Reviewer’s Log: March/April 2008
Reviewer: Patrick C Waller
First, I must report
on a world première performance of the Symphony in C by Maurice
Blower that I was fortunate to hear on 29 March in Ferneham
Hall, Fareham. Although this venue is about 10 miles from my
home, I only heard about it through Ian Boughton (Rutland’s
grandson) who circulated information to supporters of the Rutland
Boughton Music Trust. This is probably more of a reflection
on me than on the promoters of the Havant Symphony Orchestra
since they managed to completely fill quite a large hall. In
this respect, having the sweet-toned Taiwanese soloist Leland
Chen play Bruch’s second violin concerto in the
first half helped but I was assured by a regular of these concerts
that the Blower was the reason why the hall was full. It was
good to hear one of Bruch’s less well known concertos (he wrote
three for the violin) – this is at least an interesting a work
as the first concerto, despite being several million times less
popular. The orchestra made a decent impression in the first
half, opening with the Academic Festival Overture and
then playing the second Wand of Youth suite with some
panache under principal conductor Peter Craddock. For the Bruch
he gave way to a young conductor – Christian Ludwig, recipient
of the Bob Harding Bursary – and he proved a sensitive accompanist.
If the first half
was enjoyable, the Blower symphony was something rather special.
Maurice Blower (1894-1982) was long associated with the Petersfield
Festival and is reasonably well known as a composer of mainly
vocal music. He also composed a horn concerto for Dennis Brain.
His symphony dates from just before the Second World War but
lay unplayed and forgotten in a loft for over six decades until
2005, when it was discovered by his son, Thomas. It seems that
nobody knew of its existence; perhaps, if and when it becomes
better known it will become known as the Loft symphony!
Thomas showed it to Peter Craddock and the enthusiastic response
led him to produce a printed score and parts using Sibelius
software. The work is fairly conventional in structure and musical
language – four movements with scherzo placed second – but the
idiom is original and the argument taught. Fundamentally a happy
work (it is in C after all) there are bittersweet overtones
in the slow movement and some marvellous writing for the brass
in the finale. There is also some solo work for the leader and
lead cellist, and all sections of the orchestra made excellent
contributions. Indeed the woodwinds were outstanding throughout
the evening. In 2005, I went to hear Boughton’s
First symphony receive its first performance a century after
it was written in similar circumstances and now we have a marvellous
recording on Dutton.
I certainly want to hear this work again and I very much hope
that someone from the record industry gets to hear about this
In terms of recorded
music, I must first confess a little more downloading – only
about my third and fourth outings since I still don’t own an
iPod and have simply been burning CDs. Somehow I just couldn’t
wait to get my ears on Mackerras’s readings of Mozart’s
Nos. 38-41 and downloaded them from the Linn website for
£10 to cheer myself up one day. And these performances would
brighten anyone’s day as they are simply joyous. I have only
seen very positive reviews and critics are rarely so unanimous.
I liked Nigel Simeone’s tale in International Record Review
relating how he played this to his undergraduates and they burst
into applause after one of the movements! The other download
had a bit more justification as the music has not been available
on CD for some time – John Ogdon’s Chandos
1984 recording of Alwyn’s Fantasy Waltzes and
Preludes. These are marvellous works and I much prefer Ogdon’s
powerful readings of the waltzes to Ashley Wass on a recent
Naxos release. According to MusicWeb’s Alwyn discography,
this is the only recorded version of the 12 Preludes and so
it is an ideal coupling. The format is MP3 but it burnt to a
CD without a hitch using Widows Media Player and the resulting
disc sounds well enough.
A work which by
contrast to the Mozart discs has had very mixed reviews has
been Foulds’s World Requiem although I
have been very impressed, as I made clear in my recent review.
Another splendid disc I reviewed was Bernard Haitink’s Bruckner
7 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – the second release
on the orchestra’s new label.
Of recent purchases,
pride of place goes to Beecham’s Sibelius,
a marvellous disc with the Pelleas and Melisande Suite
a particular favourite despite it missing one of the movements.
I have kept the LP of this despite having no turntable and missed
its previous CD incarnation, and so was very pleased to see
it return. The status of quite a few “GROCs” could be questioned
but not this one.
of music for violin and orchestra by Martinů
has continued with volume 2 and here resurfaced a piece I was
waiting to hear on CD for the first time – the concerto for
violin and piano of 1953. This is absolutely vintage Martinů,
handsomely presented by Bohuslav Matoušek (violin) and Karel
Košárek (piano) accompanied by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Christopher Hogwood.
I am gradually working
my way through the CPO Villa-Lobos symphony series
and enjoyed the coupling of numbers 1
& 11. I understand the 10th symphony has
recently been issued and presume that this cycle is now “complete”.
I heard Andrew McGregor play part of this on BBC Radio 3 and
suggest that No. 5 is still to come but Grove online
says the score is lost. So one of them must be wrong and my
money isn’t on Grove. And whilst I am on the subject
of sources that are supposed to be authoritative, my eyes just
boggled when I saw in the May Gramophone on page 36 that
Bruckner’s Fifth symphony was premiered in 1876 (part of a feature
on that year). In fact, it was completed in that year but lay
unperformed until 1894 and Bruckner never heard it. How can
they just forget the difficulties he had in getting his works
A recent MusicWeb
innovation has been the introduction of the weekly quiz. I managed to find a couple
of contributions, revisiting on the way a marvellous disc of
Norwegian orchestral music that I had reviewed in 2004. The
orchestral elegy The Churchyard by the Sea by Fartein Valen
is one of the most wonderful pieces of atonal music I have heard.
A sale of Simax discs prompted me to invest in his four symphonies
– these are classical in proportion but slightly tougher nuts
to crack, although I am fairly sure they will repay repeated
listening. Whilst on the subject of atonal music I should also
mention that I have finished working my way through the bargain
22CD box of Stravinsky conducting his own music
that I was given for Christmas. Of course, his early music was
tonal and then there was a neo-classical phase but in the 1950s
he turned to atonality. Perhaps this was not entirely a success
but there is so much wonderful stuff in this box it is still
worth acquiring even if Stravinsky’s later music doesn’t appeal
As ever, I have
come across plenty of interesting new discs to stream from the
Naxos Music Library. I tend to look out for cello compositions
and Cyril Scott’s 1937 concerto on Chandos
(CHAN10452) played by Paul Watkins was quite a find. Coupled
with Scott’s first symphony this is part of an important series.
The Albany label is now in the library with many recent additions
including a disc called The American Cello (TROY648)
with Paul Tobias as soloist and JoAnn Falleta conducting the
Virginia Symphony Orchestra. In terms of the programme, Barber’s
concerto was familiar to me from Wendy Warner’s Naxos recording
but the couplings – concertos by Yi Chen and Behzad
Ranjbaran were not. Both are worthwhile, particularly
the latter’s work - he has Iranian origins according to Wikipedia.
One drawback of the library seems to be that the discs not of
Naxos origin usually don’t have any documentation other than
the track listing. Finally in cello terms – it was good to hear
Pfitzner and Reger’s sonatas played by Martin
Hornstein (Challenge Classics CC72102). In this case, the documentation
doesn’t even name the artists and their names are barely legible
on the CD cover image.
discs I have heard from the Naxos Library which have already
been reviewed on MusicWeb are the original and engaging contemporary
orchestral music of Kenneth
Fuchs, Shostakovich’s reconstructed
film score Odna
and Mahler’s 6th given live in Melbourne with the
MSO conducted by Mark Wigglesworth (review).
Reviews of the symphonies of Peder
Gram and John
Marsh, and CPO’s latest Saygun
instalment – the cello and viola concertos – all appeared on
MusicWeb on the same day, and I was able to listen to them as
I was setting up the reviews. These are all splendid discs and
a new Naxos disc J.C.
Bach’s keyboard sonatas played by Alberto Nosè is
also worth hearing. I was also very pleased to see that Avie
discs are now appearing the Library and have been enjoying Trevor
Pinnock’s recent Brandenburg Concerto recordings.
Recently I saw a
quite remarkable television programme - A
boy called Alex – about a 16 year boy with severe cystic
fibrosis who realised his ambition to conduct Bach’s
Magnificat in the chapel of chapel of Eton school despite
having a severe exacerbation of his illness and being admitted
to intensive care shortly beforehand. Musically, this was no
gimmick – Alex Stobbs clearly is very talented. It was a pity
that the constraints of documentary schedules didn’t allow the
full performance to be broadcast.
My wife’s family
reside at the other end of Hampshire in Farnborough and, thus
we heard that Joanna MacGregor was come to the town to play
in early February. The background was itself noteworthy – Farnborough’s
longstanding music society was on the brink of folding when
some of the officers were unable to carry on. The local sixth
form college stepped in with its music department, agreeing
to do some of the administration and – hey presto – the next
thing you know they had a major artist on the schedule. Ms.
MacGregor didn’t just play – she came and gave an introductory
talk during which the sixth formers were able to ask lots of
[good] questions, and then she stayed afterwards to meet them
informally. This was the kind of thing that makes you realise
great artists are human even if they don’t seem it when playing.
And the playing was indeed phenomenal in a very well constructed
programme of interwoven Preludes and Fugues by Bach
and Shostakovich in the first half followed by
various Brazilian pieces, including some of her own arrangements
after the interval. To conclude she played the Gershwin songbook
and a fabulous encore – Piazzolla’s Libertango
which required phenomenal virtuosity. But memories of the quite
haunting first half will linger longest, I suspect. Ms. MacGregor
brought quite a few of her discs from the Sound Circus label
with her and sold the lot – every student I saw was clutching
one. I picked up virtually the last copy of Deep
River but found the sound of Andy Sheppard’s saxophone disappointing.
disc is, however, highly recommendable.
Speaking of Scarlatti
reminds me of a You
Tube link I came across in the blog On an Overgrown Path
– to hear this you’ll need to scroll three quarters of the way
down a very long page. It is of Scott Ross playing one of my
favourites amongst his sonatas – Kk209. A couple of years ago
I spent several months reviewing his wonderful complete
set of the sonatas and it was good to be able to see him
Finally, in relation
to the disc of Judith
Bailey’s music, which I have been involved in the
producing, I was delighted to be able to hear the edited CD.
The documentation is also now complete and it is scheduled for
release on Divine Art’s
Metier label in June. The reason for the switch from Dunelm
Records is that Jim Pattison is retiring and his company being
subsumed into Divine Art. A tribute in the form of “A fond
farewell to Dunelm Records” can be read here.
Patrick C Waller