Tuesday 25 November 2014

Arthur Butterworth: Symphony no.2 Op. 25 (1964) – A Half Centenary Review.

Arthur Butterworth died on 20 November 2014. He will be sorely missed by all his friends, colleagues and acquaintances. From a personal point of view he was always most helpful with my enquiries about his music. The essay that follows could not have been written without his considerable help. R.I.P.

It is a commonplace to insist that the ‘Symphony’ was a ‘dead form’ in the mid-twentieth century. Conversely, looking at the listings for 1964 discloses that a number of important British composers were producing valuable essays in this genre.  Works written or first performed in the same year as Butterworth’s Symphony no.2 included Frankel’s Third, Alan Rawsthorne’s Third, Humphrey Searle’s Fifth, Daniel Jones’ Sixth, and Kenneth Leighton’s First. The previous year had seen a performance of Robin Orr’s Symphony in One Movement and Havergal Brian had reached Symphony No. 21 in his extensive catalogue.

Arthur Butterworth has (to date) composed eight symphonies:-
Symphony no.1 op.15 (1957)
Symphony no.2 op. 25 (1964)
‘A Moorland Symphony’ for bass solo, chorus and orchestra op.32 (1967)
Symphony no.3 ‘Sinfonia Borealis’ op. 52 (1979)
Symphony no.4 op.72 (1986)
Symphony no.5 op.115 (2001-2)
Symphony no.6 op.124 (c 2005?)
Symphony no.7 op.140 (2011)
At the time of the composition of the Symphony no.2, Butterworth had completed a number of important works.  At the start of the previous year, 1963, the large-scale Moors Suite op.26 for orchestra and organ had been performed by the BBC Northern Orchestra under Stanford Robinson.  The following year, 1964, saw the brass-band version of the composer’s popular The Path across the Moors played by the Yorkshire Youth Brass Band. Finally, in that same year, incidental music for the school play The Castle of Perseverance was heard at Guiseley School, near Leeds.

After resigning his post as trumpeter with the Hallé Orchestra, Butterworth was involved with music-making in the West Riding of Yorkshire. This included teaching and conducting for the local education authority. He was also associated with Ermysted’s Grammar School in Skipton and had recently become conductor of the Halifax Symphony Orchestra and the Huddersfield Philharmonic Society.
In 1957, the première of Butterworth’s Symphony no. 1, op.15 at Cheltenham was attended by Jack Holgate, the secretary of the Bradford Subscription Concerts Society. This venerable organisation had more than ninety years of association with the Hallé Orchestra and was planning the celebration of its centenary. Holgate approached Butterworth after the Cheltenham performance and there and then commissioned him to write a new Symphony for that centenary. Butterworth told me: ‘I had almost eight years, 1957 to 1965, to write this work. I had not realised at that time that the forthcoming 100th season would begin in October 1964 (not 1965!) so I had to get a move on and make sure it was ready in time.’
The composer explained to me that until his Symphony no.1 (1957) he had been, ‘avowedly, primarily influenced by Sibelius and the obvious native relationship with Vaughan Williams and English music.’ As background information to this present work he recalled a casual meeting with the critic and musicologist Deryck Cooke on the steps of the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Cooke had heard that Butterworth had been commissioned to write a symphony for the 1965 Bradford/Hallé season. The composer explained to him that it was to be a kind of ‘bi-dedication to the Bradford/Hallé connection, but also to the Sibelius centenary’. Cooke had responded, ‘Ah! But you should remember 1965 also marks the centenary of Carl Nielsen too!’ Butterworth considered this appropriate: ‘So I did indeed incorporate the notion of not forgetting Nielsen's contribution to early 20th century symphonic development. Hence, the Symphony no.2 of mine does certainly acknowledge something of Nielsen and not just Sibelius: especially the opening of the last movement, and this I acknowledge unreservedly.’

One interesting anecdote that Butterworth told me referred to the use of tubular bells in the ‘adagio’. The critic Desmond Shawe-Taylor had written to him to say that he found ‘the bells distracting…’ Nonetheless there was a reason.  It was the composer’s custom to walk his dog in Heaton Park, Manchester on summer evenings: it was near to where he then lived. Butterworth recalled watching the sun ‘dip westwards behind the wide-stretching parkland and the park bell would sound so hauntingly.’ It was a ‘peculiarly evocative, romantic scene.’  The composer remarked to me that ‘What is perhaps never actually ‘said’ by instrumental music (such as a symphony) but is of course obvious in vocal music which relates a specific story through the words, is that it can - for the composer - 'tell' - or at least hint at, the inspiration behind the design of a particular passage. He may never actually reveal what has motivated or inspired it, but there is often (if not always) some specific private memory, and so it was with me’.
‘Mr Manchester’s Diary’ in the Manchester Evening News (October 30 1964) had provided a chatty approach to Butterworth’s new work.  He begins by stating that a ‘country dweller…took his dog walking from his home near Skipton [West Riding]…and wrote a symphony.’ He quoted the composer as saying that ‘I get all my inspiration at night…every evening I take the dog for a walk through the fields and lanes and there I find the peace and quiet to concentrate.’ Arthur Butterworth moved from Manchester to Skipton in September 1962, so both Heaton Park and the Yorkshire Dales have left their impression on this symphony.
Interestingly, these summertime nightly strolls with his dog were not in themselves the beginning of the musical inspiration for this work, but rather it went back more than twenty-five years to 1935 (when Butterworth was nearly 12).  It was a melancholy, rainy summer's evening when his mother died in hospital: being quite young, he was left in the porters' lodge whilst his father visited his dying wife. All he heard was the relentless tolling of the hospital bell signifying 'visiting time' was soon to be over. So, inspiration for this present work is a concatenation of various memories, ideas and impressions.

This essay concentrates on the genesis and reception of Arthur Butterworth’s Symphony no.2: a formal, technical analysis of this work is not appropriate here. However, a few details about the construction and progress of the symphony are of considerable interest.  The source of much of this analysis is the programme notes for the premiere produced by J.H. (Jack Holgate) in consultation with the composer.
The Symphony is in three movements: an opening ‘allegro molto’, an ‘adagio’ and a concluding ‘vivace’.  The ‘progression of the emotional tension’ of the work is likened to the letter “W” ‘with its various apexes corresponding to varied peaks of tension.’ As a general structural overview, it is cyclic, with thematic links between the first and second movements and the second and third.  As The Times (October 31 1964) reviewer states, it is the ‘identity of thought and idiom which locks the whole work together.’

The programme notes stress the fact that there is a strict economy of material used throughout this work. Reference is made to themes derived from the Symphony no.1 which are used to create the opening statement of the ‘allegro molto’ in the Second.  Paul Conway, who has made a detailed study of Butterworth’s music, has proposed that the present work ‘carries on where the volatile finale of the First Symphony left off’.  He has suggested that Butterworth realised that there was ‘previously untapped potential in that seminal work’. Is it that this present work is deemed to be a ‘sequel?’
The first bar with its immediate rising glissando of a tritone followed by a long downward ‘scale’ sets the general mood of this movement.  The second major theme mirrors the first with its rising scale first heard on the clarinet. These themes, after some development, are used to create what is effectively a scherzo, but without the expected ‘trio.’ The music does calm down and the opening movement concludes with a ‘calmer atmosphere’ bringing ‘clarification rather than complication of the initial material.’
The slow movement, an ‘adagio’, is clearly the heart of the work, in which the composer has invested much personal feeling and emotion. This is recognised by most critics. After a short opening phrase on the strings, the main theme is presented ‘adagio’ on a solo ‘cello.  This has considerable rhythmic subtlety in its relatively gentle unfolding. The addition of woodwind and brass bring an intense moment that is intensified by the use of rising and falling scales.  The main theme of the slow movement is repeated in an augmented version which has considerable passion.  The composer introduces what is effectively new material in the coda of the ‘adagio’ where ‘a strongly personal feeling of poignancy characterises the mood of resignation after tension.’ Percussion used here includes tubular bells which reflect the tolling of the hospital or Heaton Park bell as noted above.
The finale begins quietly with a short passage played on bassoons and builds up towards the conclusion of the movement. This theme has dotted rhythms and a touch of syncopation which imbue the music with a degree of urgency. The ‘vivace’ develops as a ‘moto perpetuo’ although there is a break in the activity when the oboe hints at a theme derived from the ‘adagio.’ As the music becomes more expansive, the tonality seems to become more stable: the ‘opening agitation promises to be resolved into a happy ending.’  The oboe presents a pastoral version of the main theme whilst the strings give a tranquil turn to this melody. Then the intensity of the music increases towards the conclusion. The work ends with a ‘whimsical enigmatic flourish’. J.H./Butterworth notes that ‘solutions to problems are often transitory rather than final.

First Performance and Reception
Unusually for a ‘provincial concert’ there were many journalists present at the première who were celebrating the Centenary. These represented the national and provincial press as well as a number of magazines and journals and the BBC. It is strange that the BBC did not choose to broadcast or record this work. 

The premiere was given at Bradford’s St. George’s Hall on Friday October 30 1964.   The concert also included Anton Dvorak’s Symphony no. 5 ‘New World’ Symphony, the Concerto Grosso no.12 in B minor by Handel, and the Scherzo from An Irish Symphony by Sir Hamilton Harty. The following day, a second performance was given in Rochdale at the Champness Hall. The remainder of that programme was largely similar: I understand that the Handel was swapped for Nicolai’s overture The Merry Wives of Windsor.  It is significant to note that Arthur Butterworth’s first concert as a trumpet player with the Hallé was at Rochdale’s Champness Hall on January 22 1955. (Rochdale Observer undated review, probably November 2 1964)

One major contemporary assessment was in The Times (October 31 1964) newspaper by their ‘special correspondent.’ He began by noting that the ‘enterprising committee’ had invited a ‘northern composer’ to write a new symphony.  After a brief resume of Arthur Butterworth’s career up to that point, he writes that it was a ‘happy coincidence’ that the first performance of the new symphony should be given by his former colleagues in the Hallé. He notes that this ‘personal relationship…showed itself in warm, sensitive playing.’   Musically, he points out that the composer tends towards harmonic rather than contrapuntal textures.  He majors on one of the most common critical assessments of Butterworth’s’ music – he is ‘refreshingly free from ‘isms’ and ‘alities’ and his music language is strongly tonal.’ It was to be this facet of the composer’s music that was to lead to him being ignored by the cognoscenti until relatively recently.  The one negative side to The Times review is an offhand suggestion that Butterworth’s ‘experience as an orchestral player has betrayed him into regurgitating much that he has played and heard.’  He thought that the work is quite clearly influenced by the two dedicatee’s Sibelius and Nielsen; however he felt that it is easy to determine other sources of inspiration, such as Gustav Holst and Shostakovich.  The writer’s last comment is to urge the composer to ‘develop a more individual style.’

J.H. Elliot writing in The Guardian (October 31 1964) believes that Butterworth’s Symphony reflects more the ‘spirit’ of Sibelius and Nielsen rather than their ‘traditional, but not conventional, musical outlook’.  He points up the formal principles of the three movement work with a ‘closing section in the first movement replacing the separate scherzo of classical practice’. Elliot admits that there are parts of this work that are so Sibelian, especially in the finale that ‘at moments they hesitate on the verge of actual quotation.’ Yet the critic is forgiving of this homage and writes that the symphony has ‘no little personality of its own and a heartening measure of expressive warmth.’ He highlights the ‘originality and fervour’ of the slow movement.  Like other critics, Elliot is highly complimentary of the scoring of this work, especially the ‘adroitness’ of the woodwind and brass parts; unfortunately he considers that the use of tubular bells ‘sound a little out of character, not to say rakish.’ He concludes his analysis by remarking that 'such well-knit and thoughtful music, even though it belongs to a tradition now in decline, or rather out of fashion, deserves a wider circulation.’
Michael Kennedy commenting in the Daily Telegraph (October 31 1964) believes that this present symphony is a ‘definite advance’ on the first, both in the ‘handling of the material and in a generally more mature approach.’ He makes a helpful suggestion that clarifies much criticism of this work: Sibelius and Nielsen have influenced Butterworth ‘not only musically but ethically in his belief that tonality is not a fully worked-out mine.’ He adds that it is ‘good to find a composer who realises that he must communicate with his audience, not blind them with science or perplex them with nonsense.’
Gerard Dempsey in the Daily Express (October 31 1964) noted that the orchestra ‘rose spontaneously to join in the applause’. He quoted the composer saying about the performance ‘It was exactly as I saw the work. It has been a wonderful night for me.’  Dempsey declared that this ‘deeply felt’ symphony was ‘cleanly scored, tense, urgent and distinctly short of melody.’
The Halifax Courier (October 31 1964) carried an impressive review of this concert.  The correspondent A.W. considered that the performance was ‘obviously prepared with much thought and care.’ An interesting aside suggests the composer had told him that this work was ‘like Sibelius’s own Fourth Symphony’ it is in the nature of a ‘protest against the incomprehensibilities of our present avant-garde in the arts.’  He sensed that ‘thematically and in playing time, it is a comparatively terse work’ and there is about it ‘a taut economy of material and expression, a close-knit texture that puts great emphasis on the values of tonality.’  Interestingly, he believed that the musical language of the Symphony is both ‘personal and modern’, which is a view that goes against the grain of other critics who insisted this work to be a little out of date.
Ernest Bradbury (Yorkshire Post October 31 1964) cites a long-running problem in British concert-life: ‘It is something of a disgrace that… [With the exception of Butterworth] no living composer is represented in the Bradford Subscription Concerts Centenary season.’ He then points out that Butterworth’s Symphony no.2 is only ‘brand new… in the historical sense’. He advocates that ‘musically it is not exactly new, in that it leans markedly on the examples of earlier composers.’ He believes that the work is ‘none the worse for that’ and submits that to ‘proclaim, nowadays, allegiance to two such composers, (Sibelius and Nielsen) constitutes an open act of defiance against the Establishment (more dreary than many people know) of the so-called avant-garde serialists’. He concludes that ‘they will be foolish critics who jump in immediately with the assembly-line opinion that Butterworth is therefore and necessarily, a mere unimportant reactionary.’
Bradbury states categorically that the new work ‘shows itself fascinatingly more interesting than the already admired Symphony No.1’.  He adduces three reasons for this opinion. Firstly that the musical argument utilises a ‘thematic compression’ which ‘argues a more logical and clear-sighted scheme than in the somewhat rhapsodic, atmospheric… earlier work’. Secondly there is the unusual form, which nods to Sibelius, and thirdly in the unconventional instrumentation which stems from Nielsen.  It is the ‘symphony’s underlying sense of unity, its intuitive purpose and its clearly directed cumulative progress’ that defines its success.  Finally, Bradbury detected some ‘grey, austere colour of the northern (English) landscape’ in this symphony as well as the ‘North’s hard, unyielding qualities’.
The Rochdale concert was reviewed by A.C.H. in the local paper (Rochdale Observer op. cit.) The author expressed delight at the practical aspects of the performance itself, noting that it is not often that ‘we get the composer of a work appearing on the platform when the Hallé Orchestra gives a concert [in the town]…’ He cited the ‘interesting spectacle’ of the composer congratulating the conductor, Sir Adrian Boult. Condescendingly, he writes that the ‘sight of this novelty did add a little something extra…the applause accorded was undoubtedly appreciative, as was the listening’ which was ‘attentive.’ The reviewer noted that there is ‘very little melodic interest’ in the two outer movements, with these being dominated by ‘percussive rhythms.’ He believed that the ‘lyrical’ central adagio ‘had a particular appeal of its own.’ A.C.H. reflects that this movement has ‘a poignancy which appears to spring from some deeply felt spiritual or emotional experience’.  Finally, he notes the ‘complex’ orchestration and suggests that the influences of Sibelius and Nielsen can be heard in the brass fanfares and the use of the timpani.

Arthur Butterworth has suggested to me that the Symphony no.2 as a whole might benefit from ‘some shrewd revision: especially the fearfully dissonant opening bars’. Having listened to this work a number of times (albeit on a less-than-perfect recording) I feel that little needs to be done to make this a valuable and ultimately successful addition to the British symphonic repertoire. In spite of the fact that Sibelius and Nielsen are clearly dual influences, this is not a parody or pastiche of those composers’ music. Arthur Butterworth has a powerful voice and has composed a profoundly individual work. Paul Conway has suggested to me that this is a ‘Moorland’ Symphony in all but name, with definite North Country roots in spite of its part-Scandinavian dedication. There is little warmth in this work, with the possible exception of the almost tragic ‘adagio’ however, even here the powerful emotion of these bars does not give respite to the listener. The Symphony is ultimately positive in its effect but this confidence is hard-won.
It is unfortunate that Arthur Butterworth is poorly represented on CD. In the present Arkiv Catalogue there are only seven discs devoted to his music (a number of other works appear in compilations).  In recent years, three of his symphonies have appeared on disc, with two versions of the ‘First’ being available.  A selection of orchestral and chamber music is also obtainable on Dutton Epoch. There is an elusive CD featuring some of Butterworth’s brass band works.  A number of private recordings of his music – often from radio broadcasts – circulate amongst enthusiasts.  At present the Symphony no.2 is only available in an unidentified broadcast performance by the BBC Scottish Orchestra.
The most important task at present must be to complete Arthur Butterworth’s cycle of symphonies on CD.

With grateful thanks to Arthur Butterworth for much help and encouragement in writing this article. Also to Paul Conway (by email, 21/08/14) for a number of extremely helpful insights into this Symphony.

Saturday 22 November 2014

Arnold Bax: review of first recording of Tintagel.

In 1929 Eugene Goossens and the New Symphony Orchestra made the first recording of Arnold Bax’s great tone-poem Tintagel. The critic W.R. Anderson, who was a mainstay of The Gramophone magazine, duly sang its praises, as well as commenting on the other piece included on the 2-disc set, Mediterranean. It is interesting to note his enthusiasm for future Bax recording projects. It was not until the 1970s that his began to become a reality. Unfortunately, Bax is not strong in the concert hall in our day. For example, Tintagel has not been performed at a Proms Concert since 1989. The Symphonic Variations was last heard at that venue in 1938.  The Goossens recording of Bax’s Tintagel is currently available on Dutton CDBP 9779.

To record Tintagel is bold and good [1]. The bigger Bax awaits full recognition, and recording will hasten it. [2] So will broadcasting, when Bax can get as much time in the programmes as his stature merits. Of Tintagel he has said that it is ‘only in the broadest sense programme music. Its intention is simply to offer a tonal impression of the castle-crowned cliff of Tintagel, and more especially of the long distances of the Atlantic as seen from the cliffs of Cornwall on a sunny but not windless summer day. The literary and traditional associations of the scene also enter into the scheme’ – those of Tristan, presumably, in particular. [3] This is an ideal brief composer’s note, putting the imagination into gear, so to speak, and leaving the music to carry us along. I am reminded a little of parts of Frank Bridge’s suite The Sea which Columbia of old recorded. [4] Bax is still more subtly powerful, I feel. This is one of the finest suggestions of old scenes and of nature’s sway that we have. I doubt if any record can get the size and scope of the seascape, but the quieter, broader, more intimate evocations are here, with a sureness of touch in the performance (so far as memory carries one) that deserve high praise. I reckon this some of the best recording of the day. Much is due to Goossens’ sympathy and insight. I hope that he will make many more records, especially of imaginative, impressionistic music. It should be added that the work is not ‘advanced’ or eccentric in any way.
Mediterranean was originally a piano piece. Bax scored it for the big concert of his works that his publishers, Murdochs, courageously gave in November 1922. The firm has kept faith with him, and few British composers now at work, of Bax’s quality, have had so many serious works printed (of late years, at any rate) as soon as written. This glowing, swaying music is not so much like conventional ‘sunny South’ poster-music made by foreigners. It is not of the calibre of Tintagel, but it fits snugly into the memory and gently titillates the musical palate.
May we have more Bax, please? – the Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra, containing at lease on the loveliest movements written by any living composer, and The Garden of Fand, which ranks Bax with Delius. I believe the N.G.S. (National Gramophone Society) may do the quartet in G which I suggested a few years ago. [5] It is one of the most straightforward and open-hearted of his works. Meanwhile, support H.M.V.’s enterprise in doing Tintagel so splendidly.
The Gramophone February 1930.  (W.R. Anderson)

[1] HMV C1619/20: New Symphony Orchestra/Eugene Goossens: Arnold Bax: Tintagel and Mediterranean.
[2]Enthusiasts had to wait until 1943 for the first recording of a Bax Symphony by Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra.  There are now three complete cycles of the Symphonies available on CD: Bryden Thomson on Chandos, Vernon Handley on Chandos and David Lloyd-Jones on Naxos. Arkiv CD Website list of recordings currently available include Tintagel (20), Symphonic Variations (2), Mediterranean (8), The Garden of Fand (10) and String Quartet in G (2) 
[3] Hannam, William B, Arnold Bax & the Poetry of Tintagel, 2008.  Hannam reminds the reader that Arnold Bax and the pianist Harriet Cohen spent more than six weeks together at Tintagel during August and September, 1917. So this is a personal love-poem as well as the statements he made in the brief programme note.
[4] Columbia L1500/1: London Symphony Orchestra/Frank Bridge: Frank Bridge: The Sea 
[5] The National Gramophone Society duly released a recording of the Strong Quartet No.1 in G major in 1930, played by the Marie Wilson String Quartet. Gramophone Society NGS153/5.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

David Ellis: Concert Music

Divine Art have produced a fine retrospective of David Ellis’ music. According to the composer’s website, it is only the second CD to be devoted entirely to his work. Although many other pieces have appeared on compilations from Campion Cameo, Dutton and Meridian, this is the first major exploration of the orchestral works.
It is not a grave confession to admit that I have not heard any of the works on this present CD before:  I rely heavily on the liner notes provided by the composer for my review.  My only mild criticism of these excellent notes is the statement that ‘the least problematical work in this collection [is the Vale Royal Suite.] I find that all the works are approachable, occasionally a bit challenging, but always expressive and extremely well written –never problematical.
This is exciting, fresh and imaginative music.
The liner notes give a brief biography of David Ellis. His website presents considerably more detail: three or four sentences may give some context to his music.  Ellis was born in Liverpool in 1933 and later studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music (1953-57). His fellow students included Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, Elgar Howarth, Alexander Goehr and John Ogdon. In 1964 he was employed by the BBC as a music producer latterly becoming Head of Music, BBC North in 1977. In 1986 he was appointed Artistic Director and Composer-in-Residence to the Northern Chamber Orchestra. After a period of working in Portugal he returned to the United Kingdom to devote himself to composition and work CD production.  David Ellis’ compositions include three symphonies, concertos for violin and piano, and a wide variety of chamber and instrumental music.
The earliest work on this present disc is the Concert Music dating from 1959, but not premiered until 1972.  Ellis notes that the string writing ‘did not conform to the avant-garde tendencies prevalent elsewhere in the UK at the time of its completion.’ The work is in four movements and explores a variety of different moods. The important thing is that this ‘neo-romantic’ music is consistent, balanced and ultimately satisfying. For me, it should take its place in the repertoire of ‘string orchestra’ music alongside music by Berkeley, Tippett and Leighton.
I was impressed by Solus composed in 1973. It was at this time that I had started attending concerts and recitals in Glasgow and suffered from hearing a number of ‘premieres’ which were typically unmemorable and sometimes virtually unlistenable. If only I had heard Ellis’ work it might have restored my faith in ‘modern music’! Solus was a commission from the Manchester Camerata for their inaugural concert at the Royal Northern College of Music on 2 June 1973.  The title of the work reminds the listener that some 400 years previously, Copernicus had ‘made the discovery that confirmed the relationship between the Sun and planet Earth.’  David Ellis wrote a set of variations that reflected the progress of a typical day from ‘dawn to dusk’. The theme heard at the start, is presented in a number of guises, with a wide range of emotions ranging from warmth to death and even desolation. Yet it is piece that can be enjoyed apart from its programme. It is possibly the most vital piece on this CD.
Diversions (1974) had a strange genesis. It was commissioned by Warrington New Town Development Corporation. This group had been set up to ensure that the then new M6 motorway did not isolate the town. A concert to celebrate the success of the initiative was given by the Manchester Camerata under Frank Cliff: it included Diversions. This is an immediately enjoyable set of ‘continuous variations’. The title alludes to a perennial hazard of road travel – being ‘Diverted.’
Although the liner notes do not state it, ‘Celebrations’ is the last movement of a work called Trilogy. The first and second are titled ‘Circles’ (strings) and ‘Centerings’ (woodwind). It is difficult to know whether Trilogy was conceived as a ‘symphonic’ work or was created from three diverse pieces. Certainly, the composer considers that ‘Celebrations’ works as a standalone piece. It was commissioned by Sir John Manduell for the Royal Northern College of Music and makes use of an 18th century-sized classical orchestra. In spite of the title, there is much reflective music in this score that contrasts with the lively opening and closing measures.
The undated Vale Royal Suite is a delight. Based on a day’s ‘journey’ the music give expression to moods associated with ‘A leisurely morning’, ‘Afternoon Activity’, ‘Early Evening at Rest’, ‘A Midnight Waltz’ and finally after a very late night, ‘Tomorrow’s Sunrise’. I guess that if I was the composer, I would ditch the movements’ ‘character piece’ titles and go for the tempo directions only. This is basically ‘light’ music that is moving towards something more serious.
The latest work on this CD is September Threnody for string orchestra, completed in 2011 and premiered by the Northern Chamber Orchestra under Nicolas Ward in 2013. The word ‘threnody’ can be defined as ‘an ode, song or speech of lamentation, especially for the dead.’ This is highly appropriate as the work is dedicated to the composer’s wife who died in 2009. However, the emotion of this four movement work does have many positive moments and the listener feels challenged at the end of the piece rather than depressed.  September Threnody is written in four short sections.
As noted above the liner notes are first-rate: they are clear to read and informative. The recording of this music is excellent. The performances are all completely convincing.

David Ellis has presented here a wide range of approachable, absorbing, enjoyable and sometimes thought-provoking (but not problematic) music. I have heard nothing by Ellis, on this CD or elsewhere, that has not impressed me. He is a composer that deserves all success and I can only hope that this present exploration of a selection of his orchestral music will lead to greater attention in the world of recording and concerts. 

Track Listing:
David ELLIS (b. 1933)
Vale Royal Suite (?) Diversions (1974) Concert Music (1959) Celebration (1980s) September Threnody (2011) Solus (1973)
Manchester Sinfonia/Richard Howarth (Vale Royal Suite, Concert Music) Northern Chamber Orchestra/Nicolas Ward (Diversions, September Threnody) RNCM Sinfonia/Sir Edward Downes (Celebration) Manchester Camerata/Frank Cliff (Solus)
Divine Art dda 25119 
With thank to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Sunday 16 November 2014

Walter Carroll: Four Gypsies – Suite of Four Pieces for Pianoforte

Readers will not find any reviews of these four charming miniatures in any musical journals. It is unlikely that they will ever be recorded unless some generous pianist choses to upload a performance onto YouTube. Yet these four short pieces by Manchester-born Walter Carroll are delightful examples of his music which was primarily written to encourage the player to make an ‘imaginative response’ to the music and the accompanying quotaiton. I found this sheet music in the Oxfam Shop in Southampton.
Pianists will know some of Carroll’s more popular pieces such as ‘Sea Idylls’, ‘Forest Fantasies’ and possibly ‘Water Sprites’. Fewer will have heard his fine Piano Sonata which was released on CD in 2002, also published by Forsyths (FS0004)
Unlike much of Carroll’s music, which was published by the Manchester firm of Forsyth’s Four Gypsies was issued by Riccordi of London in 1937.  

The four movements are each prefaced by a short quotation:-
Melissa (Graceful)
Nimble her feet as the mountain hind
And darker her hair than night. (Old Song)
Alanza (Serious)
With pensive mien and bronzèd face
He tells the story of his race. (Anon)
Lorinda (Joyous)
Born by the sea she laughed and danced
A radiant vision on the silver sand. (Anon)
Montago (Sparking)
Your eyes are black and lovely,
But wild as those of a stag. (Montago)

The musical content of these four pieces is hardly profound. The difficulty level is probably a good Grade 3. However, the best piece (in my opinion) is the final ‘Montago’ which is written as a tarantella. This needs nimble fingering to play with the recommended direction and I must admit to finding it difficult to neatly execute.  It has been my experience of Walter Carroll’s music that there is much to trip up the over-confident player who deems these piece too simplistic or trivial. 

Thursday 13 November 2014

Humphrey Searle: Suite for Clarinet in B flat and Piano, op.32

I was in the Oxfam Music Shop in Southampton a few weeks ago. Like all second-hand shops the stock is very often a matter of luck. On this occasion, I found six pieces of music that appealed to me. The one I want to consider briefly is Humphrey Searle’s Suite for Clarinet in B flat and Piano, op.32. 
Searle was born in Oxford in 1915 and was subsequently educated at Winchester and Oxford. Later lessons included working with Gordon Jacob, R.O. Morris and John Ireland at the Royal College of Music. He travelled in Europe where he studied with Anton Webern. After war service he worked at the BBC and in 1951 Searle was appointed as musical advisor at Sadler’s Wells Ballet. His appointments also included two years a secretary of the I.S.C.M. and honorary secretary of the Liszt Society. Often criticised for writing music in an uncompromising ’12-tone’ idiom he was at heart a romantic. Much of his music is inspired by his interest in Franz Liszt.  Important works include five symphonies, a trilogy for speaker/s, chorus and orchestra from texts by Sitwell and Joyce: ‘Gold Coast Customs’ (1949), ‘The Riverrun’ and ‘The Shadow of Cain’ (both 1951) and a number of operas including ‘A Diary of a Madman.’ Searle died in 1982 aged only 66 years.

The present Suite was composed in 1956 for the Attingham Summer School (Shropshire) of that year and was published by Schott & Co Ltd in 1957.  It is a relatively short work lasting for ten minutes. There are five movements.
  1. Prelude. Lento
  2. Scherzo & Fugue. Allegro
  3. Rhapsody. Lento. tempo a piacere
  4. March. Moderato
  5. Hora. Allegro molto.

As expected, this work was conceived using serial techniques which are presented with a considerable degree of latitude.  Although the entire row is heard in the opening bars, Searle does not manipulate it in strict fashion. He is content to repeat chords and melodic fragments with attention to musical effect rather than pedantry.
Huot Fusher, in a detailed study of this work (A Critical Evaluation of Selected Clarinet Solo Literature Published from January 1, 1950 to January 1, 1967) has written that the suite ‘is a rather effective combination of traditional forms, tempos, and rhythms.’ Looking at the clarinet part reveals a challenging but ultimately satisfying piece of writing that belies the serial construction. The piano accompaniment is also effective but less complex. I do not believe that this Suite has been recorded however, from a reading of the score it looks like a promising work for revival. 

Monday 10 November 2014

Judith Bailey & George Lloyd: Havas - orchestral music

I was enormously impressed with Judith Bailey’s significant contribution to this new CD from EM Records. I have had the opportunity of hearing her retrospective of chamber and piano music released on Metier MSVCD92101 (review) which proved to be a most interesting and challenging exploration of her music. So, it was fascinating to be able to discover these two successful orchestral scores.
The first work on this CD is Havas op 44. The title is the Cornish idiomatic phrase/word for ‘a period of summer’. It was sketched out in 1991 near to the composer’s home in West Cornwall. Three things will impress the listener on hearing this powerful work. Firstly, there is a huge cinematic sweep to this deeply romantic music: it could have been written for a feature film about the people and places of this great and proud county. Secondly, much of this music reflects the fact that Cornwall is surrounded by the ocean on two of its three sides: Bailey has composed some first-rate sea-music that reflects both the stormy waves and contrasting calm azure blue oceans. And finally, there is a legendary feel to these three movements that points up the historical and esoteric history of that land. Whether it is the Neolithic monument portrayed in ‘Lanyon Quoit’, the ‘Merry Maidens’ turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath or the breached ‘Gwavas Lake’ with it connection to St. Pol or Paul one feels that that the mists of time are just occasionally clearing but still jealously clasping their age-old secrets.  Another reviewer has suggested that Havas may be considered alongside Malcolm Arnold’s Cornish Dances. Up to a point, this is a fair comparison. However, there are differences. Judith Bailey is a Cornishwoman: Arnold only fell in love with the place and lived there for a space. Bailey’s music is effectively a series of short, ‘tone poems’, which possess a stylistic unity, whereas Arnold has written four largely discrete ‘dances’ that reflect the diversity of his eclectic style of composition. And finally, this present work is of almost symphonic proportions lasting just short of twenty minutes, twice the length of Arnold’s work.
The Concerto for Orchestra, op.55, written in 1986, is a slightly more challenging work. It was commissioned by Dr. Patrick Waller as a birthday present for his wife Jean, who at that time was the principal cellist of the Southampton Concert Orchestra.  Hardly surprisingly, the cello features predominantly in these pages. There are also well-constructed solo parts for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, trumpet and trombone.
This Concerto is cast in a long single movement that is divided up into three sections reflecting fast-slow-fast. The sound world is intense, and largely reflects ‘absolute music’ rather the landscape impressions of Havas. It is a tightly-structured work that the composer states depends on the working out of a couple of melodies heard at the beginning-with some astrological significance. I agree with Rob Barnett that the last bar is an anti-climax, with its ‘conventional affirmative gesture.’ I am not a composer, but there is more than one way of ending on a positive note: this is not satisfactory after the imaginative and exploratory music that has preceded it.
Other reviewers have suggested that this Concerto may take a few hearings for the listener to get their bearings: I found that it appealed to me immediately. I guess that Judith Bailey has created a work, which, like Bax, relates to the legendary nature of her Celtic Fringe homeland –even if the work was composed for a Hampshire-based orchestra.  The Concerto for Orchestra is a stunning piece of music that had me interested from the first note to the last (the final bar excepted). The orchestration is superb. Bailey’s balance of haunting melody and percussive harmonies is second to none; the formal balance between the various tempos is well-wrought, and finally, the stylistic equilibrium of the work remains consistent throughout.

I have to admit that I have never come to terms with George Lloyd’s music. On the one hand I find that it is usually interesting, enjoyable and often quite moving. The technical competence of the composer in writing fine melodies supported by largely untroubled harmonies and satisfying formal structures are incontrovertible. So, too, is his skill at orchestration. On the other hand, I feel that Lloyd often sounds like someone else.  Much of his music seems to hark back to an earlier period, be it Elgar or possibly even Tchaikovsky.   Lloyd set his face against what was happening in the development of Western Music and ‘ploughed a lonely furrow.’ I guess that for me what this music fails to do is challenge the listener. It often lacks ‘spice’ and certainly seems to eschew any ‘edginess.’ It strikes me as sometimes being a little insipid. Composers of a similar generation such as Humphrey Searle, William Alwyn and Peter Racine Fricker managed to successfully (in my opinion, others will disagree) synthesise a largely post-romantic sound with serialism and other ‘advanced’ technical devices.
I missed the opportunity to buy the Symphonies which were issued on the Albany label some years ago. Over the years I have heard a few of them, but I have never quite felt at home with their style and effect. The only CD of his music that I have reviewed was The Vigil of Venus which I found lacking in consistency. The present CD has given me a good opportunity to approach some of Lloyd’s undiscovered works with an innocent ear.

The ‘HMS Trinidad’ March was written by George Lloyd in 1941 for the commissioning of the cruiser of that name. This work was recently rediscovered and was well-received by ‘Prommers’ in 2013. Glancing at the BBC Prom Archive shows that only two other works by Lloyd have been performed at this festival – the Requiem (2013) and the Symphony No.6 (1981). Much has been written about how his largely tonal and melodic style was reviled by the cognoscenti at the BBC which probably deserves examination in the light of changing tastes of music and an acceptance of greater diversity in musical styles.  I note this suggestion myself!
I enjoyed this March and feel that it easily holds its own against many similar compositions.  It deserves its place in the repertoire, however as a ‘traditionalist’ I do not feel it should have replaced (but rather supplemented) Sir Henry Wood’s Sea Songs.

The Prelude to Act II of George Lloyd’s second opera The Serf is quite lovely and presents a pastoral landscape free from any stress which the plot of the opera (Saxons versus Normans) would appear to demand. This opera was first performed in 1938 since when it has not been revived. An orchestral suite was made and subsequently released on Troy 458. 

‘In Memoriam’ honours the death of eleven soldiers and seven horses as well as many serious injuries to the Blues and Royals and Royal Green Jacket Regiments (a number of spectators were also wounded) as a result of the IRA bomb in Hyde Park on 20 July 1982. Lloyd was one of the first civilians on the scene. The work is elegiac and moves with an Elgarian slow march pace mitigated by something valedictory by way of a clarinet tune possibly nodding to Gerald Finzi. It was originally part of George Lloyd’s Royal Parks Suite for brass-band, although here it is presented in its orchestral guise. 

As with David Barker, my highlight of this selection of Lloyd’s music is the impressionistic tone-poem Pont du Gard written after a holiday-visit to France. Lloyd had been impressed with the ‘magnificence, the scale, the grandeur and above all the solidity…of this extraordinary [aqueduct]’ built by the Romans in the 1st century AD. The score is prefaced with the words ‘A wild country; shepherds play their pipes; the Romans come and go; the shepherds play again’. This really sums up the progress of this ten-minute score. The work features a conspicuous part for cor-anglais. The mood is typically one of rest, silence and timelessness for much of the progress of this work. Here and there the mood changes to reflect dancing and there is a hint of the wind ‘soughing’ through the aqueduct’s arches and the arrival of some Roman legionnaires. It is a minor masterpiece that is well-balanced, thoughtful and wholly consistent.

The presentation of this CD is ideal. The excellent sound quality gives this music every possible chance to impress. I have not knowingly heard the Bath Philharmonia with their conductor Jason Thornton before: they give a committed and enthusiastic performance of these works.  I echo other reviewers of this CD in hoping that EM Records will make a ‘return visit’ to this impressive orchestra. The liner notes are superb.  William Lloyd and Judith Bailey have written detailed and fascinating studies of the music: there are biographical notes about both composers, the conductor and the orchestra. I was delighted that I can read this text without recourse to a magnifying glass: these small things are important.  Finally, the lovely photograph on the ‘sleeve’ of Lanyon Quoit, Cornwall provides a final touch to an outstanding production.

This CD has provided a welcome introduction to the orchestral music of Judith Bailey. Based on Havas and the Concerto for Orchestra, I look forward to hearing her Three Symphonies on CD in the near future (hopefully). Certainly, the Cliff Walk Symphony op.88 sounds like a good place to begin. And what about the locally titled ‘Penwith’ Overture?
It is also encouraging to have four works from George Lloyd that had not made it into the recording studio. One thinks of the innumerable versions of Elgar’s P&Cs, Walton’s ‘Crown Imperial’ and Coates’ ‘Dambuster’ Marches that are in the catalogues. At least now there is one version of Lloyd’s’ superb and historically fascinating ‘HMS Trinidad’ March. But for me the Lloyd discovery is the impressionistic Le Pont Du Gard.  It has already become an ‘old favourite’ in spite of any reservations I have about the overall consistency of Lloyd’s music.

Track Listing:
Judith BAILEY (b. 1941)
Havas – a period of summer, op. 44 (1991)
Concerto for orchestra, op. 55 (1996)
George LLOYD (1913-1998)
The Serf – Prelude to Act II (1938)
In Memoriam (1982)
Le Pont du Gard (1990)
HMS Trinidad March (1941, rev. 1945)
Miriam Lowbury (cello) (concerto), Jennie-Lee Keetley (cor anglais) (Le Pont), Bath Philharmonia/Jason Thornton

Friday 7 November 2014

Pandora’s Last Gift: Chamber Music by Christopher Wright

My first introduction to the music of Christopher Wright was his Oboe Concerto released on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7249 (review) alongside works by Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, Cyril Scott and Elis Pehkonen. I was immediately impressed by this concerto and looked forward to hearing more of his music. In the same year Dutton Epoch issued a strong retrospective of Wright’s orchestral works -Evocation CDLX 7240 (review). They also issued two important pieces: Momentum (2008) and the Violin Concerto (2010) on CDLX 7286 coupled with the revised version of RVWs Symphony No. 5 edited by Dr Peter Horton. In 2007 a CD of chamber and vocal works had been released on Merlin Classics MRFD 070914 (review). I have not heard this last CD.
Christopher Wright (website) was born in Ipswich, Suffolk in 1954. Much of his life has been spent living and working in East Anglia. He studied composition with Richard Arnell and later Alan Bullard. In 1993 he gave up his post as a schoolmaster and turned to full-time composition.  Wright’s music includes a wide variety of genres including colourful orchestral works and concertos for violin, cello and horn. He has contributed to the brass band repertoire as well a selection of anthems, songs and chamber works. Wright’s first performed score was the Kyson Point Suite (a lovely reed-fringed place on the Suffolk coast near Woodbridge) in Ipswich Town Hall in 1971. He is also an accomplished performer, playing the trombone and the piano, as well as being a choral conductor.
I am beholden to the composer’s liner notes for details of the music. As I understand it, all these works are first recordings. The Wind Quintet (1993) gets this CD off to a great start. Perhaps the most edgy piece on this CD, it was composed shortly after Wright experienced two ‘life changing events’ –one unpleasant and the other ‘very beautiful’. He describes it as ‘desolation followed by new life.’ The Quintet reflects the former mood. A verse from W.B. Yeat’s poem ‘The Second Coming’ has given a focus to this music – ‘The ceremony of innocence is drowned.’  The composer adds that the progress of the Quintet is based around the interval of an augmented fourth (e.g. c-f#) – the ‘diabolus.’  This derives from the medieval admonition against using the tritone in composition – ‘The Devil in Music’.  The early part of the score is characterised by gloom and despondency, but very slowly and subtly this begins to change. The work ends on a slightly more positive note-the journey is (nearly) complete. Wright makes use of a judicious blend of dissonance and instrumental devices to present the mood of despair.
‘Spring’s Garden’ for viola and piano is a beautiful piece that was written for the composer’s wife in 2006. Tragically, she was to die three years later. The work’s aim is to capture ‘a typical picture viewed from my music room window…of birds scampering amongst wild flowers in spring.’ Nothing could be further in mood from the Wind Quintet.  Although this music has a strange, prophetic sadness in its pages, there is much that is positive and reflects more of a thanksgiving than a memorial. This is a truly lovely piece that is worthy of being in the viola repertoire.
I enjoyed ‘Orfordness’ for flute, violin, cello and piano which was composed around 1997. It is written to explore the paradox between man’s potential for destructiveness and nature’s constantly shifting tidal surges: Orfordness in Suffolk was home to a Cold War military base as well as being a wildlife paradise. The music is almost ‘Messiaenic’ in its exploration of timelessness. The 9½ minutes seems to simultaneously fly by as well as appearing to last for an eternity. The musical language is always interesting, with the composer showing no fear of using dissonance and edgy rhythms.
‘Capriccio’ for clarinet and piano has nothing of the unfathomable dichotomy of good and evil attached to it. As the title implies, this is an exploration of ‘spontaneity and joy.’ The composer states that it is written in a neo-classical style. The harmonies are often acerbic, but a definite lyrical mood pervades much of this music. It is a remarkable piece that balances poetry with hedonism.
The three-movement Spirit of the Dance for recorder, violin, cello and harpsichord (2005) was commissioned by the composer Elis Pehkonen. It is designed to be played by Baroque instrumental forces. It successfully explores a sprightly ‘rejouissance’ followed by a thoughtful ‘air’ and a concluding ‘Adam’s Family’ (remember Lurch’s performance on the harpsichord!) inspired ‘tarantella’, designed to chase the spider or other spooky creatures away. This suite is intended as homage to the Baroque idiom rather than being a pastiche or parody. In this it is entirely successful.
I cannot say that I enjoyed the only vocal piece on this CD. It is entitled The Long Wait and is based on a poem written by the composer: the work was composed after the death of Wright’s father around 2006. I concede that there are some lovely elements to both the vocal line and the piano accompaniment. The recorder does not add value and seems to clash with Lesley-Jane Rogers’s beautiful voice. On the whole The Long Wait is just that: long-winded and a little disjointed and lacking stylistic unity. All that said, I do hope to hear more of Wright’s vocal music in the future.
‘In Celebration’ (2013) was composed for the 70th birthday of the well-known recorderist (and doyen of Manchester Music Making) John Turner. It is written in three short movements for recorder, violin, viola and cello. The first movement is inspired by jazzy rhythms and a ‘lazy suburban Sunday afternoon’ mood.  I agree with the composer that there is a ‘mysticism’ about the ‘misterioso’ movement: it does give a relaxing and thoughtful respite before the concluding riotous syncopations of the ‘presto con forza’. This is altogether a most enjoyable and attractive work that must surely find its way into recorderists’ repertoire.
‘Helter Skelter’ lives up to its title. I imagined swirly music emulating a dizzy turn down the once-loved fairground attraction and that is what the composer delivers in this short ‘character piece’ for cello and piano. However, even a casual hearing of this work will reveal that there is a little more depth to this music. There is a reflective middle-section that is maybe a little scared about making the downward trip on the helter-skelter or of life itself? There are one or two examples of musical ‘word-painting’ in this piece that are quite fun.
The final piece on this disc is the Concertino for violin, viola and piano written in 1985 for the Cheltenham International Violin Course. The composer states that it was written to ‘celebrate’ the tercentenary of Bach, Handel and Domenico Scarlatti (1685). The music, although not being a parody of any of these composers, was written in a neo-baroque style. The first and last movements are full of life and vigour, whereas the middle ‘tranquillo’ is a profound and ageless meditation. The entire work is masterly in its instrumentation and the piano part does add so much interest: I am glad the composer did not choose to use the harpsichord. I wonder if it could successfully be reworked as a Concertino for piano and string orchestra?
The CD is an excellent production that combines a judicious selection of chamber works with an excellent performance by all the players. The sound quality is ideal and gives the best possible opportunity for listeners to approach these unfamiliar works. The liner notes are detailed and useful as well as being legible. Notes on the musicians are given as well as a biographical sketch of the composer. A short list is appended showing how ‘The Gifts of Pandora’ relate to each of these pieces. It is for the listener to discover this relationship when they buy this excellent CD: I will reveal that the opening Wind Quintet displays her gift of ‘Destruction’ and the final Concertino that of ‘Music’.
Christopher Wright’s musical style can easily be categorised as ‘largely tonal with atonal flavourings.’ It is never insipid, always displays interest and clear evidence of controlled development. It is approachable, even if occasionally a little challenging. Naturally, any listener will relate to various pieces to a greater or lesser extent however I have found nothing that is not written with consumate skill and not inconsiderable inspiration.

Track Listing:
Christopher WRIGHT (b.1954)
Wind Quintet (1993)
‘Spring’s Garden’ for viola and piano (2006)
‘Orfordness’ for flute, violin, cello and piano (1997)
Capriccio for clarinet and piano (1990)
Spirit of the Dance for recorder, violin, cello and harpsichord (2005)
‘The Long Wait’ for soprano, recorder and piano (2006)
In Celebration for recorder, two violins, viola and cello. (2013)
‘Helter Skelter’ for cello and piano (2013)
Concertino for violin, viola and piano (1985)
Nichola Hunter (flute); Lisa Osborne (oboe) Elizabeth Jordan (clarinet) Naomi Atherton (horn); Sarah Nixon (bassoon); Richard Howarth, Nicholas Ward & Catherine Muncey (violins) Richard Williamson, Michael Dale (viola) Tim Smedley (cello) Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano); John Turner (recorder) Harvey Davies (harpsichord) Jonathan Fisher (piano).

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Robert H. Hull: An Early Bax Champion, 1934

In a letter to the The Gramophone magazine (November 1934) Robert H. Hull presented a plea for the expansion of the Bax record ‘catalogue.’ At that time it stood at just a handful of recordings [1]. Unfortunately his pleas seemed to fall on deaf ears, as it was to be a number of years before Bax’s music began to be made widely available for listeners.  Hull is a name who crops up in musical journalism in the 1920s and 30s. He is probably best recalled for an important study on Bax’s symphonies [2] as well as a booklet about Delius. [3].
The present situation (2014) where the majority of Arnold Bax’s music is available on CD or download, including four versions of all seven symphonies and some 22 versions of Tintagel would have seemed unbelievable to Hull and the readers of The Gramophone.

To the editor…
Possibly a good many of your readers feel the urgent need for gramophone records of Arnold Bax’s principal orchestral works, more particularly the five symphonies and of his chamber music. At present only a bare handful of Bax’s works are available to the gramophone public. The expense of production, especially in the matter of rehearsals, is cited as a prohibiting factor. There is no early prospect of the symphonies being recorded, and very little hope of anything similar, unless a wide circle of intending purchasers can give positive assurance of their support.
It seems highly desirable, therefore, to establish how far the many admirers of Bax’s genius can be relied upon to purchase future records of his orchestral and chamber music. Information is quite imperative if we are to end the present deadlock. I shall be extremely grateful if all those who are anxious that further works shall be recorded, particularly the Third Symphony, [4] will write to me as soon as possible at 463 Oxford Street, London W.1. [5] It will be a great help if writers will state the names of the Bax works to which they give preference. I am making this appeal with the approval of the composer and his publishers.
Once an adequate list of names has been collected – and we beseech every Bax enthusiast – it maybe possible, I hope, to come to some agreement with the Gramophone Company [6] and to submit the names of the works for which there is the greatest demand. Whether, ultimately, the records would be issued through the Company’s lists, or through the medium of a Bax Society, is a question which must await the decision of the Gramophone Company when the amount of promised support is definitely known.
Yours faithfully,

Robert H. Hull.

[1] Works available on record in 1934 included:-
  • Mater, ora Filium, Leeds Festival Chorus/Albert Coates, HMV D1044/5
  • Fantasy Sonata for harp and viola, Raymond Jeremy (viola) and Maria Korchinska (harp), National Gramophonic Society NGS118/120
  • Mediterranean, New Symphony Orchestra/ Eugene Goossens, HMV C1620
  • Mediterranean for piano, Harriet Cohen, Duo-Art 0355
  • Quartet No.1 for strings, Wilson String Quartet Gramophonic Society 153/155;   
  • ‘Cradle Song’ from Three Irish Songs and ‘I heard a piper piping’ from ‘Five Irish Songs’, Carmen Hill (soprano) Arnold Bax (piano) listed in CHARM but possibly not released as no record number given (December 1923)
  • ‘Cradle Song’ and ‘Rann of Exile’ from ‘Three Irish Songs’ Ann Thursfield (Soprano) and unknown pianist. HMV E410
  • Sonata for two pianos, Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robinson, duo pianists, National Gramophonic Society 156/158.
  • Hardanger, Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robinson, duo pianists, National Gramophonic Society 158.

[2] Hull, Robert H., A Handbook of Arnold Bax’s Symphonies (Murdoch, London 1932) 
[3] Hull, Robert H., The Hogarth Essays Second Series ‘Frederick Delius’ (London, 1928)
[4] According to Graham Parlett’s discography printed in Lewis Foreman’s Bax: A Composer and his Times (The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 1983, 1987, 2007) Bax’s Symphony No.3 had to wait until  1943 Hallé Orchestra conducted by John Barbirolli HMV C3380/5 in 1943. It was recorded in Manchester.
[5] 463 Oxford Street, London were the offices of Arnold Bax’s publisher Murdoch, Murdoch and Co. The premises were bombed during the Second World War.
[6] The Gramophone Company was an early recording company which in 1931 along with the Columbia Gramophone Company formed English and Musical Industries Ltd (EMI) HMV was a trademark. 

Saturday 1 November 2014

Bill Worland: Scottish Power for orchestra

When I first heard Bill Worland’s Scottish Power I was convinced that it was a forgotten score for a film documentary about hydro-electricity in that country: I had not read the liner notes written by the composer. Worland also denies that it has anything to do with the commercial company of that name.  In fact, it is a piece dedicated to a certain Miss Power, who was a Scottish lassie that the composer admits to ‘know[ing] so well’ and with whom there was a ‘magnetic attraction.’
The music of this short suite was pieced together for the Marco Polo recording of Worland’s works. The composer had resuscitated some old manuscript sketches with a ‘Scottish flavour’, one of which was a ‘march’. This short ‘sixteen bar theme’ was then worked up into a ‘mini-suite’ which explored a number of moods awakened by the landscape and his lady-friend. It is in four sections which continue without a break. The work opens with the brisk march theme accompanied by brass and drums. There is a short bridge passage before the tune is reprised. Soon the mood changes to the dance floor and Worland presents what is really a restrained reel. After a ‘lunga pausa’ the harp quietly introduces a lovely ‘adagio’ tune that the composer has called ‘By the Loch.’ This given all the romantic treatment including fluttering flutes and sweeping strings. A brass chorale crowns the climax of this calm movement before a rising harp arpeggio leads to a reprise of the ‘March’. Scottish Power concludes with a broad restatement of the ‘love’ tune before the brass ushers in the closing chords.
There is precious little about Bill Worland available in print or online. Even Philip Scowcroft, the doyen of light music, manages only a few words. Worland was born in 1921 and later became a pianist working with dance bands before, during and after World War 2.  Scowcroft notes that Worland’s heyday for musical composition was around 1960 at a time when ‘light music’ was in serious decline as a result of the burgeoning pop and rock culture as well as a downer on the genre by classical music cognoscenti.  
Worland’s music would appear to have been written for the ‘music library’ rather than the concert hall. Many of the titles are suggestive of ‘mood music’ such as ‘Happy Hacienda’, ‘In the Shadow of Vesuvius’ and ‘Midnight in Manhattan’. On the other hand, Neil Horner on MusicWeb International has suggested that much of Worland’s music sounds as if it has been written for the ballroom.
Bill Worland’s Scottish Power may not have the sheer dynamism and invention of Malcolm Arnold’s Scottish Dances, nor the exuberance of Ronald Binge’s ‘Scottish Rhapsody’, but it is a delightful work that gives full credit to Miss Power from a composer ‘furth o’ the border.’

The only performance of Bill Worland’s Scottish Power can be heard on Marco Polo 8.225161