> Hoffnung's Music Festivals [JP]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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HOFFNUNG’S MUSIC FESTIVALS: 1956, 1958, 1961

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This pair of mid-price discs has been available for some time, in and out of the catalogue since they were first issued on CD in 1989. The Gerard Hoffnung Website is part of MusicWeb and Hoffnung merchandise and CDs may be purchased from there, although these CDs are also available through normal record shops.

For those who have heard them, or in fact may already own them, there is no need for me to make a further recommendation. But to those who are ignorant of the contents – do not delay – purchase for yourselves or for favourite music-loving relatives, or those relatives who enjoy a good laugh. Then, sit back and enjoy. Particularly with Christmas appearing on the horizon, an order to MusicWeb removes the need for a long stand in the shop being told that it isn’t available, and would you like a crossover disc by the latest "important" artist instead. Don’t consider alternatives – this is a one-off.

Hoffnung was unique. He was neither a full-time musician, nor a comedian, but a unique artist, one who had a superb sense of humour, plus a very effective mixture of the ridiculous, a deep love of music, and a wicked way of thumbing his nose at anything that was ‘erudite’ or ‘superior’. In addition he was a by no means bad player of the tuba, and of a few other instruments.

He organised a few concerts (Music Festivals), the main ones being held at the Festival Hall in 1956 and 1958, and the third being held in 1961, two years after he died. There were many further such concerts arranged around the country and another at the Festival Hall in 1988. This was recorded by Decca, and issued on a pair of CDs (425 401-2). This is also available from the Hoffnung Web site.

The EMI set is the one to have – recorded live, with all the audience noise and other extraneous noises, here adding to the ambience of the proceedings. Also, as the first two concerts were held with Gerard Hoffnung actually there, there is an additional frisson to the proceedings.

I am sure that Gerard’s presence at the first two concerts resulted in heightened level of fun and, judging from the effect the performers (including Gerard) had on the audience both concerts were a riotous success, as was the third.

There is no need to review this set in the conventional way, as there is no competitive version, each of these being one-offs. I will therefore limit myself to a few pointers to allow you to make up your minds about purchasing this set – in terms of laughs per pound (euro or dollar) there is no better set of discs on offer. The only caution that there could possibly be is that a few items are quintessentially "English or British" humour and may not seem so funny to some non-UK listeners. However, many of the items are funny because what is happening to the music, and this humour knows no geographical boundaries.

 

THE HOFFNUNG MUSIC FESTIVAL CONCERT

Royal Festival Hall, 13 November 1956: mono

Speech by Mr. T. E. Bean, General Manager of the Royal Festival Hall [0’43"l

Francis BAINES Fanfare [1’08"]

Trumpeters of the Royal Military School of Music conducted by the Composer

Malcolm ARNOLD A Grand Grand Overture [8’09"]

Hoffnung [alias Morley College] Symphony Orchestra conducted by the Composer

Leopold MOZART Third movement from Concerto for Hose-pipe and Strings [1’41"]

Dennis Brain (hose-pipe) Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra Conducted by Norman Del Mar

Franz REIZENSTEIN Concerto popolare (A Piano Concerto to End All Piano Concertos) [11’37"]

Yvonne Arnaud (piano) Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra Conducted by Norman Del Mar

HAYDN arr. Donald SWANN Andante from Symphony No.94 In G (‘Surprise’) [6’15"]

Soloists: members of the BBC Music Division, Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lawrence Leonard

Speech by Gerard Hoffnung [2’53"]

(CHOPIN arr. Daniel ABRAMS) Mazurka No.47 in A minor Op.68 No.2 [3’00"]

Tuba Quartet

Humphrey SEARLE Lochinvar for speakers and percussion, to words by Sir Walter Scott [16’24"]

Speakers: Yvonne Arnaud and Gerard Hoffnung - conducted by Lawrence Leonard

(Gordon JACOB) Variations on ‘Annie Laurie

Theme (Alerto, ma non troppo) [2’07"I

Variation 1 (Poco inglesemente) [0’30"]

Variation 2 (Molto zingaresemente) [1’14"]

Variation 3 (Alla gigolo) [0’54"]

Variation 5 (Finale: Assai) [1’44"]

Festival Ensemble conducted by the Composer

This, the first of the three concerts has two or three masterstrokes. Reizenstein’s Concerto populare will get you giggling like a loon. We have the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto on the orchestra, with the pianist wrestling with the Grieg. Not only are the themes intertwined but imaginative additional touches abound. After the surprise has receded, we move on to Rachmaninov 2, Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue, Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, Pop Goes the Weasel and Roll Out the Barrel, played in various styles, and back to the best idea again, the Tchaikovsky against the Grieg, except now piano and orchestra are transposed, (but only for a little while) as all the other themes fall over themselves, much to the extreme enjoyment of the audience – obbligato organ and tuba here as well!

There follows the famous version of the adagio from Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, with a number of surprises which even Haydn couldn’t have thought of. Certainly the audience sounds as though it needed first aiders on hand to help!

We also have a pastiche on a TV commercial which is extremely entertaining and will be even more appropriate today, given how television advertising has developed since the mid-sixties.

Dennis Brain playing Mozart on a length of garden hose loses the visual impact with it being only audio. However, Gerard Hoffnung’s description of the workings of the tuba, brings back memories of the Oxford Union speeches. This is an introduction to the playing of Chopin’s Mazurka No. 47 in A minor on 4 tubas, and yes this does sound as funny as the description.

Lochinvar (for speakers and percussion) is a literary gem making fun of the Scottish accent, plus the English language. Again Gerard Hoffnung adds to the proceedings as only he could.

The Grand Grand Overture, written by none other that Malcolm Arnold, and dedicated to President Hoover (who else??) is performed in its original guise for three vacuum cleaners and a floor polisher.

And so the fun goes on with other pieces in the same vein, and these are only from the first concert.

 

THE HOFFNUNG INTERPLANETARY MUSIC FESTIVAL

Royal Festival Hall, 21 and 22 November 1958: mono

Francis CHAGRIN Introductory music played in the foyer [1’03"]

Drum and Fife Band of the Royal Military School of Music conducted by the Composer

Francis BAINES Two excerpts from A Hoffnung Festival Overture [1’13"]

Trumpeters of the Royal Military School of Music Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra, John Weeks (organ), conducted by the Composer

Alistair SAMPSON—Joseph HOROVITZ Metamorphosis on a Bed-time Theme [10’13"]

(Allegro commerciale in modo televisione)

April Cantelo (soprano), Ian Wallace (bass-baritone), Lionel Salter (harpsichord)

Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra - conducted by the Composer

TCHAIKOVSKY realised by Elizabeth POSTON - Sugar Plums [12’28"] Dolmetsch Ensemble with Elizabeth Poston (organ), Felix Aprahamian (percussion) and Lionel Salter, Eric Thompson, Peter Hemmings and Robert Ponsonby (batterie)

Mátyás SEIBER The Famous Tay Whale (A dramatic poem by William McGonagall) [15’04"]

Declaimed by Dame Edith Evans with Annetta Hoffnung (fog-horn)

Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra - conducted by the Composer

Francis CHAGRIN Movement from Concerto for Conductor and Orchestra [1’25"]

The Maestro (Gerard Hoffnung) with the Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra

Bruno Heinz JAJA Punkt Contrapunkt [9’04"]

Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra conducted by Norman Del Mar

(The performance of this work is preceded by a discussion and analysis of it by Dr Klaus Domgraf-Fassbaender and Prof. von der Vogelweide (script by John Amis, music by Humphrey SEARLE).

Malcolm ARNOLD Excerpts from The United Nations [5’21"]

Band of the Royal Military School of Music, Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra conducted by the Composer

Peter Racine FRICKER Waltz for Restricted Orchestra [1’40"]

Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra (deflated) conducted by the Composer

MANN, REIZENSTEIN and WETHERELL Let’s Fake an Opera (or The Tales of Hoffnung) [20’39"] music under the direction of Normal Del Mar assisted by Brian Priestman.

This second festival opens with a distant piece on fife and drums, played in the foyer, although it sounds somewhat closer, more like up the back.

After a very noisy, trumpet-dominated overture, there is another of those pieces which the Hoffnung arranged concerts did so well. This one is based upon the idea of a commercial for Bournvita in the style of various composers from Bach and Vivaldi to Gilbert and Sullivan, not forgetting Mozart on the way. Once we are past the Mozart, we move over to Verdi, Stravinsky and Schoenberg. Modern TV advertising has never been as creative (musically) as this.

We then have the Dolmetsch Ensemble a little at sea with a pastiche of various themes by Tchaikovsky – we hear the Fourth Symphony, Pathétique, 1812, with the final chord being supplied by the Festival Hall organ in full cry. To hear these favourite pieces played by a quartet of recorders, is quite an experience, particularly when the group is balanced against a batterie of percussion - great fun.

The Story of the Famous Tay Whale is an assisted poem with appropriate and more often inappropriate themes added to the poem to bring the words home to us idiots who obviously are unable to understand it without the audible assistance. Great fun.

A short overture then is presented entitled ‘for conductor and orchestra’. I found this one of the least interesting pieces in the set. Still, it was only 1’25", and we are given the opportunity to listen to Gerard Hoffnung’s skill as a conductor. It was probably better to see this item.

The second disc, still in the second concert, opens with another of the pieces which have had an independent life outside these concerts. I have heard it broadcast on a few occasions on the BBC. This is a take-off by Gerard Hoffnung and John Amis where they carry out a fully detailed description of the music of Bruno Heinz Jaja (a clever jibe at Bruno Maderna, Karl-Heinz Stockhausen and Luigi Nono. Ed.), an important member of the splish-splash, bang-crash school of music. It is a marvellous example of a long string of puns, plus other ways of getting the audience (and listeners at home), in gales of laughter. Occasionally some of the jokes are masked by audience laughter, but most of the piece is easily intelligible to any English-speaking audience.

It is one of the items that will appeal to a well developed English sense of humour, and in today’s ‘Politically Correct’ atmosphere, this may find some people being a little sensitive. Long may it continue say I. Oh that all music lessons could be so entertaining.

We then come to The United Nations. The work is scored for full orchestra, and as many military bands as there are entrances to the concert hall. In the RFH therefore, there are many of these. The basic idea is that our United Nations are all very well as long as they are not expected to work together. The multiple brass bands ensure that this view is emphatically made.

A Waltz for Restricted Orchestra then follows, and this is a very strange experience. This is a work for full orchestra, but, with the woodwinds playing only mouthpieces, and the strings playing in every way except in the normal fashion.

Finally we have a bit of pure Hoffnung – Let’s Fake and Opera. Here, the joke is to juxtapose as many themes and ideas as possible. In other words this is a vocal equivalent to the Concerto Popolare mentioned earlier. Thus, the piece starts with the Toreador’s Song from Carmen set against the beginning of Die Meistersinger, further parts from Wagner (Lohengrin) set against Tchaikovsky’s "Swan Lake".

The setting is outside the cigarette factory in old Nuremburg. Beckmesser woos Azucena, the sex-kitten of the tobacco girls. Othello rides in with his swan which is chased away by William Tell, Max and other huntsmen. Othello, retiring defeated from the hunt, meets Salome who on the removal of all her veils, proves to be Fidelio and sings herself into a stupor. Brünnhilde, in search of a husband, is disappointed – Fidelio is a woman in disguise – and even the rival serenaders of whom she has hopes turn out to be wooing Mélisande. However she gets her man – Radames – in the end. Fidelio awakens and departs on Brünnhilde’s tricycle, Grane, leaving the frustrated Nightwatchman to steal well deserved winks on the vacated bed … etc., etc.

The opportunities for this sort of fun are endless, and very few are missed.

 

THE HOFFNUNG ASTRONAUTICAL MUSIC FESTIVAL

Royal Festival Hall, 28 November 1961: stereo

Francis BAINES Rigmarole: Introductory music played in the foyer [0’46"]

Six trumpets, six trombones and tour percussion of the Royal Military School of Music

Francis BAINES Festival Anthem [2’08"]

Trumpeters of the Royal Military School of Music, Hoffnung Festival Choral Society

Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the Composer

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN - Overture: Leonora No.4 [9’42"]

Trumpeters of the Royal Military School of Music ‘The Happy Wanderers’, Lionel Salter (organ) Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra conducted by Norman Del Mar

Bruno Heinz JAJA Duet from the comic opera The Barber of Darmstadt [3’00"]

(Random realisation from original graph by Humphrey Searle, translation from the German libretto by William Mann). Herr Knochen: Owen Brannigan (bass), Der Redepariner: John Amis (tenor)

Hoffnung Festival Choral Society, Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra conducted by Humphrey Searle

Francis CHAGRIN Ballad of County Down, mostly in D major [4’52"]

Forbes Robinson (speaker), Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the Composer

Sir William WALTON Excerpt from Belshazzar’s Feast [1’55’]

Introduction by Mr T. E. Bean CBE

Owen Brannigan (bass), Hoffnung Festival Choral Society, Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra - conducted by the Composer

Joseph HOROVITZ, words by Alistair Sampson from a scenario by Maurice Richardson [15’55"]

Horrortorio

Edgar Allan Poe - Stephen Manton, Dracula’s Daughter – April Cantelo, Dowager Baroness Frankenstein – Pamela Bowden, Frankenstein’s Son – Stephen Manton, Count Dracula – John Frost,

Hoffnung Festival Choral Society and Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the Composer

Lawrence LEONARD Mobile for Seven Orchestras [4’08"]

Trumpeters of the Royal Military School of Music, Lionel Salter (organ), Hoffnung Festival Choral Society’ Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the Composer and others

We then come to the third concert in the series, and this one was unfortunately bereft of the presence of the creator. There are however many new items, i.e. no duplication from the initial two concerts.

The concert starts with another of the items played in the foyer, apparently by six trumpets, six trombones and percussion, which just fade away and then surprisingly return. As with the previous concert, the recording seems to have been balanced by the engineers to sound as though it was recorded in the correct place.

We start the concert proper with a Festive Anthem, scored for chorus, orchestra and additional brass; it is a pot-pourri of multiple National Anthems.

There follows a really clever adaptation of Beethoven’s Leonore No. 3. I find now that I cannot listen to the original without anticipating the Hoffnung version. Beethoven’s offstage trumpet announcing the arrival of the prison governor is transformed into rampant uncontrolled brass band versions of the theme played throughout the piece at various strategic points, and then when it is actually supposed to appear ---- you’ve guessed right ---- silence!! Marvellous playing by the orchestra too – much gusto and much of the approximate playing actually sounds as though it is intentional.

Moving on to more music by Bruno Heinz Jaja in the form of a duet from the opera "The Barber of Darmstadt". This is ably performed by Owen Branigan and John Amis with the Hoffnung Festival Chorus and Orchestra. Having experienced Punkt Contrapunkt in the 1958 concert on the same disc, this should not be a surprise.

We then have The Ballad of County Down, mostly in D major, which starts off very dramatically, and slips into the Flight of the Bumble Bee via Yankee Doodle Dandy, to the point of the whole piece – a count down (space flights being all the rage in 1958). This is brought to a stirring completion by Mozart and Beethoven.

Sir William Walton then joins the proceedings to give (unusually for Hoffnung concerts) a completely straight excerpt from Belshazzar’s Feast, introduced by Mr. T. E. Bean with extremely whistley teeth, conducted apparently with a fly swat.

The longest item then follows – Horrortorio by Joseph Horovitz. This is a short pastiche based on a number of excerpts from famous oratorios, full of relevant humorous interventions from chorus and orchestra, relating the story of the marriage of Dracula’s daughter and Frankenstein, mixed up as only an oratorio plot could. This moves through Handel, Mendelssohn, Gilbert and Sullivan, Walton etc. etc.

There follows the Mobile for Seven Orchestras, which is supposed to be the opposite of "static". In other words, this item is visual in that all of the players move about on the platform following their own conductors. For obvious reasons, the impact of this piece is not particularly vivid on audio CD.

I am lead to believe from the comprehensive notes that there was some duplication of items in the concerts, and EMI very wisely has removed duplications, so allowing us to hear the main items in the three concerts on two reasonably well filled discs.

Before leaving this I must also mention the booklet supplied with this set. In addition to the libretto for both "Let’s Fake an Opera" and "Horrortorio", there are a number of Hoffnung illustrations which you may already own in the books (also available via MusicWeb), as well as on the cover, so you are in for a complete treat by buying this set.

Now that the availability of this album is assured via MusicWeb, I urge you to hear this set and I sincerely hope that you will get as much enjoyment out of it as I have done.

John Phillips

The Gerard Hoffnung Website


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