Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Ed. Julia MacRae
Wigmore Hall Trust £15.00 ISBN 0-9539581-0-8 224pp.

If there is one common thread of praise from performers and audiences alike about the Wigmore Hall it is its intimacy, wonderful acoustics, and unique atmosphere. When it was built in 1901 Thomas Collcutt's design was called the Bechstein Hall, after the piano makers, but the anti-German feeling understandably prevalent during the First World War forced a change of name to that of the street in which the hall is located. For many years artists hired the hall, most of them making debut appearances to kick-start their careers, which in turn tended to give rise to reluctance on the part of established musicians who did not wish their publicity to be surrounded by that given to debutantes. Over the years though there were always those who remained loyal, especially with the opening of the rival smaller halls on the South Bank in the 1960s, especially the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Go backstage to the Green Room or Gerald Moore Room and there you will find a veritable galaxy of framed photographs of stars, too numerous to enumerate here, going back to Busoni and to the present day Songmakers' Almanac.

This paperback history, lavishly illustrated with photographs and posters old and new, is a real bargain at fifteen pounds. The current General Manager, who seems to have made it an early ambition to run the Hall even from far afield as his native Australia, contributes a personal view after Janet Baker's foreword. That master of combining music and sociology, Cyril Ehrlich, describes its history in his ever-readable style, then there are chapters devoted to designing concert programmes, a chapter each about pianists and singers who have given more concerts there than other instrumentalists, birthday greetings from living artists who appear there regularly, the critic Alan Blyth's memories having attended events there for half a century (such as singer Muriel Brunskill's 'formidable presence with her handbag plonked on the piano lid'), Graham Johnson (Gerald Moore's natural successor) on programme planning, contributions from the Friends of the Hall (an opportunity for some of the groundlings to be heard), a fascinating analysis of the famed acoustics of the Hall, an intriguing article by Andrew Payne on out-of-the-ordinary events such as Music Hall, Concert Parties, dancing displays, pupils' concerts for the benefit of teachers to sell their skills to parents (remarkably the last one was only 30 years ago), demonstrations and lectures, jazz and comedy. Finally there's a chapter with contributions from those who sustain the Hall from behind the scenes.

A compellingly enjoyable book, it may constitute self-congratulatory navel-gazing, but as far as music in London is concerned, it's the most beautiful navel in town.


Christopher Fifield


The Wigmore Hall Trust
36 Wigmore St
Tel 0207 486 1907
fax 0207 224 3800

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