Saturday 13 January 2024

Bruce Montgomery: Concertino for string orchestra, op.10

Composer and detective story author Bruce Montgomery completed his engaging Concertino for string orchestra on 3 March 1948. Philip Lane, in the liner notes for the work’s only recording, explains that “the [it]…is typical of [Montgomery’s] musical language at this time; there are echoes of the English tradition of the previous fifty years, but it is tinged with post-war realism and a new modernism that breaks away from the language of a previous generation of composers.” The Concertino is in three movements and lasts for just over 15 minutes.

The Concertino was premiered at the Wigmore Hall, London on 10 December 1948. Other works heard that evening included Montgomery’s Christ’s Birthday for mixed chorus and string orchestra with piano obligato, and two pieces by Geoffrey Bush – A Christmas Cantata and his Concerto for oboe and strings. The New Music Group and the Riddick String Orchestra were conducted by Trevor Harvey.

The Musical Times (January 1949, p.28) reported on the concert: “Mr. Montgomery's Concertino for strings left an impression of excellent writing coupled with an invention that had not quite hit upon the right ideas…”

David Whittle (2007, p.96) quotes C.G.R.’s review of the concert published in the February 1949 edition of Musical Opinion: “Both the Concertino of Montgomery and the Concerto of Bush are based, consciously or not, on well-known models, but are none the worse for that; both show an intimate knowledge of the medium, the writing is invariably effective, the harmonic scheme is perfectly suited to the fund of genial melodic invention, and if neither work says anything very profound and frankly aims at pleasing the ear and soothing the mind, then so much the better. Not every composer is intended by nature to become a great master, and unpretentious works of this order have a far higher expectation of life than the pseudo-profundities and pathological phenomena with which we have been surfeited for the last several decades...”

The score of the Concertino was published on 1 August 1950 by Novello and Co. It was appraised by I.K. in Music & Letters (July 1951, p.292). He wrote: “Bruce Montgomery's Concertino is an unpretentious and well-scored composition of but moderate difficulty. Its distinction rests on its coloured harmony than on melodic invention, and occasionally there seems to be a too easy acceptance of sequences. Nor are all joins made with that elegance of carpentry of which the composer is capable.”

David Whittle (2007, p.95f) quotes the Musical Opinion (May 1951) which considered that “There is an engaging simplicity of design and economy of material in each of the movements of this work, which makes for a ready understanding and appreciation, despite the composer’s free use of dissonance. If the music rarely gets off the ground, it is always craftsman-like, and its technical competence holds the interest. [The] three movements, a Moderato quasi allegro, which is mainly fiercely energetic, with some good contrasting sections; a flowing Lento espressivo, and a Vivace ed energico, which again has two main contrasting ideas, one explosively rhythmical and the other a cantabile melody finely developed.”

Bruce Montgomery’s Concertino for string orchestra was recorded by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the baton of David Lloyd-Jones. It was released on English String Miniatures, Volume 3 in 2001 (Naxos 8.555069). The CD included music by Holst, Finzi, Hurd, Martelli and Haydn Wood. All three movements of the Concertino has been uploaded to YouTube, here, here and here. (Accessed 19/12/2023)

Whittle, David, Bruce Montgomery/Edmund Crispin: A Life in Music and Books, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2007)

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