Sir Neville Cardus led a double life. During the summer, he was the Manchester
Guardian's "Cricketer", painting cover drives and square cuts in vivid
verbal brushstrokes. In the winter and by night he was an inspired music critic.
What his autobiography almost omits to mention is that he composed. There is
nothing novel about critics composing. Think of Berlioz and Schumann, or Peterson-Berger
and Virgil Thomson. Unlike these others, though, Cardus lacked formal musical
training. He was entirely self-taught and, by his own acknowledgement, was a
man of letters rather than a man of notes. He composed for his own enjoyment
and without serious hopes of performance. While an apocryphal tale related in
the liner notes has him showing Beecham a couple of his scores (Beecham supposedly
observed that if composition was cricket Cardus would be carrying the drinks),
he was nervous about revealing his work, so it languished unplayed in his desk
drawer. Until now.
After his death in 1975, several of his compositions came to light in various
stages of completeness. The Salford University musicologist Cecil Rothgay, from
whose garrulous liner-notes I have borrowed heavily for this review, has devoted
much of his free time over the last decade to sifting through the manuscripts,
assembling scraps and preparing the more complete works for performance. He tells
us that Cardus wrote no symphonies or string quartets - his modesty presumably
prevented him from tackling these august genres. He did, however, leave a selection
of impressionist piano pieces, a few songs in vaudevillian and salon style and
the works presented on this disc.
Cardus seems to have toyed with elegies to A.C. MacLaren, who captained Yorkshire
and England for a good part of Cardus's youth, for a period of years. At first
there was nothing but a few rag-tag scraps of song with piano accompaniment.
In 1932, however, the events unfolded on the cricket field that proved a catalyst
for Cardus's first - and to date only discovered - completed orchestral work.
Scored for chamber orchestra with single winds, trumpet, muted trombone and 12
male voices, Cardus' MacLaren Cantata
enshrines the unofficial test match
between the invincible Australians and an all-England side captained by a retired
A.C. MacLaren. The match seemed a one-sided affair and almost not worth covering,
until MacLaren, who could not buy a run in either innings, unleashed a firestorm
of match-winning captaincy that destroyed the Australian second innings. Cardus
wrote his own lyrics and they drip with references to art, literature, music
and the classics. I would not be surprised if some of the songs are a straight
setting of Cardus's own match report. The music is Elgarian - more King Olaf
earnest and celebratory. There are some nice dramatic touches, such as the sudden
silence that greets the fall of MacLaren's wicket in the first innings, and the
swelling swagger that colours MacLaren's instructions to his men as the match
turns their way. Nicholas Wright, singing MacLaren, is memorable in the Dressing
song, a rousing Elgarian setting for tenor soloist of a tea-time exhortation
to cricketing glory.
Cardus's incomplete opera on Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat
a product of his later years, a time when he felt trapped by his lifestyle of
cricket and concerts and began to feel that he ought to have created something
more lasting than the ephemera of newspaper articles, notwithstanding the illusion
of permanence granted some of them by their collation and publication in book
form. Cardus does not manage to take us very far down the Thames, but then again
JKJ’s book was all about the journey rather than the destination. Rothgay
has arranged and orchestrated Cardus’s extant fragments and linked them
for the sake of continuity with dialogue from that Cardus had intended to set
to music. The excerpts start with a smashing Waltonesque prelude of knock-‘em-down,
thigh smacking hilarity, and there are some excellent ensemble numbers, which
veer in style from stolid Sullivan to German with dashes of Johann Strauss II
and Offenbach dropped in. Really the music is more than a little derivative and
the idiom a hodge-podge, but the sheer good fun of it and panache of the performers
make it difficult to resist. Wright’s delivery of the Cheese Aria
superb - a tall tale in an ironic bel canto
rendering that reeks of Bellini.
is a portrait in sound of JM Barrie, the mercurial creator of
Peter Pan with whom the composer once stayed when covering the Lord's test.
It is a fleet twinkling scherzo, Mendelssohnian in feel. Rothgay was fortunate
to have a full short score of this piece with margin notes indicating intended
instrumentation. His orchestration is light and flecked with the colours of
. A brief and charming orchestral miniature, it flies
by and is over too soon, a compliment in anyone's book.
It would be idle to pretend that there are undiscovered masterpieces here, but
the music is better than you might expect. Collectors of English 20th
music will find their curiosity rewarded.