An Evening at the Proms
Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
Overture di Ballo [9:50]
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Tatiana’s letter scene from Eugene Onegin [12:28]
Andante Cantabile from String Quartet No. 1 in D major Op. 11 (arr Adolf Schmid) [7:42]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Slavonic Dance in E minor Op. 72 No. 2 [6:04]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Beni Mora
Oriental Suite Op. 29 No. 1 [13:50]
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Fête Polonaise from Le Roi malgré lui [7:47]
Henry LITOLFF (1818-1891)
Scherzo from Concerto Symphonique No. 4 in D minor Op. 102 [7:14]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D major Op. 39 No. 1 [6:32]
Joan Hammond (soprano); Shura Cherkassky (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent
rec. 29 August 1956 (Holst) and 1959
GUILD GHCD 2393 [72:43]
It is hard now to recall the extent of the affection and respect with which many music-lovers, especially those who attended the Proms, regarded Sir Malcolm Sargent in the 1950s and 1960s. I remember making a slightly disrespectful remark about his conducting to an ardent Prommer and being treated thereafter with suspicion. Nowadays his name is more likely to bring to mind the cancer charity founded in his memory, and even that has been reduced to just part of the acronym CLIC Sargent. Nonetheless as this disc reminds us, he was a conductor with solid virtues even if they may not have extended as far as some may have judged at the time. Even if from what was said at the time he was no favourite with orchestral players.
Although the disc begins with 24 seconds of applause - no date or place of recording given - it is not of a live concert. It is nonetheless representative of the kind of music that might have appeared at the Proms, and in particular at the last night, during the years in which he presided. It is interesting to note that four of the composers represented, and more than half of the disc’s length, were born between 1840 and 1842 and that the addition of the others only extends this period to 1818 to 1874. It was indeed music from that period which showed Sargent off at his best. His Bach and Handel performances were old-fashioned even for the time.
Unsurprisingly the best performance by far here is that of Holst’s Beni Mora Suite. This was one of the conductor’s great favourites and he used to include it in broadcasts and live concerts whenever possible. The orchestra were, and sound, thoroughly familiar with the piece and play it with understanding and real care. For the Holst enthusiast the disc is worth having for it alone. The other performance to which I have returned several times is that of Adolf Schmid’s once popular arrangement for string orchestra of Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile. This is played with great dignity and beauty, without affectation or excess. The Sullivan and Chabrier items have panache and wit whilst lacking any kind of coarseness.
The remaining items are less worthy of revival. Good as it is to hear Joan Hammond’s impassioned performance in the Letter Scene, it must be admitted that it is hard to imagine her as recorded here as a young girl, and although the booklet states that it is sung in English no words are audible … or are given in the booklet. The other items are given adequate but unexciting performances.
The booklet essay by Jürgen Schaarwächter is a robust and interesting defence of Sargent’s place in the history of the Proms. All in all this disc is an fine reminder of his contribution to musical life in post-war years, with the Holst in particular showing that there was much more to him than his “flash” exterior.  

John Sheppard 

A robust and interesting reminder. There was much more to Sargent than his “flash” exterior. 

Gustav Holst: Discography & Review Index