Wishart belongs to what I often refer to as “the doomed generation” of
British music, to which Peter Racine Fricker, Robert Simpson,
Adrian Cruft, Ruth Gipps and Malcolm Arnold also belong.
Their music was found too modern by conservative tastes and
too traditional for the younger, more radical generation.
his earlier composing career Wishart was happy to compose
in elegant, Stravinskian Neo-classicism, which was already
suspect in the early 1950s. He nevertheless went on writing
music to his own inclinations and composed a sizeable body
of work in almost every genre, including several operas.
His name is most familiar from the fine carol setting Alleluya,
a new work is come on hand, still fairly regularly
heard and recorded. This carol excepted, Wishart’s music
has long remained unrecorded, until a pioneering cassette
released by the British Music Society (BMS 409) brought it
back into public hearing. This cassette featured the Partita
in F sharp Op.10, Opheis Kai Klimakes Op.35 played
by Alexander Kelly, the dedicatee of Opheis Kai Klimakes,
as well as six songs sung by Wishart’s widow Maureen Lehane.
Another BMS cassette (BMS 414) with English music for piano
duet also included the Sonata for Piano Duet
Op.5 played by Priscilla Naish and Philip Cranmer.
This cassette is still worth tracking down, for it included
several rarities such as Algernon Ashton’s English
Dances as well as works by Richard Hall, John Joubert,
York Bowen, Constant Lambert and Philip Cranmer. Somewhat
more recently, actually in 1993, Wishart’s String Quartet
No.3 in A Op.22 was recorded by Tremula - on TREM
102-2 surely still available and well worth looking for anyway
- along with Rubbra’s Second String Quartet and another rarity,
Phyllis Tate’s String Quartet in F major.
the Partita in F sharp Op.10 and the Sonata
for Piano Duet Op.5 are relatively early works, but
they already display most characteristics of Wishart’s style,
notably his elegant Neo-classicism to which he adhered throughout
his composing life. The Sonata is cast as a Prelude and a
set of variations, while the Partita is laid-out as a Baroque
suite in four movements (Prelude, Burlesca, Aria and Capriccio)
of great charm. Surely, Stravinsky, Ravel and maybe Poulenc
may be lurking round the corner.
the other hand, while still strongly embedded in Neo-classicism, Opheis
Kai Klimakes Op.35 (“Snakes and Ladders”)
is a considerable work, both in terms of sheer length and
of musical substance. It, too, is laid-out as a suite in
six strongly contrasted movements, of which the outer ones
are “unmarked”, so that it is up to the performer to decide
how the music should go. The opening movement clearly functions
as a “lyrical, flowing prelude” (Alexander Kelly’s words)
in which motivic ideas for the other movements are stated.
The second movement is a fugue. It is followed by a racy
Scherzo, in turn followed by another fugue. This is followed
by a long, elegiac Adagio of great beauty in which one can
hear faint echoes from Ravel. The work ends with yet another
fugue capped by a somewhat unexpected Scottish episode -
an affectionate tribute to Alexander Kelly, no doubt - although
it too derives from the theme of the opening movement, as
Mark Tanner remarks in his very detailed notes.
very fine and generously filled release concludes with two
rarities by Constant Lambert. The Suite in three (continuous)
movements from 1925 and Prize Fight in
Lambert’s own arrangement for piano duet. True, the latter
is no longer so much of a rarity since the orchestral version
was recorded some time ago; BBC Concert Orchestra conducted
by Barry Wordsworth on ASV White Line WHL 2122. Both works
hark back to the spirit of Le Groupe des Six and
Stravinsky, who were much in vogue at that time and likely
to influence the young composer in one way or another. Mark
Tanner mentions a brief tongue-in-cheek reference to Liszt’s Mephisto
Waltz in the introduction of the Suite. The music
is played without a break, and the three movements are certainly
connected; but, as Tanner rightly remarks, the fragmentary
nature of the music does not make this particularly clear.
The Suite is far from negligible, and is obviously quite
seriously meant, for there is nothing here of the humour
found in, say, Pomona or in Prize Fight.
This short ballet on a highly humorous “libretto” by the
composer is much indebted to Satie and – again – Le Groupe
des Six. Some of the tricky rhythms were inherited from
Stravinsky. It is a short, lively work full of light spirit
and humour; especially the way in which the American song When
Johnny comes marching home is handled throughout the
score to depict the “big American boxer”.
Tanner clearly loves the music, as is evident from his carefully
prepared, committed readings; and he is superbly partnered
by Allan Schiller. This magnificent release is a fitting
tribute to Wishart, who would have been 85 this year and
it sheds new light on the music of Constant Lambert.