S&H Concert Review

Alan Bush Centenary Concert, Wigmore Hall 1 November 00

The Alan Bush Music Trust has organised several events to mark the centenary of the birth of Alan Bush (Dec. 1900 - Oct. 1995). This concert of his chamber music was introduced by John Amis, who reviewed Bush's early association with Michael Tippett at Morley College and how politics governed the music he wrote. He played extracts from interviews from c. 1968 & 79. Bush fell out with the British musical establishment and knew that from around 1938 to 1953 his politics were detrimental to professional advancement. He was a devoted, active member of the Communist Party from 1935 and 'militantly atheistic' - before his death he was sometimes confused and John Amis, who never discussed politics with him, chose to let him remain unaware that the Soviet Union had crumbled!

His Communism both 'made my life as a composer' and instigated the creation of his operas, which were successful in the DGR & the USSR, and whilst he was 'annoyed' by UK ostracism, he never thought to leave England. He took the Zhdanov criticisms seriously and made his later, post-war music 'gentler' to conform with Soviet ideals.

The concert, well attended by an audience of supporters, began with an example of this, three pleasant and innocuous African Sketches (1960), played winningly by Carola Nielinger (flute) with David Cahart. The five works chosen could reasonably have been thought to be by different composers - a problem when you're trying to establish a composer's posthumous reputation from scratch. A heroic, optimistic cantata Voices of the Prophets was given its best by Wills Morgan with Richard Black, but Peter Blackman's assurance that in the New World man would cover the earth with his glory as the waters cover the sea struck the wrong note during a week in which England was inundated by unprecedented floods. It is dated in the way Alan Paton has dated; today's world outlook has of necessity to be more realistic. Voices from Four Continents (1980) for clarinet, cello & piano, composed for the British-Soviet Friendship Society, purported to be individual and accessible, but failed to match up as a possible encore piece to go with the Beethoven or Brahms trio. Peter Jacobs (piano) played the 24 Preludes (1977), a balanced and well contrasted set which he has recorded for Altarus AIR 9004; but on this showing maybe better not played straight through - some people left the Wigmore Hall during his performance. Despite the Bochmann Quartet having some intonation problems, Dialectic, the best-known Bush piece, revealed itself as a near masterpiece, confirming earlier memories and Ronald Stevenson's claim that it bears comparison with Beethoven's Grosse Fuge.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Nancy Bush's Alan Bush - Music, Politics & Life (Thames Publishing) has an essay on the music by S&H contributor, Lewis Foreman.

See also on this web site

See concert details below
BUSH Alan. Relinquishment, Op 11 (1928) for piano; Nocturne Op 46 (1957) for piano; Lyric Interlude Op 26 (1944) for violin and piano; Voices of the Prophets Op 41 (1953) for tenor and piano (live recording); English Suite Op 28 (1946) for string orchestra.Piers Lane (piano), Clio Gould and Sophia Rahman (violin and piano); Philip Langridge and Lionel Friend (tenor and piano); Northern Chamber Orchestra, Nicholas Ward. Redcliffe Recordings. RR008 [72' 16"]. and further detailed notes

Further opportunities to evaluate Alan Bush's legacy are offered by the Royal Academy of Music (8 November - www.ram.ac.uk ) & the BBC, which will broadcast live Bush's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra with baritone solo and male voice choir (1937) and Tippett's Symphony No. 2 on 19th December 2000. BBC Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin with Rolf Hind (piano); tickets from 020 8576 1227.

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