Sonata for Viola and Piano (1945) [14:15]
Rondo from Piano Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor (1945) [2:59]
A Humble Song to the Birds-cantata, for high voice
and piano (1945) [8:02]
Partita in G minor for solo violin (1947) [10:10]
Piano Sonata No. 3 in C sharp minor (1946-48) [15:54]
Suite, for descant recorder and piano (1952) [6:06]
Pastiche Suite, for treble recorder and piano (1944) [3:44]
Three French Folksongs, for soprano, recorder and piano) (1947)
Tango for piano (1948) [2:35]
Three Seductions for recorder and piano (1949) [3:59]
First Love from Early One Morning, for soprano
and piano (1980) [3:32]
I've Lost my Love from Hands Across the
Sky for soprano, recorder and piano (1953) [3:31]
A Melancholy Song, for soprano, recorder and piano
Four Dances from Back to Methuselah, for recorder and
piano (1946) [4:03]
Three Poems (?) [7:58] read by the author.
Eight Tributes (2011):-
Andrew PLANT On How to Sing, for soprano, recorder
and piano [2:03]
David MATTHEWS (b.1943) A Little Pastoral, for solo
David DUBERY (b.1948) Evening in April, for soprano,
recorder and piano [3:28]
Anthony GILBERT (b.1934) Above all That, for recorder
and piano [2:52]
Gordon CROSSE (b.1937) CantAHta, for soprano, recorder
and piano [3:07]
David ELLIS (b.1933) Head Music, for recorder and piano
Joseph PHIBBS (b.1974) Pierrot, for soprano, recorder
and piano [3:43]
Elis PEHKONEN (b.1942) Pieds en l'air, for recorder
and piano [1:57]
Two extracts from Johnny the Priest starring Jeremy
Brett (1960) [6:35]
Trio from Three's Company, an opera by Antony
Hopkins, libretto by Michael Flanders. OBE (1953) [3:38]
Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor), John
Turner (recorders), Paul Barritt (violin), Matthew Jones (viola),
Philip Fowke (piano), Michael Hampton (piano), Janet Simpson
(piano), Antony Hopkins (speaker); Jeremy Brett, Stephanie Voss
and Phillada Sewell (vocals) (Johnny the Priest); Elizabeth
Boyd, Stephen Manton, Eric Shilling (vocals) and Antony Hopkins
(piano) (Three’s Company)
rec. 24 January 2011 Bedford School (A Humble Song); 27 October
2011 St Thomas’ Church Stockport (Partita); 17 December 2011
Whiteley Hall, Chethams School, Manchester (Piano Sonata No.3
and Tango); 12-13 November 2011 Purcell School, Bushey (All
For many people there is a confusion between Anthony Hopkins
the actor (now revealed as a composer) and the 91 year old gentleman
who is celebrated in these two excellent CDs. However, my misunderstanding
was slightly different. I hate to admit it, but I thought the
composer and the author of many extremely helpful books, articles
and broadcasts about music were two different men!
Looking at CD catalogues reveals a sad lack of interest in his
music. However, one rarely sees a good second-hand bookshop
that does not have at least one of his many books. Unfortunately,
there seems to be very little in the way of publicity for the
composer: I was unable to find a website dedicated to his music.
There is only a short note in the current Grove. Therefore,
it is difficult to get a handle on Hopkins’ biography and his
catalogue of works and music.
This is not the place for a life history; on the other hand,
a few notes may be of service. Antony Hopkins was born on 21
March 1921. After study with Cyril Smith and Gordon Jacob at
the Royal College of Music (1939-1942) he took up lecturing
at Morley College. However, he soon discovered that he had ‘an
unusual gift’ for composing incidental music for stage, radio
plays and films. His initial success was highlighted with the
scores for Louis MacNeice’s productions of The Golden Ass
and Cupid and Psyche. Grove includes references to
his scores for the radio productions of The Oresteia
and The Song of Roland alongside music for some fifteen
Shakespeare plays. His film scores include The Pickwick
Papers. On a larger scale, there are a number of operas
including Hands across the Sky, Lady Rohesia,
The Man from Tuscany and Three's
Company (1953). There is also a ballet Café des Sports
that may well deserve revival in a concert version.
Alongside his composing career Hopkins made an important contribution
to popularising classical music. His major achievement in this
direction must be the radio series 'Talking about Music'
which ran for 36 years. It is his ability to discuss the ‘history,
content and structure’ of music in an engaging, straightforward
but never condescending manner. They are a model of musicology,
which is designed to help the listener and not to hinder them,
as some more esoteric examples of musical analysis tends to
In his compositional style, Hopkins also exhibits the desire
and ability to communicate to a broad public. His music is a
careful balance between tradition and a well-considered modernity.
It is no criticism to suggest that he is a master of pastiche.
It is this capacity to absorb and synthesise that gave him his
considerable reputation as a writer of incidental music.
The first CD contains what may be regarded as the heart of this
recording project. It includes the superb Viola Sonata, the
Partita in G minor for solo violin and the considerable Piano
Sonata No.3 in C sharp minor.
The Viola Sonata was composed in 1945 and was dedicated to Jean
Stewart who at that time was a ‘notable’ viola payer with the
Menges Quartet. This well-wrought work sounds as fresh as it
must have done nearly seventy years ago. The work is in four
balanced movements: - March, Ground, Scherzo and Epilogue. There
is a spaciousness about the formal structure of this piece that
belies its quarter of an hour time-frame. The composer explains
that there is a ‘motto theme’ running through the work, however
this disintegrates in the last movement. It is a work that is
stylistically conservative without ever becoming old-fashioned.
I am surprised that with the relative dearth of Viola Sonatas
that Hopkins’ essay has not entered the repertoire. I found
this work well-balanced, interesting and often moving. The performance
by Matthew Jones and Michael Hampton is outstanding.
The musical press greeted Hopkins' Piano Sonata No.2
in F sharp minor with a mixed message. The reviewer in Tempo
(December 1946) suggested that the composer’s works, ‘given
at Queen Mary Hall showed little achievement, but considerable
promise ...’ He continued by noting that ‘their ingenuity, a
little too self-conscious, hardly relieved the dryness or disguised
their frequent shortness of breath ...’ however he suggested
that the Piano Sonata ‘… came near to mature composition. Its
vigour and obvious delight in the keyboard, lead one to hope
that when he has liberated himself from confused traditions,
a mature Hopkins may emerge, thought he will probably instantly
withdraw this ‘promising’ work’.
The Sonata was dedicated to Hopkins' friend, Michael
Tippett. Alas, we are treated only to the final movement on
this current CD. Neo-classical, I guess the music is, however
the composer assures us that it ‘consciously tries to imitate
his [Tippett’s] idiom’. I enjoyed this Rondo; it seems well-structured
with a broad theme that swings along. Some of the episodes are
a little darker but a reprise of the exuberant principal tune
brings the movement to an end. The excellent soloist here is
James Gilchrist and Janet Simpson give a telling account of
the beautiful cantata A Humble song to the Birds (1945).
If this piece had been composed by Benjamin Britten it would
have found a permanent place in the repertoire. I am not suggesting
that it is pastiche, but I was reminded of the older composer’s
music. The words, which are not provided in the liner-notes,
are from a poem by Rosencreutz. I must confess that I am not
sure who this poet was. It sounds a very difficult piece to
bring off, although the present soloists give what appears to
be a definitive performance.
The Partita in G minor for solo violin is a lovely work. It
was written in 1947 for Max Salpeter’s concert at the Wigmore
Hall and was dedicated to Neville Mariner. It is an extremely
short piece; however there is a concentration and intensity
of material that makes the work appear much more imposing than
the ten minutes duration would imply. I have a sneaky feeling
that this Partita may be the most impressive work on these two
CDs. It appears that this is a minor masterpiece: I will be
interested to see if anyone else agrees with me. It is finely
played here by Paul Barritt.
The Piano Sonata No.3 in C sharp minor is a serous work. It
was completed in 1946/48 for the pianist Noel Mewton-Wood who
sadly died before he was able to give a performance. Unfortunately
the liner-notes give no analysis of this piece. It lasts for
quarter of an hour and has three movements. The mood of the
entire work is ‘exploratory’. One feels that the composer has
found the very style that the Tempo reviewer felt was
lacking. It is a strong sonata that sounds quite chromatic and
occasionally wayward without sacrificing its classical simplicity.
The middle Largo has ponderous, deeply felt music that strains
upwards before descending into tranquil repose. There is a disturbed,
hard-edged, middle section before the sense of calm reappears.
This mood continues in the opening of the finale before the
work concludes with a flamboyant display of pyrotechnics.
It is a balanced, finely wrought piece that ought to be in the
repertoire. Yet again, how many piano sonatas from British composers
are a part of the canon? It is brilliantly played by Philip
The Pastiche Suite for treble recorder and piano dates from
the war years. Hopkins notes that during the 1940s he was often
involved at Morley College. At that time, the choir’s accompanist
was Walter Bergmann, who also happened to be an enthusiastic
recorder player. There are three attractive movements, an opening
‘allegro molto giusto', a sadder ‘alla siciliano’ and
a toccata like ‘vivace non troppo’. It is delightfully played
by John Turner and Janet Simpson who recognise all the twists
and turns of the ‘pastiche’. I guess the only problem is that
the piece is over all too soon.
The simply named Suite (1952) for recorder and piano is quite
an involved work that sounds difficult to interpret, however
it is given an accomplished performance by Turner and Simpson.
There are four movements – a Prelude, a Scherzo, an introverted
Canon and a final jig. The musical language is subtly retro,
whilst having a whiff of modernity. Some would call it eclectic;
I would suggest it is a good fusion of overlapping styles. This
is one of the most enjoyable things on this retrospective. The
work was also composed for Walter Bergmann.
The Three French Folksongs were written in 1947 for soprano
and piano. They were devised for a tour of France and Switzerland
which had been organised by the composer and Sophie Wyss. The
songs are ‘Les Trios Rubans’, ‘Gai Lon La’, and ‘Quand mon mari
se fachera’. I was especially taken by the second song, which
tells of a nightingale singing in the garden for girls with
no husbands. However, the vocalist reflects that she does have
one; alas he is a prisoner in Holland. It is a beautiful song.
These simple arrangements feature the lovely voice of Lesley-Jane
Rogers. The recorder part was an unnecessary addition to the
The second CD opens with a delicious Tango for piano (1948).
It was composed for Vivien Leigh’s ‘seductive’ entrance in Act
2 of Thornton Wilder’s play The Skin of our Teeth.
This is pure pastiche at its very best. The mood lingers with
Hopkins’ Three Seductions (1949) for recorder and piano.
They were originally composed for ‘beginner’ flute and piano.
The first piece is a ‘Wanton Waltz’, which does not really live
up to the title, charming as it is. The second piece is quite
definitely a ‘Flirtatious Fancy’, whilst the final number, ‘Sensuous
Sarabande’ is much more serious and introverted.
Three songs follow – ‘First Love’ from the choral work Early
One Morning is a faultless synthesis of words and music.
‘I’ve Lost my Love’ is a moody number, however I am not sure
about the plot of the ‘opera’ Hands across the Sky
from which the song is excerpted. It is all about a green-skinned
alien crashing his spaceship and a besotted scientist, Miss
Fothergill. The recorder part was originally played by the oboe.
‘A Melancholy Song’ is a miniature setting of traditional words.
Once again Lesley-Jane Rogers sings them beautifully.
The Four Dances (from Back to Methuselah) for recorder
and piano are a delight. They were written in 1946 as ‘brief
curtain raisers’ for a production of George Bernard Shaw’s play.
It was originally conceived for spinet and recorder; however,
Hopkins now prefers the current recorder and piano version.
The four dances are a ‘Farandole’, ‘Sarabande’, ‘Wilman’s Grounde’
and an ‘Air’. They would be perfect in either arrangement.
Three poems from the composer’s pen are then presented. Two
are rather good – a ‘golfing’ pastiche on ‘Good King Wenceslas’
called ‘Good King Jack Nicklaus’ and a rather fine little number
about a string quartet performance of Op.147 (Beethoven) and
Bartók. However the second poem, ‘Charlie’s Revenge’ is a little
politically incorrect, if amusing.
One of the most remarkable parts of this CD is the Eight Tributes
to Antony Hopkins which was presented to the composer in 2011.
They were gifted by eight contemporary composers. Andrew Plant’s
jeu d’esprit, ‘On How to Sing’ is a little gem. Written for
soprano, recorder and piano, it tells of an argument between
the Frog School of Song and that of the skylark. It is beautifully
sung by Lesley-Jane Rogers. The ‘Little Pastoral’ for solo recorder
written by David Matthews left me cold: it meanders aimlessly
and sounds more like a dirge than a pastoral. Things get much
better with David Dubery’s delicious ‘Evening in April’ for
soprano, recorder and piano. It is based on a poem by David
Gibson from his collection The Singing Earth. This
is heart-achingly beautiful. Anthony Gilbert’s fine ‘Above all
that’ for recorder and piano inhabits a totally different sound
world to that of Dubery – yet in spite of the over-inflated
description in the composer’s programme notes, this is an attractive
piece written in an uncompromisingly modern style. I have always
had a soft spot for Gordon Crosse since being introduced to
his Changes many years ago. His present ‘CantAHta’
is a ‘miniature cantata’ that bases it vocalised text simply
on ‘AH’ - the composer’s initials. Not quite pastiche and not
really a parody, it nods towards Handel and Telemann in its
concept if not its musical attributes. It is surprisingly beautiful.
David Ellis’s ‘Head Music ‘is reflective in mood. However, I
am not too sure where the ‘Head’ bit comes in! I have never
come across Joseph Phibbs. His pointillist score for soprano,
recorder and piano has a ’seventies feel to it. However, the
music is a haunting and near-perfect setting of the text by
Sara Teasdale (1884-1933). The final tribute is ‘Pieds en l’air’
for recorder and piano by Elis Pehkonen. Apparently, this is
one of Antony Hopkins’ favourite tunes. All in all this is a
very attractive and competent tribute. Whether it will be played
in the future as a ‘group’ or as individual pieces remains to
The final section of this Hopkins’ celebration is two extracts
from the musical Johnny the Priest which was composed
in 1960. The first is ‘Vicarage Tea’ and second is ‘Be not Afraid’.
The show starred Jeremy Brett, Stephanie Voss and Phillida Sewell.
The final track is the Trio from Hopkin’s one act opera Three’s
There is no way that these ‘show’ numbers are profound music,
however they are attractive and have just about stood the test
of time. I guess that they could be described as being a little
bit ‘Friday Night is Music Night’. However, that is no bad thing.
This is a superb retrospective of Antony Hopkins’ achievement
as a composer but also recognises his talent as a poet. It is
well-produced and allows the listener to approach a considerable
variety of musical moods, styles and genres. There is a considerable
stylistic gulf between the ‘Partita’ and the ‘Tango’. However,
both works are suffused with technical skill and sustained interest.
The same applies to virtually all the music on these CDs.
A few minor criticisms probably seems churlish. However, three
things should be mentioned. Firstly, most of Hopkins’ pieces
heard here date from the 1940s. There are a couple from the
early fifties and one written in 1980. Unfortunately, I do not
have access to a ‘works list’ so I do not know what other music
has been written since 1953, however it would have given a wider
perspective of Hopkins’ achievement if a broader range of works
had been included.
Secondly, I wish the ‘programme notes’ had been a little bit
more detailed. Most of these works would seem to be ‘premiere
recordings’ so are not in the public domain. Little critical
reception appears in the pages of The Musical Times,
Tempo and other contemporary journals about the major
Lastly, I fear that the recorder features just a little bit
too much in some of these pieces. Where the work was conceived
for that instrument that is fine, however where it has been
added or has been substituted for the original ‘flute’ it seems
to be unnecessary.
The performance of all this music is excellent. I will single
out the beautiful voice of Lesley-Jane Rogers and the inspired
playing of Matthew Jones on the viola for special mention. However
all the soloists impressed me. Finally, I have to pay tribute
to John Turner. He conceived the project, organised it and plays
on a number of tracks. All this reveals his unquenchable enthusiasm
and massive musical ability. It is a major achievement.