer felt that the slow movement was the weak point in this recording and could have had ‘a little more to yield up than pianist of conductor will claim.’
However, he felt that '...the Lympany style the work a well rounded unity that it does not always seem to possess.’ Personally I disagree with the second half of this sentence: I feel that is it is a well-rounded, formally satisfying concerto.
Some sixty years later Donald Ellman has reviewed the Magdalen 2012 transfers of Lympany’s performance to CD. Writing in the Classical Recording Quarterly (Autumn 2012) he has pointed out that it is ‘extremely fleet and nimble... there is always a very natural sense of momentum, with no sense of indulgence and posturing that has characterised some more recent performances.’  He considers that ‘her playing is imbued with lovely sound that seems to come from within rather than being imposed from without’.
It is surprising to read that here were some minor cuts made to each movement. I understand that the composer himself authorised a number of cuts to the score that could be made at the pianist’s discretion.  These were mainly in the second and third movements and to the cadenza.  At the time of the recording, it was standard practice to make these cuts and probably helped to squeeze the entire work onto one LP. The reviewer in The Gramophone felt that ‘little was lost’. The re-master is about 36-37 minutes long – however a modern recording would be typically on the 40 minute mark.

Donald Ellman notes that the cuts to the three movements follows Rachmaninov’s own. He wonders if the composer would have made them is he had the ‘advantages of modern technology.’ In 2012 cuts to this work would hardly be tolerated.

Monday 26 August 2013

Granville Bantock: ‘Hebridean Symphony’ at Edinburgh, 1930

I am doing research into early performances of Granville Bantock’s superb Hebridean Symphony which was first heard at Glasgow on 1 February 1916. There was a later performance at Edinburgh on 6 November 1930. The Reid Symphony Orchestra gave their ‘second concert’ of the season under the baton of Professor Donald Francis Tovey.  It was part of the University of Edinburgh’s Sixty-Eighth Session of Reid Orchestral Concerts.  It was certainly an event I would love to have attended.  I located a review in 7 November 1930 edition of The Scotsman.
Music which was written by Scotsmen or was inspired by things Scottish was a prominent feature of the evening. Dr J.B. McEwen’s now forgotten ‘Prelude for Orchestra’ was performed before Bantock’s seascape. The reviewer felt that in spite of an ‘occasional roughness’ both works were ‘well played.’  The Prelude is a ‘dreamy mystical composition, which has no ‘programme’ and which needs none.
Other works in the programme included the rarely heard ‘Faust Overture’ by Richard Wagner which dates from 1839/40 and was intended as the first movement of a Faust Symphony. It was never completed; however the music was revised in 1844 and again in 1855. He incorporated ideas from his sketches for the planned movements.  This work can be heard on YouTube
Unfortunately there was little emphasis in the review about Bantock’s Hebridean Symphony. It notes that the thematic basis of this work was derived from Mrs. Kennedy-Fraser’s ‘invaluable collection of folk-music.  He writes that ‘of ‘programme’ in the sense of plot or of story, there is none…’  The intention of the work was clear. ‘More detailed in outline and colouring, it might be taken to represent the splendour of the Celtic past, as [McEwen’s] Prelude reflects the sense of mystery.’

Brahms Symphony No.1 occupied the entire second half of the concert. The Scotsman’s reviewer noted that it was a ‘broad and clear interpretation, in which everything fell into place.’  

Friday 23 August 2013

Hubert Parry: Early Chamber Works

The story of the genesis and the re-discovery of Hubert Parry’s String Quartet No.3 is a delight. After rehearsals during February 1880, the work was premièred at 12 Orme Square (the home of Edward Dannreuther) on 26th February. It was programmed alongside works by Schumann, Wagner, Beethoven and the Italian Giovanni Sgambati. Parry was largely happy with the performance. The liner notes suggest that there were no subsequent performances in the composer’s lifetime.  Alas, the unpublished holograph was mixed up with some documents belonging to Gerald Finzi. Fortunately, it was identified by Philip Thomas and Stephen Banfield in 1992. It was duly broadcast by the Almeira Quartet and was given at a student’s recital at the Royal Academy of Music. The present disc is the works first ‘commercial’ recording.
The Quartet in in four movements. I found the general mood of this work a little unsettling – which probably reflects the composer’s intention. Michael Allis refers to the ‘tonal instability’ of the opening movement. There is a good balance between the bustling opening theme and a ‘hymn like idea’ and a delightful cantabile tune. The second movement, ‘andante’ opens with a charming melody accompanied by a gentle pizzicato.  Later, the mood changes to darker hues and then more dramatic music. The third movement is the one that took me by surprise. So far the music has been relatively restrained and cerebral, however the ‘death’s head scherzo’ has ‘something of the night’ in it – at least in the ‘minuet’ section. This is ‘ghostly music’ that is genuinely scary. The ‘trio’ is a little bit more positive – but this is soon pushed out of the way by a reprise of the sinister music. This is a hugely impressive and inspired ‘scherzo’ by an Englishman that has lain hidden for a century. The CD is is worth the price for this movement alone. The final ‘rondo,’ an ‘allegro moderato’ restores some normality to the work. This is not straightforward music: there are many twists and turns before the final return of the main themes. There is a strong sense of purpose and a unity of musical material that makes this an extremely satisfying and enjoyable String Quartet.

Michael Allis notes that the ‘catalyst’ for the String Quintet in E flat major was ‘probably’ a performance of Brahms String Quintet in F major, which was given at a Monday ‘Pops’ concert in March 1883.  Parry’s work was completed the following year and was premièred at Dannreuther’s concert on 18 March 1884. Apparently it did not go too well. The first fiddle was ‘not strong enough to lead the thing’ and the cellist was ‘not quite in tune.’ After a rejection from Joachim, who felt the the slow movement was too long, the work was revived and published in 1909. It is not stated how the quintet fared, but I guess that it quickly dropped out of the repertoire.
The Quintet opens with a gorgeous expressive tune that seems to prefigure Elgar. There is a transition to another romantic tune. Parry experiments with a large variety of string textures that leads to new possibilities at every bar. It is a finely developed ‘sonata’ form that perfectly balances the logical with the inspired. It is positive music that is tinged with regret, constantly evolving and pushing forward towards a personal resolution. I found this movement both instructive and moving. The ‘scherzo’ is placed second and is played ‘allegro molto.’ Unlike the ‘scherzo’ in the String Quartet this is spirited music – I would not suggest that it is without a care in the world; there are no demons to exorcise here. Parry does bring a little bit of harmonic bite into the ‘trio’ section making use of ‘chromatic sequences’ and the ‘diabolic tri-tone’ – which was a feature of the earlier work.
I baulk at saying that Parry sounds like Elgar – or vice versa, yet one cannot listen to the heart-achingly beautiful ‘andante sostenuto’ without making some analogous comparisons. There is a ‘sospiro’ like atmosphere about this work that suggests the end of an era or a sense of loss. The viola is especially prominent in this movement.  Unsurprisingly, the mood changes in the final movement. Things become much more easy-going: the music is signed ‘vivace’ – lively. In fact this sense of liveliness becomes ‘con fuoco’ – with fire towards the end.  In the round, this is an extremely satisfying work that explores a wide range of emotion and reflects near technical perfection.

Parry’s chamber music is slowly being recognized by record companies.  There are currently recordings of the Violin and Cello Sonatas, the fine Piano Trios, some pieces for violin and piano and the Nonet.
This present CD will appeal to two groups of people. Firstly there are the Parry enthusiasts (myself included) who will grab the opportunity at possessing two first class pieces of chamber music from the composer’s early period. They will find two works that are an absolute delight to listen to. The second group of listeners may well be those attracted to British chamber music in general and are looking for avenues of exploration from a time when England was deemed to be a ‘land without music. This group will find in these pieces considerable encouragement to realise that worthy music of this calibre was being composed in the 1870s and 80s.

It seems largely redundant to point out that the Bridge String Quartet play these two works with great sensitivity and poise. There is clarity of texture that reveals the high workmanship of the composer. These are moving and stimulating performances that exploit Parry’s intentions to a high degree. These works are given the best possible opportunity to establish themselves in the repertoire.
The liner notes are impressive. There is a ‘personal tribute’ from Hubert Parry great grand-daughter Laura Ponsonby which reminds the reader of a few of the myths and legends of the composer. I appreciated her remark about a missing musical score –‘Don’t say it is lost, but rather it’s not yet been found.’  There is a shore ‘bio’ of the composer by Jeremy Dibble, extracted from his important study of the composer C. Hubert Parry: His Life and Music (1992). The ‘programme notes’ by the Parry scholar Michael Allis are a comprehensive as one could wish. Finally the gorgeous cover picture of Highham Court Church will surely encourage some music lovers to buy this disc ‘on spec’ – they will not be disappointed.   

Track Listing:
C. HUBERT H. PARRY (1848–1918)
String Quartet No.3 in G Major (1878) String Quintet in E-Flat Major (1884; rev. 1896/1902)
The Bridge Quartet:  Colin Twigg (violin) Catherine Schofield (violin) Michael Schofield (viola) Lucy Wilding (cello) Robert Gibbs (viola, Quintet)

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Granville Bantok: An Anecdote by Josef Holbrooke

Josef Holbrooke’s controversial, eccentric but ultimately essential study of Contemporary British Composers (1925) is crammed full of interesting opinion, stories and anecdotes. Holbrooke knew virtually everyone that mattered in the musical world even if he was not always on the best of terms with people. The present short anecdote is presented as a good example of his story-telling. To understand the references to Bantock’s Hebridean Symphony, two things need to be borne in mind. Firstly, this work is programme music: the first half depicting the moods of the sea in the Hebrides and the second being a musical description of a remembered pirate attack on the islanders.  Secondly, there is a long passage for the solo trumpet play playing a high F – it is the most dramatic moment in the symphony – but also the most demanding.  It is one of the most thrilling moments in British music. At the conclusion of this battle the music become once again poetically descriptive of the sea and landscape, however the trumpet call can still be heard.
The whole of Bantock’s ‘Hebridean’ Symphony can be found on YouTube, but the ‘offending’ trumpet piece can be heard halfway through the third movement.

‘Many stories are told and known of Granville Bantock's waggery and sense of fun. The well known one of the chess friend he left playing one night while he went upstairs for a cigar, but went to bed instead and left the player to fall downstairs, and get out of the house in any old way he could, is easily beaten by the perfervid joy with which I heard of the principal trumpet player, who, in Liverpool at a rehearsal of the composer's Hebridean Symphony, was not playing. On my inquiry, and my loud praise of the player of the extremely persistent trumpet call in this symphony (sometimes, insistently, I think, for two hundred bars on a high F !), I was told that Valk, the usual man, was no longer a trumpet player.
"Why?" I inquired in amazement.
"Oh, you see," said the leader, "he played in the first rehearsal of this symphony, and as a result he is now a viola player. His lip and jaw are now strained beyond repair: he will never play the trumpet again”.
“Indeed," said my informant, "I have had to give this man extra pay, otherwise he would not take the job on. We have, as a result of this, had an ultimatum by all local trumpeters - who, when engaged, ask what the programme contains, before they sign on for it. A very heavy premium is wanted now for playing in this work by trumpet players! "
On my inquiry of my friend Bantock as to why the trumpet was so strident even after the orchestra had died down, he explained to me that the fight had gone "round the corner"!’

Saturday 17 August 2013

The Golden Age of Light Music- Here’s to Holidays

For better or worse, I have always associated ‘light music’ with travel and holidays. The first piece I consciously became aware of was ‘Coronation Scot’ by Vivian Ellis. I can recall that even as a youngster, I could imagine one of Sir William Stanier’s powerful pacific locomotives pounding up Beattock Bank or Shap Summit. I could picture the passengers in the first-class dining car enjoying their lunch as the hills of the Lake District rolled past.  All this was before I got into philosophical arguments about ‘programme’ and ‘absolute’ music. However, the feeling has remained. I can easily settle into a holiday mood whilst listening to any number of ‘light music’ tunes – even if the title does not necessarily imply carefree days at the seaside.
Now, the present CD is a cornucopia of delight for me – and I guess for many others. To be sure, not all the pieces are evocative of a stroll along the prom at Morecambe or watching Punch and Judy at Fleetwood or going for a dip at Blackpool’s long departed and lamented Derby Baths. Nevertheless there is a lot tease the imagination in these tracks. 

The proceedings open with the first of the ‘transport’ numbers – ‘Skyways’. This is an impressive, gutsy piece by Wally Stott with a big, romantic tune complete with swirling harps and bells and whistles but then the mood changes to something a little more up tempo. It is power all the way. I am tempted to say that the first, in this case, is the best.  We are certainly well and truly airborne before our next mode of travel appears on the scene. Alain Nancey’s ‘En Bateau Mouche’ is not a quiet drift down the Seine: it more of a party.  Malcolm Lockyer has taken the concept of ‘holidays’ out of this world with a trip to ‘Venus and Back’ - even Sir Richard Branson is not currently offering that particular vacation. It is a great up-beat piece.  ‘Transcontinental’ is a real railway piece complete with whistles, the rhythms of the rails and the hiss of steam.  Robert Docker is obviously an enthusiast. Something, perhaps the ‘cowboy’ tune, tells me that this piece is inspired by railroads of the good ole’ US of A.  The song ‘The Only Way to Travel’ from the knockabout Crosby/Hope/Lamour film, The Road to Hong Kong is given a romantic turn of phrase by its arranger Robert Farnon.  Steve Race has produced a slightly more exotic feel with his ‘Camel Train’; I was reminded of Latin America rather than Libya with this tune’s rhythm.  I do not know if the purist would regard ‘Water Skiing’ as a mode of travel, but Toni Leutwiler has contributed a wonderful, skittish little tune in the best tradition of light music.  Mantovani has elected to go for a trip on a ‘Rickshaw’. This piece has all the clatter and bustle of Shanghai or Hong Kong.  Finally, on the travel front, Anthony Mawer has penned a lovely piece called ‘Holiday Highway’. It is exactly the kind of tune that I was referring to at the start of this review – I can see in my mind’s eye my father driving the old Hillman Minx down the A6 past (or hopefully stopping at) ‘The Jungle’ transport café on the way to Blackpool.

Part of any holiday is visiting places – some new and some old favourites. Anyone who has been to Rome is always sad to leave: most will have thrown ‘three coins in the Trevi fountain’ but it eventually comes time to say ‘Arrivederci Roma’ and head out to the airport. It is a great song whether sung by Dean Martin or played here by Richard Hayman’s orchestra.  Many years ago the ambition of many British holiday makers was to leave the wet seaside resorts of Clacton and Cleethorpes and head for the ‘Costa Brava’. Philip Buchel has painted a somewhat sophisticated portrait of this long stretch of coast: it is full of atmosphere, only lacking castanets and flamenco guitar.  I am not sure how many people visit ‘Indiana’, but James Hanley and Ballard MacDonald have painted a cool image – complete with electric guitar and sweeping strings.  Heading further east we get into a sultry mood with Dolf Van Der Linden’s ‘Jamaica Road’. This is not to be confused with Jamaica Street in Bermondsey. It begins as a dark, moody work, but suddenly bursts into the light.  Still in the Caribbean, there is Joseph Kuhn’s image of ‘Haiti’. This is such a gorgeous, evocative picture of an island that has such a tragic history. So the message is a wee bit confused. Call it ‘Martinique’ and the imagery is perfect. I enjoyed the South Seas piece ‘Tiara Tahiti’ by Philip Green with all the composers tricks for creating the required mood. Sounds like the score of an Elvis Presley film. I did wonder if I would be bored by ‘The Olive Grove’ by Trevor Duncan: nothing much seems to happen in those sorts of places. This is a dishy little tune; it has a decided Mediterranean feel to it.  The same composer’s ‘The Wine Harvest’ is a number with zing –it has a melody that one seems to already know. It could be anywhere, but Spain seems the best bet: it is more to do with the celebrations rather than the actual harvest and ‘treading’ of the vintage.  The final ‘place’ tune is Werner Richard Heyman’s evocation of ‘Monte Carlo’. All the pizzazz is here: all the opportunities to spend money and dance or bet the nights away. And there is a touch of romance too. It is really a little tone poem. 

Holidays can mean other things than transport and places. It refers to anticipation, reflection and people met. Clifton Johns has given us a classic piece of light music called ‘Holiday Bound’ – it is the enthusiasm engendered in the days before your hols. It does not describe the queues at the airport, the traffic jams on the Brighton Road or the discovery that the tickets were left on top of the piano.  Ivor Slaney has written a short, but big in intention, piece for piano and orchestra – ‘Midsummer Madness’.  I guess that love is behind this tune. O how wonderful and how hurtful can a holiday romance be!  Maybe the cause of the lover’s grief was John Carmichael’s ‘French Flirt’ who no doubt leaves a trail of broken hearts behind.  This is a lovely, lively cheeky piece that lacks French colour – no accordions! Sidney Torch has also meditated on the Gallic mood with his ‘Oo La La’. In spite of this little bit of stereotyping this is full of fun and panache. Anyone would be sorry to have to leave all this gaiety behind. Or maybe the lover’s regret is because of some athletic ‘Beachboy’. Peter Dennis has painted a charming picture of a lively fella’ who is also a pure gentleman.
The classic tune ‘Volare’ (To Fly) by Domenico Modugno is given a fine reworking by William Hill Bowen.  This is a master-class in orchestration with beautiful brass and string passages. The main melody is important, but is surrounded by attractive subsidiary material.
The whole holiday enterprise can be summed up by Ian Sutherland’s ‘Here’s to Holidays’ which is the eponymous track of this CD. This is an exuberant tune that exudes all the excitement of holidays past and present.  Fortunately this composer is still alive –let us hope he is still knocking out tunes as good as this one.
I think, on this hot, sultry, sunny London day I will jump on a train to Eastbourne and have a walk along the pier, listen to the brass band and finish off with fish and chips (and mushy peas) on the prom…

I have raised this issue about Guild recordings before: I wish that they would provide all the composer dates in the track listings or a least in the liner notes. I believe that this is important, even on a ‘light music’ disc.
Like all the previous releases in this series that I have reviewed, I was impressed with the sound recording which is excellent. In spite of my comment about dates, the liner notes are fulsome and give many interesting details about the composers and the artists.
Needless to say, I enjoyed this wonderful selection of ‘holiday’ music. It brought back many happy memories and filled me with new enthusiasms as I picked my way through these tracks. I never listen to Guild CDs end to end, as I enjoy concentrating at least a little bit on each tune.  It is how I suggest that listeners approach this excellent and enjoyable disc. 
Guild Light Music GLCD5205 
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

William Alwyn: A Research and Information Guide - Book Review

I first came across William Alwyn’s music in 1972: it was hearing the Symphonic Prelude: Magic Island on Radio 3’s Record Review. As soon as the programme ended I rushed into Cuthbertson’s music shop in Glasgow and bought the record with some hard saved pocket money. I fell in love with that work and the coupled Symphony No.3. Apart from the sleeve notes, I could find no details about the composer. Even a visit to Glasgow’s Mitchell Library elicited little information beyond what was in the then-current Grove. But it was the start of my appreciation of Alywn’s music, and I have assiduously purchased releases of his music as they have appeared on Lyrita, Chandos and Naxos over the intervening 40 years.

John Dressler’s William Alwyn: A Research and Information Guide is the book I would have dreamt about had I known such things existed. Primarily, this book will appeal to enthusiasts of Alwyn’s music: people who love his music and want to get to grips with its ‘sitz in leben’ and to discover possible avenues for further exploration. Students embarking on music courses or putative D.Mus’s will find this book essential reading. Programme note writers and CD and concert reviewers who specialise in British Music will require this book close at hand. And performers will be interested to get background information when they come to prepare for recitals (assuming they want to play Alwyn’s music). It is a book that will find its way onto the shelves of most music college libraries and large references libraries around the world.

For many years the only information about William Alwyn (apart from Grove) was to be gleaned from Craggs & Poulton’s William Alwyn: A Catalogue of his music (1985). As Dressler suggests in the present volume, it was a first attempt at sorting out the composer’s works. It was prepared with his blessing. I was lucky enough to find a copy of this book in a second-hand bookshop; I believe that it is relatively rare.  Even the Royal College of Music or the Royal Academy of Music does not list this book in their library catalogues.  
Prior to this Francis Routh (a former pupil of Alwyn) published an important book Contemporary British Music in 1972. Included was an entire chapter devoted to Alwyn. This is available for on-line perusal at MusicWeb International.

For many years the major diary article written by Alwyn for the ADAM International Review (1967) eluded me. This study elaborated the day to day composition of the Third Symphony. For biographical details the enquirer was limited to a slim volume entitled Winged Chariot. This book was selective in its coverage and discussion of many important works was omitted. It was published in 1983 and was effectively an ‘essay in autobiography.’
In 2005 Boydell Press published the significant study, William Alwyn: The Art of Film Music by Ian Johnson.  This explored in depth the composer’s major contribution to the world of the moving picture. Relatively little information was given about Alywn’s ‘art music.’
Three years later, the ‘official biography, The Innumerable Dance: The Life and Work of William Alwyn by Adrian Wright was published by Boydell Press. This remains the only volume to deal objectively with the composer’s life and music. The last major contribution to the Alwyn bibliography was Composing in Words: William Alwyn on his Art (Musicians on Music Volume 9) published by Toccata Press in 2010 and edited by Andrew Palmer. This is comprehensive collection of texts written the composer, including the elusive ADAM diary and the complete text of Winged Chariot with extracts from an essay on Alywn’s boyhood, Early Closing. Additionally, there are a number of pieces of journalism and essays.  This is essential reading for all who wish to understand the composer’s milieu as it includes the majority of Alwyn’s writings about music.

The Research and Information guide is presented in four major sections preceded by a short preface which outlines the purpose and scope of the volume alongside an extensive list of acknowledgements.
The first part is largely biographical. This begins with a brief sketch of the composer’s life and achievement by Andrew Knowles who is currently archivist and administrator of the William Alwyn Foundation. This is followed by a short ‘Discovering Alwyn by the current book’s author which presents similar biographical material.  The ‘Chronology’ is useful for situating the composer’s life and works. The references to his compositions are selective: I would have liked to have seen a full chronological listing of all his works – whether by genre or simply in order.   For example, exactly half a century ago, Alwyn was inaugurated as a member of the Isle of Wight Sailing Club at Cowes; he attended a memorial service for the poet Louis MacNeice and produced his last film score, The Running Man. There is no mention of his Twelve Diversions for Five Fingers.
Nearly half of the book is devoted to a ‘Catalogue of Works’. This is conveniently divided up into genre. Major elements of this catalogue include the Documentary and Feature Film Scores and the usual ‘art’ music divisions such as Orchestral Works, Instrumental Chamber Music and Works for Brass and Military Bands.  Within these divisions, each work is presented in alphabetical order.
For example, on Page 141, the Symphony No. 1 is catalogued. The format includes the work’s instrumentation, the titles of each movement, its duration and dedicatee. A list of first and early performances is quoted. The work’s publisher is given. In the case of the First Symphony there is a detailed description of the manuscript, including its location at the Alwyn Archive.  The last part of the entry includes cross-references to various biographical or critical notes as well as recordings.
The third major division of this Research Guide is the main ‘Bibliography’. This is divided up into eight specific sections.  The first considers the primary sources of material written by Alwyn. This includes details of articles, essays, letters to publications and even an unpublished novel. Additionally, there is a selected listing of letters from William Alwyn to and from a number of correspondents including Arthur Bliss, Ruth Gipps, Benjamin Britten and Muir Mathieson. Many of these are available for study in the Alwyn Archive at Cambridge University.
A comprehensive list of ‘obituaries’ is presented ranging from the Chicago Tribune to the Northampton Chronicle and Echo.
I was delighted to find an account of material located at the BBC Written Archives, Caversham. This includes a variety of scripts, films and radio broadcast featuring the composer. It is a pity that some of these could not be made available on ‘podcasts’. 
I was surprised that comparatively few ‘thesis and dissertations’ have been written about the composer and his music. At 2011 these numbered only five. The most useful being Ian Carmalt’s William Alwyn (1905-1985) a Romantic Composer of his Time. Fortunately this is available on-line.  
One of the desiderata of Alywn scholars must be to have ‘soft’ copies of the William Alywn Newsletter. This ran for only eight issues between January 1996 and December 2000. John Dressler has provided a convenient listing of the major articles featured in these publications. Fortunately some of them are available for perusal at MusicWeb International.  There is a listing detailing entries in various dictionaries, encyclopaedias and general overviews of musical history and achievement. This is followed by general studies dealing with Alwyn’s life and works. These includes articles and books specifically about the composer, and also references which contain useful information. Omitted from these are CD and record liner notes, unfinished dissertation projects, brief press notices and non-western European language materials.

The last major section of the bibliography explores references to individual works. Dressler has included virtually all William Alwyn’s major compositions, both film and art music, as well as a good selection of less important pieces. For example there are 32 references to the opera Miss Julie. The short Midsummer Night (c1930s) has been given a single citation. As an example, I looked at the Symphonic Prelude: The Magic Island.  Unfortunately no-one has written a major study of this work however there are three reviews from the work’s premiere at the 1953 Cheltenham Festival cited. Other references are to reviews of CDs and records. In this case the 1972 Lyrita discs and the later Chandos and Naxos editions of this work. There is a review cited of the miniature score – although this fact is not noted in the text.  I would have appreciated these listings in chronological order.

The last major division of this book is the extensive ‘discography’. For most listeners (and enthusiasts) the catalogues currently available at Arkiv, Crotchet or Amazon are sufficient for their explorations. Yet much more is available. For the The Magic Island, I was amazed to discover eight entries. I know of only four releases- the Lyrita (vinyl & CD) the Naxos and the Chandos.  In addition to these, there is a BBC Sound Archive recording from February 1966, a Musical Heritage vinyl disc, which I think is the American imprint for Lyrita. Interestingly Lyrita have presented The Magic Island in Box 1 of the company’s popular 50th anniversary set. Finally, the work has been included in a sampler of ‘mystic classics’ from Naxos.
The Discography is given by record label, which I am not sure is helpful – I guess that I would have preferred a chronological order or work order.

The final part of this Research Guide is ‘Related Materials.’ This includes an interesting ‘selected’ list of ‘Former First-Study Pupils of William Alwyn’ at the Royal Academy of Music. Names include Iain Hamilton (sadly neglected as a composer) Minna Keal, John Lanchberry, Steve Race and Francis Routh.  Alwyn also attracted a number of musical dedications with works by Arnold Cooke, John Manduell, Thomas Pitfield and Trevor Hold.  Finally there are two detailed indices –one an ‘alphabetical index of works’ and the second an index of names.

Unfortunately, there is no information given in the book about the author, John C. Dressler.  He is well-known to British Music enthusiasts for his two important exercises in bibliography. In 1997 Greenwood Press issued Gerald Finzi-A Bio-Bibliography. Some seven years later, there followed a similar book for Alan Rawsthorne. The present volume, although different in format and presentation, is of similarly high standard. John Dressler is Professor of Horn and Musicology at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky.  As well as practical music lessons he has lectured in a number of 19th and 20th century musicological studies. He gained his Master’s and Doctoral degree from Indiana University. In addition to his academic work he plays horn with a number of ‘local’ orchestras and is also the organist at Fountain Avenue Methodist Church in Paducah, Kentucky.

This book is well-presented. It is printed on environmentally friendly paper: the text is clear and the layout is definitely easy to use. I have not been able to review the Kindle Version of this book: I note that it is priced at £62:23 on Amazon. I am not convinced that a reference book like is quite as effective when presented digitally. Personally, I like to be able to browse between sections, flick between indices and text and gain inspiration from serendipity. I understand that Kindle will allow a full search, but the results are not always clear to peruse.
At £95.00 the hardback version of William Alwyn: A Research and Information Guide is high-priced. Amazon is offering it for £88.90 and other sellers for around the £80 mark. It is a fact of academic life that books of this calibre are expensive, even by today’s standard. Information does not come cheap in any walk of life. 
I recommend this book as ‘required reading’ for all enthusiasts of William Alwyn – whether they are ‘lay’ or ‘academic’. There is so much information packed into these 336 pages that will be of interest and value to researchers for many years to come. 

William Alwyn: A Research and Information Guide 
John C. Dressler
Routledge Musical Bibliographies
Routledge, hardback 336 pages
IBSN 978-0-415-88605-5

Sunday 11 August 2013

Arnold Bax: A Wish List for Recordings from ‘The Gramophone’ July 1927

My last musings on W.A. Chislett’s contribution to early Arnold Bax discography considers his ‘wish list’ of music deemed to be appropriate for future recording. He suggests that the best place to begin would be with a few of the songs and the shorter piano pieces. A more ambitious ‘first shot’ would include the Quintet for harp and strings. He suggests that for larger scale pieces record companies ‘should choose first of all the ‘Symphonic Variations’ for piano and orchestra (1918) and the Piano Quintet (1915). Interestingly at this time these two works were deemed to be Bax’s finest achievements. Chislett insists that in both these pieces the piano part should be played by Miss Harriet Cohen, if possible.’
He then suggests a few orchestral pieces worthy of recording: his choice here would have been either The Garden of Fand of November Woods. Chislett then makes a swipe at the Gramophone’s editor, Compton Mackenzie who had previously suggested that Tintagel was like ‘an enthusiastic but badly written letter by somebody who had just arrived at the seaside for his holidays.’ Finally Chislett calls for a record of Bax’s choral work ‘To the Name above Every Name’, which has been heard at the 1923 Three Choirs Festival in 1933. 
Like every critic he had now warmed to his subject. Other possibilities were springing into his mind. He writes: ‘I should have liked to include the tone poem In the Faery Hills, the viola concerto and sonata, the short one-movement piano quartet, and one of the string quartets, as well as some more choral music and Moy Mell, an Irish Fantasy for two pianos.’ He concludes by suggesting that ‘a moderate demand such as I have made, however, is more likely to be met that one so large as this would have been.’

Although Mr Chislett would have had to wait many years, all the works listed here have been subsequently recorded. It is a tribute to the revival of interest in Bax’s music that many of these pieces are available in multiple versions. 

Thursday 8 August 2013

The Golden Age of Light Music- Melodies for the Starlight Hours

The proceedings get off to a great start with a smoochy, smoky little number by Robert Katscher – ‘When Day is Done’. I guess that this piece epitomises the selection of music on this disc. This Laurie Johnson arrangement emphasises it as a late-night piece. There is a particularly moody break for trumpets before the music closes with a violin solo.
Many of the numbers derive from various ‘shows’ or ‘films’. There is a fine arrangement of ‘I could have danced all night’ from My Fair Lady. The beautiful ‘I’ve told every Star’ comes from the Hammerstein/Kern musical Music in the Air which was premiered in Broadway in 1932.  The Bob Hope and Bing Crosby knockabout comedy The Road to Morocco has given the world the romantic ‘Moonlight becomes you’.  The classic Kurt Weill number ‘Speak Low’ comes from the largely forgotten ‘One Touch of Venus’, whilst ‘During One Night’ is the eponymous title from the 1961 film staring Susan Hampshire and Don Borisenko with a musical score by Bill McGuffie. I am not sure that the harmonica quite supports the mood of Starlight!

I am always pleased to find a number of ‘classic’ British (Commonweath) light music composers represented in these Guild CDs. This disc is no exception.  Steve Race’s ‘In Paris, In Love’ opens with a vamp that could be an introduction to an Adam Faith song! Later, the Parisian mood takes over this well-constructed little tone-poem. A little closer to home Robert Farnon has painted a picture of a ‘typical ‘Home Counties’ evening with his thoughtful ‘How Beautiful is the Night.’ Equally ‘English’ in its mood is Cecil Milner’s ‘Melody for Lovers.’ This composer, who lived in Wimbledon for much of his life, deserves to be better known.  Angela Morley can always be relied upon to deliver an effective and romantic piece of mood music and ‘A Tender Mood’ is quietly restrained and probably reflects lost love rather than an evening of romance.  More positive is Peter Yorke’s ‘Cocktails by Candlelight’. This hints at the magic of two lovers sipping Snowball’s or Cosmopolitans in the Dorchester or Claridges.

Our American allies are well represented here too. ‘Manhattan in Satin’ by Willis Schaefer is evocative of the lamented Rainbow Room in the Rockefeller Center – an elegant lady sitting by the picture windows with all the lights of Manhattan behind her.  Cole Porter’s standard ‘Mind if I make love to you’ is near perfect, whilst up the road Harry Revel has painted a picture  of an evening ‘Underneath a Harlem Moon’ which is a little edgier with a few blue notes, muted trumpets, big band-style breaks and a good part for clarinet. Further south ‘Moon over Miami’ by Edgar Leslie and Joe Burke is Mancini-like with its use of sweeping strings. Over in the Caribbean, David Rose has scored a hit with his ‘Night in Trinidad’. This has the trappings of calypso worked over by a London-born, but Chicago-raised composer. There is a Latin mood in ‘Midnight Tango’ by Hiller, Hiller and Newman: this is the most lively and least starry piece on this CD. I am not sure what the balalaika is doing in the Argentine though?
Balalaikas and accordions inform Hubert Giraud’s attractive ‘Sweet Surrender Waltz’ – something between a music box and a Paris café scene. ‘Orchid’s in the Moonlight’ by Vincent Youmans has a sinister beat, yet the romantic strings play down any suggestion of ‘things of the night.’ Other tunes include the wistful ‘Thinking of You’ by Harry Ruby that makes such effective use of sweeping strings. ‘Take my Lips’ by Teo Usuelli is an upbeat little tune whilst ‘Stranger in Town’ by Malcolm Lockyer reflects on the dichotomy of its title – lonely but full of possibilities. Adolph Deutch’s ‘Lonely Room’ is not quite as sad as the title would imply. ‘Love me if you wish’ penned by Vittorio Mascheroni’s is quite simply beautiful and contains a luxurious trumpet solo.
The final number has gained a double entendre – ‘After Hours Joint’ by J. George Johnson. But perhaps to the innocent all things etc… For me this piece epitomises my idealised view of a nineteen-fifties night club down some half-lit, back street in Fitzrovia. Drum and bass gently supporting strings and piano give just the right atmosphere for a late night hang-out. It is a good place to conclude this exploration of music inspired by the ‘Starlight Hours’.

There is only one issue I have with this CD: I do wish that Guild would provide all the composers’ dates. It is important that the listener is able to ‘contextualise’ these pieces, even although they are ‘only’ light music. I do not expect the dates of composition to be given as I imagine that in many cases this will be well-nigh impossible.
As always with the Guild Light Music series the recording is superb: all the pieces have scrubbed up well.
I enjoyed this relaxed selection of music designed to be heard during the ‘starlight hours.’ It is to be hoped that many more ‘chilled’ tunes are available and will duly be presented in this hugely impressive series of recordings.
Guild Light Music GLCD5196
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Monday 5 August 2013

Arnold Bax: Early Reviews of the Oboe Quintet

W. A. Chislett writing in the July 1927 edition of The Gramophone magazine noted that the National Gramophonic Society (N.G.S.) were about to issue Arnold Bax’s Oboe Quintet. In fact, he had heard the ‘test prints’ and declared that ‘these records are technically the finest yet made for the Society.’ 
Some nine months earlier, in the October 1926 edition the N.G.S. had advertised the forthcoming release of this Oboe Quintet. Other British works scheduled included Delius’ ‘Summer Night on the River’, Eugene Goossens’ Violin Sonatas and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Phantasy Quartet.  
In the same issue, a review of the Bradford Chamber Music Festival on 5 & 6 October 1926, ‘Terzet’ noted that the outstanding work in the first evening’s performance was Bax’s Oboe Quintet. He wrote: ‘This delightful work reveals the hand of a master both in its melodic content and in the handling of the contrasting tone-colours of the oboe and the strings.’ The composer was in the audience that night and ‘must have been equally pleased with the excellence of the performance and the warmness of its reception by the audience.’  Terzet concluded his comments by hoping that this work would be released by the N.G.S. at an early date.  Other British works performed at the Bradford Festival included Delius Violin Sonata No. 2, in C major, Eugene Goossens’ Phantasy Quartet Op.12 and Bax’s Quintet for harp and strings. This last work was deemed to be ‘rather a forbidding work at first hearing.’
In April 1927 it was announced that the Music Society Quartet (International Quartet) would shortly release the Ravel Quartet and the Bax Oboe Quintet. At that time the personnel included Andre Mangeot, Boris Pecker (violins) Henry J. Berly (viola) and John Barbirolli (cello) although it was intimated that for this recording the violist was Frank Howard and the cellist, Herbert Withers. The oboe was to be played by Leon Goossens.
In June 1927, the N.G.S. reported that The Times (I was unable to find this reference) had criticised the surface noise or recent releases, However the Society stated that ‘we hope to improve this, the one weakness of N.G.S. records, in the works now being recorded.
I understand that NGS 76/77 was shipped to the society subscribers during August 1927. The first and last movements of the Oboe Quintet occupied two sides of the first disc and the the slow movement two sides of the second disc. Fascinatingly, Arnold Bax believed that this middle movement was taken too slowly.
Interestingly, final movement from these this recording was broadcast by the BBC on 29 September 1927.
Hardly surprisingly, the National Gramophonic Society published a number of ‘testimonial’ letters praising their recent issue of the Bax Oboe Quintet.  They include the following comments:-
[The Quintet is] a very fine achievement. I do not know which to praise most, the work with its supremely beautiful slow movement and its riotously jolly last movement, which set the household dancing, or the recording, which is positively superb.  Of course under the heading recording, I must include the playing, Mr Goossens’ oboe work being wonderful. The separation fot he parts in the rather complex writing in the first movement is extremely well done, and I do not think I have ever enjoyed a first hearing of any records so music before.’ A Burgess. The Rev. D. Campbell Miller wrote that ‘In the case of the Bax Quintet, I think your very best effort has been achieved.
Arnold Bax’s Quintet for oboe and strings was released on NGS 76/77.  This recording is currently available on Oboe Classics 2005.

Friday 2 August 2013

Gustav Mahler: British Criticism from the 1930s.

Over the weekend I was reading Norman Lebrecht’s excellent book Why Mahler? (Faber & Faber Limited, 2010)  In his introduction he notes that until the Mahler revivals of the ‘fifties and ‘sixties, musical criticism in Britain claimed that his works were ‘laboriously put together and lacking that vital spark of inspiration.’ I checked out the references which are to The Musical Companion. This was a ‘compendium for all lovers of music’ edited by the great critic A. L. Bacharach. It was published by Victor Gollancz in 1934 and was subject to many impressions. The critic Dyneley Hussey contributed an essay on ‘Vocal Music in the 20th Century. The first brief chapter is devoted to Debussy, Strauss and Mahler. He writes, ‘It is not improbable that, of Mahler’s music, posterity will cling to the songs and let the rest go. Mahler’s task was essentially literary, but since it was also profuse, his music is at its best when restricted by the limits of a poetic form.’ He considers the ‘long orchestral magniloquence upon some trivial texts of the fourth symphony’. However, Hussey is impressed by the songs in Des Knaben Wunderhorn and the settings of the Five Poems by Rückert. He considers that the Kindertotenlieder reveal the composer’s tenderness towards childhood in...a gloomy aspect.’
However Das Lied von der Erde receives less enthusiastic priase. He notes that these six songs from Hans Bethge’s ‘Chinese Flute’ have been ‘transformed...from miniatures into a work of symphonic proportions.’  He dislikes the imposing finale of the Eighth Symphony where the Latin hymn ‘Veni, Creator Spiritus’ as well as words from Goethe’s Faust are ‘allotted eight solo voices, a double chorus and a boys’ choir the performers numbering, together with the vast orchestra, about 1000. Finally he considers that with Arnold Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, ‘the megalomania of Central Europe reached its apex.’
Elsewhere in the Companion the composer and author Julius Harrison deals with Mahler’s Symphonies in one sentence – these are ‘works of enormous size, interesting at time, but laboriously put together and lacking that vital spark of inspiration that made Beethoven’s nine the only nine springing direct from the Nine Muses.’

How time deals with critics! Arkiv lists 803 recordings of Mahler’s symphonies. This includes 81 of the ‘Symphony of a Thousand.’