Friday 31 January 2020

Ronald Center: Instrumental and Chamber Music - Volume 1: Music for Solo Piano

Who was Ronald Center? A few biographical notes may be of interest to the reader. He was born in Aberdeen on 2 April 1913. Center studied organ and piano in his home city. Aged 30, he took up the post of music master at Huntly Gordon School, which he held for six years. After this time, he gave private lessons and devoted himself to composition. The entry in Grove’s Dictionary explains that Center was self-taught as a composer: this resulted in self-consciousness and led to a struggle with insecurity, frustration and fears of rejection. Center’s catalogue of works seems to be small. However, I have not had a chance to examine the Catalogue of Music of Ronald Center lodged in the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. Important compositions include the Symphony No.1, a Sinfonietta, the tone-poem The Coming of Cuchulainn, three string quartets, a Violin Sonata and the considerable quantity of piano music. Of this latter section, it would seem about half has been recorded on this present CD. Stylistically, it has been well said that Bela Bartók, Benjamin Britten, Ferruccio Busoni and Ralph Vaughan Williams were, in effect, the composition teachers Center never had.
Ronald Center died in Huntly on 18 April 1973, aged only 60 years. 

I am beholden to the excellent liner notes by Dr James Reid Baxter  for my comments and thoughts on all this music. Only the ‘Bagatelles’ (once) and the ‘Piano Sonata’ (three times) have been recorded before. I have not heard any of these earlier releases. 
A point to recall: The liner notes explain that most of Ronald Center’s scores are ‘undated and undatable.’ The order of pieces on this CD is not chronological. It is clearly a problem that may be addressed by scholars in the future.

I began with a miniature.  The ‘Larghetto’ came as a delightful surprise: I was all psyched up for pounding Bartok and got nearly three minutes of gentle Debussy meets Ravel with a definite Spanish twist. The hushed central section is particularly beautiful. This is a rare treat.  I would love to see the score for this piece: I think I might even manage to play it!  A change of mood comes with the lively Pantomime. I guess that the three movements could be a short sonatina: certainly, that would appear to be the formal structure. This untroubled music echoes the activities of Commedia dell'arte characters given in the titles of each movement: Pantaloon, Columbine and Pierrot. Whether the comedy of Scaramouche is present in these pages is up to the listener to decide. I think that the sound of Bartok does preside over this Pantomime.  The short piece ‘Hommage’ does not carry a dedication, so we do not know who it is giving tribute to. Stylistically, it could easily be the 25th ‘Prélude’ of Debussy’s eponymous Two Books of Twelve. It has all the musical hallmarks of the French master. Interestingly, the liner notes mention Ronald Center’s devotion to Debussy: his cat was called Chouchou (which was the ‘pet’ name of Debussy’s daughter Claude Emma. 
I turned to the ‘Impromptu’. Readers will know that this word describes a work that is formally free and has a definite sense of improvisation. Famous examples include those by Schubert, Chopin and Scriabin. Center’s take largely follows tradition. The basic mood of the piece is one of innocence with a troubled moment about a third of the way through. The remainder of the piece is an attempt at recapturing the simplicity of the opening. Once again, I hear Debussy in these pages. It is quite perfect.
It is suggested that the ‘Air’ and the ‘Sarabande’ were written relatively late in Center’s career. They may have been a part of his Mary Queen of Scots project. This was either a ballet or a ‘singspiel’ (light opera) which was left incomplete at the composer’s death. Along with the thoughtful little ‘Andante’ these pieces are hardly ground-breaking but offer an insight into the deeply lyrical side of Center’s achievement.

Next up on my exploration were the six Bagatelles. I listened to these before reading the programme notes. My first thought was that these are much more than the title implies: ‘short pieces of not great worth’. I was glad to see that Christopher Guild agreed with me!! In fact, he states that these six pieces are a ‘veritable showcase of Center’s art.’ Here we contrast quiet musing in the first Bagatelle, with the motoric no.2. The third is disturbing. It opens quietly, dreamlike, but then explodes into horror, before drifting back to sleep in the arms of Morpheus. Bagatelle no. 4 is wildly exuberant with not a care in the world. It is a rhythmically diverse little toccata. The penultimate number opens and closes wistfully, with the expected mood swing during the ‘middle eight.’ The innocence of life is reclaimed in the idyllic final Bagatelle. Guild sees it as ‘a child running in a sunlit landscape’. I see it as an adult resolution of internal conflict. This set of Bagatelles is a little masterpiece that deserves much greater exposure.

The Three Études are definite showpieces. Once again, it could almost be construed as a sonatina. The progress of the movements is fast-slow-fast. This is placid music that has no ‘central catastrophe’ that often reveals itself somewhere in contrasting sections of Ronald Center’s music.

The ‘Three Movements’ are not just trifles, as the somewhat ambiguous title may imply. These short numbers cover a wide range of sentiment and pianistic endeavour. The opening ‘Prelude’ is dance-like in places. The ‘poco adagio’ is frankly depressing insofar as this is dark, introverted music without a spark of warmth. The finale, a Prokofievian ‘Toccata’, comes nearest in this conspectus of Center’s piano music to declaim his Scottish inheritance. It is not ‘tartanry’ by any stretch of the imagination but does seem to have the drive and vigour of Caledonian fiddle music, if not the exact rhythms and figurations.

Finally, I turned to the Sonatina and the Sonata. The former is an interesting little work. Most importantly, it is hardly a light-hearted little didactic piece. The musical language nods to Bartok and Prokofiev. The bouncy opening ‘allegro’ theme contrasts with the very short ‘second subject.’ The middle movement is a darkly hued nocturne, with little illumination, and a truly aggressive and disturbing middle section. The ‘vivace’ finale does little to relax the tension. Like so many ‘Sonatinas’ the title belies the emotional content of the music.

The Sonata is the main event on this CD. It stands first in the batting order, although I have chosen to review it last. This work was composed/published around 1958. Yet, the Sonata was not premiered until 1979, when the Anglo/Scottish composer and pianist Ronald Stevenson played it at the Mitchell Hall, Aberdeen. In 1990 Murray McLachlan recorded the Piano Sonata along with the Six Bagatelles.
The liner notes suggest that several of Ronald Center’s piano pieces on this CD are ‘preparatory sketches’ for the Sonata, I do feel that this could belittle the worth of these ‘lesser’ works. On the other hand, it appears that the Sonata is a kind of ‘summa of Center’s pianism.’  Ronald Stevenson has provided an interpretive scheme for this Sonata. The opening movement reflects the excitement and vigour of childhood, this is followed by the second movement’s meditation on the ‘anguish of young love’ then the third, trouble and strife and eventually level-headedness in one’s middle years leading, finally, to a renewed childlike spirit of old age and possible rebirth. The liner notes give a detailed analysis of the Sonata which bears study. My thoughts are that this large-scale piece (not necessarily by length) is powerful, dynamic and profound. It is small wonder that it was Ronald Center’s personal favourite. One reviewer has put their finger on the Sonata’s ultimate success: this is a concise work, but one that feels ‘big in both sound and scale, encompassing considerably substance and variety.’

All this music is played by Scottish pianist Christopher Guild. It is a superb performance from start to finish. He captures the imaginative style of Ronald Center’s music, especially in the contrasting ‘catastrophe’ section. The sound quality is ideal.

I enjoyed every piece on this CD. I do not know why I missed this release back in 2013 but am exceptionally glad to have caught up with it in the dying days of 2019. The cover of the CD states that this is Volume 1 of Ronald Center’s ‘Instrumental and Chamber Music’: seven years later, we are still awaiting Volume 2. Roll on…

Track Listing:
Ronald CENTER (1913-1963)
Instrumental and Chamber Music - Volume 1: Music for Solo Piano
Piano Sonata (1958); Six Bagatelles (1955); Andante; Sarabande; Air; Pantomime; Larghetto; Sonatine; Hommage; Three Etudes; Impromptu; Three Movements
Christopher Guild (piano)
Rec. 26-27 April 2013, Potton Hall, Suffolk

Tuesday 28 January 2020

Benjamin Britten: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op.10

Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge was the composer’s first work to Benjamin become truly popular. He had written much music prior to this including a large number of attractive film scores, the choral work A Boy was Born, chamber music and songs.  The Variations were written in a comparatively short period of time during the summer of 1937. It was composed at the behest of conductor Boyd Neel who desperately needed a new piece of British music for his orchestra to play at the Salzburg Festival of that year.

Frank Bridge (1879-1941) began teaching Britten when the young composer was only fourteen years old.  Perhaps Bridge’s greatest achievement as a teacher was to introduce him to the prevailing musical movements of twentieth century Europe including the works of Schoenberg and Webern. It was even mooted at one time that Britten should be sent to study with Alban Berg in Vienna. In honour of his years as Bridge’s pupil, Britten dedicated the score of his Variations to ‘F.B. A tribute with affection and admiration’. 

The work is structured as follows and includes the notes about Bridge’s personality made by Britten on the pencil score; however it is difficult to reconcile some of the elder composer’s character traits with the music presented.
Introduction and Theme [To FB – himself]
Variation 1: Adagio [His integrity]
Variation 2: March [His energy]
Variation 3: Romance [His charm]
Variation 4: Aria Italiana [His wit]
Variation 5: Bourrée Classique [His tradition]
Variation 6: Wiener Walzer [His gaiety]
Variation 7: Moto Perpetuo [His enthusiasm]
Variation 8: Funeral March [His sympathy (understanding)]
Variation 9: Chant [His reverence]
Variation 10: Fugue and Finale [His skill & our affection]

Britten utilised a theme from the second of Bridge’s Three Idylls for string quartet, Op.6, No.2 [H.67] which had been composed in 1906.  The basic concept of the Variations is to present a pastiche of various European musical styles and genres. The original theme is ‘translated, transformed, transferred and transfigured’ into a number of parodies. Examples of this include the Rossini-inspired ‘Aria Italiana’, a Wiener Walzer that is in the manner of Ravel’s La valse and a ‘Bourrée Classique’ that nods to the neo-classical composers of that time. However, the emotional tension of the work is epitomised in the placing of the bubbly ‘Moto Perpetuo’ immediately before the astringent and haunting ‘Funeral March’ which is infused with a Mahlerian intensity.
The final ‘devilish’ fugue is reputed to contain a number of references to other works by Frank Bridge including Summer, Enter Spring, The Sea, There is a Willow Grows Aslant a Brook and the Piano Trio from 1929.   The initial theme is reprised in finale. The Variations are scored for string orchestra with soloists. 

Commentators have often considered that there is an underlying ‘programme’ in the Variations. At the time of composition Britten was still mourning the death of his mother at the end of January of that year and was coming to terms with his homosexuality – he had met Peter Pears in 1936. Certainly the work vacillates between high spirits and downright melancholy and this may or may not suggest some personal struggle.  However, Britten would have nothing to do with such a suggestion. 
The Variations were duly heard at Salzburg on 27 August 1937; however the premiere was actually broadcast on Radio Hilversum two days previously. The work was received with great acclaim. 

An exellent version of Britten's Variations can be heard on the Naxos Label performed by the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Steuart Bedforf. This recording has been uploaded to YouTube

Saturday 25 January 2020

Radiant with Celestial Fire: Graham Whettam's Solo Violin Music

Graham Whettam has a massive catalogue of music, which includes works in virtually every genre. I guess that the listener will rarely come across this composer’s compositions at recitals or concerts - and only rarely on CD or download. It is great that EM Records have given listeners a conspectus of his solo violin music.
A brief (and incomplete) review of previous Whettam recordings may be of interest. Divine Art (DDA 25038) have recorded a selection of the piano music and Paladino CDs (PMR 0041) issued the ‘complete cello works.’ Redcliffe Records encouraged Whettam with excellent discs of the Sinfonia Intrepida (RR 016), the Concerto Drammatico for cello and orchestra and the Sinfonia contra timore (RR 017). In 2008, Carducci Classics (CSQ 5847) issued an album of String Quartet’s nos.1 and 4 as well as the Oboe Quartet no.2.  Finally, Sinetone (AMR CD) released the Concertino for Oboe & String Orchestra and the Concerto Scherzoso for Harmonica & Orchestra in 2012. All these albums are worthy of attention. Several more works have been uploaded to YouTube, often deriving from live radio broadcasts.

Graham Whettam was born in Swindon 7 September 1927. He was largely self-taught as a composer. His first public performance was in 1950. In 1953 Whettam’s Oboe Concerto was premiered at the Proms.  He was Chairman of the Composer’s Guild in 1971 and again from 1983-6. Whettam’s five (completed) symphonies form the core of his achievement. Many of his works were premiered on the continent. His ‘post-romantic’ music is a perfect balance between grittiness and lyricism and is always crafted meticulously.  Graham Whettam died on 17 August 2007 at the village of Woolaston, Gloucestershire.

Before looking at these works, I will make a single caveat. For me, solo violin music is hard work when heard ‘en masse’. I listened to these five works discretely, with a long gap between. I adore Bach’s Cello Suites but can only cope with one at a sitting!  I suggest that with this Whettam CD, the listener reads up the notes about one of the Sonatas or Romances, listens to it, takes a wee dram (or a cup of tea) and repeats the process. I promise it will lead to a satisfying experience!

The Sonata no.1 was written in 1958 when Graham Whettam was 31 years old. This work is an ideal equilibrium between classical formal structures and a characteristic use of chromatic intervals to construct the melodic material. That said, I do not believe that the composer has attempted to compose a serial or atonal work, as such. The order of movements is interesting. The soulful but terse (gritty?) opening ‘andante’ features a theme, two variations and a coda. This is followed by a ‘scherzo’ full of energy, showcasing ‘percussive’ double stops counterpointing the melody. This is a rhythmic challenge for the soloist. Amazingly effective, though. The concluding movement is a palindrome. (Ends as it begins!). This gives the music an arch-like shape, which, as the liner notes state, provides a ‘journey from sorrow, fear and anguish to reassurance and quiet acceptance.’ This description summarises not only this Sonata, but much of Graham Whettam’s music (based on the small amount I have been privileged to hear).

The Sonata no. 2 for solo violin was completed on 8 June 1972 but had to wait until 1993 before being revised and published. Once again Graham Whettam has used non-diatonic (not in a key) melodic patterns but has retained classical forms. This is intense music that can sometimes grate a little. The liner notes mention the ‘brutal’ section in the opening movement which comes after the ‘yearning’ introductory ‘adagio.’ These are repeated in an even more concentrated manner.  The movement ends with repose. The ‘scherzo’ is a wee bit of a conundrum. The sleeve notes state that this is performed at a ‘presto-allegretto con rubato- presto con prima’ tempo. Yet the opening statement is not played fast. The movement does speed up a bit as it progresses. Various techniques appear here including pizzicato, harmonics and extremes of register. The middle (of the scherzo) ‘allegretto’ also seems relaxed. Certainly, movement does not become really animated until 2/3 of the way through.  The slow movement is intimate in mood, with little to disturb the proceedings. However, towards the conclusion, the tension is ratcheted up in preparation for the finale. The Sonata ends with a complex fugue that highlights the difficult art of playing counterpoint on the fiddle. It is well done here, with interest being maintained from the first note to the chordal conclusion.

The longest work on this CD is the Violin Sonata no.3 published in the 1990s. There is no indication in the liner notes when it was composed. The British Music Collection website (Huddersfield University) cites as date of 1989. This is a complex work, which probably needs the score in order to be able to understand the internal cohesion between and internal to, each movement. All I can give is an overall impression of the piece. This four-movement work seems to me to be well-argued, deeply pensive and featuring a wide range of timbre. The second, slow movement, creates a magic that I find compelling and moving. This contrasts with the will o’ the wisp ‘scherzo svelto’. But even here the music is never totally extrovert. Pizzicato and harmonics bring this ‘elvish’ music considerable colour and interest. The finale is a different kettle of fish: this is a rather gloomy set of variations, although the ‘magical spell’ is recreated here and there. Once again, Whettam has used many of the performer’s tools of the trade, including ‘strumming’, multiple stopping and combinations of bowed and plucked string played in tandem.

I first heard the two Romanzas whist reviewing Whettam’s ‘Complete Music for Cello’, played by Martin Rummel. The first ‘Romanza’ was originally written for violin and was later rescored for viola. It was composed in 1993 and dedicated to Jillian White for her retirement from the post of Senior Music Producer at the BBC studios in Bristol.  The second was written specifically with Martin Rummel’s playing style in mind during 2000 and was transcribed for violin and viola. This was dedicated to Hilary Groves, a family friend. It was Whettam’s idea that both Romanzas were to be played successively at a recital.  These two pieces are pure abstract music. Despite the title, there is no programme whatsoever. They contrast and complement each other with their exploration of lyricism, rhythmic vitality and textural diversity. I noted before that these two Romanzas demand our concentration. Only then will their undoubted charm, beauty and considerable depth be revealed.

The liner notes, written by the soloist Rupert Marshall-Luck, are detailed and excellent in every way. Clearly, he has taken Whettam’s wonderful music to heart and is a great advocate of it. There is also an ‘appreciation’ of the composer by Christine Talbot Cooper. The engineers have created a spacious sound on this recording and have captured every detail of the recital.
I hope that Graham Whettam’s compositions feature in many more recordings over the coming years. And I am sure that EM Records must have an important part in the promulgation of his music.  I guess that the ultimate desideratum is a cycle of the complete Symphonies (including Sinfoniettas and Sinfonias).

Meanwhile, with the above caveat about listening strategies, Rupert Marshall-Luck’s stunningly performed survey of the solo violin music is an excellent contribution to Graham Whettam’s slowly evolving discography.

Track Listing:
Graham WHETTAM (1927-2007)
Sonata no.1 for solo violin (1958, rev 1986)
Sonata no.2 for solo violin (1972, rev, 1993)
Romanza, no.1 (1993) [7:58]
Romanza, no.2 (pub. 2000)
Sonata no.3 for solo violin (pub.1990)
Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin)
Rec. Church of St Andrew, Toddington, Gloucestershire, 19-21 June 2018
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Some Important British Works celebrating their Centenaries

There are several works that were composed/completed/premiered in 1920. As usual they form three categories: those that have gained as secure foothold in the repertoire, those that have totally disappeared and finally, the majority, which are known only to enthusiasts. These latter may have received a single recording.
Works in the first category include Ethel Smyth’s Dreamings. Notwithstanding a growing interest in this composer, it has not been issued on CD. Despite his relative popularity, Arthur Bliss’s incidental music for Shakespeare’s The Tempest, appears to have gone by the wayside. Works that have retained their popularity over the past century include RVWs ubiquitous The Lark Ascending. Organists will regularly play Vaughan Williams’s Three Preludes for organ, especially ‘Rhosymedre’. His Mass in G minor is an integral part of the British choral tradition. John Ireland’s evocative London Pieces for piano and Arnold Bax’s sumptuous tone-poem, The Garden of Fand have managed to hold their own with little difficulty.
I guess all the remaining pieces fall into the last category. There is at least one recording available for all these pieces, sometimes several. On the other hand, they are hardly household names.
My favourite piece from 100 years ago is Arnold Bax’s beautifully almost impressionistic Phantasy, for viola and orchestra. This music captures the Irish enthusiasms of Bax at his best.
I have presented the composers in order of seniority. This reflects Eric Gilder’s  The Dictionary of Composers and their Music to which I owe much of the information below. 

Ethel Smyth: Dreamings, for chorus, soprano, alto, tenor, and bass
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Shepherd of the Delectable Mountains, opera (1920-1); The Lark Ascending, for violin and orchestra; Three Preludes founded on Welsh hymn tunes for organ; Suite de Ballet for flute and piano (composed 1913, first performed 1920); Mass in G minor (1920-1, first performed in 1922)
John Ireland: Piano Sonata; Three London Pieces for piano (completed)
Arnold Bax: The Truth About Russian Dancers, ballet; The Garden of Fand, symphonic poem (first performances in the UK and USA); Phantasy, for viola and orchestra (composed); Ivor Gurney: Five Western Watercolours, for piano (composed)
Arthur Bliss: The Tempest, overture and interludes (1920-1); Concerto for piano, tenor voice, strings and percussion (revised as Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, 1924); Conversations, for chamber orchestra; Rout, for soprano and chamber orchestra (revised for full orchestra (1921)
E.J. Moeran: Theme and Variations for piano; Piano Trio in E minor; Ludlow Town, song cycle)

It should be added that Gustav Holst’s masterpiece, The Planets was given its first complete premiere on 15 November 1920. Previous performances were either private or incomplete.

Sunday 19 January 2020

It's not British, but...Isaac Albeniz's Piano Sonatas

Ever since being introduced to the piano music of Isaac Albeniz by a talented fourth former at Coatbridge High School, Lanarkshire I have loved his music. There are few pieces that do not impress, move or entertain me. Whether it is the evocative proto-impressionistic works such as the massive Iberia, the suite Espana or the early Six Short Waltzes I enjoy and appreciate virtually every bar of music composed by this Spanish master.

Commentators often divide Albeniz’s music into three categories. The early period included the accomplished ‘salon’ (disingenuous choice of adjective) pieces that took Chopin, Liszt and Schubert as their exemplars. In the late 1880s his aesthetic was influenced by Spanish nationalism and he absorbed various folk music forms and rhythms. The final period was in the late 1890s when Albeniz was working at the Schola Cantorum in Paris. Here, he was beholden to the music of Ravel and Debussy, which was making an impact in the Capital and began to inform his own music.

Isaac Albeniz wrote seven piano sonatas. Some allege that there were originally a dozen examples. Unfortunately, only three have survived complete, plus as couple of fugitive movements from the lost works: a ‘scherzo’ from the Sonata no.1 and a minuet from Sonata no.7 (Could these have been included on this CD?). It is hard to believe that there are only three recordings (including the present disc) of these Sonatas in the current Arkiv catalogue.

The recital begins with the beautifully formed Sonata no.3, composed in 1886. The opening ‘allegretto’ is classically structured but presents a highly romantic mood in both harmony and melodic development. This movement is redolent of Chopin, and there is nothing wrong with that! I guess that the technically demanding and complex finale (‘allegro assai’) looks towards the piano music of Weber, whilst the middle ‘andante’ is a remarkably poetic piece presenting a mood of peace and content. It has been noted that there is no ‘Spanish folk music’ element in this work.

Piano Sonata no.4 was dedicated to Albeniz’s ‘beloved Maestro’ and patron, Count Guillermo de Morphy. Morphy was a polymath. Not content with being a Spanish aristocrat, he was a music critic, musicologist, historian, educator, composer and politician. The opening movement is a spacious ‘allegro’ combining rhythmic vitality with a sweeping ‘second subject’ with some felicitous lyrical moments. I guess that Chopin is (again) the model here. The second movement ‘scherzo’ is a little fugue with a dominating staccato figure. The ‘Minuetto’ is hardly a dance but more an aria written in ternary form, with winning pianistic decorations. The concluding ‘Rondo’ is the main event. It has been described as Lisztian in its drive, technical demands and vivid contrast between hard-hitting chordal passages and filigree melodic ‘ornamentation.’

My personal favourite here is Sonata no.5, completed in 1888. This four-movement work is a pure delight. The ethos is high-flown romanticism balanced with controlled pianism. The Sonata has been criticised for its structural imbalance: the opening movement is nearly as long as the other three combined. For me this is no problem. The sheer poetry of this movement overcomes any formal objections.
I have noted before, that anyone listening to this Sonata with an ‘innocent ear’ would be hard pressed to come up with Albeniz as the composer. There is not a hint of flamenco, tango or zortzico in these pages. If the listener is looking for musical pointers, then Mendelssohn, Grieg and Chopin must feature as inspiration.  The final movement seems to nod towards Scarlatti and fellow Spanish composer Antonio Soler, without ever descending into parody.

Isaac Albeniz composed three Suite Anciennes, all published in 1886-87. Sebastian Stanley has recorded the first two. Unusually, I guess for a suite, they each have only two movements. They are lovely little works that are well written and thoroughly enjoyable. Looking at the CD total timings, surely the third Suite could have been ‘squeezed in.’ (But not at the expense of the remains of the ‘lost’ sonatas!

The first of the two Suites consists of a ‘Gavotta’ and ‘Minuetto’. The first piece contrasts a march-like opening and closing section with a lyrical second section which has some delicious melodic elaborations. The ‘Minuetto’ is once again written in ‘Lied’ form with a slower middle section.
In Suite Ancienne no.2, Albeniz has repristinated two dances that were of Hispanic provenance: the ‘Sarabande’ and the ‘Chaconne’. These dances reputedly originated in the Americas, crossed to Europe and were absorbed into the Baroque musical psyche. Once again, Albeniz has reworked these ‘ancient’ forms using the musical language of the late nineteenth century, without creating a pastiche. Lookout for the lovely middle section of the ‘Chacona’.

I thoroughly enjoyed British pianist (of Spanish birth) Sebastian Stanley’s recital of relatively rare Albeniz. The playing balances the classical/romantic nature of these works. There is always a danger that these sonatas and suites are regarded as little better than ‘salon’ music. This is hardly fair, as Stanley’s sympathetic and imaginative account reveals. All these pieces are available on the BIS and NAXOS cycles of the piano music; however, I think that it is fitting to have these early pieces assembled on a single disc. The liner notes are reasonable but could have given more technical and historical details about each work. The Sonata no.3 is barely mentioned. I would have liked a photo of the composer included in the booklet rather than two insipid snaps of the pianist. The cover painting, ‘Pianist 1919’, by the cubist forerunner María Blanchard (1881-1932) is a masterpiece.

Track Listing:
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Sonata no.3, op.68 in A flat major (1886)
Suite Ancienne no.1, op.54 (1885)
Sonata no.4, op.72 in A (1887)
Suite Ancienne no.2, op.64 (1886)
Sonata no.5, op.82 in G flat (1887)
Sebastian Stanley (piano)
Rec. 13-14 March 2019, Westvestkerk, Schiedam, The Netherlands
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Thursday 16 January 2020

Celebrating John Addison 100th Anniversary

John Addison (1920-99) is best known for his film scores, including Reach for the Sky, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Entertainer and Private’s Progress. More recently he composed the theme tune to the long running TV series Murder She Wrote (1984-96). Of great importance are his concert works which include the ballet score Carte Blanche, a Trumpet Concerto and a Partita for string orchestra. Addison’s music, whether for the recital room or for the screen is always approachable and well-crafted.

Brief Biography of John Addison:
  • Born in West Chobham, Surrey on 16 March 1920.
  • Hailing from a military family, Addison attended Wellington School in Berkshire where the children of many servicemen were educated
  • Entered the Royal College of Music in 1936 where he studied clarinet with Frederick Thurston, oboe with Leon Goossens, piano with Herbert Fryer and composition with Gordon Jacob.
  • Served in the 23rd Hussars during the Second World War. Saw action in Normandy and at Arnhem during 1944.
  • Returned to the RCM in 1946 to complete his studies. He won the Sullivan Prize in 1948.
  • Wrote his first significant concert piece, the Woodwind Sextet in 1949 which was first performed at the 1951 International Society for Contemporary Music in Frankfurt.
  • Composed the Trumpet Concerto in 1949, performed in 1950.
  • Wrote music for his first film score, the dance orchestrations for Brighton Rock (1949) at the behest of Roy Boulting. The main score was by Hans May.
  • Composed his first complete film score Seven Days to Noon, released in 1950.
  • Returned to the Royal College of Music as Professor of Composition between 1950 and 1957.
  • The ballet Carte Blanche with score by John Addison first performed at the 1953 Edinburgh Festival
  • Composed the incidental music for John Osborne’s play The Entertainer starring Olivier in 1957. Was later involved in the 1960 film version. Was known as the ‘Angry Young Man’s Composer’.
  • Wrote the film score to Reach for the Sky (1956) starring Kenneth More playing Douglas Bader. Bader was the composer’s brother-in-law.
  • Completed the Wellington Suite for two horns and piano concertante and orchestra in 1961.
  • Score written for the film Tom Jones. It won an Oscar in 1963 for the ‘Best Original Score.’
  • Relocated to Los Angeles in 1975 where he worked on several scores for television.
  • Composed his final film score, Code Name: Emerald in 1985 and music for the TV mini-series Phantom of the Opera in 1990.
  • Bassoon Concertino completed in 1998.
  • John Addison died, aged 78 years on 7 December 1998 in Bennington, Vermont.

Five Key Works
I have deliberately chosen four ‘concert’ works here as well as one film score. These works are all available on CD or download. It seems a bad idea to recommend pieces that cannot be heard. There are several other works that would appear to demand interest and possible professional recording. I note these as at the end of this list.
  • Concerto for trumpet strings and percussion (1949)
  • Divertimento for brass quartet, op.9 (1951)
  • Carte Blanche: Ballet Suite (1953)
  • Reach for the Sky: Film Score (1956)
  • Partita (1961)
  • Bassoon Concertino (1998)

Other works that demand a professional recording include the Wellington Suite, Harlequin for saxophone and piano, the Sextet for woodwind, a Sinfonietta, a Rhapsody for cor anglais and string orchestra, the Trio for flute, oboe and piano and a Serenade for wind quintet and harp.

There is no formal biography of John Addison. Information must be drawn from Grove’s Dictionary, obituaries, reviews and record sleeves. He does not yet have an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

If you can only listen to two CDs featuring John Addison’s music:
Addison, John, The Film Music of John Addison, I was Monty’s Double: March; Centennial: main theme; Swashbuckler: suite; A Bridge too Far; The Maggie: song of the Maggie; Reach for the Sky; Strange Invaders; The Man Between; Tom Jones: overture; The Charge of the Light Brigade: suite; Brandy for the Parson: Opening and closing titles; Torn Curtain: Titles; Touch and Go: Mirror Waltz; Sleuth: overture; Carlton-Browne of the F.O.; Murder, She Wrote: main theme. BB Concert Orchestra/Rumon Gamba CHANDOS CHAN 10418, 2007.

Addison, John, The Composer Conducts, Carte Blanche: ballet suite, includes Alan Rawsthorne’s Street Corner Overture and Madame Chrysathème: Suite; Richard Arnell’s The Great Detective: ballet suite, Pro Arte Orchestra; Arthur Bliss’ Checkmate: ballet suite, Sinfonia of London; Malcolm Arnold’s A Grand, Grand Overture, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI Classics CDM 764718-2, 1993.

And finally, if you have only time to hear one work:
Carte Blanche: ballet suite (1953)
This entertaining Suite was derived from the ballet ‘divertissement’ first performed at the !953 Edinburgh Festival. It is a vibrant and bright score that holds up well in the concert hall. It has been criticised as being uneven in invention, but the humour and occasional poignancy of the score (especially the Romanza) makes up for a lot. Some of the lively, clownish music nods to Shostakovich.

Monday 13 January 2020

Some Important British Works that are celebrating their Half-Centenaries

From the point of view of the record collector this list of works composed/completed or premiered in 1970 is a relative disaster. And I guess that concertgoers fare little better. Using my three categories of 1. Music that has solidly entered the repertoire, 2. Works that have largely sunk without trace and, 3. Pieces that have maintained a toehold, it makes a depressing analysis. Any evaluation by this method will be entirely subjective.  
Glancing at this list reveals only a handful of works that have caught the listeners imagination These few compositions (probably) include William Walton’s Improvisations on an Impromptu of Benjamin Britten, Benjamin Britten’s opera Owen Wingrave and possibly Peter Maxwell Davies’ Taverner, Arthur Bliss’s Cello Concerto and William Alwyn’s Sinfonietta. John McCabe is well-served by the record industry, with several of these 1970 pieces being on CD. On the other hand, I could find no recordings of the five works by Elisabeth Lutyens.

Whilst preparing this (imperfect) listing I explored several of these works. Sometimes on CD, often on YouTube. I was conscious that many of these largely forgotten works are masterpieces from their time. I include in this category David Bedford’s innovative rock-inspired The Garden of Love, for instrumental ensemble, the Guitar Concerto by Richard Rodney Bennett, Iain Hamilton’s Voyage, for horn and chamber orchestra and Peter Dickinson’s Satie Transformations, for orchestra.
Recordings do exist for several of the remaining pieces, but too many seem to have disappeared into oblivion. Sometimes there is only a single CD of an undoubted masterwork such as Egon Wellesz’s Symphony No.8 and John Joubert’s Symphony No.2.

Time permitting, I may choose to explore some of these works in greater or lesser detail throughout the year.

I have presented the composers in order of seniority. This reflects Eric Gilder’s The Dictionary of Composers and their Music to which I owe much of the information below. I have not included opus numbers.

Egon Wellesz: Symphony No 8
Arthur Bliss: Cello Concerto
Gordon Jacob: A York Symphony, for brass band; A Joyful Noise, for brass band;  The Pride of Youth, for brass band
Edmund Rubbra: Piano Trio No 2
William Walton: Improvisations on an Impromptu of Benjamin Britten, for orchestra (premiere)
Lennox Berkeley: Dialogues, for cello and chamber orchestra; String Quartet No 3; Theme and Variations for guitar
William Alwyn: Sinfonietta for strings
Alan Rawsthorne: Oboe Quartet
Michael Tippett: Songs for Dov, for voice and orchestra
Benjamin Frankel
: Overture to a Ceremony, for orchestra
Elisabeth Lutyens: Anerca for narrator, guitars and percussion; Vision of Youth, for soprano and instruments; In the Direction of the Beginning, (Dylan Thomas) for voice and piano; Oda a la Tormenta, for mezzo and piano; Verses of Love, for unaccompanied voices
Elizabeth Maconchy: Ariadne, for soprano and orchestra (1970/1; The Jesse Tree, opera (1969/70)
Robert Still: Piano Concerto
Benjamin Britten: Owen Wingrave, opera (completed)
Wilfred Mellers: The Ancient Wound, monodrama
Peter Racine Fricker: Paseo, for guitar; The Roofs, for soprano and percussion.
Iain Hamilton: Alastor, for orchestra;  Voyage, for horn and chamber orchestra; Epitaph for This World and Time, for three choruses and three organs (composed)
Don Banks: Meeting Place, for jazz group, ensemble and electronics
Wilfred Josephs: Sonata for cello and piano; Night music, for alto and orchestra; Death of a Young Man, for baritone and orchestra
John Joubert: Symphony No 2;
Thea Musgrave: Elegy, for viola and cello; From One to Another, for viola and tape; Impromptu No 2 for flute, oboe and clarinet
Alun Hoddinott: The Sun, the Great Luminary of the Universe, for orchestra (premiere); Sinfonietta No 3 (premiere); Violin Sonata No 2; Cello Sonata; Fantasy for harp
Kenneth Leighton: Concerto for organ, timpani and strings; Dance Suite No 2
Alexander Goehr: Symphony in one movement; Concerto for eleven instruments; Shadowplay-2, music theatre for tenor and instruments
Hugh Wood: String Quartet No 2
Peter Dickinson: Satie Transformations, for orchestra
Harrison Birtwistle: Nenia on the Death of Orpheus, for soprano and instruments;
Peter Maxwell Davies: Taverner, opera in two acts (score complete); Points and Dances from Taverner (score complete); Sub tuam protectionem, for piano (premiere performance); Ut re mi, for piano
William Mathias: Festival Overture (premiere); Concerto for harp and orchestra; Bless the Lord, for mixed voices and organ; Gloria, for male voices and organ, Warwick Castle, music for a son et lumière; Magnificat and Nunc Dimitis (Jesus Service); Pan Oeddwn Fachgen (A Vision of Youth) for tenor and piano.
Richard Rodney Bennett: Guitar Concerto
David Bedford: The Garden of Love, for instrumental ensemble (originally composed in 1963, revised 1970); The Sword of Orion, for instrumental ensemble
John McCabe: Notturni ed Alba, for soprano and orchestra; Piano Concerto No 2; Sinfonia Concertante; Concertante Variations on a Theme of Nicholas Maw for strings; Canzona for wind and percussion; Studies Nos 3 and 4, for piano; Basse Danse, for two pianos; Norwich Canticles, for unaccompanied chorus
Robin Holloway: The Wind Shifts, for high voices and strings
John Tavener: Nomine Jesu, for voices and orchestra; Coplas, for voices and tape

Friday 10 January 2020

Elgar’s Falstaff and George Whitefield Chadwick’s Tam O’ Shanter: two works with narrations

It must be recalled that the Falstaff of this Symphonic Study is not the ‘ridiculous wooer’ of the Merry Wives of Windsor, (whom I love dearly) but the large, grand and sometimes heroic companion of Prince Hal. And the tragedy of the entire work is when Harry, now King Henry V rejects his former companion with the words ‘I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers…’  The mood of the music does not follow a structured plot as such: it is more of a character study, moulded into the shape of a symphony with four movements. It is an extremely complex score with much thematic manipulation and cross-referencing. It is not necessary to rehearse the titles of the movements here, save to say that they encompass some key biographical events in Falstaff’s life. They are not musical representations of these proceedings but are ‘past times remembered.’ Deeper still, is Elgar’s suggestion that ‘Falstaff is the name [of the work] but Shakespeare—the whole of human life—is the theme.’ This is also personal portrait of the composer himself.

The producers of this CD have utilised the Shakespearian actors Timothy West and Samuel West to recount the words of Falstaff and Prince Harry respectively. These texts are drawn from King Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. I think that these narrations between the sections (or movements) add considerably to the value of Elgar’s music and the structure of the work.
Finally, it is quite possible to enjoy this Symphonic Study with no reference to the plot of Henry IV: it can be understood quite simply as a masterly exploration of several musical themes reflecting emotions generated by sadness, joy, laughter, love of life, rejection and personal tragedy.

American composer George Whitefield Chadwick’s wonderfully evocative Tam O’Shanter -symphonic ballad (1914-15) is sadly overlooked in concert halls, at least in the United Kingdom. Which is a pity. Chadwick has created a splendid portrayal of one of Rabbie (Robert) Burns’ best-loved characters. The music does not follow the story in every detail, but near enough for the listener who knows the poem to follow the action. The score depicts the long journey home, the supernatural carryings-on at the Kirk of Alloway, the chase across the wee brig and, with a twist from Burns’ poem, a sober and reflective Tam at the conclusion. The music is always colourful and well-scored with lots of musical onomatopoeia (jangling bones, bagpipe screeches etc.) and a good sprinkling of ‘Scottish’ sounding tunes.  In this recording Chadwick’s own ‘programme note’ inserted at the head of the score is spoken by Erik Chapman (composer) and Billy Wiz (Rabbie Burns). Despite knowing Chadwick’s overture, I enjoyed hearing the introduction (I had read it before). It is a great context-setter which lasts for just under five minutes and should be included in every performance.

The liner notes give an excellent introduction to both pieces as well as a robust justification for the inclusion of the spoken parts. There is an interesting essay about the relationship between Chadwick and Elgar – two men ‘divided by a common musical language.’
The playing of both works is outstanding by all concerned and ticks all the boxes for quality of sound and interpretive understanding. There are short biographical statements about the conductor and the four narrators.

The ‘bonus’ with this CD release is the inclusion of a ‘traditional’ presentation of Falstaff. In other words, without the spoken parts. This is the same ‘take’ as used in the main event. I guess that this will appeal to listeners who maybe do not want, or need, to associate Elgar’s music too closely with Shakespeare’s character.

So, the big question – does this work? As an experiment in performance it is extremely effective. I feel that this could be a useful way of presenting these two works to the public. Neither tends to be heard in the concert hall on anything like a regular basis. Falstaff has been given twice at the Proms during the present century: Chadwick’s Tam, has never been heard at that venue. And in these days when Shakespeare and Burns are not taught in schools as extensively as they once were (or should be), these narrations are of considerable help.

Track Listing:
CD 1
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Symphonic Study in C minor, ‘Falstaff’, Op.68, (narrated version) (1913)
George Whitefield CHADWICK (1854-1931) Chadwick’s Introductory Note to Tam O’Shanter; Overture: Tam O’Shanter (1914-15)
CD 2
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Symphonic Study in C minor, ‘Falstaff’, Op.68 (orchestra only version)
Timothy West (narrator, Falstaff); Samuel West (narrator, Prince Henry); Erik Chapman, (narrator, George Whitefield Chadwick); Billy Wiz (narrator, Robert Burns)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Andrew Constantine
Rec. Hoddinott Hall, Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 17-19 September (Falstaff and Tam O’Shanter scores); Henry Wood Hall, London, 8 February 2019 (Introduction to Tam O’ Shanter); Wathen Hall, St Paul’s Boys School, Hammersmith London 17 December 2018 (Henry IV excerpts)
Orchid Classics ORC100103
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Tuesday 7 January 2020

Adam Pounds: Symphony No.2 (2019) Premiere Performance

The first performance of a new symphony is always an extremely important event in a composer’s career. On 28 September 2019 Adam Pound’s Symphony No.2 was premiered at a remarkable concert in Great St Mary’s Church, Cambridge. The programme began with Johannes Brahms’s Hungarian Dances nos. 1 and 3, followed by Franz Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (Unfinished). After the interval Chloe Hanslip was the soloist in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K216. The concert concluded with Pounds new Symphony. The Academy of Great St. Mary’s was conducted by the composer.  For the record, Adam Pounds’ Symphony No.1 was premiered some 34 years previously on 29th November 1985 at the Walthamstow Assembly Hall.

The Symphony No.2 was completed in July 2019. It is written in four relatively short movements and scored for a standard orchestra with the addition of a saxophone and piano.
The work opens with a vibrant ‘allegro’ which the programme notes state deals with the hustle and bustle of urban life. Pounds presents this metropolitan ‘environment’ by writing highly rhymical music that is brassy and strident. Yet, this is ‘edgy’ rather than threatening. The tension barely eases for a second, although there is a slight repose about a third of the way through the movement. Rather unusually, this movement closes quietly, but uneasily, clearly in preparation for the sultry ‘Nocturne.’
This second movement is both the emotional heart of this Symphony as well as its musical highlight. As the title implies, this music meditates on ‘night-time’ in the city. Pounds has introduced a moody and sometimes groovy saxophone, heard alongside music that nods back to Ralph Vaughan Williams’s ‘London’ Symphony. The composer writes that this ‘nocturne’ is not ‘a calm depiction of night’ in a Chopin-esque sense, but a picture of a city in the wee small hours. I think that it reflects the mixed emotions of an individual ‘on the streets’ not necessarily homeless, but with nowhere to go. It is not scary. Nothing bad happens, it is just a picture of temporary desolation and loneliness. The ‘sleazy’ sounds of the saxophone are designed to highlight this feeling of emptiness. Adam Pounds has told me that he “really saw the saxophone solo as our ‘lone character’, the addition of the trumpet (harmon mute) and the piano, are probably a nod back to when I frequented a local jazz club and when I was working (still a student) for Crescendo jazz magazine based in Wardour street.”
After a short pause the third movement ‘scherzo’ begins. This is like the opening ‘allegro’ insofar as it is full of drive and impetus. Again, I hear distinct echoes of RVW.  Pounds makes good uses of an ‘antiphonal’ exchange between the brass and woodwind. The central ‘trio’ of this scherzo is a ‘brutal war march’ rather than a traditionally more relaxed theme. After the march, the music returns to calmer waters. A short woodwind cadenza brings this movement to a close.
The finale opens with a regal fanfare. This is ceremonial music with an edge. Soon the strings are scurrying around, echoing the opening material. Brass comes to the fore here. The original fanfare returns, which the Pounds explains includes a conspectus of themes derived from the entire Symphony. The work comes to a dynamic but not overwhelming close.

Adam Pounds states that the inspiration for his Symphony No.2 came as a result of moving to the centre of Cambridge after living in the countryside. He claims that this new urban environment and the ‘faster pace of life’ was ‘stimulating’ and resulted in ‘more compositional focus.’ I can see where he is coming from, but for me the music does not conjure up Cambridge. The ‘Nocturne’ is more Hudson River, New York than the banks of the Cam and much of the rest of the work would seem to evoke the pomp, circumstance and pizzazz of London rather than an ancient University town. 
The basic stylistic parameter of this work is that it is written in an approachable musical vernacular with several lyrical passages balancing more aggressive and dissonant music.  If the listener is hunting musical comparisons, composers as diverse as William Walton, Arnold Cooke, Malcolm Arnold are alluded to in these pages. It is not an insult to the composer to suggest that there is much of the ‘Cheltenham’ school of symphonic writing about this work: it is technically well-written and approachable by all but the most musically conservative listeners. The orchestration is splendid, with effective use of the brass and the woodwind sections. The saxophone is an inspired touch. My only complaint is that the Symphony is a little too short. There is much excellent musical material in this work: I feel that some of it could have been developed at greater length. 

The final rehearsal of Adam Pounds’s Symphony No.2 was recorded and has been uploaded to the composer’s YouTube Channel.  I understand that it is the composer’s hope that a definitive performance of the work will be released on CD in the future.

Saturday 4 January 2020

Frank Spedding & ‘Glasgow Belongs to Me’

Glasgow Belongs to Me (1966) is one of my favourite British Transport Film (BTF) documentaries. It features my native city at a time when I was slowly becoming aware of my surroundings and was beginning to take an interest in history, architecture and things mechanical: I had recently bought my first trainspotting notebook.  I never saw this film in the cinema at that time and had to wait more than forty years until it was released on DVD. The liner notes give a good precis of the film: ‘A sketch of the emotional quality of life in a great city. The Glaswegian is the product of historical tensions; this film traces his development from the inhabitant of a Clydeside hamlet to the beneficiary and victim of a unique industrialisation.’
The idea for the film was created by the kenspeckle (well-known and easily recognisable) Glaswegian author, broadcaster and historian, Jack House. The screenplay was developed by Laurence Henson and Edward McConnell.

The opening credits feature a wonderful collection of chimney cowls, rooftops and riverside cranes, accompanied by jaunty music which is not Scottish in mood. The ‘plot’ of the film is predicated on the arrival at St Enoch Station of an English businessman, from somewhere ‘down south.’ He attempts to hire a taxi but has no idea where he wants to go. So, the cabbie shows him around. The remainder of the film is an exploration of Glasgow, both culturally and industrially. Only a small amount of this is presented to the Englishman by the Taxi driver.

After some stereotypical pictures of tenements, George Square and football played in a street devoid of cars, Roddy McMillan sings the eponymous song, ‘Glasgow Belongs to Me’. There follow evocative shots of businessmen in bowler hats (my first boss wore one), nurses walking down Castle Street outside the Glasgow Royal Infirmary and people strolling across George Square. This ‘public space’ has been messed about with over the years and is often covered with paraphernalia for various events.
Football plays a big part in this documentary. The film includes some haunting moments from an old firm game at Hampden Park. The narrator explains the ambivalent nature of the Glaswegian: Green and Blue, Highlander and Lowlander, Protestant and Catholic, Irish and native Clydesider. It is mixed blood indeed. But this is what made Glasgow great...

A potted history of the city follows. From the siting of the Cathedral on the banks of the wee Molendinar burn by St Mungo, by way of the tobacco industry, the cotton trade and finally engineering and manufacturing, the history unfolds. Shipbuilding and railway engines are of great importance. The status of the Clyde as a port is emphasised by shots of cargo ships passing a forest of cranes. One vessel, the Tactician, is seen passing a public house, the Old Whitefield Bar in Govan Road. Both, along with most of the shipping, are long gone.
The history section of this film includes quotations from some great Glaswegian men. John Elder, the shipping magnate, who predicted that ships would go ‘further and faster in greater safety and stability than ever before’. James Watt pontificates on the power of steam and Professor Joseph Lister’s understanding that ‘surgery had to be performed without fear of infection.’ And lastly, missionary David Livingstone’s abhorrence of the slave trade is heard.

Frank Spedding creates some haunting sounds to cue the scenes shot in the Necropolis near the Cathedral. It is achieved by a subtle balance of solo horn and percussion. This leads into images of models of ships and railway engines and a slow-motion return to the fitba’. This culminates in the famous Hampden Roar, when Rangers No.10 player scores a splendid goal. It is the perfection of timing prevalent in both sport and engineering which is claimed to be the dominant characteristic of the Glaswegian’s psyche.  Spedding’s music compliments these scenes with passages for brass, accordion and percussion.
The opening music returns to accompany an exploration of travel away from the city. In quick succession some film of a horsewoman in a lineside field racing one of the then new Blue Trains, the railway observation coach probably on the West Highland Line featuring panoramas of hills mountains and lochs.
Then suddenly the viewer is back with the ‘English’ businessman on board a Clyde Steamer. He is now sober and enthusiastically regaling his friends about the industry and achievement of the Glaswegians. As they walk along the deck, they pass the Taxi Driver who is holding his son by the ship’s rail. He says ‘Did ye hear that son? Aye this Glasgow must be a great place right enough.’
After a few action shots of water skiing on Loch Lomond to the accompaniment of accordion and strings, several youngsters are seen dancing to the ‘latest’ tunes. I am not sure if Spedding wrote this sequence. Nevertheless, it is instructive to see what the ‘cats’ were wearing some 53 years ago. This includes a cowboy hat and shades and a girl with black slacks and a long orange pullover. They are dancing the twist. I used to be able to do that, but now the knees won’t let me!
The film concludes with shots of ships sailing ‘Doon the Water’ to Gourock and the mouth of the Clyde Estuary. Spedding provides some big ‘sea music’ here. The narrator explains that many folk left Glasgow for faraway places. However, he finishes with the words: ‘To the Glaswegian all the Clyde is home…yet it is the Clyde that has carried him to the corners of the earth, the bearer of some unique skill or inspiration.’ And in so doing he ‘has taken the qualities of Glasgow to every continent. But he has taken too, a memory of the rough affections of his birthplace: a memory that rarely dies before the man himself.’
The closing credits feature the Glasgow Police Choir lustily singing, unsurprisingly, ‘Glasgow Belongs to Me.’ In the background are views of the Clyde seen at the bottom of tenemented residential street. The final notes of music form a positive triadic chord. 

The film ‘stars’ Phil McCall as the taxi driver and Wallace (Wally) Campbell as the ‘inebriated Englishman.’ It is interesting to recall that Campbell was born in Glasgow, not ‘furth’ of the Border. The narrator of the film was James Bryden Murdoch, best remembered (perhaps) from the original Doctor Finlay’s Casebook. He is never seen in the film. 

The underlying musical thread of this film is obviously Will Fyffe’s well-known song ‘Glasgow belongs to me’. Canny Scots will know that Will came from Dundee. The score is certainly not a set of variations on this tune, but the melody is presented in several ways. From solo accordion to the full-throated sound of the Glasgow Police Choir during the closing credits. Much original music is used that lacks any sort of deliberate ‘tartanry.’ Spedding’s basic plan seems to have been to contrast the ‘song’ with material that has little to do with the subject or tune but acts as a perfect accompaniment to the screenplay.  The Sinfonia of London was conducted by Muir Mathieson.
Frank Spedding was a Scottish composer and academic. His music has been largely forgotten, despite being of high quality. There seems to be nobody looking after his interest.  In addition to several important concert pieces, Spedding dedicated much effort to writing film scores. These feature several documentaries about Scotland. More about Spedding in subsequent posts.
Finally, in 1967 Glasgow Belongs to Me won a Diploma of Merit at the Melbourne Film Festival.

The entire film, which lasts for about 17 minutes, can be seen on YouTube.

Wednesday 1 January 2020

A Happy and Prosperous New Year
To All Readers of
The Land of Lost Content

Some Significant (and less so) British Composer Anniversaries for 2020:

Charlotte Alington Barnard
Alfred Mellon

150 Years:
Archibald Davidson Arnott
Edmund H Fellowes
Cecil Forsyth
Charles Macpherson
Colin McAlpin
Percy Pitt
Ernest Walker

John Addison
Geoffrey Bush
Peter Racine Fricker
Michael S Heming