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Back to Chapter 15



The Pleasure of Taking Part

The delight of playing with great artists. Wonderful solo violinists, cellists, pianists – Heifetz, Oistrakh, Menuhin, Perlman … Fournier, Tortelier, du Pré, Rostropovich … Rubinstein, Solomon, Currzon, Barenboim …

However enjoyable going to a concert may be, or listening to music on the radio, TV or a recording, there is nothing to beat actually taking part in a performance. I have tried to express how wonderful it is if one is privileged to be part of a performance of one of the masterpieces of the orchestral or opera repertoire in a very good orchestra with an inspiring conductor. In a similar way, to be in the orchestra accompanying a great artist is immensely satisfying. In addition, if one is lucky enough to play alongside musicians one admires, whether it is in a symphony orchestra, the pit in an opera house or at a film session, broadcasting or recording light or commercial music, it can be equally enjoyable to make music with congenial spirits. These are the delights I was able to enjoy a good deal of the time during my 38 years as an orchestral musician.

In writing about the artists whose performances gave me so much pleasure when taking part in concerts with them and whom I recall as one does old friends, in many cases now departed, there is no attempt to suggest these are the ‘best’ artists, only that in memory they are those for who I feel great affection. Someone once asked Sir Thomas Beecham ‘what is good music?’ and he had to invent an answer on the spur of the moment. ‘Good music’, he said, ‘is that which penetrates the ear with facility and quits the memory with difficulty’. This is equally true for a ‘good performance’.

My very first experience of accompanying a soloist was while I was still at the Royal College of Music. Sir George Dyson, then the Director, conducted a rehearsal of his very pleasant Violin Concerto, with W. H. Reed as soloist. Willy Reed, as we called him (though Vaughan Williams calls him Billy, in his Introduction to London Symphony, Portrait of an Orchestra) was for many years the Leader of the LSO and it was to him that Elgar turned when seeking advice at the time he was composing his violin concerto. As well as being a most distinguished violinist Reed was also a composer. He composed a violin concerto and a viola rhapsody among many other works for orchestra that were all performed between 1910 and 1930. The music by Dyson and Reed like the compositions of so many English composers of that period is now largely forgotten.

Once I had joined the Wessex Orchestra I took part in a good many concerts with a soloist. In fact, it was rare for us to do a concert without a soloist. I referred in Chapter 5 to a number of the artists who played with us, but omitted to mention Mark Hambourg. He was the most internationally famous artist we worked with apart from Benno Moiseiwitsch. By 1942 when he played with us he was in his 60s and past his best, but still a formidable player and very popular with the public. He was always called upon to play an encore and most times would play the Minute Waltz by Chopin. He always turned to the audience and with his still fairly thick Russian accent said, ‘Now, I play Minute Waltz – in half-minute!’ And he would then proceed to do so including a fair sprinkling of wrong notes. His book From Piano to Forte is interesting, amusing and extraordinarily well written in marked contrast to his spoken English. This book, published in 1931, is worth reading for the last chapter alone, in which he writes so perceptively about the effect of recording (then still on 78s) and broadcasting on artists of his time and reflects on the changes in attitude this was already having on performers and audiences.

Mark Hambourg, like nearly all the soloists I shall write about was a child prodigy who first played in public when he was seven years old. In 1895, when he was 16, he played Liszt’s Hungarian Fantasie in the beautiful Musikvereinsaal in Vienna with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Felix Weingartner. It is usually apparent from a fairly early age, often by the time they are four or five years old, whether a young instrumentalist has a talent that may lead to a great solo career.

Violin and cello soloists

It was in 1943, the year I joined the LPO, that I first played in an orchestra accompanying Ida Haendel. She was the soloist on two occasions. During the Prom season that year On 11th July she played the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and only four days later on the 15th she played the Symphonie Espagnole by Édouard Lalo. She was then 15. This astonishing musician was truly a child prodigy. When she was only 7 years old in 1935 she was the 7th prize winner in the Wieniawski Competition. One gains some idea of the standard from the fact that Ginette Neveu , then aged 16, and David Oistrakh, aged 27, came 1st and 2nd that year. Haendel made her debut in London at the Queens Hall in 1937 playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Sir Henry Wood conducting. I remember the occasion very clearly because my father insisted that we listen to the broadcast of this concert. I was then 12 and he had about a year previously started giving me clarinet lessons and he wanted me to hear this incredible girl, then still only 9. Having been an outstandingly gifted boy himself, earning his living as a clarinettist when he was 11, I felt this was intended to inspire me and, perhaps, induce me to practise more. Needless to say, though I was amazed by her playing I recognised a talent so far beyond my own that it did not have the desired effect. As the years went by Ida Haendel continued to be an artist that gave me pleasure whenever she played with any orchestra I was in.

From the time when I was at school in 1940 and was bowled over listening to the young Yehudi Menuhin playing the Elgar Violin Concerto, until the end of his life in1999 his wonderfully musical insights were always rewarding and from the mid 80s he was most helpful to me personally. He gave his support to and came and worked with the orchestra at the National Centre for Orchestral Studies and when we were establishing the Music Performance Research Centre, now Music Preserved, he was also very helpful and supportive. Later, in 1990, he agreed to be the President of the Orchestra for Europe which, unfortunately, finally had to be abandoned for lack of sufficient finance.

He was an absolutely natural player and musician who perhaps to a greater extent than anyone else in my life time demonstrated how dangerous interfering with such a talent can be. He said that he wanted ‘Kreisler’s elegance, Elman’s sonority and Heifetz’s technique’ though nature had to a considerable extent already granted that wish. ‘I played more or less as a bird sings, instinctively, uncalculatingly, unthinkingly,’ Menuhin was to write in his memoir Unfinished Journey. But this was not enough and in his forties he suddenly decided that intuition was not sufficient and could not be relied on; he needed to think about how he should play, in fact to re-teach himself.

Though for the rest of his life his musical instincts never deserted him he had ever increasing technical problems that at times seriously marred his performances. He was a perfect example of the warning exemplified in the story of the two golfers, Charles and James, one very much better than the other. Charles, the much less good player, decided that if he could not win by his golfing prowess he must use guile. Just as the other player raised his club to drive off, he went ‘Um! yes.’ James, stopping in mid-stroke, ‘What’s that? What do you mean?’ ‘It was just that I was interested to see what you did to get such a good swing and strike the ball so well’ This started James thinking about what he was doing so that he became increasingly introverted and inhibited until he found it harder and harder to play with his former skill.

Perhaps, because Menuhin’s violin playing was causing him problems he began conducting. Again his instinctive musicality was always present but, as has been the case with so many other instrumentalists and singers who have wanted to conduct, the particular magic required had not been granted to him. When he came to conduct the Philharmonia he was quite unable to cope with the problems involved in accompanying one of the Bartók Piano Concertos. He became rather disagreeable and as a result his relationship with the orchestra deteriorated. At the time I was Chairman of the orchestra and found it extremely saddening to hear someone I so much admired spoken of by my colleagues in such an unfavourable way.

Once the war ended in 1945 a great many of the finest soloists began visiting Britain again. One of the first to arrive was the French violinist Jacques Thibaud. In 1896 when he was 16 he was joint winner of the Paris Conservatoire Violin Prize with Pierre Monteux, who went on to be a viola player (he led the violas at the Opéra-Comique for the first performance of Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande) before becoming a celebrated conductor. Thibaud is best remembered now for the trio recordings he made with the cellist Pablo Casals and pianist Alfred Cortot. It is a pity that there is no recording of his performance of The Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Camille Saint- Saëns. I remember it still, though it is so many years ago, because I have never heard the Introduction played so sensitively since then. The way in which the beautiful Introduction is nearly always played is far too schmaltzy and ‘romantic’ for this quintessential French music. Thibaud played it delicately and tenderly and with true feeling, in the same way that a great actor can underplay a love scene making it all the more affecting, rather than sentimentalising it.

Thibaud was followed by two more superb violinists, Zino Francescatti and the incomparable Ginette Neveu who immediately made a tremendous impression on the orchestra – as well as the audience. There was something so ferociously passionate about her playing that overwhelmed one. At times she seemed to attack the violin like a gladiator and at others to draw out the most sensuous and captivating tone. Her performance of the Beethoven and Brahms Concertos were outstanding, but it was her performance of Ravel’s Tzigane that for me was probably the most memorable. Her personality was just right for portraying the wild gypsy element in the music. This wonderfully vibrant musician was still only 26 when she played with us in 1945, four years before her tragically early death.

Around the same time two more very fine string soloists came to work with us, making the very hard schedule we undertook worthwhile. They were the two cellists, Maurice Gendron and Pierre Fournier, both French with that particular elegance that French artists of that generation still seemed to have. After Casals left the famous Thibaud-Casals-Cortot trio Fournier took his place. He had that refinement, purity of tone and musicianship similar to Thibaud that is extremely rare. I remember a lovely recording of the Dvorak Cello Concerto he did with us that was quite different from the much more ‘virtuoso’ readings of that beautiful composition we generally hear today.

From 1947 onwards, during the years I spent in the Royal Philharmonic and the Philharmonia, I have always enjoyed it more when the soloist has been a string player and was fortunate to have the opportunity to play in the orchestra with many wonderful violinists and cellists. It is a mystery to me why pianists and the piano repertoire appear to have been, and continue to be preferred by the public.

There have been far too many violinists to write about them all but I have very happy recollections of performances with Nathan Milstein, Joseph Szigeti, Alfredo Campoli (who, notwithstanding his name was British and one of our leading violin soloists for many years), Henryk Szerying, Anne-Sophie Mutter (when she was only 13 Herbert von Karajan said she was ‘the greatest music prodigy since the young Menuhin.’) and Joshua Bell. Four very special artists that made a tremendous impression on me were Jascha Heifetz, David Oistrakh, Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman.

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Jascha Heifetz has been called the greatest violinist of the 20th century and certainly in my experience his virtuosity was supreme, to such an extent that a youngster who was outstanding on any instrument used to be called ‘a little Heifetz’. Already at the age of six he had performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in public and from when he was twelve he was touring Europe. Ever since his debut at Carnegie Hall in 1917, throughout his exceedingly long career and as a result of having recorded a vast amount of the violin repertoire, he has set the benchmark by which violinists have been judged, and his recordings still continue to delight music lovers everywhere.

In writing about Beecham I referred to the less than happy relationship he had with Heifetz when he recorded the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the RPO. In fact the first time I played with Heifetz was in 1945 or 1946 soon after the end of the war when he came to play with the LPO. He had not played in Britain for some years so that when this concert was announced it was the cause of considerable excitement. On the night of the concert the Royal Albert Hall was packed and many celebrated violinists were in the audience. When Heifetz came onto the platform to play the Beethoven Violin Concerto he was greeted with rapturous applause. During the orchestral introduction Heifetz stood absolutely still and looked impassive as usual. The soloist’s entry, a series of octaves was played with his accustomed brilliance, but as he started on the downward melodic legato passage his finger slipped off the fingerboard and as it landed on the resonant belly of the violin the impact was like someone striking a snare-drum. He continued, apparently unperturbed, but for me the shock of hearing and seeing the acme of perfection falter, if only for a moment, reminded me of the shock I experienced when Beecham put the baton through his hand at his first rehearsal with us.

My memory of hearing Heifetz goes back even earlier, to the time when I was evacuated with my school to Crowthorne to escape the bombing of London. There was a small cinema in the village of a kind that in those days might have been referred to as a ‘flea-pit’, but the price for admission was suitably low, three pence in old money (pronounced thripence, about half my pocket money, and equivalent to just over 1p in today’s coinage). It was there that I saw a wonderfully sentimental film, They Shall Have Music, about a charity that ran a music school for very poor children that was going to have to close for lack of money. By some miracle Jascha Heifetz agrees to come and play at a fund-raising concert at which he plays the slow movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. There is general rejoicing and the school is saved. I was then 14 and the effect of the story and Heifetz’s beautiful playing is something I have never forgotten. Perhaps because of that experience I have rarely been affected to the same extent by any other performance of that concerto. The mood one is in and an association with a previous experience can have a profound effect on how one responds to a performance.

Heifetz was not a very sociable man and inclined to be rather formal and unfriendly. When I was in San Francisco in the 1980s I had the opportunity of spending an evening with his daughter, who had been a pianist and composer. She told me that her father would not allow her to use the family name because he did not think her work was of a high enough standard. His need to preserve the image of perfection was very strong. The leader of one of the orchestras in the USA who as a young man had attended the master classes that Heifetz gave at Berkeley told me how he had been assigned the task of driving Heifetz from his home to the University. Each time he arrived with his car to collect him Heifetz insisted on testing the tyre pressure of each tyre and if he found that the pressure in all of them was not absolutely equal he would send him to a garage to get them adjusted.

There are a few performances that remain in one’s memory as fresh as the day they took place. It is over fifty years since Isaac Stern joined the RPO under Sir Thomas Beecham to perform the Sibelius Violin Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall and record it at the Abbey Road Studios a few days later. He was then in his early thirties and not yet the world renowned figure he became later as a result of his work in rescuing the Carnegie Hall from destruction, his crusading visits to Russia, Israel and, perhaps the most remarkable, to China. It was clear from the first rehearsal that Stern responded to Beecham in a way that would lead to a very satisfying musical collaboration for all concerned. Stern brought a youthful strength and passion to his performance that together with Beecham became, especially in the slow movement something quite beautifully expressive. The recording sessions were particularly enjoyable; Beecham was in his most jovial and expansive mood and Stern seemed to be influenced by him. The occasion was made even more pleasant because at one of the sessions Beecham presented a silver Loving Cup to Jack Brymer to celebrate the birth of his son.

Thirty years later in 1986 I was to participate in a Conference, rather grandly entitled The Evolution of the Symphony Orchestra - History, Problems and Agendas, at which Stern was the Chairman. It was sponsored by the Foundation, funded by the composer Gordon Getty, son of Jean Paul Getty, the oil billionaire, who shared in the Trust, set up by his father, with his brother, Sir J Paul Getty Jr. The Conference, attended by about thirty musicians and others concerned for the future of the symphony orchestra, including Pierre Boulez, Alfred Brendel, Alexander Goehr and Sir Isaiah Berlin, was held in Jerusalem in suitably comfortable conditions. The papers and discussions were later published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

When he came to play with the RPO another great violinist, David Oistrakh (also often spelled Oistrach) immediately excited the whole orchestra, especially all the violinists. It was at a BBC transmission to play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting. As soon as he started playing everyone was amazed by the beauty and breadth of his tone. Warm and vibrant with a lovely unobtrusive vibrato that has reminded some, including myself, of Fritz Kreisler. Kreisler was born in 1875 and was another artist who showed great promise when extremely young and continued, from the age of eleven for the next sixty one years until 1947 to delight audiences not only with his playing but also with the many compositions he wrote for the violin which so many other violinists played, on bandstands, in restaurants and on the concert platform. I never had the opportunity of hearing him at a public performance, but he was, from when I was about sixteen, the artist I most wished to emulate. The first recording he made with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra of the Brahms Violin Concerto was ravishing; there were some passages that even on the 78 rpm records I played over and over again – not nearly so easily as one can now on a tape or CD. The small charming melodic pieces he composed for himself and recorded, some several times, and each a fresh-minted one-off performance – Schon Rosmarin, Liebesfreud (Love’s Joy), MusicLiebesleid (Love’s Sorrow), Tambourin chinois were my favourites. Some years later I bought the violin parts so that I could adapt them and play them on the clarinet.

To return to David Oistrakh. On that occasion when he played the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the RPO I remember that in the interval of the rehearsal a lot of the string players crowded round him and one or two of the Jewish violinists in the orchestra asked him in Yiddish – he as yet spoke no English – to play to them on his own so that they could hear his wonderful tone. He started to play one of the Bach Unaccompanied Violin Sonatas, but after a few minutes begged to be excused as it was making him nervous. The sound he drew from his violin was so big – it sounded to me like a whole violin section. He played with the Philharmonia a number of times, several times with the conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, and I always enjoyed his performances, whether of the standard concerto repertoire – Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky or the fiendishly difficult Shostakovich No.1.

Itzhak Perlman who was born in Israel in 1945 lost the use of his legs as a result of contracting polio when he was only four years old and as a result he has always had to play sitting in a wheelchair. He had already made number of broadcasts in Israel before he was 13 when his family emigrated in 1958 to America. In 1959, when he was fourteen he was featured in ‘Ed Sullivan’s Caravan of Stars’, a showcase for gifted young artists, when he played ‘The Flight of the Bumble Bee’ as well as the last movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. After further study at the Juilliard School, he made his professional debut in1963, at Carnegie Hall, playing the Wieniawski Violin Concerto. A year later he won the prestigious Leventritt Competition and began his international career.

To take part in a performance, or even a rehearsal with Perlman is always a mood raising experience. The combination of his irrepressible joy when making music, boundless energy and infectious charm are irresistible. Every time he played with the orchestra it was sheer delight. Whether it is Klezmer, Scott Joplin and the cowboy music that he has recorded with Andre Previn, the film music for Schindler’s List, Tan Dun’s music for the film Hero he recorded when he was in China, or the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky Concertos, he brings the same warmth and understanding to everything he plays, by turns lyrical, dramatic and effortlessly virtuoso.

The cellist Paul Tortelier was an artist who affected me in a similar way to Perlman, though he had a quite different personality. Whenever I had the pleasure of playing in an orchestra and he was the soloist it always felt to me that I had received an injection of sunshine. Yet when he was playing with the Philharmonia and we were talking about his future schedule he spoke in a very dispirited and sad way about how difficult he found it going from one engagement to another, always travelling carrying his luggage and his cello, away from his family and having to spend such a lot of time alone in unfriendly hotel bedrooms. When I suggested that perhaps he might undertake fewer engagements he said that his agent would not like that and other artists would take his place.

Unlike nearly all other soloists I have been writing about, Tortelier was working as an orchestral musician for some years before his solo career took off. He was playing in cafes and restaurants before he was sixteen and later he was sub-principal cello in the Paris Radio Orchestra and then in the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, where he played the solo part in Don Quixote with the composer, Richard Strauss conducting, before finally being appointed principal cello in the Boston Symphony. In 1947 he made his British debut with the RPO playing Don Quixote with Sir Thomas Beecham conducting. This concert was one of a series of Strauss concerts and at the rehearsal Richard Strauss was also present. At one point he came up to the clarinet section and told Jack Brymer that the little clarinet solo near the end of the piece should be played very quietly, like a memory.

As well as Don Quixote, which Tortelier played many times, I remember enjoying his splendid performances of the Saint-Saëns, Schumann and Dvorak Concertos and Schelomo by Ernest Bloch. The last time I heard him play was at a concert after I had left the orchestra and was on holiday in the Dordogne in France. I went to a concert where he was playing in what had been a fine Chateau but which was then in a state of some decay. It was a fine summer evening and as it gradually got darker a number of small bats started to fly in through the broken roof and swoop around overhead. At the end of the concert Tortelier spoke to the audience very eloquently about peace and good will amongst mankind and then played the lovely haunting folk song Casals had arranged for unaccompanied cello, The Song of the Birds. While he played a bat sat absolutely motionless on the toe of his shoe.

Jacqueline du Pré was a wonderful charismatic artist, a superb cellist and a joy to work with because of the intensity of her approach to performing. It is a tragedy that her life was cut short when she was only 42 and had been unable to play for some years before her death. Though she had lessons with William Pleeth, her main teacher, and then for a short time with both Tortelier and Rostropovich and no doubt she was influenced by each of them to some extent, she was a very individual artist. Her most famous performance is the recording of the Elgar Concerto she made with Sir John Barbirolli, but when she played it with the Philharmonia it was with her husband Daniel Barenboim. This, too, was a great performance, exciting and gloriously youthful and wildly exuberant. I am glad I was able to take part in a couple of performances with her.

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Even at the age of seventy-seven Mstislav Rostropovich remained the most outstanding and remarkable cellist of our time. He was only four when he composed a Polka and at the advanced age of eight undertaken his first major concert appearance as a solo cellist. When he arrived in Britain after leaving the Soviet Union in 1974 his first concert was with the Philharmonia and it was my privilege to introduce him to the orchestra. Of course he had visited Britain a good many times before as a cello soloist, but this was the occasion when he and his wife the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya had at last been obliged to leave the Soviet Union following their support for the dissident writer, the banned novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn. However, this time he came to conduct the orchestra for what was in fact the beginning of an extremely distinguished international conducting career. He conducted Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.6 in a very dramatic and extrovert interpretation, which I enjoyed though a good many in the orchestra thought it rather ‘over the top’.

His performances of the cello concerto repertoire are legendary and his friendships with Shostakovich (in whose composition class he had been), Prokofiev and Britten, who all wrote works especially for him, gave particular authority to his performances of their compositions. The combination of his incredible virtuosity and charismatic personality made taking part in performances of these works an extremely exciting experience. From a technical standpoint his performance of the Dvorak was probably more accurate than any other I have heard, (it has possibly been equalled by Yo-Yo Ma, but I never took part in a performance with him), but for me it was less satisfying than those with the artists I have written about earlier. I mention this because it shows how very personal and subjective any judgement or criticism is. Indeed, all the soloists I have chosen to write about are those that gave me personally the most pleasure and satisfaction and were in one way or another part of my continuing musical education.

For some a less than perfect playing of a technical passage or moments of doubtful intonation will render a performance unsatisfactory. Others and I include myself, are more concerned with the content of the music and can allow relatively small technical faults to pass. It is, of course, the repetition of identically the same performance that one hears on a recording, that has passed in a moment at a concert, that makes even a small imperfection so difficult to accept. Now that everyone has become accustomed to technical perfection on recordings artists have had to concentrate to an ever-increasing degree on the technical aspect of their performance. There are artists whose temperament does not let them perform in this way, who vary from performance to performance (as I remember some of the finest soloists and orchestral players did before the dominance of recordings) and who therefore do not get engaged to record. Without recordings it is now virtually impossible to achieve a international recognition.

Piano soloists

I have chosen to write only about those pianists whose performances gave me so much pleasure at the time they took place and which still do so now when I recall them. To write something about every celebrated pianists who was the soloist when I had the good fortune to be playing in the orchestra would require another book. In addition to the pianists I have already either mentioned or written about, this list of superb artists gives some idea of just how fortunate my colleagues and I were: Martha Argerich, Claudio Arrau, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim, Alfred Brendel, Julius Katchen, Louis Kentner, Stephen Kovacevich, John Ogdon, Murray Perahia, Sviatoslav Richter, Artur Schnabel, Mitsuko Uchida.

An artist who gave me immense pleasure was Myra Hess. Unlike the majority of solo artists Myra Hess was quite a late starter. She did not make her debut until she was seventeen when in 1907 she was invited by Sir Thomas Beecham to play Beethoven’s Concerto No. 4 with his orchestra. Even so, it was to be some years, during which she taught and accompanied a number of artists including Nellie Melba and Lotte Lehmann, before her career took off. From 1912 her reputation rapidly increased until 1922 when she made her debut in New York. She is probably best remembered by the general public for her inauguration of the series of Lunch Time concerts at the National Gallery in London during WW2. She, and the many artists she encouraged to perform at these concerts, continued to do so during the heaviest bombing of London and was an emblem of courage in the face of adversity.

She was a wonderfully sensitive artist of a kind we so seldom hear now with a beautiful pianissimo legato and loving phrasing. There was nothing percussive or flaunting in her playing. Her Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann Concertos were a delight but, above all else, it was her magical performance of the César Frank Symphonic Variations that gave me the most pleasure. It has remained, in the same way that Thibaud’s playing of Saint-Saën’s Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso has, a very special memory, unmatched by any performance I have heard since.

Solomon, he was never known by his full name Solomon Cutner, was 12 years Myra Hess’s junior. He was another astonishing prodigy, playing the Tchaikovsky and Brahms D minor when he was only 12 years old. He was a most self-effacing performer, always subordinating himself and putting his prodigious talent totally at the service of the composer. His performance of the Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann Concertos, were quite different from Myra Hess’s, but equally sensitive and insightful. When he played the Emperor Concerto by Beethoven it was majestic and not, as so often in other hands, reduced to yet another ‘war-horse’. His performances were never showy whether playing Mozart, Liszt, Tchaikovsky or Brahms. Tragically, his career was cut short as the result of a stroke when he was only 54.

Another artist, in many ways similar to Hess and Solomon, was Clifford Curzon (later Sir Clifford). He was a perfectionist, never satisfied with his performance, extremely serious and sensitive in his approach and always gave the impression (to me) of being rather nervous. He was a sore trial to the gramophone companies because he was always reluctant to let any of the recordings he made be published before he was absolutely satisfied with them – and he seldom was. The performance I remember most vividly was the one I wrote about in the chapter about Beecham when Curzon played Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto. The contrast between their two personalities was so great – Beecham so extrovert and ebullient and Curzon withdrawn and silent – yet, their collaboration was so successful. But it was Curzon’s playing of Mozart and Schubert that was most magical. I was lucky enough to take part in a number of his performances of several of the Mozart piano concertos and each time it was a real treat. It was the same with the Beethoven Concertos, especially the Third and Forth, to which he brought a wonderful lyricism.
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I think Benno Moiseiwitsch was the first great pianist I saw actually performing in person, or as we now say ‘‘Live’’. It was in Bedford, to where the BBC had been evacuated during the war, at a studio broadcast. The BBC often used the main assembly hall in Bedford School as a studio for broadcasting and on this occasion, as I was on holiday and had come home from Crowthorne where I had been evacuated, my father had taken me there to see and hear the orchestra. Moiseiwitsch was the soloist in the Rakhmaninov Second Piano Concerto. The first thing I noticed about him when he was playing was his undemonstrative and reserved manner – in this respect, as I remember, very similar to Heifetz. Years later I saw this characteristic, even more pronounced, when he was playing the Third Concerto by Rakhmaninov. When he played the soloist’s opening phrase, a haunting melody in octaves, he did so hardly moving and with an absolute ‘poker face’. He was in fact a keen poker player and I was not surprised when my Professor at the Royal College of Music, Frederick Thurston, at that time principal clarinet in the BBC Symphony Orchestra, who had played poker with Moiseiwitsch several times, told me that he was an extremely good player.

Moiseiwitsch was also the first major piano soloist I worked with when I was still in the Wessex Orchestra. I was to take part in many concerts with him over the years and it would nearly always be one or other of the Rakhmaninov Piano Concertos or the Rakhmaninov-Paganini Variations. He was a magnificent player and it is reported that Rakhmaninov thought he played his music better than he did himself.

There were three artists that always raised my spirits however depressed I might be at the time – the cellist Paul Tortelier, the violinist Itzhak Perlman and the pianist Artur Rubinstein. Rubinstein lived to the ripe old age of 95 and to the end of his playing days brought an infectious, youthful joie de vivre to everything he performed. He was the most spontaneous of artists and said that he avoided practising whatever he was going to be playing at a concert immediately beforehand so as to retain his freshness. And over seventy years as a major concert artist he succeeded. Saint-Saëns, Schumann, Mozart and Beethoven were all in their different ways equally delightful. I never had the opportunity of taking part in any performance of a Chopin concerto with him, but have heard him on broadcasts and recordings playing a good deal of the Chopin repertoire and have always been entranced.

There are two more pianists that remain very clearly in my memory, not for any particular performance, though both were very fine players and, as it happens as different from each other as they could be. I only played with Glenn Gould once, but as I remember he had a very austere personality. It was a warm day, but he came to rehearsal wearing an over-coat and scarf and wore mittens, that is gloves with the ends of all the fingers cut off (he wore these at the concert as well but discarded the coat and scarf). He had a unique posture at the piano, sitting on an extremely low stool so that his elbows were below the level of the piano keyboard. It looked very strange but seemed to suit him as it was an excellent performance.

The other pianist was Shura Cherkassky, a brilliant virtuoso and very extrovert in an unusual way. He seemed to have a piano stool fetish because on every occasion before we actually started rehearsing he would spend some time complaining about the piano stool so that a number of different stools and chairs would be tried out before he was satisfied. His personality was a mixture of cheeky, difficult and extremely ‘camp’, though I have read that he was married and had a family. He made a point of never playing the same work twice in the same way so that he was something of a trial to conductors trying to follow him. I had the impression that he enjoyed being difficult and having read an interview he gave, it was clear he was enjoying ‘sending up’ the interviewer by never answering his questions and talking about the weather instead. Nonetheless he was a remarkably exciting player with an astonishing technique.

For nearly 40 years the opportunity to play alongside all these superb artists has been both immensely enjoyable and a continuing enrichment of my music experience.

Chapter 17

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