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Adrian Cruft's Divertimento for string orchestra, op.43 (1963)
by John France

Adrian Cruft’s (1921-87) Divertimento for string orchestra, op.43 was written to celebrate John Hollingsworth’s (1916-63) twenty-first season as conductor of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra in 1963. Sadly, Hollingsworth died suddenly on 29 December of that year.

The Divertimento is approachable and is largely ‘diatonic’ in the working out of its material. The power and vitality of the opening ‘moderato, ma con brio’ is never in doubt. The strong second subject is lyrical and typical of much twentieth-century English string writing. The composer stated that he ‘makes fun of odd intervals’ such as the melodic 7th and 9th that are often expected in ‘contemporary music.’

The slow movement, ‘andantino quasi moderato,’ opens with a ‘haunting three-note figure’ which dominates the proceedings. The strings present a lovely cantilena that soars above a somewhat stuttering ‘block-chord’ accompaniment. The composer suggested that the pace of this movement is ‘a fast blues or slow foxtrot.’ The programme notes explain that in the middle section there is a brief allusion to the folk song ‘Cherry Ripe’. This is apposite when the listener recalls that both Cruft and Hollingsworth worked at Covent Garden – the opera house, not the market! This is introverted music and certainly not light-hearted.

Roderick Swanston, writing in the Musical Times (March 1991) considered that this movement is a good example of Cruft’s working procedure: ‘At its simplest this often took the form of an accompaniment that was as musically interesting as the melody it accompanied...Cruft gave the figure a life of its own, and thus enabled it to comment on the main figure it accompanied’.

Swanston points out that the composer has introduced the last movement with ‘38 bars that do not display much contrapuntal ingenuity or melodic flair, but by the simple repetition and modification of a rhythm accompanying a slowly-rising melodic phrase, a distinctive power emerges quite disproportionate to the simple means used to achieve it.’ The final section of this movement is a Tarantella, played ‘allegro, ma comodo’: it is not quite as ‘leisurely’ as the direction would seem. It has nods towards William Walton in its rhythmic vitality. The work concludes with a reference to the opening three notes of the first movement.

In Gerald Larner’s sleeve notes to the only recording of this work, he writes: ‘The striking introduction to the first movement, with its important three-note rhythmic figure is reflected in the serious introduction to the last movement.’ He considers that the work ‘is remarkable more for the delicacy of its scoring and the ingenious charm of its melodies, than for structural complexity.’ Larner has suggested the work’s attraction ‘rests in its friendly informality.’

The Divertimento was published by Novello in 1966. Peter Dickinson, reviewing the score in the Musical Times (January 1966) suggested that it was ‘accessible’. He notes that the ‘first and last of the three movements are concerned with a diatonic tone-cluster [a group of at least three adjacent notes, played together] which becomes the background to melodic writing.’ Dickinson’s only criticism is that that ‘some of the material, particularly in the first movement, is repetitive,’ however he feels that ‘altogether the composer achieves a successful and personal balance of contrasted textures.’

The first performance of Adrian Cruft’s Divertimento was at the Assembly Hall, Royal Tunbridge Wells, on Sunday 6 October 1963 at 3 pm. The Royal Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra was conducted by John Hollingsworth. Other works at this concert included Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, op.80, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, op.18 and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 2 [7] in D minor, op.70. The piano soloist was Peter Katin. After the interval, ‘His Worship the Mayor’ made a presentation to John Hollingsworth. The list of orchestral players included in the programme indicates that Adrian Cruft was the then Principal Double Bassist.

In 1967, the Divertimento was released on the Pye Virtuoso label (TPLS 13005) coupled with John McCabe’s Symphony No.1 (Elegy), op.40 (1965) and Kenneth Leighton’s Concerto for string orchestra, op.39 (1962). John Snashall conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Malcolm Macdonald in The Gramophone (January 1968) wonders if the Divertimento ‘might be thought to be on the serious side.’ It is fair to adduce that some of Mozart’s works with the same title are not all whimsical. He praises the ‘quality of the string writing’ and concludes by suggesting that the work must have ‘successfully fulfilled its original function, the celebration of John Hollingsworth’s majority as conductor…’ On the other hand, Peter J. Pirie in the Musical Times (April 1968) suggested that it was a ‘likeable work, a little anonymous, but it is a slight piece anyway.’

Listening to this work nearly half a century later divulges music that is a little more serious and profound than this review may suggest. I believe that there is an elegiac mood to the ‘slow’ movement that, in hindsight, is an appropriate tribute to John Hollingsworth. Certainly, this is a valuable ‘divertimento’ that can be as highly regarded as those by Michael Tippet, Alan Rawsthorne, Lennox Berkeley and Malcolm Arnold.

At present there is no commercial recording available, although there is a YouTube upload. In fact, Cruft is currently represented on CD by three works, the Traditional Hornpipe Suite, the Concertante for clarinet and strings and the short choral piece, ‘These Hours.’

John France
April 2016

With thanks to Giles Clarke, Chairman of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra for his invaluable help in securing a copy of the programme for the premiere of this work, and his kind permission to quote from the programme notes written by Marjorie Vinall for Cruft’s Divertimento.

 

 




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