Saturday, October 22, 2016
That’s the claim being made for the first DVD release of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult at Canterbury Cathedral on March 29, 1968. The soloists were Janet Baker, Peter Pears and John Shirley-Quirk; the orchestra was the London Philharmonic, with its choir. Vernon Handley was the assistant conductor and the Canterbury organ was out of order. The BBC organist Charlie Spinks was set up in a parish church two miles away with a closed-ciruit television link. According to the publicity material (quoting Sir Adrian’s memoirs), the director Brian Large commandeered eight of the nine colour television cameras known to be in the UK at that time. The performance was broadcast on Easter Sunday, 1968. Does anyone have memories of the film session? Recognise themselves in the orchestra and chorus? Or know of an earlier colour-filmed concert? See also: How to be a lazy conductor.
Why are classical musicians and journalists so good at promoting themselves on social media, but so bad at promoting deserving and little-known music? That question is prompted by listening to Lyrita's new budget-priced 4 CD anthology of British Symphonies. Since 1959 Lyrita have worked tirelessly to showcase the treasures of British music, and they have been almost a lone voice in their advocacy of music beyond the warhorses of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, and Holst. The lamentable neglect of so much fine music is highlighted by an analysis of the number of performances of the symphonies on this new release. The Proms are recognised worldwide as a great British institution, and the archive of Proms performances provides an invaluable barometer of music fashions. Of the thirteen symphonic works showcased by Lyrita just under half - six to be precise - have never received Proms performances. (Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, one of those works is Malcolm Arnold's Sinfonietta No. 1.) And of the thirteen composers showcased, one - John Joubert - has never had any of his music performed at a Prom. Which is particularly ironic as Joubert is the only living composer among the thirteen. Another composer - William Wordsworth - has only had one Proms performance of his music, and another three - Cyril Rootham, Grace Williams and Humphrey Searle - have had less than ten performances. By comparison the 2016 Proms season alone included five Mahler performances. Which is exactly the same number as Grace Williams' music has ever received at the Proms. That observation inevitably leads on to the argument that the neglect of so many composers simply reflects their failure to compose masterpieces. But does that highly subjective measure really matter? Quite rightly the commissioning of new music is seen as an essential function of the Proms? But how many masterpieces are produced as a result of Proms commissions? Very few; but again, does that really matter? Championing new music is, thankfully, still seen as an essential function of the Proms and other major festivals. But, perversely, with a few notable exceptions championing neglected music is not. The lack of box office appeal is usually cited as the reason for excluding composers such as Cyril Rootham. He is one of the twelve of the composers featured by Lyrita who are sadly no longer with us, as are many other neglected composers from Britain and beyond. One of the many inequalities of social media is that the dead cannot promote themselves. Whether we like it or not social media is a powerful tool, and classical musicians and journalists have leveraged social media very successfully to promote themselves. This despite much of their work being, just like that of neglected composers, somewhat short of masterly. If just part of this very effective self-promotion was switched to promoting neglected music a virtuous circle of mutual benefit would be triggered. If classical music really wants to change it must stop thinking 'me' and start thinking 'us'. And if you don't believe me please buy Lyrita's British Symphonies anthology. A requested review sample of Lyrita's British Symphonies was used in writing this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.
On 8th October 1916, Alice Elgar wrote in her diaries: "Mr Blackwood.... met E coming up from Finchley Road with a toad in his pocket. E had bought it off some boys for 2p. He did not think it was happy with them. He put it in the garden and calls it Algernon...He puts his head out of the window and says "Do you think he will come out if I make a noise like a worm ?" Algernon invisible." Lewsi Foreman, in Oh my horses, Elgar and the First World War, quipped "The local press was unable to resist the story under the headline Toad and Verklärung'"
Cellist Alisa Weilerstein is out with a new CD for your enjoyment, and it is the Cd of the month for October, 2016. Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 107 Cello Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 126 Performed by Alisa Weilerstein (cello), with the Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting. It was in Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto that ‘cellist Alisa Weilerstein prompted the Los Angeles Times to write: “Weilerstein’s cello is her id… She and the cello seem simply to be one and the same.” Ms. Weilerstein now returns with Shostakovich’s cello Concertos 1 and 2. Composed for the virtuosic cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the coupling and contrasting of these two amazing works is irresistible: the anti-heroic, relentless, emotionally suppressed First Concerto set alongside the sarcasm and isolation of the Second. Weilerstein’s interpretation is likely influenced by her meeting Rostropovich –a close friend of the composer – when she was 22, playing Shostakovich for him and absorbing his advice and wisdom. The Sunday Times wrote last month: “Weilerstein follows outstanding Decca recordings of the Elgar and Dvorak concertos with this pairing, which illustrates her depth and range…Heras-Casado and the Bavarians match the sardonic bite of her playing: this is one of the best accounts ever recorded of a work we don’t hear often enough in concert.” Here is Ms. Weilerstein in an album sampler:
The singer and artist selects music from the tranquil end of the spectrum – from Erik Satie to Thomas Tallis via Virginia Astley and Aphex TwinBrian Eno gave it a name and mapped much of the territory, an early recognition that the need was already in the air – a search for some new equivalent to classical music, but one more abstract and spacious, as well as intimate and modern, capable of providing a tranquil space in an increasingly crowded, pressurised world. Jazz had fallen into its own set of cliches and conventions, classical constantly retrod old ground. Pop and dance music both tended to grab you by the lapels. There was a need for something that addressed that other part of the spectrum – tranquillity. Continue reading...
1 Mozart piano concert 27, K595 (Brendel) 2 Vivaldi Four Seasons, 1958 L’Oiseau Lyre 3 Elgar: Enigma Variations, with Sospiri 4 Barber Adagio 5 Mozart Requiem 6 Cosi fan tutte 7 Handel Messiah 8 Rossini: Messe solonelle 9 Schumann symphonies (SWR Stuttgart) 10 Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue (Philharmonia)
Sir Edward William Elgar (2 June 1857 23 February 1934) was an English composer, many of whose works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire. Among his best-known compositions are orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, concertos for violin and cello, and two symphonies. He also composed choral works, including The Dream of Gerontius, chamber music and songs. Although Elgar is often regarded as a typically English composer, most of his musical influences were not from England but from continental Europe. He felt himself to be an outsider, not only musically, but socially. In musical circles dominated by academics, he was a self-taught composer; in Protestant Britain, his Roman Catholicism was regarded with suspicion in some quarters; and in the class-conscious society of Victorian and Edwardian Britain, he was acutely sensitive about his humble origins even after he achieved recognition. After a series of moderately successful works his Enigma Variations (1899) became immediately popular in Britain and overseas. His later full-length religious choral works were well received but have not entered the regular repertory. The first of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901) is well-known in the UK and in the US. Elgar has been described as the first composer to take the gramophone seriously. Between 1914 and 1925, he conducted a series of recordings of his works. The introduction of the microphone in 1925 made far more accurate sound reproduction possible, and Elgar made new recordings of most of his major orchestral.
Great composers of classical music