Here is another extraordinary
find. A significant British symphony,
enthusiastically hailed by 1889 audiences
and critics alike, so much so that the
musical establishment took fright and
froze out the promising talent of the
retiring Frederic Cliffe. It appeared
some twenty years before Elgar’s First,
and some twenty-two after Sullivan’s
Irish Symphony. Although it ploughs
a well-worn furrow, it is wrought with
considerable power and skill, influences
include Beethoven, Wagner, Bruckner
Certainly the huge
impact of those two fierily-stated chords
that open the symphony and that are
so brilliantly developed throughout
this Op. No. 1 symphony must have made
a deep impression on those who were
present at the Symphony’s premiere.
Such arresting music must have made
them wonder if they were present at
the arrival of a second Beethoven –
it does not take too much imagination
to make a link between the beginning
of this work and the opening ‘Fate’
chords of Beethoven’s 5th
Symphony. The audience will have been
impressed, too, with the brilliance
of the brass writing, the wide vistas
of Cliffe’s concept (he had been deeply
impressed by the rugged Norwegian scenery),
and the lyricism as well as the power
of that opening movement.
It is a shame, then,
that the Scherzo second movement does
not sustain this high quality. It is
a strange mix of Brucknerian solemnity
with a pinch of Brahms and rather bucolic
Vienna Woods waltz stuff displaced
to the Tyrol.
Much better is the
Ballade slow movement, the most significant
at 15:28. Fifield sensitively allows
the portamenti and sentimental instrumental
slidings and flutterings that were the
accepted style of performance in the
Victorian England of 1889. The lovely
affecting melody so revealed is reminiscent
of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.
Certainly the Wagnerian influence here
is very strong, and the eruption of
passion, when it comes in the middle
of the movement, is quite shattering.
The recorded sound in the Malmö
hall is full-blooded.
The closing movement
is busy and Mendelssohnian effervescent
before the music slows and broadens
to tenderness and nobility, and a majestic
finale – again I was reminded of Bruckner.
Frederic Cliffe’s Orchestral
Picture: Cloud and Sunshine remains
unpublished. It is cast in similar mould
to the Symphony. It ‘depicts the sorrows
of life under the simile of a cloud
and its pleasures under the figure of
sunshine.’ An impressive concert overture,
it contrasts the power and passion of
Wagner with the lighter spirit of Mendelssohn.
My ears were particularly attracted
to some imaginative harp figurations
and string writing and, as in the Symphony,
the brass have some very striking material.
Amazing how music of
such power and lyricism can lie lost
and unperformed for so many years. It
is to be hoped that Sterling will allow
us to hear more of Frederic Cliffe.
see also review
by Rob Barnett