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Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960)
Violin Concerto (1930) [25:08]
Derek Collier (violin), BBC Northern Orchestra/Stanford Robinson.
BBC broadcast, 30 September 1961 E.J. MOERAN (1894-1950)
Violin Concerto (1942) [31:55]
Alfredo Campoli (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra/Rudolf Schwarz
BBC broadcast, 23 October 1959 Arnold BAX (1833-1953)
Violin Concerto (1938) [31:24]
André Gertler (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent
BBC broadcast, 6 February 1957 William WALTON (1902-1983)
Cello Concerto (1956) [30:50]
Gregor Piatigorsky (cello), BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent
BBC broadcast, 13 February 1957
Royal Festival Hall (Bax & Walton) LYRITA RECORD EDITION REAM.2114 [57:03 + 62:24]
Lyrita was founded in 1958 by Richard Itter, and is one of those record labels without which our appreciation of British music would be much the poorer. This release however takes us beyond the label’s own recordings, bringing examples of broadcast performances preserved by Itter on the professional recording equipment he had at his home in Burnham. With excellent BBC reception he made huge numbers or recordings of live performances which would otherwise have been lost into the ether. All of these recordings are from his tapes, while the Walton Cello Concerto was transferred to an acetate disc.
These are mono recordings, but the combination of the BBC’s high broadcast standard and Richard Itter’s superb tape recorder, the sound is remarkably good. You can find Arthur Benjamin’s Violin Concerto in modern sound on the Dutton Epoch label (see review), but Derek Collier’s 1961 recording is superbly shaped and much of the orchestral detail comes through. This is a work which was famously admired by Constant Lambert as “a brilliantly executed work”, and the same can be said of this performance. I remember Derek Collier as a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music when I was a student there in the 1980s and having this recording with him clearly at his best is a very fine tribute.
Lyrita’s own 1979 debut commercial recording of the E.J. Moeran very Irish Violin Concerto is inevitably more refined sonically (see review), but even with a little tape hiss and a few extraneous noises this is a very moving performance. Renowned soloist Alfredo Campoli is heard on top form in this recording and is worth the asking price for this set alone. One has the feeling the BBC Symphony Orchestra are also raising their game to meet the heartfelt expressiveness of Campoli’s solo, and the warmth of the accompaniment is present without a doubt, even if the recording is a little on the crisp side. The playful central movement is full of verve and energy, and the final Lento puts the seal on this work as a masterpiece which deserves far wider recognition.
Arnold Bax’s Violin Concerto has appeared in a modern recording from Chandos, as well as Dutton’s historic 1944 version from the BBC with soloist Eda Kersey conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. Made shortly after its première in 1943 and not long before Kersey’s tragic early death, this is a precious recording, but the present performance with Belgian violinist André Gertler is certainly worth having. Gertler was a champion of the music of his time, and this is a colourful and commited performance, the solo violin not quite as closely recorded as with some of the other works in this collection but certainly audible in most essential respects. The heart of the work, the central Adagio is beautifully played and Sir Malcolm Sargent proves a sensitive accompanist, though the consumptive audience is hard to ignore at times.
William Walton’s Cello Concerto is the best known work here by some way, and easily obtainable in numerous more or less recent recordings. Gregor Piatigorsky’s early recordings include one from 1957 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra which you can find on Pristine Audio. This stereo studio recording is an altogether cleaner affair, but as the booklet notes for this Lyrita release argue, this “European premiere … is more rhapsodic and instinctive …” It is indeed the difference between a carefully prepared studio recording and the more edgy excitement of live performance; fans of this work will want to have both. One of the differences is that Piatigorsky’s cello is made to sound rather fluffy and delicious in the Boston recording, and while his instrument is further away and sounding a tad boxy on the Royal Festival Hall stage, you can hear the raw impact of Walton’s energetic central Allegro appassionato and the lyrical expressiveness in the Lento opening of the final movement in different and equally valid perspectives.
We have to be grateful to Richard Itter for his enthusiastic taping of these and many other broadcasts, and I’m sure there is much more to be discovered from this source. Lyrita’s release of this collection of concertos is very valuable indeed, and with informative booklet notes by Paul Conway it is of more than just historical interest. These fine performances and recordings are a snapshot of the BBC’s programming in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and part of the foundation of its hard-earned reputation. Now, let’s see what’s on tonight.