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British Composers Premiere Collection - Volume 4
Lilian ELKINGTON (1900-1969) Out of the mist (1921) [7.15] Dorothy HOWELL (1898-1982) Piano Concerto in D minor (1923)[19.24] Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Harpsichord Concerto (1937)[16.52] Salomon JADASSOHN (1831-1902) Serenade No. 3 in A, Op.47 [27.25]
Valentina Seferinova (piano)
Michael Laus (harpsichord)
Orion Symphony Orchestra/Toby Purser (Elkington, Howell)
Malta Philharmonic Orchestra/Michael Laus (Scott, Jadassohn)
rec.Cadogan Hall, London, 11 November 2010 (Elkington, Howell) Robert Sammut Hall, Malta, 2011 (Scott, Jadassohn) CAMEO CLASSICS CC9041 [71.26]
When reviewing the first disc in this series (review) I looked forward with anticipation to the Piano Concerto of Dorothy Howell, whose tone poem Lamia had been a highlight of that earlier release. Not least because the concerto had attracted favourable notice from Havergal Brian, whose 1936 review in Musical Opinion is reproduced in the booklet of this new issue. The romantic piano concerto was a staple of concert programmes in the earlier part of the twentieth century, and Hyperion have over the years - to critical and public approbation - resurrected many concertos written to fulfil this function – although the Howell concerto appears to have slipped through their net. In more recent years the romantic piano concerto seems to have fallen on harder times, and those that do appear on concert programmes these days tread the well-worn paths of established warhorses.
The concerto is clearly well in the centre of the romantic tradition, and Howell’s debt to Rachmaninov is apparent throughout. The work is in one movement, with a slow central section which has a gentle atmosphere which is most appealing. What it lacks is the sort of display finale which would ensure the audience went home enthralled; the conclusion is more symphonically conceived, with the material of the opening returning to round the concerto off. The performance, taken from a live concert, could be more clearly recorded – the orchestral sound is somewhat veiled (for example at track 2, 3.50 and 15.50) – but it gives a fair impression, and one would hope that the concerto might be taken up by other pianists. The booklet notes by Gareth Vaughan inform us that Howell was regarded by the late John Drummond as “the finest British woman composer of her era”. With so little of her other music available, it is hard to form a judgement on this appraisal, but her admittedly early 1921 Phantasy in G minor for violin and piano — which can be heard on the internet — does not so much to reinforce the claim despite some superficial appeal. Never mind: this concerto is well worthy hearing, and Seferinova is well up to its admittedly not over-extravagant demands.
The disc opens with Lilian Elkington’s tone poem Out of
the mist, written as a depiction of the burial of the Unknown
Soldier in London at the end of the First World War. It is a very
beautiful threnody indeed, which after its initial run of performances
was totally neglected and was only re-discovered by the chance purchase
of the score and parts by David Brown in a second-hand shop in Worthing
in the late 1970s. This is not in fact the first appearance of the
work on disc – there was an earlier release on Dutton, which
I have not been able to hear, but which Rob Barnett in his review
thought superior – but it is a highly atmospheric work which
certainly deserves revival.
The music of Cyril Scott is considerably better known, but his Harpsichord Concerto here receives its first performance on disc and indeed only its third outing since its première. It has all the expected Scott hallmarks of luscious harmonies and luminous orchestration. Presumably it was written, like the Falla and Poulenc examples, with the grandly romantic 1930s instruments (with their extravagant registrations) espoused by Wanda Landowska in mind. They had a very different sound from that of the more authentic reconstructions to which we have become accustomed nowadays. Unfortunately Michael Laus here plays a smaller modern instrument, and the trenchant passagework which opens the work doesn’t sound as challenging as Scott clearly intended, despite some helpful microphone placing. Oddly enough the orchestration includes a piano as well as the solo harpsichord; the modern instrument playing glissandi in opposition to the soloist in the closing bars, an interesting and novel effect. The Maltese orchestral sound is much clearer here than in the London performances, with crisper string playing, although one might have welcomed more actual body from the violins especially in the limpid lines which open the slow movement (track 4). This work, like the Elkington, represents an act of rescue from a handwritten copy discovered by Jory Vinikour in 2002 in a poor state of repair. Again like the Elkington it is a work which deserves the act of reclamation.
The final item on this disc, the most substantial work here, is a rather unexpected inclusion in a disc of “British Premieres”. Presumably it was added since it derived from the same sessions as the Scott concerto. This is very definitely nineteenth-century music of a German stamp, light-hearted enough and attractive, but not really what one would want to hear in this context. The orchestral playing is more substantial than in the Scott concerto - we have a full body of wind and brass - and the performance is valuable in giving us a chance to hear some more totally unfamiliar and attractive music. That said, this recording should really have been included in Cameo Classics’ parallel series exploring the works of Jewish German composers such as Brüll and Pabst. I hope that we will have further issues in this series of British novelties, but it might be better to keep the two strands distinct. Paul Corfield Godfrey