Wednesday 29 July 2020

Pop and Avant Garde Mixed: David Bedford’s (The Garden of Love (1970)

One musical anniversary that will probably pass unnoticed in 2020 is the half-centenary of David Bedford’s (1937-2011) remarkable The Garden of Love. Yet, this is a period piece that exemplified much that was happening in the world of music in 1970. Two things are self-evident in even the briefest study of this work. Firstly, the prevalence of ‘avant-garde’ techniques of the 1960s, including improvisation, graphic scores, and indeterminacy. And secondly, it is an excellent example of a crossover work between ‘classical’ music and the world of ‘progressive rock.’ Other instances of this genre include Jon Lord’s Concerto for group and orchestra (1969) which was a collaboration between Malcolm Arnold and Deep Purple, Emmerson, Lake and Palmer’s recreation of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (1971) and Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974).

The Work
The Garden of Love is an experimental piece of musical theatre scored for an ensemble of flute, clarinet, horn, trumpet, double bass, dancers, and ‘pop group’. There is a diverse group instruments used by the group members: electric guitar, vocals, electric piano, organ, electric bass guitar, tenor and soprano saxophones, Swanee whistle, Indian bird warblers, drums, and ‘6 beautiful girls (for dancing and turning the pages)’.  The score carries the following dedication: Susan, Sarah, Tammy, Chloe, David Atherton, all at Blackhill [Enterprises], Kevin Ayers, Lol Coxhill, Mike Oldfield, Robert Wyatt and the little man in the soiled, lemon coloured suit.’  It is to be wondered who this last-named individual was. The other names were Bedford’s family, the work’s conductor, and the personnel of the Whole World Band.

In The Garden of Love, Bedford has created a ‘semblance of music theatre’ (Hall, 2015, p.87) to match the nature of ‘pop concerts’ at that time. He needed to generate ‘a visual dimension’ as well as interesting music.  The piece is about 20 minutes long and is divided into two discrete parts. The first seventeen minutes is instrumental. Here the ensemble plays music that has been ‘written’ for them by the composer, but also introduces improvisation either individually or as a group. This ‘avant-garde’ section of the music, which is in Bedford’s ‘concert hall style’, comes to a full stop, before the final part of the work introduces the inimitable voice of Kevin Ayers singing William Blake’s eponymous poem which is the heart and goal of the work. This text was taken from his collection Songs of Innocence and Experience first published in 1789.

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not. writ over the door;
So, I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.

This poem is traditionally seen as pointing up some of the disagreements that Blake had with the religious establishment. Despite his deep faith, Blake considered that Christianity (or religion in general) should be about love, freedom, and joy, rather than manmade rules and restrictions. Especially destructive is organised religion’s (of any faith) propensity to punish sinfulness at the expense of inculcating religious understanding. The priests, ministers and holy men and women have destroyed what they ought to have been encouraging: The Garden of Love has turned into a graveyard.

There is an unresolved chronological issue with The Garden of Love. Despite the date of composition ‘officially’ being 1963, there is much to indicate that the music may have been subject to considerable revision. This assumption can be made because the ‘pop’ element is so perfectly crafted for Kevin Ayers and his artistic parameters. His musical style came to the fore in the experimental days of the progressive rock and psychedelic movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Ayers and his Whole World Band did not form until early 1970 specifically for the album Shooting at the Moon. Clearly, David Bedford would have been aware of Ayer’s performances in the Canterbury Scene bands such as The Wilde Flowers and Soft Machine, but the archetypal vocal sound envisaged for the present work did not appear on the rock scene until Joy of a Toy issued in 1969. Bedford provided the musical arrangements for these above-named albums, as well as playing organ and other keyboard instruments.

The most significant study of David Bedford’s The Garden of Love is contained in the remarkable British Music Now (1975, p.138f). Carolyn Stokoe notes that this is the ‘most extensively improvisational work’ yet composed by Bedford. Despite this freedom, she explains that ‘the chance elements operate within a tightly organised structure.’ Much of the score is written in ‘semi-determinate notation’ of various kinds including graphics, conventional staves with time signatures and the composer’s trademark space-time notation on between three to five lines. The last-named technique simply allocates ‘seconds’ to given musical events, before passing on to the next one. The overall impression is that ‘the improvisational character of the piece dominates the atmosphere throughout.’
Stokoe notes that the formal structure of the work features ‘Six Imitation Games.’ The first five are scored for several different instrumental combinations, whilst the sixth combines all the ‘games’ together. This leads into a ‘massive improvisational climax’ involving the whole ensemble.
The progress of the work is relatively straightforward with the ‘games’ being simple in concept. Often a single instrument introduces a phrase of music, either improvised of written in standard notation. The other players would imitate or ‘comment’ upon it to the best of their ability. Clearly the instrumental timbres did not always allow this to happen. David Simmons (Musical Opinion November 1970) suggested that this improvisation had some remarkable outcomes with ‘brass…competing with drums, or more feasibly an anxious saxophone enjoyed struggling against the flute…’  After a massive climax, and a ‘lunga pausa’ the music moves to Kevin Ayers’ performance of the Blake song. The dancers and the audience were invited to participate in these revels in ‘informal club style.’ (Stokoe, op.cit.). The score actually calls for the dancers to join in during the ‘Imitation Games’ by ‘playing’ the piano and organ.

The formal structure of The Garden of Love would become a model for further works including Nurse’s Song with Elephants and Sad And Lonely Faces.

David Bedford’s The Garden of Love was premiered at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank on Saturday, 26 September 1970. Other works heard that evening were Don Banks’s Meeting Place for jazz combo, instrumental ensemble and electronics and John Tavener’s A Celtic Requiem featuring vocal and instrumental groups and ‘ritualistic enactment of children’s games.’

The performers participating in The Garden featured Kevin Ayers and the Whole World Band as well as a group of five players drawn from the London Sinfonietta. The Whole World Band included Kevin Ayers (vocals) and Mike Oldfield (guitar), Lol Coxhill (saxophone) and Robert Wyatt on drums. David Bedford played keyboards. The entire ensemble was conducted by David Atherton. As noted above, the score also called for ‘6 beautiful girls (for dancing and page turning).’  For information, the orchestral soloists were, Sebastian Bell (flute), Antonia Cook (horn), Antony Pay (clarinet), Peter Reeve (trumpet) and Daryl Runswick (double bass).

The following Monday, the Daily Telegraph (28 September 1970) reviewer (A.E.P.) was impressed with the entire concert. He considered that ‘The London Sinfonietta’s new season of concerts was launched with spectacular impact…[with] a programme planned and executed with characteristic flair…’  He noted that the first section of The Garden ‘formed a preparation for the ‘folksy jamboree’’ of Kevin Ayer’s song. It is not how I would have described this softly psychedelic vocal number. The early section consisting ‘predominately of improvised imitation games involving different pairs of players, singly and in concert.’ A.E.P. felt that these ‘games might need to be more tightly controlled for they seemed too protracted and their musical relevance was obscure.’

Max Harrison reviewed the concert for the Musical Times (November 1970). He began noting the ‘violent’ gestures featured in Bedford’s new piece. He remarks on the ‘diverse media involved’ that ‘are somewhat beyond normal orchestral resources.’  He concludes by proposing that ‘if it is true that on the contemporary scene nothing succeeds like excess, then this score's densely matted later stages - with random tone-clusters on electric organ and electric piano, the pop group's amplification remorselessly close to ear-splitting level, the soprano saxophonist doodling a bad imitation of John Coltrane, and many other felicities - must be accounted a triumph.’

An extensive review was submitted to Musical Opinion by David Simmons (November 1970). He considered that The Garden of Love was ‘a blend of…’noise’ and repose, but all united in a spirit of communality.’ He noted that the orchestral players did not wear ‘tails’. This, he felt, was allowable as ‘the result of this piece was to produce a farrago of concert gaiety.’ The ‘theatrical’ aspect of the work was ‘not for the staid or the prim, [but] was still at best so well-mannered in its deliberate anarchies, and at worst, such as when the dollies (sic) came on with or without Indian bird warblers, horribly self-conscious.’ His conclusion insisted that there were ‘many moments of infectious delight in the whole [piece] and these against all suggested probability were genuinely musical on impulse.’ It is interesting that Simmons did not mention Kevin Ayers’s vocal contribution to this work.

Anecdotally, the Musical Director (not the conductor) of the London Sinfonietta was so incensed by the ‘pop’ music element of The Garden of Love, that he walked out of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. He was joined, apparently, by several members of the audience. (VP180CD Liner notes). It is also reported that during the ‘dancing girls’ takeover of the instruments, the band stopped for a beer break.

The Garden of Love had to wait until 1997 before a live recording of the 1970 premiere concert was released. It was issued by the Voiceprint label (VP180 CD). This was a mini disc and included only the present work.  It has long been deleted.  Fortunately, the album has been uploaded to YouTube. I was unable to find a review of this CD.

I doubt that The Garden of Love will receive many further performances. Even in our extremely permissive age it is unlikely that ‘six beautiful girls’ cavorting on the concert platform and a rock band drinking ale ‘on stage’ would tick all the P.C. boxes for artistic funding. But the most important reason that it will fail to be revived is that it is clearly a work of its time. Even Kevin Ayers’s distinctive voice is now recalled only by greyheads and baby boomers. The modes of execution and composition are no longer seen as relevant. The avant-garde experiments of the 1960s and 1970s have been cast to the wind. Nowadays, Einaudi and his acolytes rule the roost with their simplistic, insipid, vapid, neo-pop. Yet, for listeners ‘brought up’ on the imaginative excesses of this vibrant period, David Bedford’s The Garden of Love will hold some continuing fascination and collective memories. Finally, Blake’s text of Kevin Ayers’s song is a relevant today as it was in 1970 and in 1798.

Brief Bibliography:
Hall, Michael, Music Theatre in Britain: 1960-1975 (Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, 2015)
Stokoe, Carolyn in British Music Now: A Guide to the Work of Younger Composers ed. Lewis Foreman (London, Paul Elek, 1975) 
The pages of The Daily Telegraph, Musical Times, Musical Opinion etc.

Sunday 26 July 2020

Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie: Complete Music for Solo Piano Volume Three

In 1997, the Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam released a remarkable CD entitled Essentially Scottish. It featured music by (amongst others) Ronald Stevenson, Erik Chisholm, Granville Bantock as well as the Scenes in the Scottish Highlands, op.23 by Alexander Mackenzie. The disc was reviewed by Colin Scott Sutherland for MusicWeb International (December 1998).  I bought this CD as soon as I saw it in HMV Oxford Street.  It was the Mackenzie that most impressed me. I had come into possession of the sheet music for the Scenes some years previously. Reading the score and picking out some melodies and phrases on the piano was of interest. Playing the Suite was beyond my Grade 6¼ ability. My overall impression was of an important work that demanded a recording or at least an occasional performance. Now, with the present CD, there are two stunning accounts committed to disc.

Scenes in the Scottish Highlands is, as Scott-Sutherland stated in his review, ‘an extended Suite of Lisztian proportions.’  In fact, many other composer’s might have entitled the work a Scottish Sonata. The opening movement has a wide sweep in much of its progress. The liner notes suggest that ‘the imposing opening theme is cut out of similar tartan to that of MacCunn’s Land of the Mountain and Flood overture.’ (MacCunn’s work was composed seven years after Mackenzie’s Suite).   The striding, tramping music is characterised by dotted quavers in both hands, with much use made of octaves. There are a few Scotch snaps (short followed by long notes) and grace notes provided to emphasise the Scottish connection. The middle section of this ternary (three part) ‘movement’ is more reflective and infinitely less warlike in mood.
Anyone who has ever stood on the banks of Loch Lomond with a ‘special friend’ will ‘get’ the second piece, ‘On the Loch’. This typically restrained ‘barcarolle’ or ‘nocturne’ creates a picture-perfect atmosphere of evening. The time signature here is 4/4 but the figuration of the left hand is largely in triplets. This may not technically be a barcarole, but the effect is the same. It is quiet, crepuscular, and drifting, with this latter quality highlighted by some gentle, but fascinating modulations. Howell notes that ‘a descending phrase here and there seems to recall the “were ever wont to gae” phrase from the famous song ‘The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond’. The music of John Field seems to inspire this ‘movement’.
All sadness, recollection and wistful ‘what might have beens’ are blown away with the final piece, ‘On the Heather’. This is a ‘gentle romp’ with lots of Scotch snaps, especially in the middle section. The ethos here is of a day trip to the heather clad hills and most certainly not a ‘yomp’ across them.
Whatever the impact of the scenery implied by the titles of each piece, Mackenzie has created a work that is impeccably constructed, replete with many attractive themes and melodies and is well-written for technically competent pianists. From a personal point of view, Scenes in the Scottish Highlands is an ideal evocation of the Scottish scenery, eclipsed only by the above-mentioned Overture by MacCunn and the Scottish works by Felix Mendelssohn.
The Scenes in the Scottish Highlands, op.23 were published by Novello in 1880. They are dedicated to the eminent German pianist Edward Dannreuther. 

The earliest work on this CD is the thoughtful ‘Nocturne’ seemingly composed sometime around or before 1861. Once again, this music owes more to the Irishman John Field rather than the Polish Frederick Chopin. The melody that dominates this piece is quite beautiful, with a considerable Scottish atmosphere about it. The piece ends with a passionate restatement of the tune, rather than drifting into the gloamin’. The fact that the ‘young’ composer possibly overdoes the repetition of melody, and may have something to learn about modulation, does not detract from this beautiful little work.

Equally ‘vintage’ is the inspiring set of Variations in E minor (c.1861). This is influenced by the sights and sounds of the Scottish landscape and songs, respectively. I love Christopher Howell’s description of the theme ‘as typically Scottish as any icy mountain burn.’ It may or may not be based on a given melody. After an introduction, the music progresses through ever more complicated and decorated variations. A little respite is given in the third, which is written in a melancholic minor key. It will bring a tear to the eye any sentimental Scot (like me!). The finale is a gentle romp, with some wayward modulations, and brings this bewitching piece to a solid conclusion. These Variations were composed whilst Mackenzie was living in Herriot Row in Edinburgh.

Morris Dance, written in 1899, looks ‘Furth o’ the border’ with its bouncy, almost Grainger-esque nod towards an English village green rather than a Highland clachan. In the same year, Mackenzie orchestrated the Morris Dance and paired it with a ‘Processional.’ The work carries no opus number, however Duncan James Barker, in his thesis (1999) about Mackenzie, notes that early printed copies of this work carried the subscription op.2, but this was later dropped in successive reprintings.

Six Song Transcriptions by Giuseppe Buonamici is a remarkable work by any measure. The first thing to think about is, who was Giuseppe Buonamici? He was an Italian pianist and composer. Born in Florence on 12 February 1846, he studied music with his uncle, Giuseppe Ceccherini and then with Hans von Bülow and Joseph Rheinberger at the Royal Bavarian Conservatory in Munich. On his return to Florence in 1873, he worked as a piano teacher and choral conductor.  Buonamici was later appointed professor of piano at the Instituto Musicale in Florence. As a concert pianist, he made several European tours performing in Germany, Italy, and England. He was highly regarded by Liszt. Another aspect of his musical achievement lay towards editing music. Buonamici published editions of Beethoven and Schubert. His own compositions included several piano pieces, a string quartet, and an overture. Giuseppe Buonamici died in his home city on 17 March 1914.
The relationship between Buonamici and Mackenzie should be the subject of a dissertation. It seems that whilst on a ‘rest-cure’ abroad, the Scotsman was recommended to Buonamici and George F Hatton, both pupils of von Bülow, and living in Florence. It is known that Mackenzie was friends with Liszt and was a member of the ‘Liszt Circle’ with the Hungarian composer having considerable influence on his harmonic and formal procedures.

Returning to the Six Song Transcriptions by Giuseppe Buonamici… Mackenzie wrote many songs over his career: few, if any, have been recorded. His choice of texts was wide-ranging and are (apparently) characterised by ‘their fresh simplicity’. I have never heard any of them. Buonamici has here provided a masterclass in song transcription in the Lisztian manner. Each piece is a flawless miniature, that is often moving in its effect. Of especial appeal to me was the subtle Scotticisms of ‘Phyllis at the Fair’ despite Burns’s poem being written in standard English. The final transcription ‘O Roaming Wind’ is quite simply stunning. They are over the top, to be sure, but as such are ‘guilty pleasures.’ I love them.
The titles, sources and dates of each arrangement are only alluded to in the CD liner notes. Full details are as follows:
·         ‘Phyllis the Fair’ (Robert Burns) from Eleven Songs, op.31, no.1, pub.1885.
·         ‘It was a time of Roses’ (Thomas Hood) from Eleven Songs, op.31, no.2, pub. 1885.
·         ‘What does little birdie say?’ (Alfred, Lord Tennyson) from Eleven Songs, op.31, no.7a, pub. 1885 (First version)
·         What does little birdie say?’ (Alfred, Lord Tennyson) from Eleven Songs, op.31, no.7b, pub. 1885 (Second version)
·         ‘A Birthday’ (Christina Rossetti) from Three Songs, op.17, no.3. 1878.
·         ‘O Roaming Wind’ [‘Heart-Sorrow’] (J. Logie Robertson) from Three Songs op.16, no.2, (1878)

Listeners may be encouraged to look up each poem to gain a greater appreciation of the musical impact. Unfortunately, I was unable to study the sheet music of Mackenzie’s original song versions. It is surely a project for Christopher Howell to examine the possibility of a recording of Alexander Mackenzie’s ‘Complete Songs’.  

The final work on this CD is Varying Moods. This was composed in 1921 and dedicated ‘To his friend Myra Hess’. Howell explains that at this time, Mackenzie had taken Hess ‘under his wing’ whilst she was studying at the Royal Academy of Music.  Varying Moods was to be his final piano work. The four pieces in this collection will strike the listener as being harmonically and stylistically in advance of his earlier piano music. ‘Revery’ (Lento (quasi recit.) is quite perfect. Howell suggests that this piece nods towards ‘early Scriabin’ or perhaps Nikolai Medtner. I wondered if Frank Bridge could have been a model too. The second piece is the will o’the wisp ‘Ariel’, which is musically matched to the character from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Bridge is certainly an analogy here, especially his delightful The Dew Fairy from The Hour Glass Suite (1920).  The eponymous ‘Varying Moods’, is a little valse lente. It is sad and introverted in its progress. ‘Grotesque Dance’ is a huge surprise. The Victorian Mackenzie has fully engaged here with the ‘modern’ world. Howell is correct in likening this piece to Sergei Prokofiev. I was unable to find any details of this work’s premiere. I wonder if Myra Hess ever performed it…

I have previously reviewed Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Christopher Howell’s survey of the complete piano music of Alexander Mackenzie for these pages. As to the inspired and sympathetic playing, the high sound quality, and the excellent liner notes, I have little to add.  I have enjoyed immensely the pleasure and privilege of exploring the varied piano music of fellow-Scot Alexander Mackenzie. I was constantly surprised at just how pleasurable his piano music is. Any listener who enjoys the great European Romantic composers such as Wagner, Liszt, Schumann, and Chopin will find this present CD and the other two in the series of great interest. The listener needs to realise that Mackenzie is very much a European composer, rather than a British or even Scottish one. On the other hand, he often brings the numinous quality of his native land into his music (as well as a few Scottish musical devices and clichés) to make much of his music appeal to the Celt or Lowlander and draw them back over great distances of time and space to the Mother Country.

Track Listing:
Alexander Campbell MACKENZIE (1847-1935)
Variations in E minor (1861 or earlier)
Nocturne in A (1861 or earlier)
Morris Dance (1899)
Six Song Transcriptions by Giuseppe Buonamici (later than 1885)
Varying Moods, op.88 (1921)
Christopher Howell (piano)
rec. Studios of Griffa & Figli s.r.l., Milan, Italy, 14 February 2017, 26 October 2017

Thursday 23 July 2020

Looking at Alan Rawsthorne: Pierrette for violin and piano (c.1934)

 Copyright The Rawsthorne Trust
Quite recently, I discovered Alan Rawsthorne’s (1905-71) charming miniature Pierrette for violin and piano. It has recently been released on the SOMM record label (see below for details). Although this piece has been recorded before, I seem to have missed out on hearing it.  Some would argue that Pierrette is a trivial piece, full of salon music clichés and lacking depth and integrity. I disagree.

There is some debate as to the circumstances of composition of Pierrette. One view is that it was a wedding present for Rawsthorne’s first wife, Jessie Hinchcliffe (1908–1989) who was an accomplished violinist (SOMM CD Liner Notes). She had been a fellow student with Alan at the Royal Manchester College of Music and was then playing in the BBC Symphony Orchestra. They were married on 14 July 1934 at St Martin-in-the-Fields (Creel, Vol.8 no.2, 2016, p.45). The marriage was not to last, and they were divorced in 1954.  Another view is that it was written for Alan and Jessie to play together (John Belcher, cited Dressler, 2004, p.254) And finally, John McCabe (1999, p.37) wonders if the piece was originally devised for the light music broadcasts of the Adolph Hallis Quintet, and then rearranged for violin and piano. At that time, Rawsthorne did many arrangements for this ensemble under the pseudonym of ‘Alan Jess’.
I was unable to find details of the work’s premiere in any reference books; however, it is possible that the Adolph Hallis Quintet gave the first performance of an arrangement of Pierrette on Tuesday 9 June 1936, on the BBC National Programme. A work of that title is listed in the contemporary Radio Times (5 June 1936) as composed by ‘Jess’.  This would confirm McCabe’s suggestion above. Pierrette was composed sometime between 1934 and the summer of 1936.

There are two ‘technical’ discussions of Alan Rawsthorne’s Pierrette in the literature. The earliest was by Sebastian Forbes in his essay ‘The Chamber Music’ in Alan Poulton’s Alan Rawsthorne: Essays on the Music (1986, p.7). He writes that the ‘mood here is very light and suggests little of Pierrot’s rage…’ I think that Forbes is misreading the work’s ethos and title if he was expecting Pierrot’s anger to be reflected in the music.  The listener needs to understand that the designation is simply referring to a female member of a company of Pierrots and not being descriptive of the emotions and attitudes of that ‘typical’ character from French pantomime. At the time of composition, many holiday resorts would have had troupes of Pierrots and Pierrettes, who were usually musical entertainers with whitened faces and loose white costumes. Forbes states that ‘the fluence and cleverness of the textures point to [Rawsthorne’s] sparkling tarantellas of a few years later.’ As for the ‘tarantella’, I imagine that he is thinking of the finale of the Piano Concerto No.1 (1939) or possibly the glittering second half of the Fantasy Overture: Cortèges (1945).
As would be expected, John McCabe (op.cit.) in his study of the composer has presented some thoughtful information on this piece. He considers that ‘it is a delightful piece of light music, a genre in which major British composers of preceding generations excelled.’ McCabe adds that although it is ‘untypical in its straightforward diatonic style, Pierrette does occasionally present the authentic Rawsthorne.’ This is most obvious in the use of ‘Prokofievian tonal sideslips’ and the odd chord or texture that was characteristic of Rawsthorne.  He further suggests that the aesthetic of Pierrette may nod towards William Walton’s Siesta or ‘the more Mediterranean numbers of Façade...’


As for the form of Pierrette, McCabe sees that it is basically a tune repeated over with a straightforward ‘oom-pah-pah’ piano accompaniment (Fig.1). This is a little disingenuous. Rawsthorne has introduced some subtle variations to the piano part, including arpeggiated chords, a little arabesque, and even a scotch snap or two.


The violin part is quite varied as well, with characteristic chromatic passages and some bewitching double stopping (Fig.2). Finally, towards the conclusion of the piece, there is a brief slower section (poco meno) which McCabe wonders if it might have been ‘a delicate, even subconscious remembrance of the Italian organ-grinder who used to entertain the Haslingden [Lancashire] populace in the Rawsthorne’s childhood.’  I think this may be an allusion too far.

Pierrette is a splendid example of what can be achieved when a ‘serious’ composer decides to write a little bit of pastiche: as suggested above, Walton’s Façade is a large-scale example of this. Pierrette is elegant and delightful and was a stylish tribute to his wife.

At present, there are two recordings of Alan Rawsthorne’s Pierrette for violin and piano. The most recent is Clare Howick and Simon Callaghan on the SOMM Label, SOMMCD 0610. Major works on this remarkable album include William Walton’s Sonata, William Alwyn’s Sonatina and Kenneth Leighton’s Sonata No.1, all for violin and piano.  Miniatures on this CD feature Gordon Jacob’s Elegy, Caprice and Little Dancer as well as Lennox Berkeley’s Elegy op.33, no.3 and his Toccata, op.33, no.3. 
In the late 1990s Benedict Holland (violin) and Alan Cuckston (piano) issued an album of Alan Rawsthorne’s Music for violin and piano (Swinsty Records FEW121CD). The disc included the Concertante and the Sonata, both for violin and piano as well as the Four Bagatelles, Four Romantic Pieces, and the Ballade for piano solo.
Pierrette as played by Benedict Holland and Alan Cuckston has been uploaded to YouTube.

A facsimile of Rawsthorne’s manuscript was published in the first edition of The Creel, the Rawsthorne Society’s Journal (August 1989). Forsyth’s music publisher, based in Manchester, has had this holograph of Pierrette ‘engraved’ and published as part of the British Heritage Series: Jewels for violin highlighting British composers of the modern era and ‘dedicated to increasing awareness of the music of this period.’

Acknowledgement: Musical excerpts from Alan Rawsthorne’s  Pierrette for violin and piano © Forsyth Brothers Ltd, 126 Deansgate Manchester M3 2GR UK Reproduced by permission.
Dressler, John C. Alan Rawsthorne: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Connecticut, Praeger Publishers, 2004)
McCabe, John, Alan Rawsthorne: Portrait of a composer (Oxford University Press, 1999)
Poulton, Alan, ed, Alan Rawsthorne, Essays on the Music (Hindhead, Bravura Publications 1986)
The files of The Creel, The Gramophone, The Radio Times.

Monday 20 July 2020

William Alywn: Early String Quartets on Lyrita

Jonathan Woolf recently gave an excellent and detailed review of this new Lyrita disc for MusicWeb International. Included were some excellent descriptions and evaluations of each quartet. I found that I agree wholeheartedly with his assessments: I do not wish to repeat what has already been better said, so I intend take a step back and try to do a little bit of personal contextualisation of this CD.
I first discovered William Alwyn’s music by way of the Symphonic Prelude: The Magic Island around 1972. This work, along with the remarkable Symphony No.3, was included on a Lyrita LP (SRCS.63) and was featured during the weekly Record Review on BBC Radio 3. As suggested by the title, I was ‘bewitched’ by this music and immediately rushed out to buy the album at Cuthbertson’s record shop in Glasgow (closed now for many years). This Tempest-inspired tone-poem has remained my favourite Alwyn work ever since.

In the 1970s there were precious few records devoted to Alwyn’s music. The notable exception being several releases from that great champion of British music, Richard Itter and his Lyrita label. To be fair, Unicorn (UNS 241) had issued the Gabrieli Quartet’s account of the String Quartet in D minor (No.1) and the String Trio in 1971. Since that time, a vast quantity of Alwyn’s music has been released, including three complete cycles of the Symphonies (Lyrita, Chandos and Naxos). It is fair to say that most of Alwyn’s orchestral music, from the early days to his final thoughts, has been recorded. Much of his chamber and instrumental music has been issued as well as his operatic masterpiece Miss Julie. Over the years, four volumes of Alwyn’s film music have appeared. All this music is typically featured on the above-mentioned record labels, but not forgetting Dutton Epoch, Somm and the defunct White Line

In those early days (1970s) I tried to find out as much about William Alwyn as I could. One of the ‘scholarly’ canards at this time was that virtually all the composer’s early works had been destroyed. Not knowing any better I believed this. In fact, the earliest ‘admitted’ work was, I think, the Rhapsody for violin, viola, cello and piano (1939).  

In 1985 Bravura Publications published William Alwyn: A Catalogue of his Music, compiled by Stewart Craggs and Alan Poulton. I was lucky to find a copy, as I understand that it was a [very] limited edition. I was amazed at the vast amount of music that Alwyn had written prior to this above-mentioned Rhapsody. Exploring the catalogue’s section on chamber music was a revelation. Starting at the very early Sparkling Cascades for solo piccolo (1913) there were some three pages of pre-war works listed. This includes Sonatas and Sonatinas, arrangements of folk songs and spirituals, a Fantasia and a Phantasy for string ensembles and a tantalisingly titled tone poem ‘On Milton Hill’ for flute, oboe and piano. But most remarkable of all, were the reference to thirteen ‘early’ and unpublished string quartets, albeit several lacking entries.
The medium of String Quartet had inspired William Alwyn for his entire life. His first essay in this form was SQ No.0 in G minor which dates from 1920 and was composed when he was only 15 years old.  The final work in this genre, the ‘official’ SQ No.3 was completed in 1984, the year before the composer’s death.
Fast forward to 2011 and the publication of John C Dressler’s William Alwyn: A Research and Information Guide (Routledge) that what I guess had been known to Alwyn scholars became common knowledge. The composer had not been as assiduous as imagined in destroying his ‘early horrors.’ In fact, the manuscripts for most of the chamber works are securely housed in the Alwyn Archive.

In 2017 SOMM Records (CD 0165) issued a ground-breaking recording of Alwyn’s String Quartet’s Nos. 10-13 clearly relying on some detailed musical archaeology from the archive. This was reviewed for MusicWeb International by Rob Barnett. I am not sure if this release was meant to be the first instalment of a ‘complete’ cycle. The present Lyrita disc explores String Quartets Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9 as well as the delightful Seven Irish Tunes. It means that we are now shy of the first five examples to complete the cycle. Looking at Dressler’s Catalogue makes one wonder if this will be possible. Certainly, the holograph for No.5 has been lost.  The score for No.0 would appear to be incomplete: the others seem to be in manuscript. To what extent reconstruction and realisation would be possible remains to be seen. 

Based on the eight early quartets that I have heard, there does seem to be a case for renumbering. Jonathan Woolf has suggested that they be cited as 1-16, with the three post war quartets (No.1 in D minor (1953), No.2 ‘Spring Waters; (1975) and No.3 (1984)) renumbered from 1, 2 and 3 to 14, 15 and 16 respectively.  I guess that problems may arise because No.5 is missing, and the earliest example is given as No.0. But greater difficulties have been overcome. Certainly, the early string quartets composed between 1920 and 1936 deserve their place in the catalogue and on CD. Whether these works will ever gain a hearing in the recital room remains an open question. I somehow doubt it.
Meanwhile this latest addition to the growing catalogue of William Alwyn’s music is essential for all enthusiasts of the composer, as well as those who are devoted to British music and/or the String Quartet genre. It is splendidly recorded and convincingly played by the Villiers Quartet.

Track Listings:
William ALWYN (1905-1985)
String Quartet No.7 in A (1927)
String Quartet No.6 in E minor (1929)
String Quartet No.8 in D minor (1931)
Seven Irish Tunes, for string quartet (1923)
String Quartet No.9 in one movement (1931)
Villiers Quartet: James Dickenson (violin), Tamaki Higashi (violin), Carmen Flores (viola), Nick Stringfellow (cello).
rec. 2019, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Friday 17 July 2020

William Mathias: Vivat Regina, Suite for brass band Op. 75

Welsh composer William Mathias (1934-92) composed Vivat Regina, Suite for brass band, op.75 as a contribution to Her Majesty the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977. The piece was commissioned by The London Celebrations Committee, in association with Harry Mortimer and the British Federation of Brass Bands. This was the composer’s first and only excursion into the world of brass band music. The manuscript score is dated February 1977 and was first published in 1978, in a facsimile of the composer’s holograph.

Around this time, Mathias had completed his major orchestral work, Helios, op.76 for orchestra. This was dedicated ‘In memory of Grace Williams.’ Williams was a remarkable Welsh composer who died in February 1977. The previous year had seen the completion of the dynamic Dance Variations, a work that has not been given a professional recording.  It was premiered in June 1977. Other relevant works from this de facto ‘Welsh Master of the Queen’s Musick’ included a setting of ‘Land of Our Fathers’/’God Save the Queen’ and the A Royal Garland for unaccompanied double mixed chorus.

Vivat Regina – Long Live the Queen - consists of four short movements bookended by two contrasting fanfares. It lasts for about ten minutes. The work opens with a breezy ‘Fanfare’ (allegro) in full ceremonial mood.  This is followed by an ‘Air’ (andante maestoso) which seems to hint at several well-known tunes, but never quite quotes one in full. An exuberant ‘Jig’ (allegro alla danza) is written in Mathias’s signature dance music style. It is bouncy and full of joie de vivre.  The ‘Mountain Song’ (lento sostenuto) is the heart of this work. This is moody and introverted music, reflecting the deeper meaning of the commemoration. The penultimate section reminds the listener what the piece is all about. ‘Jubilate’ (allegro ritmico e vivace) is quite simply ‘shouting for joy’. And finally, the closing ‘Fanfare’. The faster music is written in a buoyant style, that is helped using mixed metres (time signatures) whilst the slower numbers are sustained and thoughtful. All four main ‘movemnets’ have ‘simple and memorable melodies.’ The entire work is brilliantly imaginative and resourceful. Despite being Mathias’s only venture into this genre, he handles the scoring and instrumentation with the skill of a brass band master.

Vivat Regina was premiered on Saturday 11 June 1977 at an event of massed brass bands at the Royal Albert Hall, conducted by Walter Suskind. The bands were Black Dyke Mills, Cory, Fairey Foden’s and Handwell and Morris. For the record, the number one hit record in the Pop Charts was Rod Stewart’s ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ with the anarchic Sex Pistols’ song ‘God Save the Queen’ at Number 2.

The score of Vivat Regina was first reviewed in The Musical Times (February 1979) by Niall O’Loughlin. He considered that this ‘six-movement suite of about ten minutes' duration [has] interesting parts for many of the players.  The faster movements have a lively wit and some imaginative rhythmic irregularities.’  In 1981 it also was reviewed in Music & Letters (April 1981) by Jim Simpson. He began by making a generalised statement about Mathias’s brass band music: ‘We must be grateful for any music which keeps our leading brass bands away from grotesque transcriptions of Mendelssohn and Berlioz overtures and the like. There is something to be said too for Mathias's respect for traditional groupings within the brass band medium, as opposed to the approach of Birtwistle or Payne, who treat it as a reservoir from which an infinite variety of timbral combinations might be drawn.’ Clearly, he is thinking about Harrison Birtwistle’s outstanding Grimethorpe Aria which was written in 1973 and possibly Anthony Payne’s Fire on Whaleness (1976). 

A recording of the Black Dyke Mills Band conducted by Roy Newsome has been uploaded to YouTube. It has been extracted from the album Black Dyke Mills: Champions of Brass, CHN 4160. The CD also includes music by Granville Bantock, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Gregson, and Gordon Langford. Vivat Regina was originally issued on the RCA Victor Label in 1977 (PL25143).
Reviewing the LP for The Gramophone (September 1978) Malcolm McDonald thinks that: ‘Mathias comes off [well], with a Silver Jubilee piece of five or six short movements with again some lively moments alongside some less lively, rather surprisingly conventional ones.’ He concludes his critique by stating that the entire album ‘is truly the very best of traditional brass-band sound.’   
I understand that an orchestral version of these Dances has been made by Philip Lane in 2004 and retitled Jubilee Dances. To my knowledge, this has not been recorded.

Tuesday 14 July 2020

Arnold Cooke: The Complete Violin Sonatas

I recently reviewed the second and third ‘volumes’ of Mike Purton’s recordings of Arnold Cooke’s chamber music for MusicWeb International. In Volume 2, I discussed the stylistic parameters of the composer’s music. Biographical details can be found in the introductory remarks to my assessment of Cooke’s Symphonies No.4 and No.5 on Lyrita REAM1123
I will limit myself to a repeating a single comment here. Arnold Cooke typically eschewed various modernist techniques such as serialism and was never attracted to the avant-garde. He once wrote that his music is ‘mainly based on traditional procedures and principles…I do not have any particular theories of composition, just a natural inclination for it.’ Cooke’s music is eclectic, approachable, and firmly rooted in tonality, spiced with dissonance, and a modicum of ‘Bartokian ruggedness’. Although there is little in the way of British nationalism in his style, there is much ‘English lyricism’ that adds warmth to his music.
As with my previous reviews of Arnold Cooke’s chamber music on the MPR label, I am beholden to Harvey Davies’s excellent liner notes for details of all these pieces.

Only one work on this CD has been recorded before. In 2005 the British Music Society issued a notable disc (BMS432CD) featuring three strings sonatas by Cooke. These included the Viola Sonata No.2 (1937), the Cello Sonata No.2 (1980) and the Violin Sonata No.2 in A (1951). The album was rereleased in 2014 by Naxos (8.571362).

I guess that Cooke’s Duo for violin and viola will never be a ‘popular’ work. It is, as the liner notes suggest, ‘austere’. That said, it is no academic exercise or ‘intellectual exercise in counterpoint.’  Jonathan Woolf, on MusicWeb International, has described the compositional technique as ‘playfully rigorous.’ It is a perfect description.
The Duo was composed between 1934-35 when the composer was working at the Royal Manchester College of Music as a teacher of composition, counterpoint, and harmony. It was premiered by the South African violinist David Carl Taylor and the well-known Scottish violist Watson Forbes at the Royal Academy of Music on 4 March 1937.
The Duo opens with one of the composer’s trademark long ‘slow’ introductions. The remainder of this movement is predicated on the material presented in these bars. It is markedly contrapuntal throughout, with each instrument making its own headway. The liner notes state that the ‘andante’ presents an initial melody made up of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. It should be noted that this is not a strictly serial composition. This is intense music that adds to the Duo’s concentration and reserve. The finale is a tour de force. The melodies are once again highly chromatic with much focus on the interval of the perfect 4th (e.g. C to F). This all sounds technically demanding, especially the final ‘breathless presto.’  I listened to this piece three times through and am just beginning to ‘get it.’ There is much subtle lyricism and good humour hidden amongst the rarefied contrapuntal devices.

The immediate pre-war years were a busy time for Arnold Cooke. The liner notes list several important works composed between 1935 and 1940 including the Sonata for viola and piano (1937), the Sonata for two pianos (1937), the Concerto for piano and orchestra (1939-40) and the Passacaglia, Scherzo and Finale for string orchestra (1937), This latter work is surely a candidate for recording. The Sonata No.1 in G for violin and piano composed at this time, is probably the most immediately approachable work on this CD. It was devised for the violinist Thomas Matthews and the pianist Dora Gilson. The date of this Sonata’s premiere has not been established, but it was probably during 1939.
This Sonata is presented in three balanced movements. The work opens with the exposition of the two main subjects, the first of which is ‘soaring’ and the second is pensive. There is no development of these themes as such, but instead, a third subject is introduced which soon leads to the recapitulation and a surprisingly slow and meditative conclusion. All this is beautiful and relaxed music that seems at odds with the historical times. The heart of the work is the ‘pastoral’ ‘Lento’. Nevertheless, this is not quite as it seems. The middle part of this considerable movement is a lively scherzo, which blows away the cobwebs, before returning to the reflective slow music which now sounds almost heart-breaking in its wistful backward glance.  Finally, the dance music returns for the last time. The last movement is really a little rondo. The main theme is easy going and urbane. However, it is subject to some novel twists and turns. One significant episode is when the violin plays a melody in harmonics with an abbreviated accompaniment from the piano (left hand only) which, according to the liner notes gives ‘the effect of someone whistling in the distance’. After the return of the suave melody, the work ends with a splendid coda and a powerful conclusion.

The Sonata No.2 in A for violin and piano was commissioned by the amateur musician Gerard Heller for his wife, the violinist Rosemary Rapaport and her musical partner Else Cross. The work was duly premiered at the Wigmore Hall, London on 17 May 1951. I noted in my review of the BMS CD that this Sonata was first heard during year of the Festival of Britain, and the work reflects much of the post-war optimism encouraged at that time. This is certainly obvious in the opening ‘allegro con brio.’ Naturally, there are some reflective moments, but the general mood is of happiness and joie de vivre. There is a good balance between rhythmic bounce and lyrical thoughtfulness. The atmosphere of the beautiful ‘andante con moto’ is truly inspiring. Jonathan Woolf (op.cit.) has suggested that this movement sits in a trajectory from John Ireland by way of Herbert Howells. It is a lovely, near-pastoral idyll that is not a cow leaning over a fence but is concerned with deeper matters and is valedictory in mood. Any sense of regret is overcome by the boisterous finale. This is ‘cosmopolitan’ music that requires no emotional anchorage in a bucolic landscape. There are moments of reflection here, the music is often lyrical, but the overall mood is one of excitement and optimism. The Sonata ends in a blaze of ‘post-romantic’ glory. 

Eric Wetherell, in his monograph on the composer (British Music Society, 1996) explains that Arnold Cooke always ‘stressed the importance to him of sonata form’ and in a broadcast talk told ‘of his enjoyment in writing the commission from the Music Department of Cardiff University’ for a Sonata for solo Violin.  The work was first heard during the Cardiff Festival at Llandaff Cathedral on 13 March 1970. It was performed by James Barton. The Sonata itself justifies the view that Cooke was an ‘English Hindemithian’. On the other hand, Bartok, who had written a similar work in 1944 is also a clear influence. This is a stark work that is well constructed in every detail. The opening movement, which is written in sonata form is proceeded by a long, slow introduction (separate track) and is followed by vibrant but often acerbic melodic statements and development. The slow movement is structurally of interest. It is nominally written in ternary form (three-part, ABA) but the reprise of the opening section is varied considerably. The middle section is complicated, with pizzicato, tremolos and counterpoints. The movement opens with a long cantilena that is poignant and haunting. The finale is a brilliant ‘molto allegro’ that is full of life. Here the composer indulges in cross rhythms, fast repeated notes, and pizzicato chords. There is a brief respite before the movement and the work comes to a broad and convincing conclusion. Arnold Cooke’s Sonata for solo Violin is not an easy work to come to terms with. Yet, there is much musical interest here that would reward the skills of any recitalist who chooses to ‘take up’ this rigorous work.

It is redundant to make a long-winded evaluation of the practicalities of this exploration of the ‘Complete Sonatas for Violin’. The sound quality of the MPR label always impresses, and the performance is excellent. Comparisons with the Susanne Stanzeleit (violin) and Raphael Terroni (piano) version of Sonata No.2 are unnecessary. Both are enjoyable, inspiring, and hugely competent. The liner notes by Harvey Davies are essential reading. Much detail is provided about each work. A brief, but useful biographical sketch of Arnold Cooke is included. There are the usual notes about the performers. 
I know that a fourth volume of Cooke’s chamber music is planned by Mike Purton at MPR. I reiterate what I have said in my reviews of Volumes 2 and 3 of this valuable ‘cycle’. I hope there may be further CDs: there are many Arnold Cooke chamber works that demand to be recorded. 

Track Listing:
Arnold COOKE (1906-2005)
Sonata No.1 in G for violin and piano (1939)
Sonata for solo violin (1969)
Duo for violin and viola (1934-35)
Sonata No.2 in A for violin and piano (1951)
The Pleyel Ensemble, Benedict Holland (violin), Susie Mészáros (viola), Harvey Davies (piano)
rec. 14 July 2016 (Sonata No.1), 28-29 August 2017, The Carole Nash Room, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK
MPR 103
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Saturday 11 July 2020

Recalling John Addison’s Concerto for trumpet, strings, and percussion (1949) Part 2

The Premiere
John Addison’s Concerto for trumpet and strings was premiered at the Orangery, Hampton Court, on Sunday 16 July 1950. The New London Orchestra was conducted by Alec Sherman with the trumpet soloist David Mason. Another concerted work at this concert was Carl Maria von Weber’s Bassoon Concerto in F major (1811, rev. 1822) with soloist Cecil James. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No.40 in G minor (K.550) (1788) was the ‘main’ event of the evening.

The Daily Telegraph (17 July 1950) picked up on the fact that Addison’s work was one of very few trumpet concertos written by an Englishman since the 18th century.  The reviewer thinks that the trumpet is one of the ‘noblest’ of instruments, but also one of the ‘most intractable.’ Unfortunately, R.C. (Richard Capell) felt that despite ‘the young composer’s interesting inventiveness and David Mason’s brilliant execution of the solo, [this] fundamental difficulty was not overcome.’ One other criticism was that ‘Mr Addison could not help lapsing into the toy-trumpet effects of [Stravinsky’s] Petrushka.’ As an aside, Cecil James ‘astonished the audience with his mastery of the bassoon.’

The unsigned review in The Times (18 July 1950) was enthusiastic about the ‘[introduction] of a new concerto for trumpet, strings and optional percussion [composed] by…a young English composer hailing from Prince Consort Road’ (The Royal College of Music). The critic felt that ‘no member of the audience would complain of the unapproachability of contemporary music after hearing this buoyant work, with its incisive themes, its piquant rhythms, its clean textures, and its logical and almost too transparent form.’  Looking in more detail towards the music’s structure, the critic notes that ‘the trumpet is rarely idle, and the scoring for percussion (without which the concerto would be a good deal less entertaining) and strings show many felicitous touches.’ This was especially evident in the slow movement, ‘adagio misterioso.’ Overall, the impression was that ‘there is room in the world for music of this unpretentious and not too earnest or disturbingly original kind…’

The most extensive review of the Trumpet Concerto’s premiere was written by Malcolm Rayment in Musical Express (21 July 1950). He begins by pointing out that ‘both the merits and the weaknesses of the work are very apparent at first hearing.’ On the positive side, Addison has avoided ‘the unforgivable sin of a trumpet work – vulgarity.’ Rayment suggests that the piece has much in common with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Concerto in C minor for Piano, Trumpet, and String Orchestra, Op. 35 (1933) but insists that ‘nowhere are the banalities of parts of that work apparent here’ [in the Addison].  Looking back 70 years I wonder if Rayment has misjudged Shostakovich’s music. The musical parodies in that work are an integral and satisfying part of the concerto.  Turning to the ‘weaknesses’ of Addison’s Concerto, he feels that the main issue lies in the formal structure of the work rather than its content. I guess his criticism of the ‘inevitable fugato’ in the opening ‘Allegretto’ is redundant. It seems ideally placed to create interest. I can understand the comment that the changes of time signature in the score ‘to avoid monotony’, may be an unnecessary affectation. Malcolm Rayment considers that the ‘best movement’ is the ‘Adagio Misterioso’ where the composer ‘has not made the slightest attempt to be clever, and the simplicity of his thoughts are matched in the formal conception.’ This presents music ‘of undeniable beauty.’

In 1951, a piano reduction of the Concerto was published by Joseph Williams. Reviewing this score for Music and Letters (July 1952), E.J. writes that:
‘John Addison's Concerto makes a welcome addition to the trumpet repertory, being expertly composed and having a solo part most appropriate to the instrument, even in the slow movement. It is admirably clear in design and has well-managed climaxes. Though firmly based in the main key of C major, it has plenty of variety of harmony and tonality in the lively outer movements and suitable intensity in the second. The solo part, though difficult, has no showy effects, but is founded largely on characteristic figures, especially the leap of a perfect fourth.’  

The reviewer (P.F.R) in Music Review (August 1953) thought that this is written ‘in a thoroughly English idiom, owing something to Vaughan Williams, in a fresh and attractive manner.’ I am not convinced that the elder composer is alluded to in these pages, except for a few short passages in the slow movement. This critic concludes that ‘the thematic ideas are not in themselves of great distinction, but they are handled with a pleasant sense of colour, especially in the slow central movement and the whole work shows promise and vitality.’

Three years later, John Addison’s Concerto for trumpet crossed the Atlantic. It was given it US premiere at a ‘public dress rehearsal’ at the Hunter College Auditorium, New York, on Sunday 8 November 1953. The Little Orchestra Society was conducted by Thomas Scherman and the trumpet soloist was Robert Nagel. Other compositions heard at this concert were Béla Bartok’s ghostly Music for strings, percussion and celesta and Manuel de Falla’s Master Peter’s Puppet Show (El retablo de maese Pedro). Two days later, Howard Taubman reported on the concert for the New York Times. Rather grudgingly, he states that Addison’s Concerto ‘is a perfectly respectable piece’ but adds that it ‘tells little of the composer’s individuality.’  The reason for this lukewarm response would seem to be that the Concerto contained ‘little in it that sounds radical today.’ This lack of modernity will hardly trouble listeners in 2020. Taubman conceded that the soloist ‘Mr Nagel’ played the solo part ‘in sprightly and musical fashion’ that emphasised the ‘idiomatic use of the trumpet, giving it both virtuoso and lyrical passages…’

The Recording.
John Addison’s Concerto for trumpet, strings, and percussion, was first released in 1969 in the United States on First Edition Records (LOU-695). It was coupled with Danse Africaines by Heitor Villa-Lobos. The Louisville Orchestra was conducted by Jorge Mester and the trumpet soloist was Leon Rapier.
In 1976, the RCA Gold Seal Label (GL 25018) issued a remarkable album featuring four British works, all performed by The Louisville Orchestra.  This included Malcolm Arnold’s Concerto for two violins and strings, Gordon Crosse’s Some Marches on a Ground, Hungarian émigré to UK Matyas Seiber’s Concertino for clarinet and strings and a repackaging of the 1969 release of the Trumpet Concerto by John Addison.
Writing in The Gramophone, October 1976, Malcolm McDonald enthusiastically praised this new ‘selection of four lively pieces by contemporary British composers, none of which we have managed to get on to disc ourselves yet.’ Forty-four years later the situation is hardly much better. Only Malcolm Arnold seems to have fared well with several recordings of his Concerto. MacDonald thinks that ‘Addison has the measure of the trumpet as a soloist, allowing it to be athletic in rhythm, or lyrically smooth by contrast and eschewing extremes of range or of dynamic’. Finally, he suggests that ‘trumpet players must surely enjoy playing this one.’

Lewis Foreman, reviewing the CD release of the Trumpet Concerto on First Edition Music (FED 1904, 2005) for MusicWeb International, (6 February 2006) wrote that:
 ‘John Addison’s Trumpet Concerto is a substantial and brilliant work, which I have to say I did not know...Whether he is being energetic or lyrical, elegiac (as in the slow movement, trumpet muted) and expressive or fizzing as in his finale, his invention is always likeable. The syncopations in the finale are catchy, the trumpet writing dazzling. Trumpeter Leon Rapier is brilliant in the demanding solo part and plangently expressive in the deeper quiet slow music. But why such a sparkling score should be so little played that we are unaware of it is beyond me…’

Any unbiased listener must surely agree that it is time one of the younger trumpet virtuosos should ‘take up’ this remarkable and highly entertaining concerto. It would be a worthy addition to constant repackagings of Michael Haydn and multifarious arrangements of music not originally composed for the instrument.

John Addison’s Concerto for trumpet, strings and percussion has been uploaded to YouTube: 1st Movement, 2nd Movement, 3rd Movement. (Accessed 20 May 2020)

Musical excerpts from John Addison's Trumpet Concerto © Copyright 1951 Stainer & Bell Ltd, 23 Gruneisen Road, London N3 1DZ, UK, Reproduced by permission.