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|Peter Racine FRICKER (1920-1990)
Concerto for Violin and Small Orchestra Op. 11 (1950, rev. 1974)
David MORGAN (1933-1988)
Violin Concerto (1966) [26:02]
Don BANKS (1923-1980)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1968) [26:55]
(violin) (Fricker; Banks)
Erich Gruenberg (violin) (Morgan)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Norman Del Mar (Fricker; Banks); Vernon Handley
rec. July 1973, All Saints, Tooting, London (Fricker, Banks); 28 April 1976,
Kingsway Hall, London (Morgan). ADD;
Originally issued on LP: Argo ZRG 715 (Fricker, Banks); Lyrita SRCS97 (Morgan).
in the early nineteen-seventies, when I first began to collect
British music records in general and Lyrita in particular,
these three composers and their works would have been ‘beyond
the pale.’ In the musical circles I moved in, none of them
would have had a following. I have since come to learn that
David Morgan was an unknown quantity to virtually everyone
interested in music - both now and then - to the loss of
those days, Peter Racine Fricker was seen as being something
of an enfant terrible – writing music that owed more
to Schoenberg and Webern than Vaughan Williams and Walton.
In fact the only work I had heard by Fricker was the Prelude,
Fugue and Elegy for Strings. This was released on an
old Pye Golden Guinea record coupled with music by Alan Rawsthorne.
The passing of time has not dealt fairly with poor old Fricker.
A brief look at the Arkiv catalogue shows only a half dozen
works from his large worklist currently available on CD.
I have certainly never heard his Violin Concerto before receiving
this review copy.
Morgan is an enigma. There is virtually no information about
him on the web. He does not have an entry in Grove. There
are only a handful of references to his recorded music – and
I am not sure they refer to this particular Morgan anyway.
The fact remains that apart from one sadly underrated Lyrita
release from the late ’seventies, there are no opportunities
to evaluate his music. Recently Lyrita
re-released the superb Contrasts on one of their
compilation discs (SRCD318 - see review) – where
it does not really sit comfortably.
for Don Banks my ‘set’ would have regarded him as part of
the avant-garde – someone who wrote for electronic media
and as such was probably not a welcome figure at most classical
concerts of the day. It was a name I recall hearing but I
cannot think where – perhaps at a concert at Glasgow University?
Yet, I guess for a generation that lay on the floor listening
to Stockhausen, Banks would have seemed passé!
the intervening years I have not been introduced to Don Banks
music – although I know that he had a wider expertise than
composing for the Moog Synthesiser. It came as a bit of a
shock to realise that he had done commercial work for the
Hammer Horror film studios; and not only films but cartoons
too. And then there was jazz. So I, like many other folk
have probably heard a lot of Banks without being aware of
Violin Concerto for small orchestra Op.11 was composed by
Peter Racine Fricker in 1950. It was badly received by at
least one reviewer in Music & Letters (April 1952). He
understands the work to be ‘vital’ and depicting the ‘spirit
of the age’ yet he argues that ‘surely beauty must be present
in some form’. He notes that other critics had lauded this
work and he deduces that ‘they’ must see something in this
work that is ‘apparent to some and not to others’.
listening to this Concerto some 58 years further down the
road, I am impressed by its sheer lyricism. Surely there
is a ‘beauty’ in the opening ‘con moto’ movement that is
obvious to all but the most ardent opponents of anything
more modern in its soundscape that Elgar! The language that
Fricker uses does owe much to the spirit of the age – with
the exception of jazz. Yet this is not a serial work as such – it
is fair to say that it appears to be very much in a tonal
idiom without ever abandoning the dissonance that was a characteristic
of his style. This work is a well balanced essay that does
not deserve to have sunk into obscurity. Like Rob Barnett,
I know very little of his music. But from what I have heard
his reputation is surely due for reappraisal - hopefully
by a raft of CDs and performances.
I had heard the Don Banks Violin Concerto when it was originally
recorded I would have positively disliked it. I would have
found it confused and disjointed - a random patchwork of
sounds that seems to avoid coherent patterns. It is amazing
what a third of a century of music-listening does for ones
ears. I think that this is a fantastic piece. From the first
movement’s opening lento - through the iridescent allegro section
with its shades of orchestral colour and changes of mood
and tempo this work impresses. The second movement builds
on the dark and haunting opening passage for the orchestra
before the soloist enters with subdued tones. This is beautifully
poised playing that explores a huge variety of string technique
by the soloist. The final ‘risoluto’ is by far the
most turbulent part of this work. Yet there is really nothing
here that should put off the adventurous listener. The music
is well written, often lyrical and always full of interest.
It may not be my favourite on this release but it is impressive,
demanding and vital. Furthermore there are passages of exceptional
beauty in these pages. It is a work that repays study.
me the highlight of this CD is the David Morgan Violin Concerto
written in 1966. Rob
Barnett in his review has rightly pointed out that there
are nods towards Walton, Szymanowski and Vaughan Williams.
He also suggests that it is more approachable than Fricker’s
offering. I am not sure that I agree. I accept that the musical
language is typically a little less astringent – but I feel
that the deeply personal nature – the composer calls it “the
most comprehensively and openly autobiographical” of his
work makes it slow to reveal its beauties. It is a complex
work, lasting nearly half an hour. However it never ceases
to maintain interest and the variety of its material is constantly
revealing new beauties and challenges. There are some impressive
passages that move well beyond the palettes of RVW and Walton.
I believe that if this work was allowed to have its head,
it would truly rival both the Walton, and dare I say it the
Elgar! It is one of the great British violin concertos.
is certainly one of the most exciting releases that have
formed part of the Lyrita re-release programme. The quality
of sound is perfect. The playing of the soloists, Yfrah Neaman
and Erich Gruenberg, is stunning. The programme notes are
in depth and allow the listener to come to terms with all
three of these stimulating works.
see also review by Rob Barnett
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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